Don’t Get Jaded by Karmelle Spence-Sing

The doctors are our age now. They may have white coats on sometimes, but they wear t-shirts, sneakers, and have youthful faces. Mostly men so far, but damn, these guys are nice. I don’t just mean good bedside manner, or whatever that expression is. I mean they are working to support you because they believe in the care they provide. I just hope they don’t get jaded.

Jade. Jade. Like a lot of our people, she keeps her face hidden unless her name is said aloud.

7:34 pm and the sky is black.

Out in the cold night, a hooded figure was slowly swaying, turning, losing footing. The shop lights glowed dimly behind the dark-magic silhouette. People walked briskly by.

The hooded head drooped toward the ground and long, wet hair hung downward. A wraith. No face. But I knew that hair.

“Jade?” She looked up instantly with shocked, round eyes.

I think it’s kind to say hi. But do they want to be recognized? I don’t know. Yes, sometimes. I prefer to say hi when I have cash or snacks on me. I want to be useful.

My neighbour Jay knows our people too. We work opposite angles. Where I’m at, they’re welcomed. Jay gets called when someone wants them removed.

So, they’ve been trying to blend into the walls, into debris, into the overall environment. They’re camouflaging.

While descending the fractured, dusty steps, the leaves of one bush rattle a little more than the others. A sigh wheezes from within.

The park’s iron-wrought garbage bin is surrounded by over-stuffed plastic bags. When tossing an empty Bubly can and oily take-out box into the centre hole, a yellow bag rustles. Plastic glasses frames and strands of hair poke out the side. A raincoat.

Living in private is a privilege awarded to a shrinking class. Fewer and fewer can fit into it. Our people try their best to meld into shrubs, shadows, or metal scraps. But the cloak doesn’t last when they’ve got to get somewhere. Survival requires poking your head out once in a while. Movement is necessary.

The businesses want them gone.

Jay is a senior officer now. As part of a well-funded pilot project, he and the new recruits patrol this small town every day. Most of the patrollers were once bylaw officers, quickly tucking tickets under wipers to remain unnoticed. Bright Environment Patrol is their new title, or BEP for short. They drive big vans that say ‘CITY OF CREYTON’ on the back in glossy blue vinyl.

One sunny day, Jay catches me getting letters from my mailbox.

“Hey! We’re hiring, tell your friends! And now we’ve got the fleeee-eeeet,” he sings. “You want a tour?!” Jay beckons me over, gesturing toward the white behemoth parked next to my driveway. He’s bright-eyed, with an unfaltering smile, wearing his two-shades-of-blue BEP uniform. The sight of the Patrol 1 van and the matching outfit trigger something in me. Jay’s pure-heartedness is too sincere to deny, so I start forward. Plus, maintaining a neutral front is important in a small community.

“Come here, check this out!” he says as he switches the heated leather seats on. A navigation screen with multi-view camera displays lights up at the touch of his chubby finger. He waits for my impressed response. I smile, feeling the warmth of the seat.

“Nice, very nice,” I offer.

“Look, you can adjust the size of the cupholder. Whether it’s my coffee, water bottle, or Jenny’s smoothie,” Jay says as he’s click-click-clicking through the sizes. “Pretty fire, right?” Grinning, he motions for me to get right onto the seat, then jumps into the driver’s side. “You gotta see the sunroof,” his anticipation is breathless. He waves his hand under the glass, and it slides open. “Just wait,” he puts up his hand to pause my reaction. In his best monotone, he commands, “Patrol 1: close sunroof.” This time with no hand wave, the glass smoothly reverses course, shutting with a tinkly notification from the console. “Whattya think?! Pretty slick right? And, this is off the record, but the tinted windows give us a bit of a break when we need it,” he adds with a cheeky wink.

Oh, Jay. Sweat collecting at his hairline, I figure it’s a good time to exit the vehicle.

“You’ve got the perfect setup, Jay!” I leave him vibrating with enthusiasm. “Happy hunting,” I whisper inaudibly as I head back to my front door.

