Portraits / M.


He was wired, on crack or might as well–
his 3-month welfare motel stay up next week
and he was coming to our office for options.
He settled on one after 10 minutes:
was going to get his gun, blow everyone away
downstairs, at drug rehab center,
then come up to get Lois and me
and finally turn barrel on himself.
No more worries about homelessness, drugs
no more counselors to answer, cops to fear,
no more god to feel guilty about in morning.
Lois left office suddenly, so this case all mine.
I wasn’t sure whether he really had a gun
and if so whether it was on him.
I tried focusing him on healthier
housing alternatives–but there weren’t any.
He’d been kicked out shelter for 6 months
and had about used up his 3 months of
welfare emergency shelter motel aid
staying at Route 1’s cardboard welfare motel.
More we talked, angrier he got.
I contemplated calling for help
maybe even the police, but was afraid
if he had gun on him he’d use it right there.
I asked about his family–there was nothing
about family to keep him hooked to this world.
His wife left with son, parents’ location unknown.
Just thinking about wife leaving enough
to convince him further murder-suicide
the only honest way out of this fix.
I asked about jobs, what dream job would be.
That angered him cause it required reading
and he’d never learned to read.
“That’s easy. I could teach you to read,” I said.
“Would you do that?” he asked & started weeping.
“Sure,” and we set up a weekly schedule
as he cried all the way out the door.
When he left, I asked his counselor downstairs
to check on him tonight–wasn’t sure
that was appropriate social work protocol
but thought it better than calling police.
He never showed up for reading lessons.
When his motel stay ran out the next week,
he threw a brick through window downstairs,
tripping alarm, and sat on the sidewalk
waiting for cops to arrive to take him
to only warm bed for which he was still eligible
under Central Jersey’s social safety net.

October 2000