Chaos, A Novel by Ken David Stewart (Revised Version #1)
On April 16, 2016 Harold Peyton turned sixty-five. He was troubled by the realization that he was now officially a senior citizen. His beloved wife, Camilla had moved out his house on this very date April 16, 2015. Harold remained living in their old house that had done without renovations and repairs for at least a decade. Although a friend had encouraged him to find a new place to live, Harold was too deeply overwhelmed by his circumstances to change his living arrangements. His stepson, Jeff, had even asked Harold to come and stay with him and his family. Harold didn’t want to impose upon him and he didn’t want Jeff to know that he had started drinking alcohol again. He had eleven years of sobriety to his credit before he relapsed back into his disease of addiction. Harold started drinking again a few days after he and Camilla separated.
On a Friday morning Harold walked by the local Manitoba Liquor Commission. He had just finished going to the post office to mail in thank you notes to all the people who sent their condolences.
As soon as Harold opened the door to the liquor store and literally walked across the red carpet, Harold felt right at home. It was as if the last eleven years of his life had never happened. Harold decided to take a tour of the liquor store to check out all the different kind of alcohol on display. After about twenty minutes of exploring the store Harold decided upon the largest bottle of Jack Daniels that he could find. He walked out of the liquor store without the slightest feelings of guilt and shame.
Harold had now been retired for five years. He had been a high school English teacher for twenty-seven years. He was now receiving a CPP pension, a retired teacher’s pension and was about to start receiving Old Age Security Benefits.
Harold only returned to drinking alcohol for one year after his wife left him. After the one year was over Harold returned to his old Alcoholics Anonymous group and was welcomed back with open arms.
When he turned sixty-five Harold realized that he had to get back on his feet. One year of indulging in self-pity and substance abuse was long enough. As he gradually accumulated more sobriety his once brilliant mind had started to function again and he became very introspective. He began thinking about what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
After all, Harold was only in his mid sixties. He realized that he could possibly have twenty more years in store for himself.
Harold had kept physically fit before his drinking got out of control. He got back in the habit of going for a forty-five -minute bike ride each day. He also worked out at Shapes, his local gym, at least three times per week. When he started going back to Shapes he started with performing a resistance training circuit. Within a few months Harold was looking significantly better. By means of his weight training program Harold was starting to regain most of his youthful muscle definition. He was still approximately seventy pounds overweight according to his doctor’s Body Mass Index chart.
A good part of the problem was that Harold could not get himself motivated to learn how to cook healthy meals. While Harold and Camilla were together, his wife did the majority of the cooking. The only type of cooking that Harold enjoyed was barbequing using an old circular shaped charcoal barbeque. He was afraid of using the newer gas powered grills. Harold would barbeque hot dogs, hamburgers and steak practically every day during the summer. Occasionally he would put on his parka and barbeque outside during the winter months.
After Camilla moved out, Harold had to learn to fend for himself. He realized that he would have to eat something so he started to think of all the meals he could prepare for himself without having to cook. One morning Harold sat down and made a list of all the meals that he could make on his own. The list that Harold came up with included toast, various types of sandwiches, dry breakfast cereals, large bars of cheese, pizza pops, raw pepperoni sticks, hot dogs, raw fruits and vegetables. Spam and assorted canned foods.
Episode 3 of Chaos:
To Harold’s delight and with by going out for long, daily bike rides and working out with weights at Shapes gym, he was able to get his weight down to about two-hundred thirty-five pounds. About a year ago Harold went to his doctor for a complete physical and weighed in at three hundred ten pounds. This was a turning point for Harold. He had been avoiding looking at himself in the mirror for quite some time now. Harold felt too much shame to see his reflection in the mirror. Although his present weight was still above his ideal weight according to the body mass index chart that his doctor showed him, Harold felt much better about himself. He could now look at himself in the mirror without fear of embarrassment. In fact, Harold thought that he now looked good. Not only had he lost a great deal of body fat he had regained a significant amount of muscle mass. Harold was now very proud of himself. With hard work he had achieved a major life goal. He now had a spring in his step when he went out in public.
Episode 4 of Chaos
Although he was officially retired Harold had not stopped working completely. He continued to work three to four days per week as a substitute teacher. Harold enjoyed substitute teaching much more than full time teaching, as he now didn’t have extra work to take home with him in the evenings. Substitute teaching also got him out of the house several times per week. This helped alleviate Harold’s loneliness as it gave him somewhat of a social life as he had an opportunity to visit with other teachers during prep periods and at lunch times.
Fortunately, Harold was rarely bored. He had developed several hobbies during his teaching career and he now had more time to devote to them. Harold also picked up a couple of new hobbies after he retired. He had always enjoyed learning new things and developing new skills.
He had truly loved his estranged wife Camilla and believed that he could never again love a woman as much as he had loved her. Even so, he missed having female companionship. During one of his church’s weekly Bible studies Harold had met an attractive lady in her mid forties named Roxanne. They both felt a mutual attraction to each other and were soon going out for coffee after the Bible study had ended.
Episode 5 of Chaos:
Harold had a regular morning routine. On weekdays he would turn on his phone and wait for a call from the school division giving him a substitute teaching assignment for the day. Harold did not really want to accept an assignment today. He had just finished a three- day assignment teaching English at Murdoch MacKay Collegiate. Harold had a good time teaching there as the class was reading and discussing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. Although Harold had thoroughly enjoyed his time at Murdoch MacKay, he was getting older and felt like he needed a day off.
