It’s become second nature to check the county Sheriff’s department website whenever one of our guys goes missing long enough to ask each other if we’ve seen him. This might seem a bit bewildering for some, but in a city (let alone a country ) that criminalizes people who have the audacity to not have a place to rest their heads at night…well, I’m sorry to say that checking the county jail intake (conveniently updated every day) has become an automatic reaction.
You see, county jail is where you go when you’re awaiting arraignment, trial, and sentancing. Some guys will spend months, sometimes a year before they get shipped off to one of the state prisons or federal pens.
But what happens when they’re not on the list?
If a guy comes around enough for long enough then we get to know his schedule. Some come in every day. Some only every few days or weeks and some will go long stretches without coming in. Either way, we know them just well enough to know, fairly quickly, when they’re not around.
…and herein lies the bittersweetness and sometimes the downright heartbreak of being a Catholic Worker…
Sometimes it’s as simple them finally getting subsidized housing and never showing up again. That’s always bittersweet. You’re happy for them finally having a home, but over the months and years you’ve shared life with those guys. You love them, and when they leave a little bit of you goes with them.
Sometimes they’ve slipped back into addiction, chasing their demons with teeth bared and lips frothing. The bender lasts a few days, sometimes weeks, sometimes years…until you see them silently appear again, like a wraith, all bones and gray flesh and your heart lights up knowing that they’re still here.
But then sometimes…
Sometimes you hear the whispers of AIDS or Cancer. Even worse you hear of an accident – being burned alive in a van you were sleeping in and the fire department not hearing you scream over the roar of the flames, so they let the vehicle burn. A bludgeoning with a brick in a parking garage that the police refuse to investigate. A freight train smashing into the body of a man…
You hear these stories and a little piece of you dies right along with these men you’ve come to love like blood, like bone, like flesh.
And I wonder…who but we workers will remember you at your worst and love you so fully, so deeply, so completely that you’ve transcended tissue and tendon to become part of our beating hearts?