things fall apart
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Once in a while you hear stories about people who went from having everything to nothing and all of them are impossible to believe. That guy in the filthy orange sleeping bag, the one spare-changing under the ATM? He used to run a car dealership before defaulting on his mortgage, then his marriage, then his kids. The clever, brown-eyed girl in your college creative writing workshop who wrote blistering poems about growing up on a strawberry farm — she’s now an insomniac in a halfway house writing emails to the Office of the Prime Minister.
The narratives that flow the opposite way are the ones we cling to. The teenage welfare mom who ended up best-selling author. The recovered crack addict who became a chess Grand Master. The Olympic gold medalist who crawled out of a ditch. These are the stories that comfort us, that give us hope. They’re also the one we hear about and repeat.
People who suddenly find themselves in free fall when the bottom drops out of their lives don’t write books or get asked to go on TV chat shows. They’re too busy trying to get by. These stories are everywhere and yet we rarely hear them, which is what makes them so terrifying and unfathomable. It’s also what makes them difficult to comprehend or believe even when certain narrative elements begin bleed into your own life.
Elvis, our assigned care worker from Brent Social Services, is a tiny man with a crinkly smile and a broad Jamaican accent. He is sitting at my kitchen table having refused a cup of tea. It is after eight p.m. and he has come here by tube from Notting Hill. I ask him if he normally works this late on a Friday and he says yes, but he’s not meant to. His supervisor doesn’t like it. Government workers are meant to clock off at six.
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