He felt guilty when he spent too many days away from his writing. Harold wrote fiction novels as a hobby and found that the writing process was very therapeutic for him. He decided that he would decline any teaching assignments for today and would spend the day working on his current work in progress, a novel titled Winter Dreams.
Harold’s morning routine seldom varied. He would get up and make a pot of Tim Horton’s coffee. Harold would then fill up a large glass with water. The glass that he used to wash down his medications was actually a large holder for flowers, like a vase, that he had purchased at Dollarama while taking his grandson there.
As he got older Harold was prescribed more and more medications by both his family doctor and his psychiatrist. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was in his late teens. His psychiatrist prescribed a cocktail of antidepressants. While drinking his coffee and taking his meds Harold would listen to one of his many Holy Bible audiobooks.
Harold had been a Christian since his late twenties. When he first got saved he was really just buying fire insurance. Harold simply did not want to go to hell. For almost three decades he really didn’t have an intimate relationship with the Lord. When Harold was in his early fifties he was introduced to Charismatic and Pentecostal theology through a co-worker. Since then he had been baptised in the Holy Spirit and received some of the spiritual gifts, notably prophetic visions and words of knowledge.
After Harold finished his devotion time, he returned to his writing by checking out his recent chapter of Winter Dreams. He would look for anywhere that editing was needed and started to think where he would take the story’s plot from here. Harold had also made up a separate Word document where he would list his ideas for potential future scenes.
While Harold had just started his next chapter, he heard a lot of noise emanating from outside his house. He got up from his black office chair and looked out his living room window.
There was still snow on the ground and Harold could see a burly man push a young female out of white Ford 250 truck. The driver appeared to be in his early thirties and looked very intimidating. The next thing to be tossed out of the truck was a large blue hockey duffle bag. It landed on the snow and ice- covered ground with a loud thump.
Harold opened his front door when he heard the driver yelling obscenities at the girl. As the white truck pulled away Harold put on his Kodiak snow boots and stepped outside his house. He needed to see if the young woman needed any assistance. Harold helped the girl to her feet. She looked up at Harold, thanked him and began to cry. The young lady was wearing only a grey hoodie sweatshirt and a well- worn pair of blue jeans. Her hair was black and scraggly and the tears pouring out of her eyes caused her mascara to run. She was shivering from the cold.
“Would you like to come inside to warm up and join me for coffee or hot chocolate?”
He helped the girl through the door. The young lady was feeling sore from being pushed out of the truck and landing on the hard ice and snow -covered street. She was still shivering as it was unusually cold today and the girl didn’t have a winter coat to put on. Harold brought her duffle bag in. The bag was quite heavy but despite being sixty-five years old Harold was still very strong. He noticed a slight hint of body odor emanating from the girl. What really struck him was the thinness of the young lady’s face and her general emaciated presentation.
Harold noticed that the girl had several piercings, one through her left eyebrow and two piercings in her nose.
As it was rather warm in Harold’s house, the young female took off her dirty, grey hooded sweatshirt. Underneath she was wearing a black mid riff tee-shirt with Black Flag printed on it. Harold noticed that she also had a belly button piercing. She started to pull off her black boots revealing two different colored striped socks.
“I should introduce myself. My name is Harold, Harold Peyton. Would you like a cup of coffee or some hot chocolate?” Harold asked his guest. He thought that the girl would be attractive if she didn’t look so dishevelled and took more care with her personal hygiene. At this moment Harold pictured a very neglected and abused little elf.
“Oh, that would be awesome sir. I would actually prefer a hot chocolate if it’s not too much trouble for you.”
“That’s not a problem. By the way, what’s your name?” Harold asked.
“My real name is Whisper Willows, but my street name is Streak. I also use a few aliases whenever I need to.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Whisper. Oh, by the way you don’t need to call me ‘sir’. Just Harold will be fine.”
“Did you see that guy push me out of the truck and throw my duffel bag in the snow?” Whisper asked.
“Yes, are you alright?” Harold asked with evident concern in his voice.
“Yes, I think so. Tony pushed me pretty hard out of the truck. I’ll probably be sore for awhile and have some nasty bruises,” Whisper answered after taking a sip of her hot chocolate.
“That’s probably true. Look, I know it’s none of my business, so you don’t have to tell me your life story,” Harold said.
“No, that’s not a problem,” Whisper said. “You let me in your house, Harold, and maybe saved my life, so I should be honest enough to tell you what all went down. First, I need to give you some background information about myself. as she stretched out and made herself more comfortable on Harold’s well worn orange and yellow patterned couch. Harold sat in his dark brown Lazy Boy chair and smoked his pipe as he listened to Whisper’s story.
“I guess my biggest problem right now is that I’m essentially homeless and don’t have any money. I’d like to get rid of my boyfriend Tony, but he needs me too much.”
“It sounds like you are having a very rough time of it right now,” Harold stated.
“Actually, my whole life has been a rough time, man. My father left when I was two years old, so I never really knew him. My mom and dad got married too young and the only reason that they got married was because Mom was pregnant with me. My parents never really wanted me. I was an accident.”
“Wow. That must really hurt,” Harold said as he tried to light his pipe.
