In a two-room apartment on the twelfth floor a man sits on the floor, smoking, popping pills and trying to figure out how he will get the money for booze not just for today, but tomorrow as well. The first is a week away; he's been running on empty for days. He considers panhandling, and looks at the cardboard box that holds his old records, but doesn't have a marker to make the sign. His bottle of vodka is nearly empty, only three packs of smokes left in his carton and nothing in his wallet.
Hours creep by, the TV drones on but he isn't watching, only three channels and nothing on. He's too depressed to listen to his music, that just brings him down, reminds him of the days when he was somebody.
He was a roofer, worked hard by day, drank hard by night, he had friends, or drinking buddies anyway, and some women now and then. His daughter is in Florida, doesn't hear from her much, but that's okay, as time went on and he saw and thought of her less and less it didn't hurt as much. Didn't hurt at all once he had a few, but therein lies the problem; Thanksgiving is tomorrow and he's got nothing.
Time drags by, the solution to his problem remains elusive. He's alone, truly alone, a situation of his own making. Most days it's okay, but today the loneliness is unbearable. He begins to feel sick. Then his chest starts to hurt, a broken heart perhaps, more likely a phantom symptom brought on by self-loathing and an overwhelming desire for some human contact. He pulls some old jeans over his dirty underwear, throws a Patriots sweatshirt over his dirty hair and scrounges up a quarter, forgetting that he doesn't need it, and leaves his prison and walks to the pay phone in the lobby and calls 911.
Then he shuffles back to his apartment and waits for somebody to show up, and take his pain away.
At this time of Thanksgiving, I’d like to give thanks to the City of Providence and the Providence Fire Department for giving me the opportunity to be that somebody, and to offer some hope and comfort to people whose circumstances have brought them to a place where my presence matters.
Michael Morse, EMT-C, is captain of Rescue 5 in Providence, RI, and has served on the city's busiest engine, ladder and rescue squads as a firefighter, rescue technician and lieutenant during his 21-year career. He is the author of the books Rescuing Providence and Responding.