The BEP vans would become well-known to Creyton people within only a few days.  Jade, so young, so sweet, and yet so deep in the shit that the system won’t ever pull her out… Before long, she’d already had three trips in the back. One time she was hauled in there unconscious. They curled her up on the grimy floor at the boots of other captives. She woke up in the detox centre with wet sand and pebbles stuck to her face and hair. There was always so much grit on the streets, it got just about everywhere. Her pockets had been emptied of a couple of 5-dollar bills, a tiny bag with yellow grains of down, a broken cigarette and a lighter.

5:49 am and the office is lit with warm incandescent.

What mattered now was her prescription. Methadone doesn’t make up for the lack of down, but it’s better than nothing. That, and a connection to the outside world.

“Please, can I use my phone for a couple minutes, I need to call my grandma, I need to listen to a song. It’s what helps me calm down. I’ve been overwhelmed for so long.” I fetched the phone and earbuds and placed them in her hands.

The buzzer for the door rang before I could register the pang in my heart. No time to catch my breath; distraction is a form of relief. New person, new task. The suppressed feelings? They’d eat me after work.

It’s another sunny day, and a business across the street from my office has someone on their stoop. By the body language and circumstance, I’m sure a BEP call is being made. My chance to finally catch a pickup first-hand has come. I’ve seen Jay and his coworkers around town for a while, out of the corner of my eye and in passing. Never have I seen them right before me, never right as they pick someone up and put them in the back.

 I head out of my office in the other direction and cross the street unseen while they park the van. I come around from the back of the brick building. It’s easy to lean up against the side unnoticed: I’m well-dressed. By their standards, I’m allowed to exist here. And it’s the closest I can get to a front-row seat. I pull out my phone to blend into the background.

Jumping out of the Patrol 1, the BEPs arrive at their afternoon call. The man who requested their service stands tall at the top of the stairs. The front entrance to his #3 ranked Tripadvisor bar and lounge is immaculate, besides the problem on the bottom step.

“Afternoon Gerry! How’ve you been since the last time I saw you?” Jay asks from the sidewalk below. He and his partner Jenny don latex gloves to prepare the van for intake.

“Hi Jay, Jenny,” Gerry nods in the patrollers’ respective directions. Below him is a rough heap of dark torn fabric.

“This character’s gonna need two seats side-by-side, Jenny. The way he’s spread out like this.” Jenny, a thin mouse of a woman, dutifully agrees.

“Yeah, yeah things are good, Jay. I’ve got the little one signed up for dance classes now and she’s loving it. Simon’s killing the hockey game as usual, so I have no complaints! Just enjoying the sun today.”

Gerry’s the kind of guy who stands with his chest puffed out when something uncomfortable is happening. His hands in the pockets of his pressed jeans and black sunglasses neatly on his face: he’s the man. At the start of muffled yelling from below, Gerry’s mouth twitches into an awkward smirk. He steps backwards, repositioning his broad upper body to block the scene from the patio, while the disturbance thrashes and swears. Gerry’s back to me, I pop out a bit and listen closely while being so very “focused” on the screen of my phone. Jay and Jenny begin to bear the weight of their catch.

Patio patrons gasp as the man is lifted into view. With pleasant-but-pointed gazes, they whisper forms of “don’t look, honey, it’s rude,” while others grin and chuckle, not shy to be heard.

Geoff, a 43-year-old contractor that my boss knows from her previous job, sips a cold pint of draft beer and gestures to the younger guy across from him.

“I tell you man this place has changed. I used to come here, and the most you’d see is maybe one or two of these guys sitting on Main with a cardboard sign. You know, the ‘I’m hungry, anything helps’ crap so people give ‘em money. Now it’s the Downtown Eastside here, or worse!”

“Unbelievable,” Geoff takes a big gulp from his pint glass. “First you feel sorry for ‘em,” he says as he starts to hoist himself up over the patio ledge to get a better look.

