Archive for December, 2013

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Hi my name is Dara, I am a “Newbie”, I found this website when I was searching author forums & Advice on getting something I have worked on for a long time, that means a great deal to me personally published for charity purposes. I started a Tumblr blog in September after losing my 18-year-old younger brother Casey to a heroin overdose this past August. Where i grew up, on the jersey shore teenage heroin overdose epidemic. I lost three friends myself personally as well as my younger brother. My high school was featured on intervention and several alumni have passed away from heroin overdoses and yet the community and law enforcement are yet to be proactive in trying to fix conditions. The week my brother passed away 5 other teenagers died of the same cause. Nothing seems to open people’s eyes to the problem. Also, no one has ever spoken out publicly, until i did. I have always been a writer, i have had a blog since as long as i can remember, mostly comedy material but this one, not so much. I wanted to document publicly and honestly what happens to a family after the funeral, how heroin effects a family for the rest of their lives whether they were the addict or related to the addict. I loved my brother with all my heart he was my only sibling. My family did not have enough money to send him away to rehab last summer, so in addition to my blog i created a non-profit called “Cause for Casey Low” in hopes to raise awareness and money to send addicts that are truly looking to make a change in their lives to receive aid in treatment to do so. My brother desperately wanted to be clean. My blog began to receive a lot of attention & the Facebook fan page “Cause for Casey Low” began to grow in popularity. As hard as i tried to get people to help me to raise funds, it wasn’t happening. The popularity of the blog is what i am hoping will give me what i need to generate a revenue to start saving lives. I have read several of your entries and i am reaching out to all of you in hopes that you have a few free minutes to review a few of my entries about my brother and my grieving process because i plan to get it published and have a certain amount of the proceeds from sales to go toward his cause. Be as honest as possible is you do review my work, I trust in all your opinions. I need to honest critique, I’m a strong girl I can handle it. I wrote an entry today which I feel like is my most powerful entry so far, it would be an honor to me if you would review it, or put it out there in the community. New to this still.

But the main blog is on Tumblr.com
UN: Cause for Casey Low

Thank you so much,
Merry Christmas

Dara Low

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Originally posted at:

http://www.writing.com/main/campfires/item_id/1968517-My-First-Christmas-without-My-Brother

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My First Christmas Without My Brother

[Introduction] 12/25/13 Christmas Day

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I’m squinting with one eye open and one eye closed in my efforts to write this entry. I thought it would be better to jot my feelings down sooner than later because my eyes might very well be swollen shut by the end of this day. My body aches with a pain that is incessant. It begins at the fingertips, the prickling numbness then slowly begins to trickle down through my arms and seeps into my chest permeating through out my whole entire body, stretching to the furthest points of my limbs. I stare hard at the ceiling waiting for the precious moment in which my body reaches a final state of stoniness from the inside out. A brief moment of tranquility that allows my valves to loosen, allowing the release of imprisoned oxygen to begin to steadily stream throughout my body.

This has become routine sometimes less than or more so than other days, I feel my body begin to perish on it’s own leaving only my own inner obstinate will to survive mentality to bring my body back from the dead. When I read about the process a human being endures while entering into internal rest, I find too all to many similarities with my current state of being involving the separation of a human’s body from their soul. I feel super human, the ways in which I have trained my body to disconnect and reconnect on command.

It’s not something that comes with ease, it takes a certain amount of repetition. Mastering this technique takes much time and preparation, I wasn’t always a master at controlling my emotions, no human is born with the skill set associated with such, it’s self taught. It’s just another skill set I was gifted in this life that I hadn’t even thought to ask for. I’m blessed in the way that I can control my emotions and talk myself off the ledge, but it’s a lonely way of life. Lonely in a sense that you have accepted the reality that you and only you yourself can save you from yourself. People go their whole lives without mastering this technique, but I often ask myself whether my mastering of this technique has aided in the acceptance of my loneliness and the lowering of my expectations of other human beings. Having a strong mind is a gift and and a curse, in ways I have yet to understand in it’s entirety.
Is it better to assume that you will be left to your own defenses or better to hope that someone might arrive at your side?

Shit, your guess might as well be mine and as far as guessing goes these days I don’t do much of it.

There was a time in my life not to long ago where I enjoyed living a life based solely on chance and chance alone. Living on the edge was the only way I thought there was to live. There is a big difference between living a life that’s on the edge and living life in which you have been pushed over the “said” ledge and you have one hand on a crumbling, unstable limb. Hunter S. Thompson says it best, “The Edge… there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. Needless to say Hunter and I have something in common with being of the edge that is, I won’t be committing suicide over any united states presidential reelection, but the thought of one day having my remains shot into the atmosphere via firework is a thought worth entertaining.

You know I wish I had the money to shoot my baby brother’s ashes into the atmosphere amongst the stars, a place that would be far better fitting for him than this dirty stinking earth is. But I have enough faith in myself that he won’t be to disappointed in the places that I go, that I will be taking him along side for the ride.

Today, right now, here in this moment I lay, lap top on chest in the bed that was once my baby brother’s bed not to long ago. Here I lay gazing out the window he had once gazed out of, I look to the right of me and I see the giant dream catcher he had once hung on his wall to the right of his closet. In my hand, right now as of this moment I hold the shirt he had once worn on the day that he died. I clench it tight in my fist, allowing my fingertips to feel this t-shirt in it’s entirety, letting the rougher edges of this cotton blend T shit scour amongst my finger tips. I hold this t shirt up to my nose and I take a long, concentrated whiff only to find that his spoor and his evidence of life no longer subsists within this t shirt or any other Inanimate object for that matter.

Did I mention that it was Christmas Day? Well, mid Christmas day to be exact. I just momentarily took a glance out his window and noticed the sun was well on it’s way to settling and in this moment, I can allow myself to take that deep breath I have been waiting to take since the very moment I set my sights on the first shrub of the year imprudently, entangled in a strand of LCD Christmas lights.

