by Ellie Mac
A pastor-turned-bum seeks redemption- but first he must learn himself.
Opening up in a white, sterile room was not the man’s idea of a comfort zone. The woman that sat across from him was pleasant enough- although her eyes were dead and her expressions showed more tiredness than she was probably willing to admit. 17 years, she said, since she started counseling the “underserved”. When the man tried to make small talk in order to establish some normalcy (he hated so much feeling like the subject of some scientific observation), she smiled wanly and in the slightest fashion, just enough to allow some humanity to filter through but mostly to show that she was polite and here for business. She often wore the clothing of a woman 10 years her senior and on her way to church: Her shirts were too loose and her dress jackets too tight, and often in loud colors. Her skirts, always knee length, were smooth and shiny, like her jackets and like her headdresses. Typically flowers with faux pearls on strings jutting out in every direction, her head adornments were usually carefully placed on the right side of her heavily processed bangs, stretched pitifully toward her eyebrow, breaking off raggedly before they could make it. The man noticed these things in great detail, as he spent most of his time fixated on them.
“Mr. Adara, we’ve been meeting for some time now,” she spoke crisply. “Three months to be exact.”
A sigh. “Mr. Adara, I am here to help you. I’ve been doing this for-“
“Yes.” Slightly annoyed. “17 years. And I know when a consumer is hiding something, and I know when a consumer is simply trying to fill a program requirement.”
There was a beat while she rested her eyes on him.
“I’m not giving you a recommendation for graduation unless you cooperate. Fully. And I need to know that you are following my recommendations for you. I need to know that you’re seeing the Psychiatrist and taking your medication-“
“I don’t like medication.”
She pursed her lips. “You don’t have to like it. It’s for your benefit that you take it, however-“
“I don’t do meds.”
‘Sir, it’s for the best.” Her irritation was mounting. “You’re clearly unwell. According to these psychiatric reports you’re dealing with some pretty heavy stuff. The medicine and talking about it will go a long way toward helping you out of this.“
“I don’t want that kind of help.”
The woman was losing her patience.
“This kind of help?” She straightened in her seat. “Do you know that men like you are looked down upon? That no one expects anything from you and that, to many, you are the bane of society? I am here to help you, not the other way around, sweetheart. Now you can straighten up and accept my help or you can leave. But beggars can’t be choosers.”
Beggar. The word was coated with malice. His face became tight.
“I didn’t beg for anything. I decided to enroll in this program.”
“And that was a good decision,” she said slowly. “But you must cooperate in order for this to work. How old are you, again?”
“You see? You’ve got your whole life ahead of you! And all you have to do is follow procedure, talk a little about yourself, listen to us tell you what to do. We are trained professionals, after all, and only have your best interest at heart.”
She paused to pull out a file.
A file! He felt a surge of loathing for his circumstances. If he hadn’t fallen so low, people wouldn’t think that they could condense everything about him into cold data. That everything they needed to know about him lied in someone else’s notes.
She continued, “You are living off the government and citizen donations to Hope Network Non-Profit. You haven’t had a job in years and you live in a shelter, through a program that is, again, run by private donations. And you’re mentally ill.” She closed the file.
“You need help,” she said slowly, deliberately. “You cannot do this on your own. You need to learn how to cope with your feelings, how to attain the necessary life skills to make it on your own.” He imagined that she talked to wayward children in the same manner.
He knew better than to fire back, however. If he were thrown out of counseling, he’d be thrown out of the program, and out of the shelter. And he was on his last strike with the Hope Network. He shook his head. She was not right about him. But he could not go back to life on the streets. He was dependent on everyone else, people that didn’t know him and didn’t care. He’d checked out on life and other people were footing the bill which meant that he had no say.
“Mr. Adara, what are you thinking?”
He straightened up in the chair, traveled the room quickly with his eyes and said, “I’ll participate. More. Start talking.”
She smiled. “Very good, sir.”
The words had burned his throat on the way out. Something about giving in to this woman, this program, this world, made him cringe on the inside. But he knew that he was tired of this life, and by insisting on doing it his way, he would be rejecting the only help that he could receive.
The next time he showed up for counseling, he tried to dress up a little. He wore his cleanest t shirt and the jeans with only a few stains on the legs. He wore his best shoes, New Balances, although they were uncomfortably tight. They still looked new. Sometimes they got some good stuff in those donation bins. As he walked down the narrow hallway with the cream peeling paint, he almost dreaded what was to come. It wasn’t that he didn’t like talking about himself- he really didn’t mind doing it ever so often. It was the cockiness of the case workers and counselors that he didn’t like- that unmistakable look of superiority, the way that they slowed down their words when explaining what they thought his “problem” was and what “techniques” he should use to “effectively cope”. It was the fact that they didn’t listen. They never listened. And they always thought that they knew more about him than he did. It made him livid. He came to room 223, the room he always went to, and examined it thoroughly before entering. The same white table, chipped along the corners. The same hard plastic white chairs. The same large central window with black hard metal framing it and bars on the outside. The glass was dirty with age. The same woman, only this time in too-big slacks and a shiny “dress” shirt- you know, the kind you could probably find in Rainbow. At least this time she tried to dress closer to her age.
The lady was focused and ready to go from the start, riding on the wave of elation from their last meeting two days prior. The man could tell that she was satisfied with herself, proud that her harsh words produced a “breakthrough” in one of her consumers. She’d probably even bragged about it. He wouldn’t be surprised. He looked at the clock.
“Alright, Mr. Adara.” She paused. “Do you mind if I use your first name? I find that it makes these things easier.”
“I’d rather you not. Everyone calls me by my last name or some variation of it.”
Did he detect shock on her face minutely? Perhaps she didn’t know that he could use such big words.
“Alright, let’s start there, then. Why don’t you like to use your first name?”
Why did it matter?
“Because I don’t.”
The woman raised an eyebrow and jotted something quickly.
“Still not willing to cooperate, I see.”
“I’m willing to cooperate,” he stated quickly. “I just want to tell my story my way. How I got here, I mean.”
He had her attention. She put the pen down and placed her elbows on the table, hands clasped together.
“I was born Jericho Adara. No middle name, right here in Washington DC…”