“Yeah, I guess it does, but I’m tough. I can live through a lot and I still am. Every day’s a struggle. I’ve never really had anyone I could trust in my life.” Whisper’s eyes started to tear up.
“So what happened after your dad left?” Harold asked as he passed a box of Kleenex over to Whisper.
“The only way my mother knew how to cope was to turn to the bottle. Mom also got stoned on weed a lot. She also took several kinds of benzos and antidepressants that she got from her doctor. Mom was always good at scamming her doctors.”
“How could your mother look after you while she was so impaired?” Harold asked.
“She couldn’t take proper care of me, my brother or my sister. That’s why Child and Family Services took all her kids away and placed us all in different foster homes,” Whisper answered and then drank a bit of her hot chocolate.
“You sure make a good cup of hot chocolate, Harold. This is delicious.”
“It’s Tim Horton’s, dear. Only the best for you.”
“You have a very nice home, Harold. It’s a little cluttered and could use some cleaning, but, then again, this house is quite small,” Whisper observed. “I noticed that you have four bookshelves and possibly a couple of hundred books.”
“Actually, I have a lot more books than that. My eyesight is not as good as it used to be, so I now purchase all my books in the Kindle format. That way I can adjust the fonts and the brightness levels so that reading the text is comfortable for me,” Harold explained.
“You certainly are a well- read man,” Whisper observed.
“For sure. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. I also like listening to audiobooks when my eyes need a break.”
“You are right, though. This house is a bit too small, but it was even more cramped when my wife lived with me. We accumulated a lot of stuff over the years.”
“I’m sorry to hear that you and your wife are separated. How long has it been now?”
“Almost two years.”
“Are you still missing her?” Whisper asked moving a little closer to the front of the couch. Harold was a little uncomfortable with how Whisper made him feel. He wished that less of her skin was exposed. As much as he hated to admit it to himself, Harold did find this strange young woman in his house to be somewhat attractive. It couldn’t be a sexual attraction. That was ludicrous. After all, Harold was sixty-five years old and this girl was only twenty-two. He was not a dirty old man. There was something else going on.
“Yes, but it’s getting better with time. At certain times of the day I still get very sad and will start weeping. Sometimes an old song that we both loved will be playing on iTunes and that will stir up a deep emptiness within me.”
Harold got up from his easy chair and walked up to his living room window to look outside. He continued to talk to Whisper with his back toward her.
“I’ll be up front with you Whisper. I’m an alcoholic in recovery. I’ve only been sober a little past a year now. I got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous and recently received my one year of sobriety pin.” Harold didn’t know why he was sharing such personal information with a stranger.
“I would love to have a hot chocolate, Sir. What’s your name?” Whisper asked.
“My word, where did all my manners go? With all the excitement going on, I failed to recall that I haven’t as yet told you my name. It’s Harold, Harold Peyton.”
“Could I ask a big favour of you. Mr. Peyton?” Whisper asked sheepishly.
“Oh, you don’t have to call me Mr. Peyton. I’d like it very much if you just called me Harold. What would you like me to do as a favour to you?”
“I would like to take a shower and get myself cleaned up,” Whisper asked as her face reddened with embarrassment. “But I would like to drink my hot chocolate first if you don’t mind.”
“Of course, you can my dear,” Harold answered. Harold wondered why he had called Whisper ‘my dear’. After all he didn’t even know this girl yet.
“Did you bring a clean change of clothes to put on after you wash up?”
“Yes, I have some clean clothes in my duffle bag,” Whisper replied.
“I just asked in case you didn’t have a fresh change of clothes with you. I still have all my daughter’s clothes in a closet in her bedroom. You appear to be about the same size as she was and her clothes would probably fit you. Harold’s countenance suddenly looked very pained.
“You said ‘was’ Harold. What happened to your daughter?”
“Today is the first anniversary of Erica’s passing. While getting a ride home from a party her friend’s car had a head on collision. The driver of the other car was inebriated. Erica’s friend suffered severe injuries but survived. Unfortunately, my daughter did not survive the accident. As soon as he finished saying this, Harold Peyton sobbed loudly and his body began to shake uncontrollably.
“Sit down in your Lazy Boy, Harold. I’ll make myself a hot chocolate. Would you like something to drink too?” Whisper asked.
“Yes, I would like a cup of coffee if you don’t mind making a pot,” Harold replied starting to regain his composure.
“No problem. I see that you’ve got the good stuff, Tim Hortons. It should be ready in a few minutes.”
After setting up and turning on the percolator Whisper returned to the living room.
“I’m very sorry to hear about you losing your daughter. It must be very painful for you.”
“I know all about addiction myself, Harold. I’m hooked on crystal meth and opiates. I’ve also been diagnosed as having BPD.” Whisper said matter-of-factly.
“What’s BPD?” Harold asked. “I may have read something about it.”
“It’s a psychiatric disorder known as borderline personality disorder. It makes me act really crazy at times. I just thought that I’d warn you,” Whisper said.
Harold turned his head toward Whisper and looked her squarely in the eyes, “I’m shocked that you would tell me that.”
“Don’t be. I’m very straight up with people,” Whisper replied.
“Do you have a place to live right now?” Harold asked.