It has always bothered me, even as a child when I would take notice of people’s deprivation and disorderly attempts to decorate their landscaping. I hate when it is so apparent that someone is just doing something just to do it because they feel as though it is something that needs to be done. Dropping a few strands of Christmas lights on unkempt shrubbery doesn’t show your admiration for the holidays. It’s sad that I judge people’s sanity and overall feelings of fulfillment in regards to their life based on their ability to decorate their front lawns during the holiday season, but I do and I always have.

Which makes me especially sad for my parent’s this Christmas because they have always paid so much attention to detail. When my parent’s decorated our front lawn, it wasn’t over the top, it was just right. My mom has always thought colored lights were cheesy when it came to decorating outdoors and she is one hundred percent correct.

My parent’s decorated the two small, potted Christmas tree’s that sat on either side of our front steps with small, traditional white lights and each strand was distributed evenly amongst the branches of those small trees. My mom made sure she found the perfect wire coiled ribbon to sit on top of those two tree’s and she made sure both of those tree’s ribbons matched perfectly with one another. When my parent’s do things they do them right, other wise they just don’t. Our house isn’t small, but it isn’t giant but it’s just right. It was exactly the right size, feel and offered them the perfect level of comfort in which they were trying to achieve.

Last night I went over to an old friend’s house where i became apart of a conversation amongst him and his mother and sisters about how their mother never wrapped any of their presents and that is why they in return never wrapped any presents. The mother began to laugh as she said well, my mother never wrapped any of my presents so I guess that’s why I never wrapped any of your presents. Which made me very sad for the moment being because, my parent’s wrapped every single one of mine and my brother’s Christmas present’s throughout our whole lives.

Not only did they wrap every present but my dad being that he is a skilled wallpaper hanger, he wrapped each and every single present to the point where the designs on the wrapping paper matched up perfectly. My parent’s never did anything with a lack of better wording, “half assed”. It just wasn’t in their make up, either one of them. My brother and I got pretty much everything we ever wanted in this life, and if their was something my parent’s possibly couldn’t of offered us, they wouldn’t have promised to do so or presented us with some slighted version of what had anticipated.

Although this Christmas has been hard on me and I must say I have done my share of self- loathing today, I feel the worst for my parent’s because they always did things right and when they built our home, on their own without any help. They made this home big enough to have two babies and they made enough money to feed and cloth to babies, love two babies and wrap every single one of their two babies presents perfectly every Christmas.

All for them to have to drive around the rest of this area of unkempt landscaped lawns and disorderly shambolic, holiday decoration. My parents didn’t deserve to have woken up this morning on Christmas day, one child short of attendance.

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20 December 2013

Snow was blowing horizontally, cutting into my face. I used my umbrella to keep dry and to aid visibility. Ghislain was in his usual spot. Snow had piled on the hood of his parka and on his shoulders. I crossed the street to talk with him.

“How is it going today, Ghislain?”

“It’s okay, not as cold as yesterday. Last night at about eleven it rained for  a while. At about three it turned to snow.

“I heard that Shakes was nearly run over by a car. He was walking across Merivale.  Some drive really fast there. Anyway,  he stepped off the curb and a car came screeching to a stop. He just kept shuffling along. Maybe he was high.  I don’t know.”

“That’s the second time I’ve heard of that happening. This summer, on Moriset, he was hit by a car.

“I guess Joy decided not to come down.”

“I didn’t think she’d be here. The weather is too miserable for her. I hope we don’t get too much snow tonight. They’re predicting five to ten centimeters (two to four inches) Saturday and Sunday. They’ve posted a  Storm Watch, they say ‘Freezing rain and heavy snow could result in dangerous driving across Ontario this weekend.’ I hope it’s okay for taking the bus tomorrow.  It’s a lot colder in Rimouski.”

“You leave tomorrow, don’t you?”

“Yeah, tomorrow afternoon. I take a bus to Montreal, then to Quebec City, then to Rimouski, three buses. My brother will pick me up at the bus depot. I have an appointment here on January ninth, so I’ll be back for that.”

“Would you like a sandwich or coffee?”

“No,  I’m good, man. Have a merry Christmas!”

“You too, Ghislain. I’ll see you when you get back in January.”

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17 December 2012

This morning, on the number fourteen bus, I met Irving. He’s now clean-shaven with short hair. We haven’t seen each other since the summer.

“How’ve you been Irving?”

“Okay, I’ve been staying at the Oaks for the past few months. I’ve been trying to get in there for five years. Finally my name got to the top of the list. Both me and my friend, Guy started at the same time, so that’s good. I’m in a no smoking building now. I’m trying to transfer to a building where they allow you to smoke in your room.

http://www.shepherdsofgoodhope.com/programs/supportive-living/oaks/

“They’ve got me on a program where I get an ounce of wine every hour. I’m not allowed to drink anyplace else.

“I went to court and the best my lawyer could do for me was six months probation and sixty hours community service. Also I’m not allowed to be anywhere near any place they serve or sell alcohol. Right now I heading to a meeting with my probation officer.

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womanbox

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19 December 2013

A crowd of people surrounded Joy. One of her regulars was standing beside her, as was Ghislain. Big Jake was in front of her in his electric wheelchair.

Another woman stopped and said, “Hi, Joy,  if I don’t see you before Christmas, here’s something for you.” It was a folded twenty-dollar bill.

“Oh, thanks!”

Joy handed me an envelope. It was a Christmas card that read:  ‘Wishing you all the peace and beauty the Christmas Season Brings.’ In a neat hand-written message below was, ‘Merry Christmas & Happy New Year. Thank you for everything. ~ Joy’

“Hi, man,” said Ghislain, are you working tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I’ll be working tomorrow, Monday, Tuesday and Friday.”

“You’ll get off early on the twenty-fourth, won’t you?”

“Not as far as I know. They may let us leave early if there’s no work coming in. I’ll have to wait and see.

