When it rains in this part of the city the dirt from the street begins to exhale filling the air with an aroma of crap, oil and urine. The volume on the street seems to explode with dogs barking, cars rushing and cars skidding. In the distance but getting closer are blaring sirens filling the city with a sense of disaster of impending doom. Among the pedestrians there is a looming depression and a feeling of feverish recklessness in the hearts of the disenfranchised.
One of the citizens of this great city is named Francis Thomas – better known as Frankie. Frankie was well known on the streets and among the churches spread out in the neighborhood. Frankie “used to be somebody” until he injected himself became a junkie. He was in his mid 50’s, shorter than he once was, unshaven and prematurely looking as if he were in his 70’s. He was attending an AA meeting in the basement of the church where he had spent several years as a choirboy. When his good looks and his spunky personality put him straight into the focus of Father Geers.
“I was nine years old when the old man first touched me. I was always told by my mother ‘Don’t question the Church, Father Geers is a man of God.’ So I didn’t think anything was wrong when the sacramental wine was offered to me to drink. Drinking became part of the routine of my Church visits with the Old man. It wasn’t until my father saw me walk into the house drunk that he that it was brought to my mothers attention that maybe I shouldn’t always listen to the Church. Maybe Father Geers was not a man of God and not even a real man at all.”
An hour earlier Frankie had snorted 2 lines of cocaine with his old friend Brenda, who used to be Robert. He loved the way the cocaine made him feel invisible. But he also was in a lot of pain on a constant basis. He had destroyed his life and all he was left with was his AA meetings where he could pretend to be clean and sober. People believed him – he was punctual and always seemed to be at peace. But as Frankie stood there and spoke he began to feel a chill inside of him.
He then took a seat, listened and watched the addicts one by one confessing to their sins, their desires and their powerless lifestyle – the chills became frigid.
Five years earlier he had attended a meeting and made an announcement.
“My name is Frank and I am an alcoholic. I have not had a drink in 33 days, have not touched any drugs in 33 days but I am feeling kind of scared right now. I am shivering and I feel I need to jump into a fire to warm me up…Or inject some fire into my tired veins…can you understand me?” He asks and is answered.
“Yes I can.” In assorted male and female voices. “Oh yes,” “Stay away, now, stay away.”
“I feel the need, my friends to set myself free from this world. From this cold world, I feel the need to set me on fire…” He was met at the podium by the host of the nights meeting, Neil Trample, who embraced and him and told him it was all going to be alright. “We are here for you, son. God is here for you. Surrender your fears and let him take over – let God, let Go.”
Tonight, Frankie was high when he spoke, was high when he sat down and was high when he began his final tailspin. A free fall that was not free at all – had cost him his home, his marriage and his family – had cost him his memory and any coherent understanding of who he is. He had been admitted to hospitals and the Psyche Ward several times. Had been diagnosed as bipolar,
He was cold…so cold and began listen to the next speaker.
“My name is Frank and I am an alcoholic.” Looking up he saw himself as he was and how he never would be again.
With that Frankie broke down and began to shake, cry and bawl. He stood in the back of the meeting now sipping on a cup of hot coffee and inhaling a bummed cigarette.
Suddenly he felt a surge through his body and he ran outside and began to shiver in the cold.
The rain was falling, the streets were lit up by the rain on the pavement and the street lights above. The streets were emitting their usual shit smelling aroma. He turned towards the west side but then twisted and headed east. He was shaking and felt that he would be losing consciousness and was scared. Rain was steady and he was a block into his race against his demons when he slipped on an oil patch and fell to the ground.
He heard the footsteps approaching him and he was now in a fetal position. He felt the ground beneath him as the pounding of the footsteps grew closer…
Sirens were blaring now, but the rain had slowed to a mist. A cool breeze blew and immediately Frankie knew he needed to stand up and go home. People were shouting and he heard the sound of tires spinning through the puddles and skidding to a stop.
Father Geers was standing over him now, “Its not going to hurt, just put your hand here…” Frankie pushed the man of God away and his mother’s voice echoed, “Do as the Father says and you will go straight to heaven, son. The Lord forgives you for your sins each time you do a good deed – believe in the Lord…”
“When could I have sinned, Mother? When did I ever have the time?”
His life before him; the therapists, the first time he smoked pot, the first time he snorted cocaine – he was the man. He felt powerful and could be anyone and do anything. He felt like Atlas carrying the earth on his shoulders until his shoulders began to give in and he switched to heroin. First smoking it, snorting it and then injecting it. The end.
Visions of swirling lights, dizzying images and a feeling of being on a roller coaster ride and then a halt. Suddenly he wakes up in a numbing form, all hot and thirsty.
“Am I in hell?” He asks aloud to no one in particular.
“No you are in the ICU of Coney Island Hospital,” An orderly tells him.
“What happened?” He asks but its too late as he fades out again and he is back on the streets again, searching for a way home.
Several hours later he sees a black nurse sitting by his side.
“What happened?” He whispered to her.
“You weren’t feeling too good now Mr. Thomas. Your son just left here to get something to eat. I will call him for you.”
“Son? I don’t have a son.”
“Well there was this gentleman here and he said he was your son.”
“I have never been married and I never had a child. I am a Father in the Church of St…”
“Dad!” A young man walked in with a smile and he looked familiar to the Father but it also caused him total confusion. Was he a Father in the Church or was he a father to this young man?
“I am sorry I don’t know who you are.”
“Dad, its me, Frankie, I am your son.”
The “gentleman” was 16 years old and when Frankie looked closer he once again began to shake.
“You are…are you…me?”
The boy laughed and then was gone – back on the street now – feeling cold, colder still. He stood up to gather himself and felt that chill chasing him, pushing him to the brink…
He checked his pocket and found a lighter…walked across the street towards the Exxon station.
“Feeling cold – light the fire Frankie, light the fire – come sit next to me….”
With a sweeping motion he pulled the nozzle out of the fuel pump and sprayed gasoline all over himself. He took the lighter and flicked it on – “I am so cold.”
When it rains in this part of the city the streets emit an aroma of madness – a sense of doom is splashed across the pavements and the disenfranchised feel the dread of living overwhelming them.
Across the street from the park there is an Exxon station, on tank number 13 there are flowers and a sign that reads “Rest in peace.” A week earlier a man by the name of Francis Thomas, suffering from Schizophrenia set himself on fire after dousing himself with gasoline. Automatically the pumps were shutdown helping to avoid a major catastrophe. Mr. Thomas was married and had 3 children.