“Not really. I’ve kind of been homeless for the last couple of months. I just sort of couch surf.” Harold looked at all Whisper’s piercings and wondered if their installation caused her a lot of pain. Whisper’s’ midriff T-shirt was sleeveless and Harold observed a pentagram tattoo on Whisper’s right shoulder.
“What does couch surfing mean? Harold asked.
Whisper smiled and laughed, “Oh, you are an old man, aren’t you? It means that I stay for short periods of time, usually a few days, at other people’s places and usually sleep on the couch, or sometimes I sleep in my own sleeping bag.”
“It sounds like you’re living a very unstable life right now,” Harold observed. “How did you get addicted to crystal meth and opiates?”
“It all started in high school. I think I was around fifteen years old at the time. Crystal meth and opiates are not the first drugs I ever tried. I’m no angel. When I was twelve my friends and I started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. Sometimes we’d even steal some of our parents’ prescription drugs.
Then, at a party I met another girl and got into a physical fight. During the fight she pushed me down the stairs leading to the first floor of the house. I fell all the way down the stairs until I landed on my back in the stair well. I lied there and don’t remember how long I remained unconscious. When I finally ‘came to,’ I was lying on a hospital bed. I could see a doctor and a nurse standing over me.
When he could see that I had regained consciousness, the doctor began to speak to me. He was an older man, probably in his mid-forties. His hair was short and was a salt-and-pepper color. He wore dark rimmed glasses.”
‘You are very lucky girl,” he said. “You took a very bad fall and could have been seriously injured. There are a lot of nasty contusions on your shoulders and back, but there doesn’t appear to be any paralysis or permanent injury to your back or spine. I will be sending you for some x-rays just to be on the safe side. How is your pain?’
“I tried to move and let out a scream of pain. ‘Very bad,’ I told the doctor. He took out a prescription and wrote me a prescription for OxyContin. As soon as I took my first OxyContin I felt wonderful. The pain was still there, but I felt like I was floating on a cloud. I didn’t have a worry in the world. From that point on I was an opiate addict,” Whisper said in way of explanation. “Harold, do you mind if I go outside for a smoke. A cigarette might help me to calm down.”
“No. go right ahead. Do you like dogs?” Harold asked.
“I love dogs,” Whisper answered.
“My old dog Buddy is in the backyard. He’s a very old black Labrador retriever, but he still enjoys going for a walk. Would you be able to take Buddy for a walk while you are having your smoke break?”
“Absolutely. I’d love to. I didn’t know that you owned a dog, Harold. I could hear some barking outside, but I assumed it was a neighbor’s dog,” Whisper replied.
“After your walk you can bring Buddy in the house. He is a little shy of people he doesn’t know, but after you’ve spent a bit of time with him, he’ll love you. Especially, if you take him for a walk,” Harold said getting out of his Lazy Boy chair.
“You don’t need to get up. I’ll find Buddy on my own and I’ll take him for a walk,” Whisper said.
“Buddy’s leash is hanging up on a nail on the back door,” Harold said settling back down into his easy chair. Whisper grabbed the chained leash and opened the back door. Buddy looked up at her and began to bark. Whisper had owned a dog when she was living with her aunt and was very good at handling shy dogs. She found a box of dog treats on top of Harold’s refrigerator. Whisper took a few treats out of the box to give to Buddy. She slowly walked up to the old black lab, spoke very gently to him and gave him a treat. Buddy took the treat very readily and Whisper didn’t have any problem attaching the dog’s leash. Buddy wagged his tail to indicate that he was more than ready to go on a walk with Whisper.
As Harold watched Whisper walk out the back door with Buddy he started to feel very confused. For a long time now Harold had completely shut down his emotional life. He was barely able to feel anything as he was trying desperately to bury his pain deep inside himself. It was as if his heart was chained up and padlocked.
Harold tried to keep himself distracted by filling his day with his hobbies and his part time job. He would go out to do substitute teaching assignments about three days per week on average. He paid for a subscription with a company called Sub Alert. Harold would receive a phone call whenever a new substitute teaching job was available. Harold had the option of accepting or declining the assignment. He preferred to work with middle years and high school students. Harold became very popular with most of his students mainly because he was very cool for a man for his age. He had long white hair tied in a ponytail and dressed casually. Harold would either where a hockey jersey or a tee-shirt with a rock band’s logo covered by an unbuttoned denim shirt.
Harold looked forward to all his teaching gigs. He consistently had the attitude that he was going to make it a fun day for both himself and his students and it usually was.
“About fifteen minutes later, Whisper returned with Buddy whose tail was now wagging vigorously. As if to reward him for his good behavior during the walk, Whisper gave Buddy a red colored dog treat that Buddy greedily consumed in a few seconds.
“But I’ve told you enough for now about my problems. What happened to you out on the street. Who was that guy that pushed you out of his truck?”
“That would be Tony. He’s a real piece of work, man. He pushed me out of his truck after I told him that I wouldn’t sleep with him. Tony figured that I owed it to him. He called it ‘taking it out in trade’. He said it was only fair because he let me sleep on his couch for a few nights.”
“Why did he drop you off in front of my house?” Harold asked.
“For no particular reason. Tony and I had been having a really wicked fight for about fifteen minutes before he drove the truck down your street. Tony told me that I was giving him a migraine headache when he pushed me out on the road. We were just driving around in circles. I really don’t have any place to go anyway,” Whisper explained.