“You must be looking forward to seeing your brother and sister in Rimouski.”

“Yeah, I have a mother there as well. She’s eighty-nine, lives in a nursing home and has Alzheimer’s. She won’t recognize me, but it’s for her that I’m going. This will be her last Christmas.  She broke a rib recently, so they put her in hospital. The doctor says she may only have two, maybe three months left. It’s sad, but they have her on morphine, she has no pain.”

Frank came over to talk to Ghislain, so I took the opportunity to say a few words to Joy. “How did yesterday go?”

“It was okay, quiet. I bought some groceries, so we ate well. I cooked a chicken.”

“How did Jake’s appointment with the doctor go? Does he have a date for his hip replacement?”

“I don’t know, we didn’t get into that. He came down this morning because he has an appointment with his parole officer.

“As soon as Butthead leaves, I’m going home to get some peace and quiet. I guess I shouldn’t call him that at this time of year, but I can be an asshole at Christmas as well as any other time. He’s used to it.”

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18 December 2013

Joy was huddled on her box, newspapers under her feet. She waved at me from halfway down the block.

“Am I ever glad to see you. I have to pee. I haven’t gone since I got here. I’m nearly busting.  There  was such a lineup I didn’t figure I could get through. It seems okay now. I’ll be right back.”

Ghislain arrived with two large steaming, paper cups. “Where’s Joy?”

“She’s just gone to pee. She’ll be right back.”

“I got tea for her, just the way she likes it.”

“How was your night?”

“Not bad. It wasn’t as cold as the night before.” I handed him a Tim Horton’s card.”

“Thanks, Dennis, I’ll hang on to this. I’ve still got two in my pocket, one you gave me yesterday, so I’m good. Don’t give me one tomorrow. A guy yesterday gave me a card. He said he’d put fifty dollars on it. I took it, said thanks. I didn’t believe him; I hadn’t seen him before, but I bought my coffee and it showed there was still forty-eight dollars on it. You never know.”

Joy returned, all smiles. Ghislain handed her one of the cups.

“I got you a coffee. No, I’m just kidding. I know you don’t like coffee. I got you a tea. There’s cream and sugar in the bag.”

A woman stopped and gave Joy a bag. The woman left. Joy said, “I wish people wouldn’t give me food. One woman asked me if I’d like a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I just told her, ‘No.’ This looks like a muffin. I don’t know what kind it is. Half of the stuff I don’t like, especially granola bars.”

Ghislain said, “Yeah, I can’t eat granola bars. Yesterday a woman was looking my way as she walked towards me.  She was also digging in her purse, so I thought she would give me something. Do you know what she gave me? … a peppermint. It’s thirty-five below and she gives me a peppermint.

“I see Chuck staring at me. I don’t know what he’s got against me, but some of the things he says piss me off. He told one woman not to give me money because  I smoked crack. You know me, I don’t smoke crack. Why would he say that about me. We’re all the same…”

Joy said, “He used to say things about me… before I straightened him out.”

“Here comes the old man. He’s got a doctor’s appointment today.”

Big Jake wheeled towards us. It was getting crowded so I said, “I’d better be getting to work.” I shook hands all around and walked away towards Chuck.

“Hi Chuck, how are you doing?”

“I’m here, that’s about all I can say. I don’t think I’ll be here tomorrow.  My nerves are shot. I’m not very good company when I get this way. Actually, this is the way I usually am.”

“I have to go to work, Chuck, but I hope you feel better soon.”

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16 December 2013

Last night was the coldest we’ve had this winter minus twenty-eight degrees Celsius (minus nineteen degrees Fahrenheit).  I didn’t see Ghislain, but his duffle bag was in his usual spot. I thought he must be nearby, so I waited. After a few minutes I saw him coming out of Tim Horton’s. He waved to me.

“Man, it’s a cold one, especially with the wind. I can only stay out about fifteen minutes at a time.”

I said, “So, I guess you slept at the Salvation Army last night.”

“No, I slept outside. See that building on the corner. There’s a parking lot behind that. I slept at the far end.”

“I don’t know how you managed,” I said. “I’ve slept outdoors when it was plus nine degrees. I shivered all night.”

“It wasn’t so bad. I have a warm sleeping bag. It was just the wind, especially at around three thirty. I think that was the coldest part of the morning.”

I asked, “When you sleep at the Salvation Army, do they get you up very early?”

“Yeah, around seven.”

“So, how was your weekend?”

“It was quiet. There aren’t many people downtown, they’re all at the malls.”

I had to get to work, so I said, “Goodbye, Ghislain, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, maybe. Joy might be here tomorrow. I don’t know.”

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17 December 2013

This morning was the coldest yet. Numbers don’t give an accurate indication, but exposed skin freezes in ten minutes. Both Joy and Ghislain were out today. Joy was sitting on a box wearing an army parka, scarf over her face, drinking a large cup of tea.  Ghislain was standing, as usual.

“Hi, Joy, it’s good to see you. How are things going with Big Jake?”

“He’s starting to piss me off. He doesn’t get up until nine o’clock. I’m going to have to be out here every day until Christmas to get some money.”

“How are you doing, Ghislain? Did you sleep outside again last night?”

“Yeah, same place. I went to sleep about seven o’clock. At two-thirty I was freezing, so I went to Tim Horton’s for a coffee. I stayed there until I was warm.

” went to the Mission for lunch today. You know how they have the surveillance cameras and the guards posted at the door.They stopped this one guy, lifted up the back of his shirt. He was covered in bed bug bites. They wouldn’t let him in. I don’t know why they stopped him from coming in. It’s not his fault.

“Saturday I go to Rimouski to visit my brother and sister. I contacted Share Your Ride — have you ever heard of them? I got a good price. To go by bus costs two hundred dollars. It’ll be good to see my family.”

Joy was cold and had to leave. I walked with Ghislain to the corner. He wanted to get a newspaper, probably for warmth.

