Part I of this story can be found here.
October 22, 2017
“Life is complex. Your next night in doesn’t have to be,” proclaims the Miss Vickie’s ad in the middle of my Facebook feed (because I haven’t bothered to install Ad Blocker).
Kevin is still in our backyard. When I peek out a window, he’s sometimes by the shed, sometimes on the glider, which is behind a bush (now in scarlet autumnal splendour mode) that makes him hard to see. Blueberry Panda is always near him—either on the glider beside him, or on the ground next to him, or on his sleeping bag when he’s in it. She’s more dog than cat, the way she stays by him. Then again, until a few months ago she was an indoor cat. He’s the only thing she’s sure of, now that she’s outside all the time.
Life is complex.
We had to kick him out into the ravine. Again. Of course we did.
“We were nice to you this time, but next time…” Finger-wagging at a toddler after having given in to the toddler. Just as fruitless as that; just as defeated-making, as the words come out. “You can hang out with Blueberry Panda in our yard during the day but you have to go somewhere else at night.” So there.
He hasn’t come to see us today. Hasn’t asked us for money, or to use our bathroom or our phone. This might mean he’s in “altered” mode. It means he won’t be charming and smiling, if and when we talk to him. His gaze won’t be clear. He’ll probably start shouting, sometime after midnight. That’s when he sees the demons most vividly and banishes them most loudly. He says he thinks he can and does banish them. He thinks he’s God, or a god—something all-powerful and all-seeing, living on the surface of the sun with his cat while nothingness fills void fills non-linear time and lava spews from the subway tracks by the ravine and his family betrays him, again and again, with their homophobic cruelty and their financial double-crossing.
His Facebook feed is an all-caps record of solitary madness—in 2017, anyway, and for much of 2016. In 2015, a couple of people made comments on his posts (a video of Blueberry playing with her favourite toy; a photo of a Madonna concert he went to in NYC); in 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, more posts, more friends. In 2010, his sister, going back and forth with him in Trinidadian patois.
A few of his 2017 posts have like and love reactions. I hover over them, hoping for a name, someone I can try to get in touch with, but the emojis are all his own.
Yesterday a guy he met in a park bought him breakfast, after he left the Salvation Army shelter where he’d spent the night. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t eaten today. He’s been in our yard since 6 a.m. (after a presumably abortive attempt to stay overnight with an estranged uncle). I keep expecting him to round the corner like he used to in the summer, when he lived full-time in the ravine in the tent we gave him; expect him to wave and call out a cheery, “Hi, neighbours!” But he’s just there in the back, standing, sitting, rocking, picking things up off the ground and throwing them over the fence, methodically and decisively.
The tent was taken away when the cops and paramedics and Salvation Army Gateway workers took him away, a couple of weeks ago, in cuffs, strapped to a stretcher. He was back a couple of days after that: discharged from the hospital, sent to one shelter, then another, until he checked out and hightailed it back to ravine and fence and Blueberry Panda and us.
He graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in chemistry and philosophy. His email is a utoronto alumni address. On his Twitter profile he wrote, in 2012, that he loves chemistry and music, dancing, having good times with good friends.
Days earlier, I emailed our city councillor and got a swift response from someone on her staff. She forwarded my message to someone else at the city; he’d get back to me. Five days later I emailed again; again she answered quickly, assured me she’ll follow up.
More days. Nothing.
In previous weeks we tried to bargain.
“We’ll give you a token and some cash if you promise to go to that bathhouse you’ve been to before, that’s $32 a night.” He went. We heard him coughing a few hours later, back in our yard. He told us the next morning that he couldn’t bear to be away from Blueberry Panda.
“Kevin. It’s getting cold. You need a roof over your head.”
“My skin itches at shelters. People steal things. And the itching is terrible.”
“We’ll give you breakfast if you promise to go to a shelter.” He wouldn’t promise. He didn’t eat.
The only shelter that accepts homeless people with pets is always full. I’m assuming so, anyway, though I’ve only been calling them for a couple of days. “Bless you for what you’ve done for him,” the shelter staffer said to me. “So many others wouldn’t. Keep calling. Something will open up.”
And if it does, and Kevin goes there, and Blueberry Panda’s afraid of the Rottweilers and German Shepherds and even the other cats? If he does, and his cat “tells” him (as she tells him other things) she won’t stay there, and they both end up in our backyard or across the fence again, as the nights get colder and the meteorological pundits continue to predict the snowiest, coldest, longest winter in recent memory?
