This morning, just after 8am, we had a visitor in church. His name was Gerry and he was an alcoholic. Gerry had layers of clothing on, topped with a luminous green hoodie and the church was warm but Gerry was still cold. He drank clear liquid out of an old Coke bottle and wiped his eyes and nose frequently. He stood when the congregation stood and sat when they sat but didn’t join in any of the words. He listened carefully though. Some of it made him tearful.
After the service Gerry told me his story. His dad had recently died and Gerry had sobered up for four days then because you don’t bury anyone drunk. He hadn’t cried at the funeral but he cried now whenever he thought of him. He wore his dad’s silver ring with pride and showed me it often. Once there was a wife and children; once Gerry played for Rangers; once he wasn’t in this state. Cheap cider is to blame, he said. It is the worst and it makes you pee yourself. You lose control on cider and you fight. Do you have any trousers I could have?
We stood outside having a smoke while the kettle boiled. Gerry didn’t want to go into town because he knew he’d get into trouble there, get into a fight, get arrested. He wouldn’t stay in any of the hostels because he didn’t like the druggies. They’d stolen his ID so he’d need to get another birth certificate. Maybe I’ll go back to Glasgow, he said. There’s nowhere to get help here in Portobello – no food banks, no hostels, no clothing stores. Being homeless means it is difficult to get your money. Where would they send your giro? They once gave him a house in Easter Road but he stupidly invited all his drinking buddies up and he lost it. You’d think I’d learn. I just keep getting into fights. Its the cider. Demon drink.
Gerry is just out of Saughton Prison. He was sent there because he had a gun and a knife. Do you have one on you now, Gerry? No, never again. That was stupid. Did you manage to sober up in prison? You’re joking! In there you get homemade stuff – hooch. Its really bad for you – rots your guts. I do go to the meetings, you know AA, but then things get on top of me.
My dad left me £1000 but the cash machine at the Waverley ate my card. That’s why I’ve got no money. I’ll need to sort it out tomorrow. I’ll get money then. Did I tell you my dad died? I’ve nobody left now. Completely on my own. My brother won’t speak to me and he’s in Kentucky. My family won’t speak to me. How could you get to nearly sixty and have nobody left? My best friend died at 30. She used pure heroin – it was too much for her and she just died. I’ve nobody left. Nobody. The tears flowed.
At breakfast Gerry told us his story again. He spoke about his family. I’m a Christian, he said. I liked that service. Look, I have a cross and he showed us an Ankh cross on his belt. Do you want me to pray for your dad? Yes, and I’ll stay for the next service if that’s okay. I’d like to hear that. I buried him with my mum. The headstone was £2000 and it was £500 for the square flower pot with In Memory, but it doesn’t matter about the cost. I have artificial flowers in it. Then if I’m not there, the flowers will still be. How can you be sixty and have lost everyone? Bloody cider.