I said, “I didn’t have much chance to talk to Joy. Do you know how she and Jake are getting along?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I don’t trust that guy.  I never have. Maybe he’s okay, but I don’t trust him.”

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15 December 2012

It’s Saturday. I visited Joy in the hospital, she’s been moved to the Ottawa General. I went to her room and and elderly woman said, “She may be in the sun room down the hall to your right, or she may have gone to the cafeteria, or outside to have a smoke, she may be anywhere.”

I thanked her and headed to the sunroom. I hardly recognized Joy. She looked so small. She was crying. I sat next to her.

“I’m glad you came. I wasn’t expecting you. Why did you come?”

“I just came to see how you are. Why wouldn’t I come? Jacques told me about visiting you yesterday. He said you were upset about the possibility of not getting out before Christmas. He also said that sometimes they let patients out for Christmas day.”

“I don’t know what’s going on. I hate it here, especially on weekends. It’s like a morgue, and I can tell that the nurses don’t like being here on weekends either. I guess you met Emily. She moved in yesterday. She’s okay, but sometimes I want to smother her. She didn’t know how to flush the toilet. I don’t mean just after she peed. I’d come into the bathroom and there would be poo floating in the toilet. I asked her about it. She said, ‘I pushed all the buttons, but nothing made the toilet flush.’ I showed her which handle to press. She must have gotten up five times last night to use the bathroom. I guess she didn’t close the door before she flushed, because it woke me every time. After the injection they give me at night, I’m usually gone to the world.

“She thinks she’s getting out Monday. She needs help from the nurses for everything, even to put a pillow between her knees. There’s no way she’s getting out soon. I’ve even talked to her daughter. They live about a mile and a half apart, but the daughter has a family of her own. She doesn’t have time to look after Emily.

“So how’s everybody? Bert just sort of came, dropped off some stuff for me, took me down for a cigarette, then left.”

“I saw Patsy on the bus on Tuesday. On Wednesday I saw André and Little Jake.  He’s  pissed with Emile, said he owes him money, owes him a bottle and Jake has paid for all the food.”

Joy said, “The Monday, before I went to hospital, it was raining, so we were all down by the river under the Laurier Street Bridge. I told you that André had punched red-haired Debbie. Patsy walked up to him and punched him in the face. Then she punched him again. He had blood trickling from his mouth and he sat down on the grass away from the group and started crying. Patsy said, ‘You think you’re such a big man, but now you’re crying like a bitch.’ He said, ‘I’m crying because I can’t hit you back.’ Nancy said, ‘You can’t hit me back because there are other people around. If we were alone you wouldn’t have a problem, just like you didn’t have a problem with Debbie.’ Andre is on the outs with everyone, he owes Jake, he owes Jacques, he owes Buck. You can’t keep taking from people and not giving back.”

“I guess you heard that Shakes has his own place now.”

“Yeah, not only that, but it’s completely furnished. Jake has been waiting for two months and still doesn’t have any furniture, except for a bed.”

“He also has an air conditioner, still in the box.”

“Yeah, that he sits on. They promised me furniture on the Tuesday after I was brought in here. I hope Chester still has my other stuff. My workers were in to see me when I was at the Civic. They checked my place, said that the heat was really on now. They asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I said, ‘Having an apartment full of furniture would be nice.’ I’ve been telling my physiotherapist about how difficult it is for me to get down on my air mattress, and it leaks so I wake up on the hard floor.

“I’m practicing going up and down stairs. There are four of them. I can go up alright, but my right leg is too weak for going down, that’s why I have to use this walker and a wheel chair. I seem to have to drag my right leg, and can’t use my right arm very well.”

I asked, “How would you feel if you had a walker when you left here?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t got my head around that yet.

“I just don’t want to be in here. I had planned to get a turkey, cook a Christmas meal, have my friends around. It would have been nice. The doctor said I might be able to get out just for Christmas day, but what good is that to me. I have no family, no place to go, no furniture. My friends have their own things to do.”

I said, “Chester was saying that you were fine during the five months that you lived with him. it’s just since you moved out on your own that you’ve had problems.”

“Chester’s had Raven over for most of the time that I’ve been gone. He owes Jacques money, he owes everybody.

“I hear that Outcast has been talking trash about me. Telling people not to feel sorry for me, that I brought this all on myself.”

I said, “Outcast talks trash about everybody. When Patsy was by last, she said to him, ‘Outcast, it’s not always about you.’ He said, ‘Of course it is. It’s always about me.'”

Mo said, “He’s pissed with me because whenever he’s come over he’s tried it on. I said to him, ‘Outcast, you’re living with another woman. You sneak over here and expect that something’s going to happen. It doesn’t work that way.”

I said, “Did you hear that Debbie had her arm run over by a bus?”

“No, how did that happen?”

“She was drunk, holding on to bags of groceries, running beside the bus, pounding on the side to get the driver to stop. She slipped. The groceries went flying and she fell with her arm under the bus. The rear wheels ran over it. Jake said her upper arm is purple and misshapen, but she won’t go to the hospital or to a doctor.”

Mo said, “She’s stubborn like that. I’ve been in pain for a long time, but as soon as I saw that my pee was brown, I knew that my kidneys weren’t working properly. It’s lucky that the emergency numbers on my cell phone still worked. The paramedics had to chair lift me out of my apartment. It turns out that my problems are mostly due to epilepsy, not drinking. Now, I’m getting medication for that. One of the reasons they won’t let me out is because I get a pain injection morning, night and when I need it during the day. I wouldn’t have access to that if I left. I get ten pills in the morning, twelve with lunch and another fourteen before bed.”

I asked, “Couldn’t they arrange for you to have injections at a clinic, close to where you live?”

“My doctor doesn’t seem to want to go along with that. I said to him, ‘Couldn’t I just have the injections in pill form?’ He said that because they’re narcotics he didn’t recommend that. I guess he thinks I’d sell them.

