7:00 PM, Sept. 14, 2017
I’m pressing my head against my window in the living room of my apartment, ten stories up in an ugly, brown highrise. The rain pelts the glass like bullets and I’m watching those outside on the street below, walking home from work, running for shelter, finding awnings and vestibules to duck into. The ringing in my ears has stopped. I only hear the rain. And the thunder. Flashes of lightning infiltrate this dark room. I check the local news on my phone to see if there are any stories about the fallen man. Nothing. Only that there was increased traffic in that area due to a “police activity.” I go over what I saw in my head. The phrase “just some junkie” burns in my mind’s eye. Then another thought arises. An unfamiliar thought. I want a flood, I think. I don’t fight it. I let the thought grow. I want the water to rise. To take everyone and everything with it. I want to watch from this view so I can see it all before it takes me too. No arc full of animals, no salvation. Just a clean world. Nothing more. I find myself thinking these things. And then I remember my session with Donnie from earlier today. I think of what he might be doing right now. Alone at his bunk, looking through a Bible he can’t read. I think of how every moment he’s been alive has been Hell. And yet, he still chooses life. I’m thinking of Donnie and the rain stops.
6:40 PM, Sept. 14, 2017
I’m crossing the street. The crowds are dispersing. Chattering. Moving on. My ears are ringing. I don’t know where to go. Or what to do. A distant rumble of thunder sounds in the distance. It jogs my memory: I’m walking home. Where’s home?Another member of the crowd says excuse me as he walks by, brushing my elbow as he puts his headphones in. I watch him walk down Broadway. I follow. I keep my head down as I walk. I watch my feet. Just to make sure every step touches the ground. The ringing persists. Grows louder. Drowns out everything around me. I just keep watching my feet. They’re moving forward. But should they be? I ask myself that question all the way to the front door of my building. A gentle, steady rain is falling now. I remain outside, looking skyward. I can see individual raindrops falling, seemingly picking up speed as they draw closer to the ground. The ringing. The damn ringing in my ears. Are you coming in? A neighbor asks as she holds the door open, holding a folded umbrella in her other hand. I don’t answer right away. I’m not sure what to tell her.
6:30 PM, Sept. 14, 2017
There’s a man atop the crane erected at the construction site on Broadway. I’m standing in a crowd of people, held back by a wooden police barricade, all of us watching his every move. I’m having trouble finding my breath, as he toys through the bars ten stories above, like a child on a playground. He seems reckless. Worse than reckless. Indifferent. The man in the suit to my right thinks he’s just some idiot looking for attention. Thinks he’s just wasting everyone’s time. The man in the suit to my left agrees. A woman behind me says that he’s probably on drugs. Says he’s probably just some junkie. Many others around me agree with her. They point. They mock. They laugh. But, no one breaks their stare. The man on the crane inches toward the edge of the platform. I whisper to him: climb down. please. climb down. Something in me already knows what happens next. I keep whispering to him anyway. Please, climb down. A single drop of rain falls from the dark sky above, landing in my right eye. I don’t blink. I see the man step off the platform. I see him fall. I see him hit the ground below, landing on the concrete with an unceremonious, wet thud. Like a sack of meat. The sound has no echo.
6:15 PM, Thursday Sept. 14, 2017
I’m walking the bridge into South Boston alongside a traffic jam, soaked in sweat. Up ahead, a policeman blocks the bridge and redirects the line of cars. I cringe at every horn pressed, sharp and abrupt, ringing in the thick, damp air. The drivers all wear expressions of rage. Of despair. Hell must be a traffic jam. I press on, waiting for the directive from the lone officer ahead. He waves me through despite sending the cars the other way. I walk out onto the bridge, and as I tread toward the apex, I gaze at the city skyline off to the east. The horizon is split in two. Half sunset pink. Half the black veil of a looming storm. I am struck by this divide until the commotion ahead hijacks my attention.