I can’t stop looking at a couple of photos I’ve downloaded from his FB page and stuck together in a TIFF file. Kevin in 2009 and Kevin in 2016, side by side.
The difference isn’t simply that in one he’s clean-cut and healthy and in the other he’s all long, wild, curly hair, on head and face; the difference is in his eyes. Someone I showed the photos to said, of the most recent one, “He’s gone. You can tell.” Except that he’s not: he’s all-powerful God, vanquisher of demons, and he’s also the guy who says, “I have nowhere to go. I have nowhere to go” as he plucks at the cigarette butts he picked up near the subway station and rearranges them on the glider. The guy who feeds his cat too much and shrugs, smiles wryly as he says, “I must have been stupid when I called my uncle last night, thinking I missed him.” He’s not gone. He’s just not one.
We can’t help him. It feels like we’re the only ones helping him. His Salvation Army Gateway workers have told us they’ve done all they can, dropping by the ravine, offering him a shelter bed, a meal, a shower—and a sleeping bag, when he said no to all those other things. They’ll keep coming by, but they can’t force him to do anything.
He isn’t sick enough to be involuntarily admitted anywhere. He’s too sick to be living like this.
Does he have a doctor? A social worker? A single friend other than his cat?
He cannot stay in our yard.
We talk to him around 6 p.m. Mention that we heard him at 6 this morning. “Oh?” he says. “6?”
“Yes,” we say. “You were talking. Listening to music.” “I don’t remember talking,” he says. “So when did you get back here last night?” “Oh, I wasn’t here last night. No. Not here.” “So when did you get back? Considering we heard you at 6.” “I don’t really…I don’t remember.”
Gaze sliding away—canny? Genuinely confused? Calculating? A teenager trying to see what he can get away with?
Toddler teenager God and man.
“Spare some change?” the guy sitting on the floor in Bay subway says, and I walk past. I’m doing my bit, right? Kevin is my bit—more than a bit, in fact. Of course it must work like this, right?
It’s 8:30 p.m.: dark outside; raining outside. Kevin’s in our yard, and he’s looping—round and round, declaiming about being alone with Blueberry Panda on the surface of a giant sun round and round about nothing else existing in time and space nothing and no one except him almighty able to harness the power of his sun for purposes of destruction.
The paramedics arrive about five minutes after we call 9-1-1; the first cop car a couple of minutes after that. Others follow.
“Kevin? Hey, Kevin.”
Six cops, all with flashlights, tromp along the narrow, glistening, overgrown path that leads to the back of the yard. Kevin’s hunkered down with his sodden sleeping bag over his head, rocking, looping, round and round.
“Kevin—let’s get you up. Let’s get you somewhere dry.”
“No,” he snaps, briefly free of the loop—then resumes. “Blueberry Panda and I are in an unknown location because we are the only creatures in all of time and space. Blueberry Panda and I are in an unknown—”
I’m crying, pressed against the wall of our house.
In the end he goes with them quietly. Two cops stay behind with us in the almost-fully-dark. The big burly one says, “You guys warm my heart, you really do. Your compassion—it’s amazing. But…”
We talk about how we won’t let Kevin into the yard again. We talk about how helpless we feel, because he’s going to come back. The cop refers to the “revolving door” of these things—homelessness, mental illness, drugs, hospitals, shelters, aaaand begin again. Looping.
When we return to the front lawn, cop cars and ambulance are still parked facing the wrong way on our one-way street. One by one, they leave. We retire to bed and a bottle of wine; at last, we say, a full night of sleep for all of us, including Kevin.
At 3 a.m. the phone rings. It’s a CAMH mental health worker; she wants some background on Kevin, and wants to let us know that the hospital has just sent him somewhere in a cab, having not assessed or medicated him. As predicted, he was lucid by the time someone there spoke to him. He answered questions. He got in the cab. He was supposed to end up at a shelter, but who knew—he could walk a different way.
At 9 a.m. he rings the doorbell. He tells Peter he’s sorry about the previous night. He promises he will never stay in our backyard again. And then he says he’s lost Blueberry Panda: he was carrying all his stuff and her plump self up the alley across the street (unprecedented; he must have actually been going somewhere else) and she leapt from his arms and disappeared among the parked cars and backyard fences and tall weedy grass. She disappeared.