Harold stretched out in his burgundy colored Lazy Boy chair. He owned a super deluxe model that could give him a massage similar to what you could get from visiting a professional masseuse. He looked at an abstract painting that was situated on one of the walls in his living room. This beautiful piece of art had a splatter design using only black and white colors. The painting would have put a smile on Jackson Pollock’s face.
“Are you injured from being tossed out of the truck onto the street? Can I get you an ice pack from the freezer?” Harold asked.
“It would probably be a good idea to put some ice on my back. I probably have a couple of nasty bruises, but it doesn’t feel like anything is broken. You rest in your chair, Harold. I’ll get the ice pack myself while I’m making a pot of coffee. What do you take in your coffee?”
“I like Southern Butter Pecan International Delight coffee creamer along with two packets of Sugar Twin,” Harold answered.
“|Gotcha. Your wish is my command.” Whisper said as she made her way to the kitchen. She liked walking across Harold’s retro yellow shag carpet. She had taken off her wet socks and sneakers and was now walking barefoot toward the kitchen. She noticed a family portrait on the wall that included Harold, his former wife, his deceased daughter and an unknown young man and woman.
After a few minutes had passed, Whisper returned to the living room with a cup of coffee for Harold, her hot chocolate and an ice pack for her back.
“What do the buttons on your chair do?” Whisper asked after she put the refreshments on a round glass coffee table.
“They are for giving you a massage. Would you like to try it?”
“Sure,” Whisper said as Harold got up from his easy chair and exchanged places with Whisper on the sofa. It felt a bit damp where he sat on the couch as the snow that had been on Whisper’s sweat pants had melted.
I’m going to get you started on a gentle massage setting until your body adjusts to the new sensations,” Harold told Whisper. As a result of some permanent damage to his left eye Harold had difficulty reading the small lettering on the control panel of the easy chair. Harold accidentally pushed the high tension massage button.
“This chair is amazing Harold. I feel like I’m getting a real massage from a professional masseuse!” Whisper said. She could feel the heavy pressure on her back muscles. The sense of human hands kneading her back was now coming in waves giving Whisper a total body massage as it works by automatically descending to the lower back muscles.
“Did you set the timer for this chair Harold?” Whisper asked
“Yes. It should automatically shut off in ten minutes.
“Thank you, Harold. This massage is awesome. It’s helping work the soreness out of my bruised back.”
“When the timer goes off you can return to the couch and I’ll hand you an ice pack,” Harold said.
As soon as Whisper’s massage session ended, she and Harold exchanged seating locations. Whisper was now the one on the orange and yellow couch and Harold returned to his Super Deluxe Lazy Boy chair.
“I can’t thank you enough for letting me into your house and for treating me so well. I must be messing up your whole morning routine,” Whisper said.
“Oh, that’s not a problem. When I’m not out subbing I usually try to dedicate at least one hour to working on my writing. I wasn’t accomplishing anything when you entered my house anyway. I sort of had what those in the trade call writer’s block during the past few days. I’m trying to come up with a new plot and characters and I have been drawing a blank. Writers often experience this sort of thing,” Harold said.
“Can I suggest an idea?” Whisper asked.
“Certainly, I’m all ears,” Harold said.
“You could start your story off by writing about a stranger that arrived at your door one morning.”
This made Harold laugh. “You’ve got a quick wit my girl. But I want to follow up on something. You said that you don’t have a place to stay.”
“That’s right, but can we talk more a little later? I’d like to use your shower if you don’t mind. I’m feeling kind of gross.”
“No problem. The bathroom is upstairs first door on your left.”
“Thank you so much. We’ll continue the conversation after I shower and make myself more presentable,” Whisper said. As soon as Whisper had taken her backpack upstairs, Harold had some time to think. He thought to himself:
‘What are you thinking? You just let us strange woman into your house. You hardly know anything about her. She could rob and kill you for all you know. Harold thought about the body art that was visible on Whispers arms when she rolled up the sleeves on her sweatshirt. He also remembered the piercings in her nose and close to her lips.’
Harold realized that these should be real red flags for him.
When Whisper finished showering and was coming down the stairs, Harold saw how much more attractive she looked. Her shoulder length black hair was slicked back and gave off a pleasant aroma as she descended closer to the bottom of the stairs.
Whisper was now wearing a Los Angeles Kings replica Jersey. It was the design the Kings wore when Wayne Gretzky was their team captain. On the back of the Jersey ‘Whisper 99’ could be seen. She wore a pair of shiny silver slacks. The looseness of Whisper’s Jersey helped conceal her extra upper body weight. Her silver slacks were also loosely fitted, giving the impression that her legs were not too plump.
As soon as she got herself settled on the couch Whisper said, “Thank you for letting me use your shower. I feel so much better now. Does your coffee need to be reheated?” Whisper asked.
“Oh no. It’s fine. I’m about three quarters way finished it anyway.
“If you want a fresh cup just ask,” Whisper said. “So you would like to know more about my housing situation.”
“Yes. It sounds like you don’t have a permanent place to live.”
“Yes. Unfortunately, that’s presently the situation I find myself in,” Whisper said.
“ I gather that you can’t stay at Tony’s place tonight? Harold asked.
“Oh no. He might kill me.”