6:00 PM, Thursday Sept. 14, 2017
I’m reaching up, over another commuter’s shoulders, clutching the rubber ring hanging from the horizontal bar above and trying to keep my balance on a crowded subway. With every bump and turn, commuters crash into one another and throw angry stares. Remembering my graffiti mantra from the morning, I whisper to everyone and no one: fuck with love,through clenched teeth, trying to conjure the same feeling the phrase evoked earlier. It doesn’t have the same effect. The car pulls into the station at Tufts Medical Center. The doors slide open. Some get off. Some get on. Seconds turn to minutes. A collective realization sweeps the passengers: we aren’t moving. The doors remain open, the “ding” to signal their closing going off every few seconds with no completion. An announcement comes over the speaker: WE ARE EXPERIENCING A TECHNICAL ISSUE. WE ARE SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE. The air in the car turns hostile. Everyone blaming one another for an act of god. I eye the open doors and begin considering a walk home. Fresh air, though hot and humid, would do me some good. Especially after my session with Donnie today. I weave my way through the crowd and out the open doors. I walk up the stairs and out onto the street. I am greeted by a flock of pigeons, pecking about the concrete and a man sitting on an upside milk crate, jingling a change cup. I recognize him from the program. He was in my group last week. Sat in the corner. Never said a word. I can’t remember his name for the life of me. He asks me for change and calls me mister. Doesn’t look like he remembers my name either. I stuff my only dollar bill into his cup. At least today I walk away knowing I’ve left him with something.
5:30 PM, Thursday Sept. 14, 2017
I’m slinging my backpack over my shoulder as I push the front door to the shelter open, the humidity of a lingering summer hitting me like a wall, the haze of a late sun stinging my tired eyes. The day is done. And though every step across the lot and toward the subway takes me further away, somehow the names, the faces, the stories—they haunt me like hungry ghosts, wanting more from me than I have to offer. I look over my shoulder at the unremarkable brick building, a line of weary old men lining up on the wheelchair ramp and around the corner for dinner. I feel guilty for getting to leave. For having a place to go. It all seems so random. So arbitrary. I turn my head forward again. A large, monarch butterfly flutters erratically across my line of sight. I follow it as it ascends and notice the budding of thunderheads in the distance.
3:30 PM, Thursday Sept. 14, 2017
I’m sitting in the group room for the weekly graduation ceremony, the air thick and ripe with the smell of dirty socks. Every Thursday, those who have completed 28 days in the program are eligible to move on. Many don’t make the 28 days. Many make it, move on, and come back. Today there are two graduates: James and Billy. There were supposed to be four. But Carlos left last night unexpectedly, and Bobby got held back for failing a piss test. It is customary for the therapists on staff to speak about each graduate’s progress. Then the graduates have a chance to address the group as well. James is up first. He’s a talker—an anxious talker. His speech typically is rushed and pressured once he starts. This time is no different, except the room is following his every word. His voice begins to crack as some unwanted emotion starts spilling over. Telling the room how he didn’t think he’d live long enough to be sitting where he is. How he’s contemplated suicide so many times because he never thought he’d be anything more than “just a junkie.” Never thought he’d add anything of value to the world. Never thought the world would value him. He holds up his certificate to show the group. And he ends by thanking everyone there, by thanking God, for showing him he was more than he thought he was. He sits back down, wiping his eyes with his forearm. The room fills with applause. The applause fades, just as quickly as it came.
1:30 PM, Thursday Sept. 14, 2017
I’m sitting at my desk, fingers hovering over my keyboard. There’s a blank space under my session note for Donnie, the small, vertical cursor indented to the far left of the page, blinking in and out of existence. I’m not sure what to write. How to do what he told me justice. How to dress it all in clinical jargon while still preserving his humanity. It occurs to me in this moment how often I experience this dilemma. Today it was Donnie. Yesterday it was Peter. Brian the day before that. I take a breath and swivel in my chair, looking around at my closet-sized office for anything else to occupy my attention. Concrete walls painted a hideous baby blue–a cheap attempt at being therapeutic. The Ikea shelf with a handful of books from grad school I haven’t touched since. My Zen calendar I’ve forgotten to flip to the current day. I rise to my feet and walk the step and a half to rectify the issue. I peel yesterday’s date from the stack, crumple it and underhand it into my plastic wastebasket behind me. The new page, Sept. 14, 2017, is accompanied by a Zen proverb: The Obstacle is the Path. I pause for a moment, wondering who wrote that. What their inspiration might have been. Then I think of Brian. Of Peter. I think of Donnie. And where their paths have led them. Where they must be going. I place my calendar back on the shelf and return to my desk, fingers touching down on the keys to write.
