Seize & Desist | Prose that Sucks

‘God, I hope she doesn’t shit on me.’

That was the stray thought that flitted through my mind like an alley cat as I held Calva’s head off of the tiled floor.

I was the first to see her eyes roll and her face contort into the ghoulish carnival mask that foretold of the oncoming seizure – facial muscles jerking, mouth sucking at the air like a fish out of water – but a blockade of chairs and anxious lookers-on prevented me from being swift enough to stop her head from slamming onto the cheap tile floor with a crack that echoed through the room.

It was by luck of the draw that Nancy – another Worker’s girlfriend who was an RN – was visiting at that time, and that she was the first to Calva’s side. I hovered dumbly over the both of them, never having seen someone seize before I had no idea what to do.

“Go get something to cover her bottom half,” Nancy’s voice snapped me out of my useless fretting, and gave me a task to focus on. Calva had been wearing a dress, and was now familiarizing half of the shelter with the exact shape and texture of her genitals.

“Now what?” I asked once I ended the peep show.

“There’s really nothing you can do for someone having a seizure. You just turn them on their side and let them go,” she replied with a glance to her watch.

I held Calva’s head in my hands, her course buzz cut tickling my palms as I willed my comfort into her flesh. The seconds crept into minutes as her body continued to jolt until, bit by bit, her body relaxed and her breathing became steady.

Of course that’s when the ambulance came.

The slamming of the stretcher caused Calva’s eyes to snap open, and whip wildly around the room.

“It’s ok,you’re at the shelter,” I cooed as they roughly hoisted her body on to the stretcher.

“I’m clean! I’ve been clean for years! Don’t let them put my in jail!”

“Calva… CALVA!! You’re not going to jail – you’re going to the hospital, you had a seizure.”

“Shit, that’s all? Well, let’s go!”

(Bomb) Shelter | Prose that Sucks

The outside was nondescript, looking for all the world like an abandoned office building in any low income neighborhood in the US. Perhaps that was the intention, so that no undue attention was brought to its doors – though more often than not that was the case.

The narrow corridor that led to the front door reeked of 30 years worth of piss that had been baked into the cement by countless summer suns. It steamed off the sidewalk rising in hot waves and marinating me in its musky, testosterone laden stench which caused me to silently choke as I walked into the oldest homeless shelter in the city.

The place was a hovel – no better than the abandoned buildings and alleyways the city’s worst addicts squatted in and it certainly smelled the same. Piss was merely a lone thread in the foulness than blanketed the place; ammonia, sour body odor, festering infection and the unmistakable burnt plastic smell of crack all mixed together to make a putrid stew.

Packed into the narrow room were countless dilapidated couches that served as beds, each infested with lice and bedbugs which caused those brave enough to spend the night to slap and scratch themselves wildly throughout their slumber. The permanent fixtures of the place had acquired an immunity to the parasites, and out of the sheer terror of their bed being stolen opted to never leave their perch, instead sending trusted friends to the store for them and sneaking a smoke whenever the caretaker wasn’t looking.

Needles of natural light filtered through three greasy windows which caused the paint on the walls to peel like rotting flesh adding to the general neglect of the building. Yet, looming ominously in a darkened corner was another wall that drew your attention like a mosquito bite on tender flesh.

“All of those are people who lived here, on and off, since the place opened in 1985,” the caretaker explained when she saw me staring at the wall.

Tacked to the wall with cheap plastic pushpins were funeral programs – thousands of them – spanning floor to ceiling, corner to corner. Photos of thousands of people stared back at me; black, brown, white, old and young alike – a veritable wall of death.

I felt a chill creep over me as I prepared to depart and when I stepped into the sunshine I inhaled deeply in an attempt to shake off dark thoughts of suffering, addiction and death. Once again I choked on the smell of the piss soaked sidewalk – the only indisputable material evidence that those thousands had lived, loved and were remembered.

Love and Heat Stroke | Prose that Suck

It was the last seven days before the beginning of the month, which meant that the normally aloof hospitality room had detonated into a cacophony of noise; voices calling out to each other across the room, muddled music from the ancient TV tucked into an alcove high on the wall and the bone-jarring sound of hard plastic dominos being slammed down onto the unforgiving metal surface of the card table – “Domino, muthafucka!”

The heat was oppressive, bearing down on me like an interrogator moments away from their coveted confession. Sweat rolled down my back and beaded in the fine hairs of my upper lip producing a salty mustache that I could taste each time I smiled. Outside the shelter the city broiled, topping out at 95° but inside the 125 year old brick storefront it was a holocaust.

It was in this Purgatory that 150 men were packed, as close as lovers, the air fetid from the stench of unwashed crotch and armpits, the spice of anti-bacterial soap, cheap cologne and the wild, sour fecal smell of the mentally ill who’d been sleeping rough for years. I wove my way through the tapestry of foul air and flesh, squeezing my way between crackheads, AIDS patients, schizophrenics, prostitutes, alcoholics, pimps, cons, rapists and pedophiles to find myself on the other side of the room, glazed with the sticky sweat of those I passed.

I wavered for a moment at the edge of the crowd, the perimeter of my face humming with the threat of succumbing to the heat, when I felt the ghostly hands of Grace creep over me. It was not a profound feeling, no, rather one of quite certitude: I love them. For all of their flaws and short comings, for their undeniable humanity, and for the mere fact that we are, together, wading chest deep through the shit and piss of the world – I love them.  They are wholly mine, and I theirs.