The torn man’s writhing protests slow down as his energy wanes. With Jenny’s support, Jay gets him into the back of the van. I’ve got a sliver of a view through the patio fence. Jay clicks the belts into place and dusts his gloved hands off.

The van doors slam shut, silencing the cries. Geoff sits back down, facing his younger friend.

“First, you feel sorry for ‘em. Like, man. I get it. Life can be rough, it can be hard. I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth! But you have to make choices, right? You have to work. They choose this every day. They don’t want to get off drugs. There goes our tax money! The doctors in the ER waste their time on this garbage 24/7. My buddy’s dad’s a doctor and he’s told me things you wouldn’t believe. Waste of their fuckin’ time.” Shaking his head, he sips more of his beer. The younger guy seems shellshocked, but plays it cool the way guys in the trades need to. Geoff notices the steak that had been placed in front of him. With a fork, he pokes at it listlessly. Grabbing his serrated knife, he slices off a piece and shoves a chunk in his mouth. “You know what I mean?” The youth nods while Geoff chews and takes a napkin to the corners of his mouth.

“Yeah, man.”

I envy such a sparse and cool reaction. Who knows what this kid actually thinks, but that deadpan “Yeah, man” makes me a fan. Geoff and Gerry, though? They need to die. I go around to the back and hit my vape to distract myself. The artificial caramel-coffee flavour is nice but doesn’t quell the rage. Geoff’s stupid white contractor company truck with his dumbass gorilla logo is parked on the side street and those tires are begging for a slashing. Why don’t I carry a knife? I know there’s cameras behind every business down these alleys. It would be very, very stupid of me. But what could I tag, paste, smash or tear apart? I’d have to come back at night.

I walk up a half-block toward Main St. and blend in with the foot traffic. After 30 seconds, I head back down the sidewalk from the other side of the street, toward Gerry’s bar, toward Patrol 1, and toward my place of work. Jay’s beaming satisfaction is clear even from 20 paces away.

“Oh hi, Jay!” I wave and smile.

“Hey, how are ya?!”

“Good, lunch is over so I’m back to the grind. See you around!”

I don’t look at Gerry. Even through our interaction, Jay stays fixated on him. He’s the man, he’s the owner, with a successful business under his control. And he called Jay to get the job done. If only Gerry had more duties for him to fulfill. Jenny is small and mute, barely noticeable behind the two of them.

From a shaded spot inside my office, I peer through the window. A jolly exchange of goodbyes is had, and Patrol 1 drives off. A server dressed in black comes out of the bar to mop the front steps. Back inside his money castle, Gerry must be happy to be rid of that problem and its residue.

The Bright Environment Patrol takes our people to a handful of places. Sometimes it’s detox, but that’s often full so there’s the psych ward (often full) or the shelter (no openings for the next ??? months or more). When there’s nowhere acceptable to put them, another place will have to do.

They’ve got to go somewhere, right?

They just …Cannot.Stay. Here.

1:34 am and the room is bright fluorescent white.

Jade spoke softly when I knocked and asked to enter. She isn’t the type to volunteer information. She doesn’t start conversations. Despite her current calm, her icy-blue eyes screamed a beautiful terror. I asked her how it felt to be taken there, released at night into a muddy pit after being detained in the van for hours.

“It was really weird,” she started, not making eye contact. “But at the same time, I knew everyone there. They were my family, my street family. So, it could have been worse,” she trailed off, swirling the stir-stick in a small Styrofoam cup of tea that couldn’t possibly still be warm. She had two teabags, coffee whitener and sugar all up in that cup of 200 ml boiled water.

“Do you like it better here?” I ask, trying to find a positive.

“Yeah. It’s lonely… I do miss them.” She flashes a warm smile and her eyes lock with mine. “But the doctors here are young, and for like the first time, they actually care.”

About the Author

Creating original work is important for Karmelle Spence-Sing to feel complete. Writing, directing, and performing fill the void above all. Sometimes serious and social justice-y, and other times wacky, nerdy and weird: they find few subjects taboo! A hard deadline is one of their favourite ingredients.

Scroll to Top