Yesterday I received a message from a friend who is staying at the hostel where I volunteered last month, it read "Steven just stabbed Jonathan", where Steven is a "volunteer" worker and Jonathan is the owner and manager of the hostel. Here is the skimpy news piece in the Montreal Gazette.
I immediately called my friend and asked what happened. Steven had a couple of beers, got into an argument with Jonathan about money in a private room, and then Jonathan came out screaming for someone to call the police while bleeding profusely. Steven came out knife in hand chasing after Jonathan and they both went out to the street. Providence prevented a tragedy. There was a fire raging in a building right across the street, so the police and firefighters were just a few meters away. As we spoke, Jonathan was being attended by an ambulance and Steven had been tased running away from the police, and then taken into police custody.
I hurriedly took the elevator downstairs and grabbed an electric BIXI to get there as soon as possible. But it wasn't soon enough, the police had cordoned off the street, and Jonathan and Steven were at the hospital and at the police station, respectively. Police were taking declarations from the guests, so I waited for my friend to come out of the crime scene at a park around the corner.
Two months ago I knew Steve only superficially. He was a very skinny, disheveled guy with traces of mental illness. He didn't get into anyone's business and had a care-free attitude towards everything. As long as he had coffee he performed his work with diligence and was a peaceful presence. We liked each other in a quiet way.
One day Jonathan, Steve and myself were sitting at the kitchen when Jonathan expressed concerns about Steve's weight. He then asked if he was taking his HIV meds. Steven protested: "yes I am, and I don't like you telling everybody that I am HIV positive". Jonathan hand waved away Steve's protest and changed the topic.
Later on, I asked Jonathan why he had let that out in my presence. Jonathan shrugged, "I didn't know he cared so much, but you're right, it was probably an indiscretion". He then recounted Steven's story.
Steve had first come to the hostel about four years ago. He was a smart guy with a lot of handyman skills and sufficient humility to mop the floors and wash the toilets as well, so Jonathan took him in as a volunteer. He had a drinking problem and could be annoying to the guests when he was drunk, but things worked out between them for a while. Steve would come every year to help out during the summer's high season and then leave in the fall. In year #2 they had a fallout because of his drinking problems, and Jonathan kicked him out.
Steve lived in the streets for a while, and got into heroin.
Jonathan said he loved Steve, and that he would always have a bed at the hostel as long as he was clean. So when Steve came back some months ago and asked for help cleaning his life up, Jonathan gave him a bed. Overcoming the withdrawl from both heroin and alcohol was a heroic task, but he made it to the other side and he had been clean for months now.
One day Jonathan saw a fungus growth on one of Steve's feet and recognized it from a now deceased friend who was HIV+. Jonathan encouraged Steve to visit a doctor and Jonathan's suspicious were right: he was diagnosed as HIV+.
"So I saved Steve's life by taking him in, and probably many other lives because he'd be sleeping around infecting other people if I hadn't told him to go to the doctor", Jonathan said proudly. "That's a very self-centered way of seeing things" I countered. "It was a monumental effort to get himself clean and you provided the conditions for him to get better, you are a good guy by helping him, but Steve saved his own life". Jonathan got angry at my remark.
It was then I knew I dealing with a narcissist.
One month later Jonathan would fire a volunteer, placing the workload of two people on me and no time to pursue a romantic interest I had at the time. I spent three days at the hostel working from sunrise to sunset. It was during this period that I got to know Steve better.
He had a BSc. in Computer Science, and in a former life he had a career working as PLC and C++ developer. An addiction to prescribed painkillers made his life fall apart, he got divorced and took up drinking, and from there he lived as a tramp, travelling between Quebec and Ontario, sometimes hitchhiking, others by bike, or even by walking. It was this period of his life that connected us, because I'm also tramp by spirit, and I would ask many questions about how to deal with the risks and tricks of leading such a life.
Our talks got progressively more profound. People who walk a lot also have a lot of time to reflect on life and existence. Steve is not only smart, but is wise beyond his appearance (when he's sober).
One day I saw him scribbling in a notebook. "What are you writing about, if you don't mind telling me?" I asked. "Oh, I have schizophrenia and I document my struggle almost every day"--"Oh that's amazing, tell me more". He went on saying how he wanted to publish a blog because he wanted to help remove the stigma from this mental illness, but he wrote in a notebook because it was difficult to set up his laptop to write in the hostel (I could relate).