You’re exaggerating, aren’t you?” Harold asked with genuine alarm in his voice.
No, I’m not. I can’t count how many times that Tony has beat me up this year,” Whisper answered.
So, where were you living before you stayed with Tony?” Harold asked.
“At the Headingly Correctional Center for Women.”
“You’re kidding. What were you charged with?” Harold asked.
“Shoplifting,” Whisper replied.
“Why did you shoplift?” Harold asked.
“Probably because I didn’t have any money for food and cigarettes.”
Do you steal from stores a lot?” Harold asked.
“Yeah. Quite a lot, actually. I get a cheque from social assistance, but it doesn’t provide nearly enough, especially if you smoke like I do. Mostly I steal because I need stuff. I run out of money early in the month I don’t budget my money really well. Sometimes I just shoplift when I get bored. I get an adrenaline rush from it.”
“Do you ever feel guilty about stealing?” Harold asked.
“Not really. I mean I know it’s not right, but a person has to provide for themselves.”
“Have you ever had a regular job before?” Harold asked.
“Sure. I was the human resources director for a large Christian non profit organization for about five years. Then I got fired.” Whisper answered.
“Why did you get fired?” Harold asked.
“For embezzlement. They found out that I was padding my expense account pretty regularly.” Whisper answered.
Harold laughed, “Now that I think about it, your life story would probably make a good fiction read. You just need to find the right author to tell your story to.”
“I’m looking at the right author right now and we just started working together this morning,” Whisper replied.
“You’re not serious. Are you?” Harold asked.
“Of course, I’m serious! I can tell just by talking to you that you’re a good writer. You’re very articulate Harold. Look, it’s not like I’m super busy or anything.”
“Why is that?” Harold asked.
“I’m on long term disability. My social worker at Headingly was good. After I told Janet about my mental health issues, she recommended that I apply for it through the government. So, guess what? I did what she said and my disability benefits were approved.
There were at least twenty clients in the waiting area. They were the people that our society could not or would not accommodate. Most prosperous, well established people would rarely encounter the disadvantaged and marginalized in our society. They might read about them or hear about them via the media.
Only the truly unfortunate members of society would experience the humiliation of applying for welfare at a social assistance agency. No one could really understand the plight of these disadvantaged people but themselves.
Some of the more dedicated and compassionate welfare workers would do their own research and would attempt to have empathy with their client’s plight. The majority of these workers had not personally experienced the devastating poverty, hopelessness, depression or the physical and mental disabilities that would oppress their clients on a daily basis. Few would know what it was like to struggle with serious addiction issues.
Poverty, homelessness, mental health, disability and addiction had created a billion dollar industry for those who were in a position to profit from these societal plagues.
The irony was that the poorest and most needy in our communities were responsible indirectly for creating and maintaining full time and often permanent employment for a staggering number of agencies, businesses and workers.
There were at least twenty people in the reception area. They were all people that our society would or could not accommodate. Most successful and prosperous people would never encounter them and would only know about them on an intellectual level probably by reading about the poor and needy people via the media.
Only the truly marginalized would end up in a welfare office. Nobody could really understand this mass of unfortunates except the unfortunates themselves. Some of the most dedicated social agency workers would do some research and attempt to educate themselves about the plight of their clients. However, very few of them had personal experience with poverty, chronic disability and illness, addiction issues and homelessness.
People with some or all of there issues helped create a billion- dollar industry. The irony was that the most marginalized persons in society were responsible for creating and maintaining full time profitable employment for a substantial number of professional workers. Those in administrative positions made the big money. The front- line workers didn’t make a living wage unless they had a strong union. The needy people in the province were responsible for generating significant employment but the tax payers picked up the bill.
When Harold and Whisper arrived at the EIA building Harold opened the front door of the entrance. Both Harold and Whisper were almost overwhelmed by the strong odour of poverty and homelessness. Whisper waited in line for the welfare intake worker for about twenty minutes before the worker typed in Whisper’s personal information. After this task was completed the worker asked Whisper to find a seat in the crowded, foul smelling waiting area.
Harold and Whisper found two empty folding chairs. Harold was seated next to an elderly man who reeked of body odour and was having an animated discussion with himself. “Probably schizophrenia,” Harold thought. He had a cousin who suffered from schizophrenia and Harold was very cognizant of the manifestations of this devastating illness. Auditory and visual hallucinations were common symptoms of this chronic and persistent mental illness. To Whisper’s left was a wall with four pay phones. A dishevelled and agitated young man who appeared to be in his early twenties was growing increasingly frustrated as he was trying to call a phone number that he had misread. He started to loudly utter obscenities until a burly security guard intervened and asked the man if he required assistance with dialing the phone number.
The Crayfish That Destroyed Winnipeg
By Ken David Stewart
Earl Dawson rolled over on his side of the bed and through glazed and blurry eyes glanced over at his Sony digital alarm clock. Bright red numerals indicated that it was 3:03 AM.
“Oh shit,” Earl said as he rolled over in the king size bed that he shared with Edith, his wife of twenty years. It was July 25, 2017 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Earl and Edith owned a beautiful red brick home on Wellington Crescent in the wealthy area of the city. The successful couple’s home was flanked on each side by equally expensive houses. Wellington Crescent was populated by upwardly mobile professionals, doctors, lawyers and dentists and the like.
