Chapter Eight: Dark Knights and Saints
“But who can draw such a distinction when he looks at these quiet men with their childlike faces and apostles’ beards?”
— Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
I was sick, again, and I was getting pretty sick of being sick. Beer — even high gravity beer — just wasn’t helping anymore, mostly because I couldn’t hold it down. I still wasn’t allowed in the Old Port and wasn’t making much elsewhere. This day, I had over five dollars (five and change), but I needed eight and change. Gavin came through with the rest.
Gavin is one of the youngest Crew members, being a year younger than my own Rachel. The first time I met him, Foxy and I were sitting on some steps across from the soup kitchen. We had a bottle. Gavin walked up with a mountain of a man — he had to have been over six-foot-four and full of muscle — and being a typical Alpha, I felt the need to introduce myself.
“We’ve met before,” the guy said. “You wanted to fight me.”
“I wanted to fight you?” I said in shock. I had no recollection of the giant. “I must be out of my mind!”
Foxy had passed the bottle to Gavin. After the two walked away, I told Foxy he was crazy to be sharing a bottle with a kid. Gavin was obviously underage at the time.
“He’s young, but he’s not a kid,” Foxy explained. “He was robbed of that privilege.”
The next time I saw Gavin I had just gotten out of jail after over nine months away. It was the eve of his 21st birthday and he was about to graduate from the Preble Street Teen Shelter to the benches with the rest of the Crew. He had been homeless for years by then.
Gavin’s become like a son to us, and I believe he thinks of the Crew as a sort of collective dad. Sadly, as messed up as we all are, he comes from an even more disturbingly messed up paternal ancestry, his own private Hell that he’s had to endure and overcome.
At times it seems like Preble Street perpetuates a uselessness of youth, but I don’t judge. I didn’t live these youngsters’ lives. An old friend once said to me — after his very young daughter, whom I used to babysit, had just died of leukemia — “Each person’s pain is just as painful for that person as any other’s.” He’d been trying to console me during my divorce. He did, because I saw his strength. My problem suddenly seemed trivial, but not to him. He comforted me. Thank you, Steven.
On this day, however, that wisdom was absent. The problem at hand seemed dire. I needed gin. Gavin kicked in the rest of the money and Griz ran to the store. He returned with the eight-dollar liter of gin in less than 10 minutes and I was five ounces from feeling fine.
I popped the bottle and took a fat shot, then passed it to Gavin. He hit it fast and handed it off to Griz. The Griz got a good swallow and sent it to Foxy. It was just the four of us on the corner and we were right in the open. Instead of hitting the bottle quickly and capping it for concealment, Foxy held it in front of his face and began to chuckle, as if someone had slipped him a hit of acid or something, or like the village idiot.
Around the corner came the Dark Knight, on a bicycle. He tore the bottle from Foxy’s hand and, with only three shots gone, proceeded to dump it in the gutter. In a desperate panic, I shouted, “What are you doing? That’s my bottle! I’m sick! You’re killing me!” I meant that quite literally. I felt like I might die without it.
“Well, if you want to take ownership of the bottle, I can take you to jail,” the cop said.
I understood and bit my lip.
“I know you guys have friends with places,” the Dark One added. “Why don’t you drink there?”
“Because if we drink at their places, they won’t have places anymore,” I said.
I scrounged around the Block, borrowing a sip here and a shot there, trying to stave off the inevitable, but I was crashing. I must have dozed, because I woke up. When I awoke, I was behind the soup kitchen, sitting on the sidewalk, feeling like dog shit some asshole neglected to pick up. I probably looked about as appealing as a turd on the sidewalk, too.
I got myself up off of the ground, barely, and hobbled around to the front of the building. I found Debbie Blue Eyes and Chowdahead sitting on a bench. I sidled up beside them and asked for a drink. They were both sober, and seemingly grateful for that. I needed that. I needed to be sober, and I wanted to be gratefully sober, not just dry.
Then Sharkie rolled up in a car driven by some pretty blonde girl. “Are you ready?” he asked.
“Ready for what?”
“Ready to take the ride.”
I knew what he was saying. I’d been honest about my condition, had told him I wanted help and that I was serious. “To Saint Mary’s?” I asked.
“That’s the ride, if you’re really ready,” he said.
I thought of Officer Kiddy. My response was simple and short. “I am.”