Waiting on Ernie
Scenes from an open Dublin Legal Clinic
Waiting at open legal clinics is often bleak.
Today a man in his middle to late twenties came in. Thinning nondescript brown hair plastered in feathers to his head, he’d obviously been running and was having difficulty. As there were no more seats, he asked the man nearest him if he could sit down, the man pointedly ignored him.
An older woman, somewhere in her late fifties or sixties asked him if he needed to sit down, and he was very grateful. After she got up, the man who had pointedly ignored him offered her his chair. She pointedly refused.
“It’s an emergency…”
“It’s an emergency…”
His voice was tired and increasingly emotional and it took a moment to realise he was talking to his phone and not his knees.
When he finally got through, the person on the other end began asking him why he was calling. Bewildered, he entered into a weird back and forth repetition of explaining he had four missed calls from them.
There’s a point in all this where you find yourself recognising old keys of gaslighting and psychological abuse and end up quietly hoping it’s someone’s overworked key-worker on the other end, and not a relative or spouse.
It was his father.
What followed was a very contained partial breakdown filled with a deep nausea layered fear.
He was there at the clinic, waiting to see [redacted] but there was a “huge queue ahead of me”, and “don’t know whether I should stay or just see him in the morning, I’m very tired, I’m very tired.”
“I’m just doing what you told me to do.”
“Look, I’m doing what you told me to do, if I go to prison, if I go inside, I can’t, when I come out, I can’t go back on the streets…”
“I know you told me there’s good people out there, to have faith that there’s good people but I -’’
“I know, I know…I just…”
“There’s bad people out there, there’s a lot of bad people out there with bad intentions, not all of them are good like you Da…”
“Okay, okay, I’ll do what you tell me to do…”
“I am doing what you told me to do, listen please, it’s just hard…”
“Like what if the judge is having a bad day and is in a bad mood and doesn’t understand where I’m coming from…I just can’t…I can’t…I -am- doing what you told me to do…”
This doing what he was told boiled and tangled over in inflection and seemed to have multiple meanings. Its repetition seemed to make the older man on the other end of the line raise his voice so he could be heard, briefly, quite clearly around the waiting room.
“I am doing what you told me, I am, I am trying…ok…ok…look, I can’t, I did what you told me…if this goes -’’
The Da on the other end of the line seemed to interrupt a lot.
“I am…I am…”
“I am doing what you told me, but you don’t understand…”
“I’ve suffered enough…”
“Like…I know I have a beautiful apartment and I want to keep it and not lose it if I go inside, if this goes -’’
“I can’t…I just -’’
“I am doing what you’ve told me to do, I am…it’s just…I’ve suffered enough…”
“You…you don’t understand…I’ve suffered enough, I can’t, if I go back on the street…”
“If I come out, and I’m back on the street, you’ll have to help me…please…I can’t…I can’t…”
“I am doing what you’ve told me…I am…”
“Please. You’ll have to help me, please…”
“I can’t…I’ve suffered-I -am- doing what you’ve told me. I am…”
“I don’t know whether to wait here or -’’
“Okay, so the morning then…what time will I see you, 9am? And you’ll drive me there in the car and we’ll see him be -’’
I wondered which court he was. Or how that court worked. My experience of the lower courts this far had been of 10am roll call. As he went back and forth between emotional pleading, affirming he was doing what he was told and trying to make clear what was happening in the morning and whether he was being picked up. I wondered how far the drive was, an hour didn’t seem like it’d cut it. You did not want to be late.
“Okay-okay so I’ll get up and get the Luas there…okay…”
“But like, please could you just phone me in the morning…”
“Please, please could you just phone me in the morning…”
Seemed like he wasn’t getting picked up after all.
“I will have my alarm set, I will!”
“I will! I just, please, please just say you’ll call me, please!”
You see glimmers of ADHD and ADD at the oddest times. You’ve long ago learnt to recognise the plaintive out-stretched grasping hand of people scrabbling, pleading with others, their friends or family, neurotypicals they know, just to offer some sort of purchase or support, a safety rope hack around the endless-weathering of being discombobulated.
“Look…please just say you’ll phone me in the morning!”
“What? No! Just please, please say you’ll phone and say ‘Ger, Ger, are you up, c’mon get ready’ and I’ll be up ready and get the Luas in. Just to make sure, just to make sure I don’t ’’
“No I won’t! I won’t! I just, please, please just say you’ll phone me in the morning, with good time, just to make sure I can’t -’’
“I won’t, please just say ‘Yes Ger…I’ll phone in the morning Ger…’ I just need to make sure I -’’
“No, I do have my alarm set! Just please say you will. Just that you’ll phone and say ‘Ger, are you up?’ just to make sure I-’’
“I will, I will. Please…”
The pleading bubbled out into the waiting room to growing discomfort as everybody else just pointed stared at the floor, their papers or the middle distance.
“I did do what-I am doing what you told me, I am -’’
“I can’t…I can’t…”
“Please, please just say you’ll phone and say “Get up Ger, are you ready, and I’ll be ready…I will…”
“I will have my alarm. But just like in case my phone breaks or the alarm doesn’t go off or-please, Please!”
The voice on the other end appeared to change subject on Ger a couple of times as he struggled to answer those points and continue pleading his case.
As the call wound down, he was still pleading at the same time as confirming he would be there, he would, and that he’d see them in the morning, he was going to get the Luas. In the long goodbye, the voice rose loud again to be audible in reminding him to do as he’d been told and disappeared into the indistinct of phone calls.
They seemed to agree that he didn’t have to wait. I fought the urge to tell him to just wait, just wait, it would be better if he waited.
He was still pleading when the call ended and dissolved into emotional sounds close to stressed whimpers and anguished sighs.
Irritated, I couldn’t help myself.
“Here Ger, I’ll call you…”
“If you give me your number, I’ll call you and make sure you get up in the morning.”
“What? No it’s ok-are you sure-I -’’
“I’ll phone you in the morning and make sure you get up.”
The older lady who had given him her seat looked up from her papers and nodded at me. I nodded back.
A sweaty mess of stress, he struggled over to me whilst gathering his bag and twisting his hat. He came over to where I was standing, I had my phone ready, and he fumbled his back out of the pocket he’d shoved it.
He was about to give me the number then he seemed to get a sweaty air of worry or paranoia, and began telling me…
“Actually it’s okay…it’s okay…he’ll call me, I’m sure, it’s okay, I’m sure he’ll call…it’s okay, thank you for your kindness…I’m sure he’ll call…thank you-I’m sure, sure it’ll be okay and he’ll call…”
I’d like to say Ger bustled himself out, but it was more a sort of wet towel tangling and untangling itself out of the waiting room.
The old lady looked back up at me and offered a complex nod and tilt of the head with a grimace that rolled into rueful eyebrows.
I nodded back and shrugged as if to say “someone had to” and “what are you gonna do…”
She gave a backwards nod and I replied in kind. Both silently agreeing that “he’s probably not going to call him”. And she went back to her documents, and I went back to staring at the news on my phone.
Sunlight Chambers Photo used with kind permission
Infomatique aka William Murphy