The next day he asked if he could share something he had written about his struggle. I said sure. He showed me a neat handwritten page and apologized about it being all over the place because of his condition. I read it aloud for him to understand my own emotional undertones as I was going through the text. It was very cognizant, if not lacking a little bit of affect as happens with schizo-affective cluster of mental illnesses.
A part of the text made a particular impression on me because he indirectly expressed his social needs. He wrote that, due to this illness, "people with schizophrenia can sulk into loneliness, wanting to connect with other people without knowing how", and that many actions can be misconstrued as a lack of empathy or interest, but the fear of inadequacy often leads them into isolation.
I sensed behind these words that he was telling me that our friendship was important to him, and that he was afraid of coming off as self-centered or uncaring. I told him it was a beautiful article and in subtle words told him not to worry: "even though I don't suffer from schizophrenia I understand the struggle, it is very difficult nowadays to deeply connect with people and many times I feel inadequate around people too. I'm glad to count you as a friend."
Our relationship deepened that day.
Soon after I understood my sunrise to sunset work days wouldn't end, and I would never see the girl I liked again if I kept on like this, so I quit my volunteering position and became a paid guest. I would still help out in deference for Steve, who was doing the work of three people now, but when I found I room in a shared apartment I wished them good luck and left the hostel.
Yesterday, speaking with the guests, I understood what had happened: Steve was single-mindedly putting together a recumbent bike to go off adventuring during the fall. He was missing a single piece for the bike, all he needed was a bit of money that Jonathan owed him so that he could go to buy it and his bike would be ready. He was probably expecting to take off starting September.
Jonathan is exploitative, he churns a lot of volunteers, myself included (though I quit after just three days of it). I'm sure he was withholding Steve's payment as a way of retaining him more time as a volunteer. A sober wise Steve would have known how to navigate the situation, a drunk Steve escalated the situation until he was willing to murder.
This will come as a leap of woo woo to a lot of readers, but I truly feel Steve was channelling the energy of all the people Jonathan has wronged. He became an instrument of the universe to give Jonathan a proper lesson. If this leap seems too far fetched to the reader, I ask you to imagine: if Jonathan had not wronged anybody except Steve and was generally liked by every one, wouldn't Steve at least pause to think if he was in the wrong? If everybody who has had the (dis)pleasure of collaborating with Jonathan speaks shit about him, will he not feel like he is doing the world a favour by taking him out of the game? It is easier to put down a dog who had bitten not only you, but everyone around you? What if that dog has only bitten you and is affectionate towards everyone else?
The spiritual reality of this rationalization is that Steve channelled all our energies to give Jonathan his lesson and his penitence.
Guests and myself waited outside for the police to finish the investigation. Jonathan had left his phone at the hostel and couldn't be reached, but the police told us he was out of danger. He was stabbed on the side and had important injuries to his hands, but he would be OK. I gave the police my phone number in case he could call me. They allowed us into the hostel at midnight.
The floor was covered in drops of blood. It wasn't gruesome, but it was very unpleasant. I grabbed a bucket, put some warm water in it with detergent, and with a rag I got on my knees to clean the 10m hallways strewn with blood. My friend grabbed a mop and softened the blood as I went behind him cleaning up with the rag. I left the hostel at around 2am and was biking back home when I received a phone call.
It was Jonathan. He was crying "I was stabbed!"--"Yes I know, are you OK? How do you feel?", he sobbed between answers, saying "he came after me, he was trying to kill me, I was terrified!", I consoled him, asked him where he was and if he needed anything. "They took away all my clothes as evidence and I don't have my phone", I told him not to worry, I would take a change of clothes and his phone to him. He went into trauma mode again, victimizing himself because yes, he was a victim in this circumstance. I told him I'd be with him in 30 minutes and went back to the hostel to grab his stuff. I hastily packed whatever I found in the laundry room and put his phone in a bag.
As I biked to the hospital I reflected on the situation. If I saw Jonathan, I would have to act as a therapist, he was traumatized and needs care. I would probably have to get him back to the hostel (he lives there) and I perceived this was not my role. By a strange turn of events I just started reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, thanks to the girl whom I had a romantic interest and pulled me away from the exploitative situation I had put myself in. Jean Valjean came to mind, I started to understand his moral compass. Doing good without causing harm to yourself (or having it backfire) is one of the most difficult things this world. I also understood Steve is the dispossessed person in this case, though all parties are worthy of compassion. Jonathan's injuries will heal faster than Steve's time in jail.
When I got to the hospital I asked for pen and paper. I wrote a note and slipped it into the bag, and instructed the nurse to take it to Jonathan because I wouldn't see him that night.
The note simply read "Understand that this is a wake up call".