12:00 PM, Thursday Sept. 14, 2017
I’m sitting in my office with Donnie. It’s been almost a month since he’s put a needle in his arm. He’s struggling though, white knuckling through every day. Since he’s stopped using, the memories are all coming back. Everything he’s tried to bury. Donnie looks down at the floor as he tells me how his father used to tie him up and make him watch while he raped his sisters. So, he couldn’t do a thing about it. So, he’d learn just how helpless he really was in this life. Helpless and scared. That is until he left home. Doesn’t remember what age— but he knows he was young. Too young. Never finished school. Still can’t read. He looks up at me now, bloodshot eyes, when he says he wants to forgive his father. Judgement ain’t my job, he says. Judgement is for the Lord. Judgement, he says, will kill a man faster than the needle. He seems sure of that. So, I don’t say anything. He asks if I’ll read his favorite psalm to him before the session is over. He hands me his bible. Points to the page. It’s one I know. I begin reading. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…
9:30 AM, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017
I’m running morning group. Sitting at the front table. Watching patients begrudgingly file through the door, styrofoam cups of instant coffee in their shaky hands. The seats around the room’s perimeter fill up first, as few of the men in this program are comfortable with someone they don’t know—someone they can’t see—sitting behind them. Other people are threats. Life’s taught them that. Time and time again. I like to think these guys can learn otherwise. They deserve to—like anyone else. That’s why I show up every day. That’s why I work here. We begin group by reciting the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. As a therapist, I help people identify that line. Between control and chaos. Outside this building, I’m trying to find that line too. Just like everyone else.
7:15 AM, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017
I’m riding the orange line to work. We’re stuck a few t-stops away from the shelter. The subway is delayed between Back Bay and Mass Ave, right where the train-car emerges from its underground pathway and enters open air, streaks of sunlight streaming in through the clouded car windows. The crinkled voice over the intercom assures us we will be moving soon, that we’re only stopped due to traffic up ahead. The other passengers know better though. I do too. I’m killing time by admiring the plethora of graffiti adorning the concrete walls that line the tracks. Most of it contains symbols unknown to me or indiscernible writing, all depicted in neon oranges, yellows and greens. There’s one message that stands out, however. In big, bold writing. All capital letters. FUCK WITH LOVE. I laugh for a moment to myself before recognizing its profundity. FUCK WITH LOVE. It’s a religion. Stripped to its bare bones. Love is all there is, all that matters. But it’s so damn hard to do. To love our neighbors, our enemies. So, we fuck with it. We do the best we can. I look around the car at the frustrated, impatient faces. I hear the groans and agitated musings of those with places to be. Fuck with love, I whisper to everyone and no one. Fuck with love.
5:30 AM, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017
I’m sleeping, on my side, legs bent with the down comforter pulled up to my chin. The room is dark and quiet, aside from the faint glow of the tv in the corner and the low, droning hum of the air conditioner perched in the bedroom window. There are clothes from the day before crumpled on the floor and a half-drunk glass of water on the bedside table. Next to the water, there’s a copy of the Upanishads, pages worn with many of the corners folded to mark their significance. On one of those marked pages, it reads: “he who sees all beings in his Self and his Self in all beings, he never suffers; because when he sees all creatures within his true Self, then jealousy, grief and hatred vanish.” I’ll wake up in a few moments believing that.
B. Dixon is an emerging writer and licensed counselor living in Salem, MA, who works with those experiencing homelessness in Boston, Massachusetts. His writing has been published in the J Journal, the Boston Literary Magazine, The Frogpond Journal, the Buddhist Poetry Review, the Star 82 Review and the Unbroken Journal, and will be featured in an upcoming issue of the Main Street Rag. His micro-chapbook, “Insomnia,” was also recently published by the Origami Poems Project.