Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Silence looked me in the face, and I finally heard its voice

Working at a place like Doug's House can get you used to dealing with a lot of shit. Both literally and metaphorically. You see the "dregs" of humanity, societal castaways and the forgotten. People who have been so abused and abandoned, and done plenty of abusing and abandoning themselves, that if you never understood the human survival instinct before, you surely would after being there. Or maybe sometimes it's the opposite, working feverishly against the individual in every action they take. Some people try for years to kill themselves, and in the end, they're the ones that hold on most tightly when it's time to go. Sometimes they're the ones that fight the hardest; whose bodies, even after years, sometimes decades, of abuse and destruction, refuse to give up. Working at a place like Doug's House can quickly teach you what it might take years to discover in books. Nothing replaces experience. I can easily see why people get so burned out in this profession. It's draining, for the most part unappreciative, demanding and just hard to do, physically and emotionally. For the rest of my life, every time I see soft serve ice cream, I'm going to think about cleaning up about a pint and a half of diarrhea out of someone's brief, who not only can't move, but has a prolapsed rectum that's swollen and bleeding. I don't say that to be flippant, I say that because it's true and that was the goal: to make his stool the consistency of ice cream.

It's not as hard as it sounds. You just suck it up and you do it. It has to be done. You get through it. You don't take deep breaths, you wash your hands about a zillion times afterwards. Even if you don't believe in god, you go outside to collect yourself and look up at the stars and thank him that it's not you, and beg that it never will be. You think, "I would just kill myself before it got to that point," but you know it's not true. You wouldn't. You'd hold on because you're not ready to go yet, even though your body is quitting on you, you're literally nothing but a skeleton, and at this point, all you're expelling is years of intestinal sludge.

I never knew that when people are dying, their heart rate increases (usually to about 120 beats a minute), but their breathing slows down drastically (usually to about 6 breaths a minute). That's one way you know that they're going. Sometimes, when they've been paralyzed for years on one whole side of their body, that side of their body begins to move for no reason. It twitches, and they can grasp your hand with their fingers.

R. is 56, and his partner of almost 17 years hasn't left the house since he arrived 8 days ago. He's going, anytime, probably tonight. R.'s father, who is very old and restores stringed instruments for a living and resells them in a little shop, is also there every day. He's a beautiful old man, and sweet as the dickens. He goes home for dinner more often, and usually home to sleep at night, but always comes back. R.'s sister is often there as well; she's not ready to let go yet, and she's gonna have a rough time of it. You know. But it's nice to see someone get so much support, to see someone whose life was so full of love and tenderness and art and fulfillment. Just being in his room with all these people is so intense, and the energy in there is so...not really positive, but it is. It's sincere, it's palpable, it's inspiring. They're the real deal, and no one's going home early.

And you go in the kitchen to get a drink of water, and you can inadvertently start a conversation with another staff member about philosophy, and existentialism, and dying and books and they've been there and their heart is so large and they've lived so much life it makes you wonder how they can just walk around on Earth and act like a normal person.

And sometimes, you can leave a place like Doug's House at night to drive home, and realize how fucking full of love the world can be, and it feels like your heart is going to burst, and you just listen to the Dixie Chicks in your car and cry instead.

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