Peter had to get on an international call. He had to close the door. When he was done, he heard Kevin crying, in that familiar, lilting way, “’Berry! ‘Berry!” Maybe she was already back in the ravine, or back near the food bowl we’d dedicated to her. He wandered off, still calling. And there’s been no sign of him in the hours since. No sign of her, either. Did he find her and head off wherever? Will he be back to look tomorrow?
I don’t want him to be gone forever. I never did. I want to know where he is.
Blueberry comes back around just after Kevin does (I’m pretty sure she followed his voice). He sits in the backyard with her. Tells Peter he’ll be going to a shelter at night. And he does: at about 7 p.m. he tells us he’s heading off. I give him a token. We stand in the back doorway and talk for a bit.
Kevin starts a fire in our yard in the morning. Peter charges out. Minutes later he writes to me: “Told him he couldn’t light fires back here. Look at all the leaf litter. Look at the fucking fence. He insisted that his degree in chemistry gave him qualifications in ‘controlled fires’, and that I had to trust him on this. I reminded him that he went through phases where he thought that he was a great red ball of fire, and I didn’t have to trust him at all.”
And yet I want to. How is that possible? He’s starting fires.
He goes back to the ravine for the rest of the day.
5 a.m. He’s coughing—back in our yard, after three whole nights at a shelter. Peter goes out and tells him he can’t stay there. Reminds him he promised not to. Says he can’t visit Blueberry Panda in our yard anymore, either, as he keeps making promises and breaking them. Kevin gathers his things and moves them to the street. We watch him pace and listen to him mumble and wonder if he’s about to loop again. We don’t go back to bed for another hour, when he retires to his customary spot in the ravine. There’s a plastic Adirondack chair where the tent used to be.
I fall into a dream-spiked half-sleep. Kevin’s all over the dreams. A woman comes to pick him up in a car, and she’s a friend, and he’s suddenly clean and smiling and clear-eyed, saying goodbye to us. Because this is the fairy tale I want, of course. Maybe we don’t see him for a few months. Maybe he rings the doorbell sometime in 2018 and we don’t recognize him at first, but as soon as he says our names we exclaim and maybe even hug him—and he’ll smell like soap, of course, and his clothes won’t smell at all. He’ll tell us about his apartment. He’ll show us photos of Blueberry Panda on his new phone. He’ll say he just wanted to tell us how well he was doing, and to thank us again for being there when he was hitting bottom.
It’s a not entirely altruistic fairy tale.
He and Blueberry seem to be gone again. It’s raining. Her bowl is sitting under a tree, hours after we put it out, the food in it turning to mush.
Except, in the afternoon, there she is in a tiny dry patch by our porch. Which means he’ll be back.
I feel like my heart’s been racing for weeks: a bunny’s heart, permanently startled.
There’s room at the inn. I’ve called every couple of hours, as the front desk person told me to weeks ago. And at last, at last, a bed at the Bethlehem United shelter for Kevin, and a place for Blueberry Panda with him.
I’m at work. Peter hurries to the ravine and tells Kevin. Peter rents a Zipcar and hurries to pick it up at a Canadian Tire sort of near our house. When he gets back, Kevin is starting little fires. There’s no Blueberry in the carrier. “She got upset,” Kevin says. “She ran away. I can’t go without her.”
Peter yells at him—articulately, I’m sure. He convinces Kevin to put his stuff in the trunk and himself in the front seat. Drives him to Bethlehem United, way north-west of our place. He tells me later that Kevin was conversational.
He drops Kevin off at the shelter. Promises to bring Blueberry Panda as soon as we can wrangle her (which will be hard; she gets skittish when Kevin’s not around). We don’t catch her that day or the morning of the next—but that’s OK, because Kevin comes back, of course, swearing he’s going to get her into that carrier this time; swearing he’s going back to the shelter. He’ll be gone before 4 p.m., he tells Peter, who tells me that he doesn’t believe him. But when Peter goes out onto the porch at 4, Kevin’s stuff is gone. The carrier’s gone. He calls the shelter; yes, Kevin showed up, carrier in hand.
We call for Blueberry one more time that night, as we put out kibble. Just in case.
I wake up at 5 because I think I hear him across the fence. “Did you hear that?” I whisper. “Yes,” says Peter. But in the morning there’s no sign that anyone’s been there.