Earl rolled over toward his wife’s side of the bed. He knew from experience that this was likely to be a useless and frustrating course of action.
Sleep had not come easily for Earl during the last two weeks. He had recently turned fifty -eight and had not been enjoying the initial years on his journey toward old age. Wasn’t life supposed to slow down and get easier as one reached his age? Whoever told Earl this tidbit of wisdom was a fool. One’s body got older and slower, you had aches and pains that you never had before and you had less energy to fight your daily battles. This was an appropriate metaphor for Earl’s present life as he was increasingly feeling like he was a somewhat disabled soldier fighting in a war that he was no longer sure that he could win.
Recently, Earl Dawson had not experienced any slowing down in the speed of his life trajectory and the increasing number of serious issues that were crying out for his attention. After fitfully tossing and turning for nearly five minutes, Earl accidently rolled over onto his wife’s side of the bed. He had accidentally pressed his considerable body weight onto his wife’s left arm.
Edith, Earl’s wife of the last twenty years, greatly resented being startled awake from a deep and peaceful sleep. Edith had suffered from a frustrating inability to remain completely asleep over the total course of a night for most of her adult life. It was her pattern to have to get up and read for about one hour before attempting to fall back asleep again.
Episode Two- The Physical Presentation of Dr. Earl Dawson:
Edith stared angrily at Earl and began to unleash her wrath upon her husband, “Earl, this is the second time in three nights that you have bumped into me and have woke me up at this ungodly hour. What is wrong with you! I think that you should ask your business partner, David if he would take you on as one of his patients and provide you with some type of psychotherapy.”
“I am a psychiatrist, Edith. I’m more than qualified to diagnose and treat myself!” Earl snapped back.
“You know that you can’t psychoanalyze yourself, Earl. It is impossible for you to be objective about your own issues,” Edith argued.
“I would like to think that I know more about my personal issues than David does, with all due respect to his obvious professional abilities. Besides, he is not only a distinguished colleague of mine, David is also my business partner and best friend,” Earl stated as he stomped his left foot on the floor.
“Nevertheless, you need to be under the care of a professional therapist. Now that I consider the point that you made, I must concede that David Mylander is likely an inappropriate candidate for you, but you need to find someone who is.”
Earl got off the mattress and began to pace around the bedroom. At fifty-eight years of age, he still cast a vibrant and formidable figure. Earl was barrel chested but presented with a substantial amount of muscle mass. Although he was only five feet ten inches tall, he had thick muscular arms that he proudly displayed whenever he wore tank tops. His back and shoulders were also well developed often causing a casual observer to ignore Earl’s obesity.
Earl was very defensive about his excessive weight and didn’t like it being pointed out to him. He rode bike and pumped iron as much as his professional schedule and diminishing energy levels would allow him.
Earl was grateful for the fact that his entry into late middle age had not caused any significant hair loss. He had long snow-white hair tied back in a ponytail that ran half way down his back. Earl was grateful that his family doctor had prescribed the medication finasteride to treat his enlarged prostate. Earl was delighted when Dr. Lakewood informed him that finasteride worked like Propecia, the medication that delayed male pattern baldness. Earl was very proud of his long mane of hair and often strutted about like a peacock.
“This whole situation is ridiculous. My life is getting harder and crazier everyday. Its like it says in that Dan Hill song, “like a roller coaster riding out of control.” Earl Dawson complained while continuing to pace back and forth like the hyena he saw last year at Assiniboine Park Zoo.
I am fifty-eight years old and can no longer cope with my own life. I just want to get off this roller coaster. The irony is that my job is treating very mentally unstable people on a daily basis. I’m just asking for a decent night’s sleep occasionally. I don’t have to sleep well every night. My present sleep medication protocol is only marginally effective. During most nights I average only three to four hours of sleep. I’ve already reached the maximum dosage of my sleep management medication.
On the evening of July 27, 2017, Isiah Jacobs, the seventeen year old brother of Caleb Jacobs walks down the orange carpeted steps on his way to his basement rec room study. Elijah is a tall, scrawny red-haired teenager with a serious acne condition who looks like he could be the poster boy for a local chapter of Nerds United.
Isiah’s private study is in his family’s rec room. As he approached the door to his study, Isiah noticed that the door is slightly ajar. As he pushed the door open he sees a translucent, red colored rectangular Tupperware container on the right hand side of his expensive black office chair. He hears a loud, scratching sounds coming from the rectangular, plastic Tupperware container.
Isiah bent over and picked up the container for closer observation. He can now see past the glare emanating from the red translucent Tupperware container. He shivers with fright when a living creature attempts to move around. Isiah is so petrified that he immediately drops the container on the floor of his study. Two of Isiah’s fingers manage to lift off the lid of the container. Isiah notices that there is a narrow layer of what appears to be dirty river water occupying the bottom layer.
To his horror, Isiah sees enough to identify the species of the formerly imprisoned animal. It is a large, hideous orange crayfish.
Episode One (cont.):
Recently, Earl Dawson had not experienced any slowing down in the speed of his life trajectory and the increasing number of serious issues that were crying out for his attention. After fitfully tossing and turning for nearly five minutes, Earl accidently rolled over onto his wife’s side of the bed. He had accidentally pressed his considerable body weight onto his wife’s left arm.
