“No problems shifting these days” he quipped, “all I have is a single bed and a set of drawers”, I don’t know what I am going to do, my daughters don’t want me. A shrug of his shoulders what can you do. I was giving Johnny (not his real name) a ride home, I could smell the alcohol on his breath, more like meths than beer he smelt. No teeth left, thing and scrawny with a pronounced pot belly, clothes that hang off him. Can you stop at the liquor store, I need some cigarettes? Sure back he comes with a slab of beer, NZ Lager, cheap and nasty, I didn’t see any cigarettes.
I have known him for over 20 years, and watched his decline as alcoholism has taken hold. I think he has been dependant on alcohol all that time. I have tried talking to him about it years ago but he just got angry. The truth is that he is drinking himself to death. As he has got older he has become more mellow, he can still put a days work in but he has to sup quietly on a beer as he works. No truly independent work now, just helping someone out who feels sorry for him, it’s not charity for sure but he wouldn’t survive a day anywhere else, one sniff of his breath would be enough.
Johnny was not always like that, he was married once, had children a job, a skilled driver. I don’t know a lot of his story but there will be sadness, grief and loss in it, there usually is. What do you do with guys like Johnny. One step from living on the street what can you do for him, give him a place to live? It is beyond my ability to cope with that stuff anymore. It seems that all is lost for him. His liver must be shot, he will not make old bones, 45/50 going on 60 is what he looks like, an old withered man.
I reflected on this as I drove home after dropping him off, what could I say to him that might convince him to at least attempt to turn his life around, What do I have to offer? I don’t know. I have worked with many people in the past with addiction issues, helped them out listened to them encouraged them however I know that unless they want to change nothing happens. Does this mean I should do nothing? Turn my back walk away, pretend I don’t see him? That embarrassed half shuffle. I can rationalise it without any problems,his choice, won’t take help, just an old alky, his choice. He has the same opportunities as everyone else. They drip off peoples tongues easily enough, not just about alkys and druggies, but the unemployed, single parents, the mentally ill. All people alienated from society unless they of course are the deserving poor. What is the deserving poor you may ask, well they should never buy new clothes, drink alcohol, certainly not smoke cigarettes, they shouldn’t drive cars, have holidays and go overseas .Above all else they should be grateful for every crumb that they get swept off the table and they must never complain.
We know that times are tough when we see the proliferation of second hand opportunity shops, and where people will shoplift from them, when we see food banks overwhelmed, community meals, soup kitchens in the land of plenty, but enough of that back to Johnny. I wonder if he had dreams and aspirations, goals and a vision. Did he want a different life, and does he still want one now. I remember my mum feeding an alcoholic man, it wasn’t charity, although mum would never turn away a hungry person. His wife was a respected woman in the church, it was almost scandalous, a thing of shame, he was a pleasant enough man. He didn’t come for dinner one night, they found him passed away on the floor, his bible was open, I can’t tell you where, I would like to say psalms. I think he didn’t like to live like he did. I wonder if Johnny wants to keep living like he does, does he know he is drinking himself to death, does he realise he is a step away from homelessness, does he know that his daughters don’t want him not because they don’t have room but they don’t want his drinking?
Why does this interest me, I guess I am always hopeful that it is never to late to write a new narrative in your life, and where there is life there is hope. My only answer is that I should discuss it with him, I don’t have any particular moral right, I don’t have any family connection, I just think it is such a waste. I guess all I can do is ask him those questions, there is help, if he wants it.
Makes you think,