“Another thing, Emily is in because of cervical cancer. I haven’t had a pap smear for decades. I asked the nurses about it. They said that, if I wanted one, it would be my doctor here that would be doing it. There’s no way I want that slime ball down there.

“I’ve even got hemorrhoids now. I’ve had five children. I’ve spent most of the past ten years sitting on the cold sidewalk. So, why do I have hemorrhoids? The nurse said it’s probably because I’ve been constipated. They’ve given me fiber, laxatives, suppositories. I was doubled over in pain, so finally they had to give me an enema. It was worse than giving birth. I think I’m still constipated, but I haven’t been able to eat for nearly a week. I keep throwing up. They keep telling me to have some toast. I don’t want toast. The food here really sucks.”

I asked, “What about feeding you through an intravenous tube?”

“They took the tube out a few days ago. See the marks all over my arm? I don’t want to get any more needles than I have to.

“I want to go for a smoke, I’ll bring this walker back to my room and grab a wheel chair. Do you want to drive?”

“Sure, I’ll push, you give directions.”

Before we left, Joy called for the nurse. She said, “Sweetie, can you give me an injection for my arm. The pain is really bad.”

When we got outside Joy said hello to a couple, who were also having a cigarette. She said to me, after they passed, “It’s sad, she had a baby a week ago. It’s left lung isn’t fully developed. They don’t know when the baby will be released. They have other kids at home.”

I asked, “Was the baby premature?”

“No, it was a full term. They don’t know what went wrong.”

We went back into the hospital. An Inuit couple stopped to talk to Joy. After they left Joy said, “Could you smell the sherry? I could smell it as soon as they came into view. I know all the muk-muks from downtown. They hang out on Rideau Street.”

Another woman said hello as we passed. Joy said, “She looks familiar, but I don’t know where I’ve seen her before. Did you notice, she’s still wearing prison shoes.”

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This morning was painfully cold, minus fifteen degrees (five degrees Fahrenheit), and with the windchill it felt like minus twenty-five (minus thirteen degrees F.).  Overnight it’s going to minus twenty-four,  it will feel like minus thirty-one (minus twenty-three F.). I had a scarf wrapped around my face, but the wind against my forehead was a searing burn, near to being unbearable. Seeing Gyslain was a surprise.

“Hello, my friend. It’s a cold one isn’t it?”

“Hi, your name is Ghyslain, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“I have a hard time remembering names. Even people I’ve known for five years; I forget their names. Where did you sleep last night?

“I slept inside.”

“Were you at the Mission or the Salvation Army…”

“Salvation Army. It’s really dirty there.”

“Were you bothered by bed bugs?”

“I didn’t ask for a bed, they’re on the second floor. I just asked for a mat. I slept in the basement.”

“Are there no bed bugs in the mats?”

“I cleaned it with alcohol before I put my sleeping bag down.”

“Jacques used to bring bed bug spray with him, whenever he slept in any of the shelters.”

“Yeah, alcohol does the same.”

“Do the mats have plastic covers?

“Yeah, I just took a rag, poured alcohol on it and wiped the mat.

“How long have you been on the streets? How many years?”

“Twenty. I started in 1995.”

“What was it that caused you to be on the streets?”

“I had an addiction problem since I was twenty-five. When you’re addicted you end up on the street. I used to live on the Quebec side (of the Ottawa River), but I owe money there, so I moved here.”

“Do you get any pensions, or street allowance?”

“I get the GST (Goods and Services Tax) Rebate and some others. In January I’ll be getting Welfare. My worker has set up the papers for me.

“After twenty years on the street, they want to see you housed. She wants me to live at Hunt Club, but that’s too far. I need to be downtown.”

“Little Jake, Shakes and I live in Carlington Park. Shark and Irene used to live there. It takes us forty-five minutes to get downtown on the number fourteen bus.”

“Yeah, that’s too long. I gotta get out of this cold. Thanks, man. Maybe I’ll see you next week.” He packed his belongings into a duffel bag and headed off towards the coffee shop.

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I saw Gyslain, standing in Joy’s spot. “Hi, man, it’s cold this morning,  minus twenty three (minus ten degrees Fahrenheit). There’s no wind, but it’s too cold to sleep outside. I tried it until two this morning, then I had to go into Tim Horton’s for a coffee. I have a warm winter coat a winter sleeping bag, but it’s still too cold.”

I asked him, “Are there still people sleeping behind Tim Horton’s, or Starbucks?”

“Yeah, my friend Gilles. He sleeps just down the block, behind Tim Horton’s. Last night I went back there to check on him. He was drunk. I said ‘Hey, man, get up, you’re going to freeze!’ He said, ‘Don’t give me that bullshit.’ I said, ‘It’s no bullshit, get up, have a coffee, get warm. He said, “I don’t have money for a coffee.’ I said, ‘I’ll buy you a coffee.’ So, I bought him a coffee. We sat inside there holding our coffee cups to warm our hands. Then went to someplace else.

I asked, “Do you sometimes go to the Mission, or the Salvation Army?”

“Yeah, I did that Monday, but too many bed bugs. They’re everywhere.  I had to throw away all my stuff. I’m not going back there, ever.”

“I was sleeping behind the Parliament Buildings a couple of nights ago. There was this nice little doorway where I could get out of the wind.  A guy came out to have a smoke.  He said to me, ‘Move along, you piece of shit!’ He said it in French, because I’m French. I said, ‘Don’t you call me a piece of shit. You’ve got no authority. Who owns this building? I want to speak to the owner.’ It’s our own Parliament Buildings, we should have some rights there. Anyway, I moved on.

I asked, “Is there any chance that you may get a place of your own?”

“Yeah, January ninth. I was talking to my worker. She said I could have a place near Hunt Club, but that’s too far away. I have to get downtown to the Mission to have my meals. I have to see my worker. She thinks that she can find me something on Lisgar. That’ll be better.”

I said, “I guess it would be good if you were able to get a bus pass. That would help.”

