Monday, August 22, 2005

Mark Castle: 1954-2005 (Part One of Three)

I never imagined it would end like this.

My relationship with Mark started out almost a year ago, with this post on September 10, 2004, just a few days after we arrived in the city:

The other night, we had our new friends Mark and Sheri over for a few hours to our new apartment. We met Sheri on the street corner last week, holding a little sign, "homeless, please help." We talked for awhile. The next evening, my wife sent the kids down to her with a plate of her very special chile relleno. Later, she introduced me to her husband Mark (he works the opposite corner); Sheri wanted me to meet him so I could beat a little God talk into him, but I told them I'm not really all that pushy about the whole God thing. I invited them to come over to our place and get washed up sometime. So they came over, took a shower, washed their clothes (it had been two months), had some tea, and we talked.

It ended with a card shoved into the doorjamb, waiting for us when we got back from a conference last Sunday night, a card left by an investigator of the Medical Examiner’s (i.e., coroner’s) Office: “Please Call RE. Mark Castle.”

Over the past year, we have met a lot of people on our corner. We have adopted this corner, made it an aspect of our commitment to living in community with the poor. If you stand out on our corner looking like you have noplace to go or run a sign there, we will share our food with you and listen to your stories, and sometimes we will share our money or open our home. It is our personal preferential option for the poor. In this way, we have brought drug addicts and alcoholics and people with psychological problems into our lives, and we have found our lives enriched by their presence. Over the past year, we met Michelle and Milton and Larry and Mike and Donald and those two kids whose names I don’t remember, who were too young to be on the damn street, and a few others.

But first of all came Mark and Sheri.

So much has happened between then and now. The changes really began when Sheri made the decision to go into a detoxification program to get clean and sober. She and Mark stayed over at our place that night for the first time, and the next morning, I went down with her to help her through the process. The day ended something like this:

As we sat together waiting for the van to come and take her to the treatment facility, a beautiful African-American woman, one of the social workers, came into the room, radiant and smiling at Sheri. She said, "You're going to be OK honey. Everything's gonna be all right. You're doing a really good thing." In a day that was measured in the incremental advances of bureaucratic negotiation, this was grace wholesale and unexpected. In that moment, her voice sounded more like the voice of Christ than anything I had ever heard.

I noticed that Sheri was still nursing the cup of coffee I had bought her that morning at the hospital, and mentioned it to her. She nodded, and said, "Yeah, I poured my vodka into it." She nodded to herself a couple more times, then peered meditatively into the cup and said, "It's my last one."

I walked across the parking lot after they picked her up, and unexpected tears flowed. It was a release of tension, of all the things that could have gone wrong, all the things that had gone wrong for Sheri in this terrible fucked up world. But today, one little thing went right.

She was three sheets to the wind when the van picked her up. But "the wind bloweth where it listeth," and the Spirit also moves in mysterious ways. Maybe today I bought Sheri her last drink.

You're going to be OK, honey. Everything's going to be all right.
(Three Sheets to the Wind, October 6, 2004)

Unfortunately, at the time I was naïve and overly optimistic. Sheri only lasted about seventy-two hours in the detox program, then walked out and went missing for almost two days. When we found her, she was gray and as near to death as any living person I have ever seen. She sat in our apartment eating cereal and nodding off between every bite. I was afraid she might die in our home.

But the second time around, a few months later, she went back into detox and stayed in.

(To be continued…)


olympiada said...

She was three sheets to the wind
What does this mean?
You are one of the few Orthodox blogs I read. I like your strength and your force. You are real. Thanks for sharing.

Sampson said...

Dear Olympiada,

"Three sheets to the wind" is slang for somebody who is quite drunk. Its an old sailing term: "sheets" are ropes, and a sail that is "three sheets to the wind" has come loose at three corners and is just flapping around.

Take a look at the original post for some context: