Your nose hairs have burned to a crisp already.
The apartment air is sour and the floors stick to the bottom of your shoes. You’re perched on the edge of the couch holding a clip-board. At the top of the page, illuminated by the window light, it reads: Representative Payee.
Your client stirs in his rolling chair – an elderly man with a permanent expression of contentment. But there’s history in his smile, from veteran, to father, to professor, to addiction, to your caseload. A man with little to no ability to retain memory, which causes him to forgo the rent and overpay his friends. He is your longest and most difficult client.
A sense of duty tugs at your throat as you look over his shoulder towards the door. Your mind has traveled back in time. In a memory, you see a different man come inside – a loan shark.
It’s a cold night in 2017, you’re working after hours and its 8 o’clock. The windows are dark, but you know it’s the first of the month and your client has his paycheck. You’re waiting for him to return from the ATM, perched on the same musty couch with a volunteer; a volunteer you recruited! from a local non-profit to help your client.
Your client comes home and your heart sinks. In his bag are two handles of rum. He places them in the kitchen, having forgotten you were there, and has only just started his excuses when the door opens again. A grumbling man in a snow jacket, hood still up, slides into the room without eye contact. Your client hands over his entire paycheck.
You want to tackle him. You want to scream, but you can’t. You simply watch him slip away like a shark in the night.
Back in the present moment, your client is laughing. Why? Ah crud… you know the smell of that laugh – white rum. He must have imbibed right before you came in, clip-board in hand.
It’s now or never. Get him to sign it. Get him to sign it and an organization takes control of his income. Get him to sign it and he won’t be late on rent, he won’t get evicted, and he won’t end up on the street. There’s no one to take care of him – this is it. Get him to sign it.
But he won’t. You got lost in your memories and now the alcohol is kicking in. He’s going on tangents, retelling the evictions you’d previously prevented, ignoring the task at hand. Heat rises in your face, but before you burst, a light appears in your eye. You have a vision.
You see far into the future. In the future, your face is still hot with rage – he has sexually harassed your friend. He signs your form, but the annual re-certifications get fumbled and he crashes back into debt, prompting a third and fourth eviction procedure. Your rage fades to apathy and resignation. Glimmers of hope are there when you cancel his overdraft protection and complete more paperwork, but the issue persists, and you can’t do it for him. You can’t do it for him, and he won’t get help.
And on June 6th, 2019, he gets evicted.
Back in the present, your motivation cracks and shatters. The future is bleak. Acrid fumes return to your nose and the sun is fierce on your back. Get him to sign it… or not. What does it matter? You can’t do anything for him. Besides, you can see it’s too late. His eyes no longer focus and he sways in his seat. The rolly chair shifts and shuffles across the sticky floor.
Is he sober enough? Is he conscious of what he’s signing away? You’re in a legal gray zone. You have to think with precision and be extraordinarily careful.
Your mind fading with exhaustion, you look at the pen and paper in your hands. You look up at the door… and you look back at your client. The lovable man smiles back at you as if you’re not even there. It’s time to decide.
What would you do?