“Yesterday, I was standing right here. A pedestrian was talking to a cab driver. He was telling him to park someplace else. The cab driver asked him, “Do you know how much I pay for a licence to park here?’ I guess the guy called the cops, because a cruiser pulled up. The cop talked to the pedestrian first. He said, ‘This driver pays fifteen thousand dollars for a cab licence. I’m not going to hassle him just because he’s beyond the taxi stand markings.’ Then he talked to the cab driver. He said, ‘I’m just going to write this up as a warning. You don’t have to pay it.’

“Have you seen Joy lately?”

I said, “Yeah, I saw her with Frank on Monday. He had to see his parole officer. She hasn’t been back since.”

Ghyslain said, “I saw Chuck on the corner, one day. I think it was yesterday. I also saw him with one of his sons in the Rideau Center.”

I said, “I know one of his sons, Chuck Junior. He has another, but I’ve never met him.”

“It’s too cold to stand here any longer. I’m going in to get a coffee and to get warm.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Ghyslain.”

“See you, man.”

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10 December 2013

Snow was blowing, my face was covered by a scarf. Blizzards had been reported in the out-lying areas. Joy was  wrapped like a mummy, with only her eyes showing. She pulled down her scarf and said, “Hi Sunshine, did ya miss me?”

“Of course I did. How have you been feeling?”

“I’m okay. Jake got out on Monday instead of on the second. He’s got his electric wheelchair, so he’s zipping around all over. He’s got a new parole officer. He doesn’t like her, but who ever likes their parole officers?”

“Yeah,” I said, “it’s not as if they’ve won a personality contest.”

“He’s got to meet with her at nine. He’ll be coming down here.”

I asked, so how has it been with him back?”

“Lousy, sometimes he’ll come in at three-thirty in the morning. He came at eight yesterday morning. I said to him, ‘You got to quit doing this. I’ve got a life.  I’ve got things to do.’ He comes in, eats, then wants to go to sleep. I told him, ‘This ain’t no flop-house. Come over when you’re ready to stay awake.’

“He doesn’t pick up after himself. I had the place all scrubbed. I walked into the bathroom and there’s a puddle in front of the toilet. I mentioned it to him. He said, “Maybe the toilet’s leaking.’ I said, “Jake, the puddle is yellow. It’s not the toilet that’s leaking. if you can’t hit the bowl, you’ll just have to sit and pee like a chick.’ So he does. Hell, I can stand up and pee into a toilet.  He’s got the proper equipment; I don’t see why it should be difficult for him. He said, ‘I’ve only been here a few days and already you’re nagging at me.’ I said, pick up after yourself, do your share and we won’t have a problem.

“Here he comes now. See the size of him?”

I turned and saw a huge bearded man in a wheelchair.  “Hi,” I said, “you must be Jake. I’m Dennis.”

“Hi, Dennis, I’ve heard a lot about you.” We shook hands.

Joy said to Jake, “I’m glad you’re here. I have to go for a pee.”

 I said, “I should head to work. I’ll see you, Joy, Frank.” We shook hands.

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6 December 2013

I was late this morning, overslept. As I got off the bus I saw  Metro. He said,   “I haven’t seen her for a while. I wonder if she’s sick.”

“She’s been in hospital. I don’t know if she’s back in or not.”

“If you see her, send her my regards.”

“I will, Metro. Have a good weekend.”

There was a man standing in Joy’s spot. I said, “Good morning.”

“You’re the guy aren’t you? You said good morning to me yesterday, but I don’t think you recognized me. You’re the guy, who sits with Joy most mornings, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I didn’t recognize you. What’s your name?”

“It’s Ghislaine! We’ve met before.”

“Yes, now I remember. How are you?”

“I can’t complain. I haven’t seen Joy for a few weeks.”

“She had been in hospital, but I haven’t seen her for a while, neither has Chuck, on the corner. Big Jake was supposed to get out of prison last Tuesday. I don’t know if he was released, or if his parole was revoked.”

“He’s bad news for Joy.  I don’t know why she keeps getting back with him.”

“He’s in a wheelchair now,  so she thinks she can handle him.”

“In a wheelchair? Maybe he’s not so arrogant now. Used to be he was arrogant to everybody. I didn’t like him for what he did to Joy.”

“I’d better get to work, but it’s great seeing you Ghislaine.”

On the corner I met Chuck and Sandy. “You’re late!” he said.

“I know, I overslept.” I bent down. Sandy just sniffed me this time.

“Do you know who won the game last night between the Senators and the Leafs? I haven’t even heard the score.”

“Sorry, Chuck. I didn’t see it. I have to go.”

“Could you just take this bag and hook it onto the handles of my chair, at the back?” Chuck seemed to have received more gifts than he could handle.”

27 November 2012

At noon at the traffic island were Gene, Shakes,

Donny in his motorized wheel chair, Jacques, André and Timmy. The first person to greet me was Jacques, “Have you any news?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I visited Joy last night at the hospital.”

“How she?” asked André.”

I replied, “She is in a lot of pain from her fibromyalgia. The pain was previously just in her legs, but now it has moved into her back and neck. She was first given an injection of delaudid. She threw up, but felt better later. Then they started giving it to her in pill form and it just made her nauseous. She’s hoping to get morphine, but in that case she’ll need Gravol.”

“She’ll get a good buzz from that,” said Jacques. “This is the third time in hospital for her this year. That’s not good. I don’t know how much time she has left.”

André said, “That’s a wake up call from the man upstairs. She has to quit drinking altogether.”

I said, “At least she has her own place now.”

Jacques said, “Yes, that’s good, but you can’t stay all by yourself, all the time. I can’t. She’ll want to come down and talk to her friends sometimes, even when it’s cold out.”

