It happened Tuesday night. Or rather, Tuesday night was the last time anyone's heard him talk. Yes, many people do withdraw when first entering the shelter, that's sort of expected, but a total shut down? You hope not to see that. Not often one gets the chance to mark the exact moment a person's soul dies. Tough to know what to do when you're present when someone actually enters the land of the Living Dead.
Homelessness takes a toll, some better equipped to pay than others. Jonathon is a white collar, white bread walking bag of soft dough who never "means no harm nor can take no harm" as one person described his type. His time in a world of cutthroats limited at best.
He told his story upon admission but rarely referred to it afterwards and then only obliquely. Jonathon turned out to be the rarest of birds: an honest banker (he was in charge of calculating risk assessment to be exact). Four years ago he'd blown the whistle on his bosses and for that he was promptly purged as a threat to the bank's profits and plunder. And this was in Charlotte, a banking town, where he was blackballed and run out of the industry.
It got worse. His wife left him, taking both their children, a boy and a girl. She remarried which - according to Jonathon - was to an investment banker who directly profited from the exact same means he'd blown the whistle on! His ex held no intent of her or her kids living in anything but luxury. Yet when he spoke of her he spoke with love still and at our periodic group "wound sharing time" he painfully recounted his thoughts of "that man inserting himself into her." The devastation on his face moved our usually hardy group to silence and we dispersed.
And now Jonathon himself speaks no more, the sands in his hourglass of hope having fallen through, a life devoid of simple pleasures. None dare touch him while in his shut down mode, the most extreme method of mental survival. He isn't walking on eggshells, he is an eggshell. Arrows flew in from every direction, in doing either right or wrong he saw death.
Even before this I'd kept an eye out for red flags from his having falling from the clouds. Many times it's in the seeming throwaway phrases you get the truest glimpse into a person's soul. Jonathon's flag was very subtle - so subtle I wondered if I'd only imagined it. But I trusted the instinct that made me sit up straight in my chair. He was backing out of the counselor's office, his wilting spirit saying, "That's OK. I understand you have no time for me."
Human needs give no quarter regardless of circumstance and to outsiders time may seem plentiful for the homeless - but it's time that belongs to our masters who hold the sustenance. In time our relentless desire for life will prove our salvation, casting off the chains of death. But in the meantime lies cruel death. Squirming sex happens even in the various shelters, echoes of lives lost - and hoped for once more. In the camps, rape is rampant but unreported. I've always wondered if that's due to the women having lost a sense of worth or from their having gained a savage understanding of survival - or both.
Knowing this, what to do for Jonathon? He'd spent one moment too many dreaming of his plush past and insular life. He'd questioned one too many times where was the reward for doing the right thing. And suffered one too many heartbreaks in the night imagining his wife climaxing with that vile, moneyed penis. And maybe it was also facing the realization he had no real skills outside the artificial world of banking. A life to be rebuilt from scratch.
Ricardo walks around smoking (outside only, of course!) these thin little cigars like you see in a Clint Eastwood western, like it makes him special or something. True or not, he never gives a damn about anyone's plight or sob story du jour and it's he who oftentimes has the courage to say what the rest of us think but don't dare utter. I both winced and jumped for joy when I saw he got a whiff of Jonathon's shut down and his silent, fixed stare.
"Hey, banker man, what kind of world you think you livin' in, man? " The stone man's eyes flickered. "You expecting fairy tales and cotton candy and happy ever after cuz you done "the right thing"? Don't work like that. You gonna get the shaft, homey!" Ricardo grinned around the room like a star performer. Knowing smiles from his fellow shaftees appreciated his expressed sentiment. He didn't bother to notice the darting movement of Jonathon's eyes. "What make you think the real mundo should never touch your gringo ass, eh? Nobody gets "fair". Not nobody, ever. You gotta live for ya-self."
Ricardo walked away, his job done: no self-pity on his watch. The best psychologists are the ones never paid - but are most cherished by the angels. I don't know if Ricardo's speech is enough to pull Jonathon out of his stupor or not. America is like a page slowly burning inward from the outer edges. We on the edges witness this burning helpless and voiceless as it takes life after life while the blind shudder in the middle hoping the flames die out before they too are consumed. Time...is slipping away...