Jack was my last psych assessment of the day yesterday.
Jack came hobbling in with one crutch. I could hear him reciting his girlfriend woes all the way down the hall to the registrar woman bringing him to me.
Jack was missing a tooth. He asked me if he could take his coat off. "Of course", I said.
Jack had never been to therapy before. He told me that his girlfriend whom he is living with has told him he has issues with anger; he dreams at night and is "yelling in tongues to the devil and in different languages". I nod. He admits, yes, he is very sad, indeed.
Jack says, "I'm getting hot" as more and more words come tumbling out of his mouth. Mind racing faster than the words can come. Spilling. He asks if he can take his button up shirt off. No one ever asks that. There is rarely consideration or appropriateness. And why would there be? Consideration and appropriateness are learned. I say, "Of course".
It strikes me that Jack "dressed up" for our meeting. Underneath the button up shirt, he has a stained white t-shirt and underneath that an A-shirt. His chocolate brown arms are wide and his muscles are tightly corded. I find myself thinking of slaves and maybe it's because Jack is enslaved.
Jack starts to sob. Out of nowhere, seemingly. My heart constricts. He says, just barely, "Excuse me".
I say, "Take your time".
He cannot compose himself. I sit with him; angling my body towards his.
He says, "Excuse me", again.
I say, "Take your time. Just take your time".
It occurs to me that Jack has never had time to take. In fact, his time has always been taken.
I ask Jack about his strengths. Qualities, characteristics about himself that are positive. I ask him what he likes to do. He lights up. He had a subcontracting business for twenty years. "I like laboring work."
He lost that work. And everything else.
Crack will do that. So will alcohol.
So will poverty, loss of a parents, gang wars, public housing, judgment, lack of support, no one to believe in you and growing up black in this country.
Before Jack lost it all, he had a girl he very much loved, I think. He had a child with her. He moved her and her children and his own child to Lansdale, PA. "I got her a real nice house too. Kids shouldn't grow up in Philly."
Jack stares off into the distance. His voice cracks. "I miss my son. I call him and he won't call me back. They make it hard to come back."
His son is 14 years old.
Jack has been clean and sober for three years. I think to myself, it's always what comes after the sobriety that is the hardest. When life slaps you in the face and condemns you for all you've done and no matter how you try to make reparations, you are reminded that you still have to pay. You will always pay.
I wonder about the concept of forgiveness. I think the concept of forgiveness is kind of part of the problem here.
Jack tells me that a neighbor grabbed him by the shoulders one day when he was coked up and told him he could do better. That's what it took. The neighbor died. Jack is racked with tears and an inability to catch his breath over this loss.
I ask about suicidal thoughts. Jack says that after his father died, he sat in the dark room alone. With a gun in his hand.
I don't even question how he had a gun at 15. In retrospect, that's even sadder.
His mom happened to come home. She took the gun from him.
I say, "Sounds like you scared the hell out of her."
He looks at me, "I didn't even think about that."
I wonder if it was the wrong thing to say.
Jack joined a new church last week. He said he went to both services. He was there all day. He says he felt peace. He felt relief. He just stayed all day because it felt better. I give a silent thanks for the power of religion/faith/spirituality. Oh, when it does good, it does good.
We talk more. Well, Jack talks. I more listen. There's never enough listening.
Sometimes Jack laughs at things I say. They're not funny nor meant to be.
But his laugh is wonderful and I'll take it.
Jack tells me of going to his brother's home last weekend to watch the Eagles. To eat some food. He tells me how he wanted to leave. That he wants to be with his brothers, but his brothers are also scary. They're drug dealers. They have bright, shiny, fancy things as a result. His brother kept pushing him down when he tried to stand up. Chokehold. Jack takes his fork and jabs at his thigh. He can finally leave.
He takes a rest a few blocks down.
He sees his bother's Cadillac drive up. "He wants to fight, I think". He sees two cop cars following the Cadillac. Charged with simple assault. He goes to jail. Given the top bunk despite having a hurt back. Falls off the bunk and hurts his leg. This was the beginning of October. Finds out it's been broken this whole time. Didn't find out until November 6th.
He asks me if I'm married. I say, "I'm not". He doesn't understand. He asks a lot of different ways how that's possible. My answers mostly remain the same, "I couldn't tell ya". And I couldn't. I have no idea.
A knowing look suddenly comes over his face. He says, "Ah. A bull just hasn't been able to catch ya yet."
I smile. His sentiment is sweet. The thought passes of me rejecting offers left and right. Not so much.
Jack looks at me. He says, "I'm cooler now. I'm going to put my shirt back on".
His movements are jerky. He takes odd pauses. His sudden stops and eye contact are slightly disconcerting. I make a psychiatry appointment for next week. I explain the same things more than a few times.
He looks at me. Stares. Again, I wait it out. He says, "I feel better. I didn't know I was allowed to talk. I never did."
This is part of Jack's story. I hope he gets to tell more of it. I hope someone listens. I hope he can organize his narrative. I hope he can have a space to grieve.
I'm very still when Jack finally leaves.
I hope not that Jack survives.
I hope that Jack lives.