Timmy said, “I saw my workers this morning. I’ve been leaving messages. This morning I decided to go to the office and they were there. They’re going to look at a place for me in Vanier. If it looks alright they’ll show it to me tomorrow. They have to check it out first, to see if it’s livable. I don’t mind Vanier, I grew up in a worse place than that. Do you know Lachine?”

I said, “No.”

“I’ve got to get off the street. I’m losing my patience with people in Ottawa, they way they treat us. One day, I’m just going to flip out. I’ll need Valium just to pan.

“I have some skills, I’m a specialized gas fitter, but there’s not much work in that field. I’m a welder, but I don’t have my ticket. They offer a seven month course in welding at Algonquin that I might qualify for. It costs about five thousand dollars. The government will cover one time re-training. It’s sort of like a student loan.

“It’s a vicious cycle living in shelters. In order to get a job they want me to have an address where I can receive mail and phone calls. If I’m living at a shelter it’s sometimes difficult to get any sleep, so I’d either miss work, or be so tired that I’d get fired. In order to get an apartment, they want me to have a job. I can’t win.”

I asked, “How long have you been on the streets, Timmy?”

“For a while, in Montreal, then Vancouver, but I really can’t count Vancouver, because I was working there.”

I said, “You’ll never freeze to death in Vancouver, but it costs a lot to live, doesn’t it?”

“It depends on how you live. I had a bachelor apartment with an adjoining bathroom. They call it a Jack and Jill. I didn’t mind. I just had to make sure that when I went to the bathroom I locked both doors. It cost me four hundred a month.”

I asked André, “How was your day after I saw you at noon.”

“It was cold. I tried panning in a few places, but there was nobody out.”

Jacques said, “I talked to Mariah, she’s coming down here tomorrow. She will bring Joy’s keys, or some of her stuff. We’ll work it out.”

….

I went to the Civic Hospital tonight. All the information desks were closed. I asked two paramedics if they knew where the Acute Recovery Area was. They’d never heard of it. “They keep changing the names around here.” I showed the paper where I’d written the room number — 505. “Take the main elevator in the old section and go to the fifth floor, maybe someone there can direct you.”

I went to the fifth floor and asked a nurse (or an orderly — someone in scrubs) where the Acute Recovery Area was. He said, “Go straight down the hall until where you can see the single door open. Turn left, pick up the telephone receiver and tell them the name of the patient you’re here to see.”

I managed that. Looked around, couldn’t find a bed or room number. A voice behind me asked, “Sir, can I help you?”

I answered, “I’m looking for bed number 105.”

“Right here, sir,” said a nurse with blond wavy hair in the style of Madonna or Lady Gaga.

Joy said, “I saw you go past my bed. I tried to call to you, but I’ve lost my voice. I’m susceptible to pneumonia and this is the way it usually starts.”

“I could tell right away that Joy was feeling better. The pained look was off her face. She said, “I wasn’t expecting you to come tonight.”

“I said I’d be back.”

“I know, but I thought you meant later in the week. Now they have me on Dilaudid and Morphine. My skin is really itchy, I can’t help scratching. It’s a good thing I don’t have long fingernails or I’d be cut to shreds. I’m also on Heparin so my blood doesn’t clot. I talked to my doctor about getting back on Seroquel. He said, ‘Why do you think you need Seroquel?’ I said, ‘My mind feels like its traveling a hundred miles an hour in a ten-mile an hour zone. Can you wrap your head around that?’ He said, ‘Yes, we’ll put you on Seroquel.’ I can now look forward to a good nights sleep. They don’t give it to me until ten o’clock. I don’t know why they wait until ten o’clock. Where I was before they gave out all the meds at nine.

I heard a banging sound on the other side of the curtain. Mo said, “Sometimes I think that woman is possessed. She makes the strangest sounds.” Soon, I heard a wailing noise, ‘Piro, Piro!’

“It wouldn’t be so bad if she spoke English, but I have no idea what she’s saying. She was at the other end of the ward. I don’t know why they put her beside me. Sometimes I feel like strangling her, or holding a pillow over her face. The nurses also lose patience with her, especially the blond one.”

I asked, “Do you have ear plugs with you?”

“No, but the dark-haired nurse said she’d get me some. I’m going to need them. Now that they ‘ve got me hooked up to all these wires and tubes I can’t go anywhere. When I was just on the intravenous, I could get into my wheel chair and pull the intravenous stuff along with me. I was told not to leave the area, but I slipped past them five times already. I needed to have a smoke and I wanted to go to Tim Horton’s for a decent cup of tea. The last time it was security guards that brought me back. They asked, ‘Are you Joy?’ I said, ‘Who wants to know?’ They said, there’s a nurse up on the fifth floor who thinks you may have gone AWOL.’

“The nurse made me a cup of tea. It tasted like garbage. I asked her, ‘What did you do to destroy this tea?’ I couldn’t drink it. I left it on the table and asked Al to dump it when he came in. They asked me if I wanted a nicotine patch. I said, ‘I had one of those the last time I was in. I was throwing up for three days.’ She asked, ‘Do you want to try a Nicorette Inhaler?’ I said, ‘I’ll try it.’ All it does is give me a sore throat.

“Good news is I was able to eat a piece of toast, mind you it was after taking Gravol. When they brought in this heart rate and blood pressure monitor I thought I was getting a TV. At least I have something to look at as the numbers go up and down. It’s good now, 127 over 113. It had gone as high as 180. They were worried that I might have a stroke.”

I asked, “Have you had high blood pressure before?”

“Yeah, when my oldest son was born. I’ve always know I had high blood pressure, but it didn’t bother me.”

I said, “I notice that you have a phone now.”

“Yeah, I tried phoning Jacques, but all I got is his voice mail. He’s probably drunk by now. I’ll call him tomorrow.”

I said, “André told me that your workers know you’re in hospital.”

“Yeah, they’re going to visit me sometime. My check should be coming tomorrow. I have to find someone to bring it to me, then find a way to get to Money Mart.

