Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Sick Intruder

I’m at the office, pulling an all-nighter. It’s around midnight. Outside, east of Thunderbird and Scottsdale road, there are no cars. No people, no sound.
I have the door open, lights on, headphones blasting.
I’m aligning some text when I see movement in the corner of my eye. The hallway light dimmed and then brightened abruptly, as if someone just walked by.

I remove my headphones and listen closely. I hear shuffling feet, like someone’s dragging them in a painful stupor.

This business area of Redfield road is ghostly quiet at night, there are no residential complexes of any kind. Why is there someone here at this hour? I didn’t see or hear a car pull in, this man is on foot.

I grab a ballpoint pen in my fist, and will stab this man’s neck if I have to.

I move slowly from my seat, silent, listening for his position.
I hear fumbling in the kitchen. He’s turned on the faucet full blast. He’s groaning, sniffling a very runny nose.

I’m behind him now, just a few feet away.
He’s young. Can’t be more than 22 or 23 years old. His weakened frame slumps under a dirty hooded sweatshirt. His jeans are tired, with dark hair and an unkempt beard.
I watch him vomit in the sink, then grab his mouth as if struggling to be quiet.

I can’t kill this boy, he’s already dying.
 I put my pen in my back pocket.

“Can I get you something?”

He jumps, spinning to face me with a watery-eyed glare.

“It’s okay. You’re safe here. Let me get you some water.”

I take a bottled water from the small refrigerator, approach him slowly and hold the bottle out to him.
He hesitates, wiping slime from his mouth.

After looking me up and down a few times, he grabs the water quickly and starts chugging it, never taking his eyes off me.

His eyes. They’re sunken deep, panicky black holes, with a thin layer of clammy sweat from every pore. He’s sick. And I think I know from what.

“You don’t look so good buddy. Why don’t you have a seat,” I nod towards the large leather couch by the front door.

He looks at the floor, then back at me, then the floor again.

“You can talk, can’t you? I already told you, I’m not calling the cops.”

“Yeah… yeah okay,” his voice is embarrassed. He’s in the spotlight now and has some explaining to do.

He tries to appear normal, but he’s too far into withdrawal. His body is shivering, his sweat stinks unnaturally. He makes it to the couch and collapses onto it, grimacing.

“You got a few bucks you can spare… you know for the bus.”

The bus, cute.

“How many hours in are you?” I ask, sitting down beside him.

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean.”

He grabs his stomach, leaning forward, containing a monster in his gut.

“I… I don’t know. It’s been like twenty six hours or so I… I think.”

“Twenty six hours? Jesus. You’re dying by now.”

He swallows, his face is white, “That’s what… that’s what it feels like man.”

“I’d offer you some food, but you can’t eat right n-“

“-Oh God no. No food. No food…” he’s rocking back and forth now, his muscles are tearing themselves. His feet kick around, grasping for relief that doesn’t exist.

“I’d let you sleep here, there’s a bed in the back. But I don’t want you stealing shit the moment I let my guard down,” I tell the coffee table.

“Aw man, I won’t steal nothin-”

“-Yeah you will. Because I would if I were you.”

He doesn’t argue with me. Just keeps rocking back and forth, gripping his stomach tightly. His eyes water, he’s gasping for air and spitting poisonous mucus into the trash can I gave him.

“You… you don’t know what this is like man,” he utters, barely audible.

“Are you sure about that?” I roll up my sleeves, “Look.”

He leans over, and stops rocking when he sees my arms. “You… you have no veins…how long were you…”

“Few years,” I tell him, rolling my sleeves back down.

He goes back to rocking, his legs won’t stay still for a second. He feels really stupid now.

I ask him how he got here. Now that he knows I’m on his side, with genuine understanding, he doesn’t hold back. He confesses his entire night to me. Starting off with how he called his dealer way after operating hours, got in the guy’s car, asked for a front, and got kicked to the curb. The curb right down the street from my office. He says he was walking around, desperate for somewhere to hide, and that my office was the only place with lights on. So he took the risk and came inside.

