Continuity of Care.

The first time I saw him he was walk­ing around the shel­ter with another man. His hands were buried in the pock­ets of his hoodie and his gaze was fixed on the ground. He looked shorter than his actual height because he was slouching.

He and the man walked laps around the shel­ter while they talked. His expres­sion was hard: Eye­brows fur­rowed, jaw tight, lips curled into a slight frown. He moved across the tiled floor like a sleek fish glid­ing through the water.

Hi,” I said, intro­duc­ing myself. “Do you mind if we talk for a few minutes?”

His com­pan­ion kept walk­ing as he coasted to a halt. His stony expres­sion soft­ened; his eye­brows raised and wrin­kles appeared at the outer cor­ners of his eyes as he smiled.

Sure. Thank you.”

He and I walked laps around the shel­ter for the next few days. His father beat his mother, his brother, and him. At the age of 11 he found his mother’s body after she com­mit­ted sui­cide. His father dis­ap­peared for days at a time. When he returned, his speech was slurred, clothes were dirty, and exha­la­tions were thick with malt liquor. He stopped attend­ing school. He ran away from home. He slept in alleys and under­neath bridges. The police picked him up on a vari­ety of charges: Theft. Drug pos­ses­sion. Crim­i­nal trespass.


The sec­ond time I saw him he lying on a mat in the shel­ter. The stiff blan­ket was not long enough to cover his entire body; his feet with their long toe­nails poked out.

He pulled the blan­ket off of his face and replied, “Heroin. Cou­ple days ago.” Pulling up a sleeve, he showed me the col­lec­tion of tiny bruises on his arm. He closed his eyes. Beads of sweat col­lected on the pale skin of his forehead.

I’ll be done kick­ing dope tomor­row.” He pulled the blan­ket back over his head.


The third time I saw him he was sit­ting on the floor in the shel­ter, his arms hug­ging his knees.

I don’t make many promises. I promised her that I won’t kill myself. I keep the promises I make, so I didn’t do it. I really wanted to.”

He accepted the invi­ta­tion and got up. He and I walked laps around the shel­ter. He had yet to talk with her, though he planned to see her tomor­row. The last time he used heroin was over six months ago, but he was also in jail for four of those months.

You didn’t use any­thing in jail?”

He shook his head.

After a pause, he said, “You know, I’ve seen you down­town. You were with a guy, so I didn’t want to bug you.”

Is that where you’re stay­ing these days?”

Yeah.”

Out­side?”

Yeah.”


The fourth time I saw him he was stand­ing on the side­walk out­side of a methadone clinic. The hood of his sweat­shirt was pulled over his head and baggy jeans cov­ered his long legs. His hands were buried in the pock­ets of his sweat­shirt. The other man made a joke; he chuck­led and wrin­kles appeared at the outer cor­ners of his eyes as he smiled.

I crossed the street. He was with a guy and I didn’t want to bug him.


The fifth time I saw him he had already passed me. With­out real­iz­ing that I was reviv­ing an old habit, I wrapped the long white coat closed as I looked over my shoulder.

Smith!” the offi­cer barked. “Stay where you are. Turn around.”

He stopped, turned, and looked up. We saw each other.

Go back to your cell­block, Smith.”

He moved across the con­crete floor like a sleek fish glid­ing through the water. Before he passed me, he nod­ded in recog­ni­tion. I nod­ded back.

We both kept walk­ing. I sighed.