I noticed that Joy had difficulty even lifting a paper cup full of tea. She said, “The nurses told me to ask for help going to the commode, but I told them, “It’s only two feet. I can manage that. I don’t like that thing. I’d rather go to the washroom, but I’m too wired up. Earlier, when I snuck away, I just pulled out the intravenous needles, but I got shit for that. The nurse said, ‘We have enough trouble getting blood as it is. Every time you pull the needle out we have to flush the vein.’

The blond nurse came in to take a blood sample, but was unsuccessful. She flushed the vein, still no luck. “We’ll try to find another vein. It’s not going to be easy. She tried three or four times with Joy saying, ”ouch’ and ‘oh, that hurts’ each time.

Joy said, “I’m a real wuss when it comes to needles. I always have been.”

I asked, “Is all this due to your fibromyalgia?”

“It’s caused by a combination of factors, lack of exercise, poor diet and drinking. I’m guilty on all three counts.”

It was approaching nine o’clock, the end of visiting hour, so I said, Good-bye. I’ll try to get back, later in the week.”

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 “Sorry I couldn’t talk the other day,” said Chuck. ” When Sandy has to go, she gives me a signal and we have to go. I take her about a block up and let her walk for a while. I’m going to leave here in a few minutes and let her walk again.

“I wasn’t supposed to be here this morning. The weather forecast was for minus nine and freezing rain. I even stayed up late last night, slept late this morning. Had my shower, shave and breakfast. The weather report said it would be sunny and plus one. I was down here about seven-thirty. Usually, I’m here at six when the coffee shop opens.

“I said, You can never trust the weather forecasts.”

“It’s just another case of them not doing their damned jobs. I’ve been having trouble with my bank and with Bell. Bell says I owe them money and I don’t. I’ve got my bank receipt and my statement to prove it. I was on the phone to Bell last night. My cell phone was paid, and the other is from the same account. Why wasn’t that paid.? The money came out of my account. They must have transferred it to somebody else. There was a new girl on. They fixed one mistake, but not the other. That’s not my problem.”

I said, “What if you were to send Bell copies of your bank receipt and statement?”

“I’m not going to do that. There’s too much personal information on those receipts. The bank wont help. They said they paid the money to Bell; that’s all they can do.

“If I get any more fuss from Bell, I’m going to take my cell phone and that black box from the satellite. I’m going to their office, break them apart and smash them on the floor. They can take me to court, but that’s going to cost them about two thousand dollars. I don’t care.

“Anyway, it looks like winter is settling in to stay. If I don’t see you before, have a merry Christmas.”

“You too, Chuck.”

 …

23 November 2012

Joy was sitting with Shakes when I arrived.

Mo said, “Shakes is here to keep my spirits up. I’m sure glad you guys are here. Do you see the short guy with the orange vest across the street. He keeps staring at me. I see him taking bags of cement into the underground parking garage. I had to go to the bathroom and I asked him if he’d keep an eye on my stuff. When I came back there was a coffee, a cranberry explosion muffin and a breakfast sandwich on my box. I asked the guy where it came from. He just shrugged his shoulders. I gave the coffee and sandwich to Shakes, I’ll save the muffin for Jacques.”

“Shakes,” I said, “Joy tells me that you two have been friends for a long time.”

“Yeah, since she was thirteen or fourteen. I used to take care of her. I took care of other people too, ha,ha,ha.”

I said, “That would have been when you were in your prime fighting shape, in Toronto.”

“Yeah, I was in my prime then.”

Joy said, “Remember when we ran through Allan Gardens, chasing all the drug dealers away?”

“Yeah, I remember that, ha, ha, ha.”

I said, “I lived just a couple of blocks away, near Parliament and Carlton.”

“Dennis, I slept last night at the Bank of Nova Scotia kiosk, where they have the banking machines. I’d been sleeping when a friend, Pauly came in. He said, ‘Hi, Shakes.’ He did his business at the automated teller machine, he gave me two dollars then he left. I heard a beeping coming from the machine. He’d forgotten to take out his receipt and bank card. I ran after him but I couldn’t find him anywhere. I looked at the receipt, he had seven hundred and thirty-five dollars in his account. I’ve still got his card, so if I see him, I’ll give it back to him.”

I said, “You could turn in the card to the bank. They’ll make sure it gets back to him.”

Joy said, “Shakes’s hoping to get a reward.”

Shakes said, “Maybe he’ll buy me a bottle.

“You know, I may have been a thief sometimes, but I’m an honest thief.”

Joy laughed and said, “Shakes, you kill me. That’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one.”

“What’s an oxymoron?” asked Shakes.

Joy said, “It’s two words used together that have opposite meanings, like jumbo shrimp, alone together or honest thief. If you’re a thief you can’t be honest. If you’re honest you can’t be a thief.”

I asked Joy, “If you could have three wishes what would they be?”

“I’d like a house in the country, all to myself, close to nature. I’d like just enough money to get by, and I’d like to be healthy.”

I asked Shakes the same question. He said, “I’d just like to be me.” He gestured with his hands as if to say, All this is mine.

Joy said, “You are YOU, Shakes, or maybe there is a real you and an imaginary you. I don’t even want to think about that.”

One of Joy’s regulars stopped by and said, “How are you, Joy?”

“I’m great. Two weeks ago I got my own place.”

“That’s great. How do you like it?”

“I’ll like it better when I have furniture and heat.”

The woman asked, “You don’t have heat? Won’t they fix that for you?”

Joy said, “I asked twice, I don’t want to ask any more. First thing in the morning, I turn the oven to 500 degrees with the oven door open. Once the place warms up I turn it down to 150 degrees. It turns off automatically. I don’t pay for electricity. I’m on an air mattress now and the floor is cold, but once I get my bed I’ll be up where the heat is. Also, my worker is supposed to bring me a space heater.”

The woman said, “Just make sure you don’t fall asleep with the oven on. That could be dangerous.”

Joy replied, “I always turn it off when I go to bed or if I’m going out for a while.”