Abigail, Earl’s wife of the last twenty years, deeply resented being startled awake from a deep and peaceful sleep. Abigail had suffered from a frustrating inability to remain completely asleep over the course of one night for most of her adult life. It was her pattern to have to get up and read for about one hour before attempting to fall back asleep again.
Abigail stared angrily at Earl and began to unleash her wrath upon her husband, “Earl, this is the second time in three days that you have bumped into me and have woken me up at this ungodly hour. What is wrong with you! I think that you should ask your business partner David if he would take you on as one of his clients and provide you with some psychotherapy.”
“I am a psychiatrist myself, Abigail. I’m more than qualified to diagnose and treat myself!” Earl snapped back.
“You know that you can’t psychoanalyze yourself Earl. You are not in a position to be objective about your own issues,” Abigail responded.
“I would like to think that I know more about my personal issues than David does, with all due respect to his technical efficiencies. Besides, he is not only a distinguished colleague of mine, David is also my business partner and best friend,” Earl stated.
Living with Depression by Ken David Stewart
I have had to live with major depressive disorder for most of my adult life. I would estimate that this disease has consumed about forty percent of my productive years.
A few of the symptoms of depression are much more disabling than others. One of the most frustrating symptoms in my life is the severe and chronic fatigue that is commonly found in persons with this disorder. The chronic fatigue may be significantly prevalent for weeks and even months. Sometimes, I find that the fatigue and heaviness appears to go into remission for part of the year.
Why this happens, I am not sure. I am just extremely grateful to get these short seasons of relief. I tend to perk up a bit when the summer season comes along. This could indicate that I also have seasonal affective disorder.
The chronic fatigue that often accompanies depression may cause financial distress. Unless you have good group insurance benefits at work, you may find that your household income can be significantly depleted for parts of the year. When this occurs, worry and fear will usually appear.
I should state at this point that all chronic fatigue may not be attributable to the disease of depression. I have often found that a severe lack of energy may ensue after I have a serious viral or bacterial infection. When my cold and flu symptoms dissipate I have often found that my debilitating fatigue will continue for weeks or even months after. It is quite likely that I suffer from another illness known as CFS or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chronic fatigue will almost always negatively impact one’s relationships with other people. Especially if they have a significant other. The depressive’s spouse finds that her husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend chooses not to go out with them or do much of anything, especially if the activity involves other people and socializing. The partner that is unaffected by major depressive disorder may find that they are spending an inordinate amount of their time alone, or are doing many extra curricular or social activities by themselves.
It’s not always that a person suffering with depression does not want to attend the occasional social function. Sometimes they wish they could go to an activity with their partner, but simply don’t have the energy to do it. Even if they occasionally feel that they may be able to ‘push themselves’ to go out, they may be worried that they will bring other people down. Who really wants to hang out with a depressed individual anyway?
When I am in my worst phases of depression I feel that I don’t have the energy to carry on a conversation with anyone. When the depressive thinks about going out for social or group or church event, all they can think about is how much of their already depleted energy it might take to shave, shower, brush their teeth, select and put on clean clothes, etc. The contemplated energy consumption may seem overwhelming to the depressed person. If the depressed individual owns a car they may ask their partner to drive as they believe that they may be too fatigued to operate a vehicle safely. Worry and guilt are two emotions that a person with depression will frequently encounter.
For the past two weeks I have been feeling relatively well. For most people there should be nothing special about this. For a person suffers from major depression disorder one good day is a day to be celebrated.
When I experience one or more happy days strung together, I started to get uncomfortable. I struggle the feeling of happiness in my life. It seems to be such a rare phenomenom for me. I’m so used to feeling depressed, without hope and having very little faith that my life will ever get any better. I was on my default setting when I was feeling exhausted and plagued by physical and emotional pain. I’ve have often thought that this was just my lot in life. I believe that this is why I am probably happier than the average person when I ocassionally experience a good day.
I went through a very rough winter season that seems to have started in November of 2016. I suffer from what my doctor termed a mild case of COPD. This illness appears in a mild form when I don’t have an upper respiratory infection. When I catch a bad cold or flu, everything changes for me. I’ve become so ill that I barely have the strength to get out of bed.
During my episodes of severe COPD in the past, I’ve been able to continue with my fiction writing, but not my substitute teaching. This time, however, even my writing was a ‘no go’. Not only did my body feel shut down, so did my mind. I couldn’t seem to string together two cohesive thoughts. I have been writing fiction novels and plays, oft and on, for several years now.
Although I am technically retired, I work part-time as a substitute teacher. I enjoy subbing very much and take as many assignments as much as my health and energy and energy levels allow. Presently, I’m on holidays and have been enjoying the last two weeks immensely.
I’ve experienced long periods in my life where I cannot feel joy in anything that I do. This affects every area of my life as why would I want to pursue activities that no longer give me any pleasure? This is what is known in the psychiatric literature as a condition termed adhedonia or the inability to feel pleasure in the ordinary experiences and activities of daily living. This is a very painful place to be.
Feeling somewhat better in December 2016, I returned to my work as a substitute teacher. The Christmas holiday season actually went relatively well for me and that is highly unusual. This was probably due to the fact that I had quality time to spend with my wife and my goddaughter. I will never forget the night all three of us watched Christmas videos. Most of them were very funny and I ended up doing something I haven’t done years. I laughed out loud.