5 Holy Ghost
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79 5 Holy Ghost Valerie had been lying up in her bed at St. Anthony’s for a year or two before I finally took notice of her and started visiting. Not that I’d been unaware of her presence before, it was just that I usually spent the morning that I had allotted as my volunteer time either with Philomena or driving people around, and Valerie—who had been dumped at St. Anthony’s two or three years after my “first generation” had died—wasn’t expected to last much longer. So why bother? She was totally out-of-it, anyway, barely able to frame a single thought into words, and so fat she could barely move. But Val was as beautiful as she was big. She had a regal face, with high cheekbones, lovely, almond-shaped eyes, and a full mouth. Every day, the caregivers would give her a sponge bath and then fix her hair, pulling it into a tight little ponytail at the top of her head, while she rolled her eyes and babbled. She babbled on about this and that—how the man at the school had hurt her and her father who was coming tomorrow for her birthday and the fireman who kept trying to climb into her window and her newborn daughter—and not only did none of it make any kind of linear, logical, narrative sense, but also, I could barely understand a word she said. She talked without punctuation, without intonation, and without pause, her words all running together. And it wasn’t as if I could really do anything for her, anyway. I couldn’t even read to her, as her mind no longer tracked. Philomena was one thing, but I just wasn’t sure that I could take Valerie. In any event, I way preferred the guys—especially Victor , who had moved in around the same time that Val had and had quickly become the senior resident, the head man. How can I describe Victor without sounding like a Hallmark card? It was hard for me to imagine him in his former incarnation as a hardened junkie, because by the time he started to feel well enough to peel himself up off his bed and hang around with the other residents at St. Anthony’s, he was wide-open all over. His face was wide-open, his eyes were wide-open, and his heart was, too. You could feel it coming off of him, this wide-open quality he had, this happy curiosity, as if he couldn’t get over his amazement that he was still alive. When his face broke out into a grin, you could feel happiness radiating from him in the same kind of pure white smile that very young children have before school and other kids and TV and disappointed unhappy parents and all the rest of it rob them of their inborn sense of all-rightness. Except , of course, that Victor was no child but a man in his late thirties, with a personal history that sounded like the lyrics of an over-the-top rap song. He’d go on and on about how he’d been scraped up out of the gutter by a kind and merciful Jesus, his ass hauled over to Earl K. Long while he was still half out of his mind and emaciated and just about dead, didn’t deserve no nothing after the life he’d lived, the life on the street, had himself a job and a wife and a nice place to live, but no, he just has to go chasing that one pure high, that one last high that was going to be his last, only with him the last never did come, because the high came before everything else, before his wife (who left him) and his kids (who left with their mother), before his job (he’d once been a long-distance truck driver), even before his own mamma and daddy, the parents who had raised him up right, raised him up to know right from wrong—and it was his own damn fault what had happened to him, hell he was lucky he only had AIDS, what with the shit he’d done. And he’d talk on and on like that, telling me about his life on the street, his life from Before—Before he’d found Jesus, Before God had given him a chance to straighten himself out, saving...


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