How can this be? Or, “Welcome to the World of the Indigent”

After a world-weary weekend, things appear to be returning to some sense of routine here: the little profitable work we have is getting accomplished and there is a sense of spring-cleaning of the soul. It’s definitely a period of renewal, a time to dispose of the old and a time to embrace the newness of a Spring long-anticipated.

I wanted to touch base with Timothy who told me last week that he felt he’d remain in the hospital for the next several weeks, as the staff continued to care for his physical as well as his emotional wounds. The outline that Timothy described – in-hospital care followed by physical therapy as he learns to adjust to navigating without ten toes followed by adjusting to permanent housing (finally!) – sounded exactly as I suspected it would. A phone call to Timothy the other day proved otherwise: he was being released on Thursday. His voice was edged with despair and peppered with anger. I heard his words repeat themselves, his voice rising with each mention of how much he hated the hospital food, repeating it over and over again, a metaphor I felt, for the deep-seeded anger he had for what happened to him this past winter. He spoke nonstop, and all I could do was to listen. Timothy told me how a once-trusted friend stole money from him when he asked him to make a withdrawal from the bank.  Again, every other sentence described how the hospital food was making him sick, how the nurse seemed to stop visiting, how nothing seemed the same. He told me he took himself off of the antibiotics he was being given to thwart any infection that might occur in what remained of his feet. The telephone conversation spiraled downward as he told me that he wasn’t going to a rehabilitation facility. Apparently, Timothy’s Social Security Insurance checks would be reduced significantly while in rehab. This cannot be a solid reason to forego further treatment, I kept thinking. When I asked him where he was going to continue the recovery from his amputations, he told me that a “lady friend” offered to give him a place to sleep, in exchange for help with her rent, and as he talked on about his plan, my head went on overtime as I tried to foresee Timothy’s future change yet again, his plans to finish his degree evaporating into the thinnest of air. Is this really what you want, Timothy? Have you weighed out the consequences of each of your options?

One of the first physically disabled homeless people I met was a woman named Jackie. Jackie was a double amputee, losing both of her legs below the knee and I vividly recall seeing her race against time and traffic on the Upper West Side, trying to make it to the stops where our caravan of cars would be. She was dirty and angry – always so angry – and determined to get her fair share of food and goods and clothing. I saw her fall out of her wheelchair once, when its wheels hit a tree root in the park, throwing her a few feet from the chair. She was livid, her face turning a deep red, a color I could detect from many yards away. I heard her swear violently as she crawled to the chair quickly, hoping no one would see her. Jackie was hardly a woman who wanted to be viewed as incapable. I watched as her arms hoisted her body up to the chair, knowing that she wanted no help from anybody (goddamnit). She wheeled herself away, disappearing into one of the tunnels in the park.

A few years later, I was in the same park and saw leaning against the curved stone wall of one of the tunnels, Jackie’s wheelchair, empty. I never saw her again and no one ever knew what happened to her.

I didn’t want this for Timothy, though what I wanted wasn’t even relevant. What mattered deeply to me was what Timothy wanted for himself. There is no doubt in my mind that Timothy wants to finish his degree. There is no doubt in my mind that Timothy wants to have his own home, a luxury never afforded him. And there is no doubt in my mind that Timothy is more than capable of achieving these goals and so much more. But, in my heart of hearts, I am fearful for him, worried that he will return to the darker days of his past, losing the motivation he had just months ago. At 53, Timothy could easily just settle, and allow the chips to fall where they may.

It will be a month or so until I hear from him again. He promised he’d call me today, but until he’s able to arrange to get another phone, it’s unlikely he’ll be in touch. And on this brighter, warmer day, I’m left with nothing but doubt, niggling at me, like an unreachable itch.



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