“You realize chances are you’d get arrested, beaten up, or thrown out just showing up in a random office. This is the LAST place I’d expect to see someone like you. This town has no patience for drug addicts, man. What were you thinking? It’s almost guaranteed you’d end up in jail, where it’s pure Hell. Especially when you’re sick,” I tell him.

He tries to respond, but vomits in the trash can instead.

“All right, come on. Let’s clean you up. Get up,” I stand, grabbing his wet hand and pull him off the couch.

He stumbles to the bathroom. I watch him in the doorway as he splashes water over his face. I notice him avoiding his own reflection in the mirror.

“Look at yourself,” I tell him.

He’s leaning over the sink, his shoulders shake beyond his control.

“Look at yourself. In the mirror.”

He slowly brings his gaze up and faces himself. His eyes beg for escape. Freezing sweat, a mixture of snot and vomit down his chin. His skin isn’t white anymore, but ashen gray.

He growls, closing his eyes tightly, his lips shiver. Here it comes.

“I hate this. I… I hate this,” he whimpers.

“That’s not you, that guy in the mirror.”

“I’m such a fucking loser. I hate this. I want to die. I hate this… so much.”

“You’re not a loser, man. You’ve just been acting like one for too long.”

He grips the sides of the sink hard, straining to gain composure.
But he can’t stop it. The heroin dam in his brain has just burst wide open, letting all the depression, sadness, guilt and regret flood his mind.

Tears are pouring down his face. I don’t say a word, I just watch him burn as I lean inside the doorway.

Every tear down his cheeks angers him more. He’s sobbing, deep and hard gasps of air, choking on his own pain.

“I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” he screams at the mirror. He’s gripping his matted hair tightly, rocking back and forth.

I’m not sure who he’s apologizing to. It’s not just me, but to himself as well. To the loved ones that have banished him. Maybe everyone and everything.
I’m watching a complete stranger break into pieces. It’s important not to interrupt this moment. Let it hurt him. Let it leave a scar.

He’s bundled himself up tightly in the corner of the bathroom. He can’t bear to look at himself anymore.

That’s long enough.

“Hey man, you want a cigarette? I’m gonna have one, if you want.”

He wipes his eyes, “Yeah. Yeah that… that sounds good.”

We’re out front in the parking lot. He’s sitting, legs shaking and kicking around.

I lean down, lighting his smoke for him, then light my own. I take a long drag, letting the bathroom moment leave us in the breeze.

“You… you got anything that could make this go away?” he asks.

“Nope. Nothing. Not even a Vicodin.”

He groans, grabbing his face and doubling over.

“But I can do you one better. It’s late, really late. But I’ll drive you to a detox center if you want.”

He doesn’t respond, staring at his vibrating feet.

“Not Lark, that place sucks. I’ll drive you to Community Bridges in Mesa. They’re good people there, man. They’ll help you.”

He’s thinking about it. His mind is screaming at him, back and forth. Even the most rational brain is torn to shreds in his current situation.

He stands up, too quickly. “N… no. No.”

“What, you got some place to be?”

He doesn’t. And he knows it.

“Come on, man. Fuck this crappy life you’ve been living. Get it all back. Get it all back now.”

His lips curl up, he’s about to cry again. He covers his face with a shaky hand, and starts walking away into the night.

I should grab him. Punch him, throw him in the truck and take him to get the help he wants but can’t accept. But I don’t. For some reason, I don’t.

A passing wind hits him hard, chilling him to the bone. He keeps walking, getting smaller in my sight until he vanishes around the corner.


  1. Thank God you were safe - and I'm sure that He used you to bless that young man....

  2. Speechless. That man just experienced a bit of God's grace, via Andrew. I hope he doesn't squander it.

  3. Even in our darkest moments God reaches out to us.....but we can't even see it. That poor guy, praying he wants to get clean.

    Do you think this is odd that this happened to you? I say that because I know God put people in my path that came from the same background as I did...I know it was for a reason.

    I really think that the whole mirror incident is going to be huge in his turn around....

  4. I hope so. Seems like a 1 in a million chance he'd show up and get a helpful welcome.

  5. I agree with Sew - the man was sent to you for a reason, and the mirror incident will stick with me for a while, so I'm sure it will stick with the man as well.