There he was, propped up against the dark, rusty, cold metal stairwell on the second floor
of 160 Bunker Hill Street in Charlestown's Bunker Hill housing projects. “Davey, can you help me?
Can you take me home?. I looked and realized that it was Jim, one of my neighbors,
father to several of my friends. Jim, who must have been in his 30’s or 40 tops, was lying
there, legless, totally out of it, less than a quarter mile away from his apartment, his wife
and five kids. What does he want with me, I thought?
“Davey”, he cried out. I looked at his hair, which seemed to be desperately trying to
escape from under his scalley cap, his sun browned, wrinkled face and tired eyes trying to
focus on me. “What do you want, Jim?” I asked, more irritated than patient at his calling
me. I felt bad for Jim. This wasn’t the first time that I had seen him, legless, filthy, roasting
under a fog of alcohol, asking for some change, a handout, a little conversation perhaps.
It seemed that all Jim wanted from me this time was a lift home. Except in this case, a lift
home would be one traveled upon the shoulder of an embarrassed, shy twelve year old.
“Come on Jim” I said and helped him from the stairwell. “Put your arm around my
shoulder Jim, you’re heavy” Embarrassed, I prayed to God: please don’t let anyone see us
limping along or they’ll think he’s my father.
I felt a thousand eyes upon us as we approached Carney Court. Dozens of kids playing out
in the warm, summer sun. How could I have thought that our journey would go
unnoticed. Stumbling along, moving much slower than I could bear, our trip lasted a
lifetime. What if his kids see us, after all Billy and I shared a class at the Warren Prescott
and brother Bobby was also a friend. Please, God let this ordeal be over soon.
As we walked across O’Reilly Way, Jim’s arm slipped from my shoulder and we almost
fell into the street. My grip held, I propped Jim up and we continued, knowing that relief
was only several hundred feet away. But, soon I could see Billy and he saw us.
My mind soaked up the look on Billy’s face with each step as his father and I drew closer,
walking arm and arm toward him and our friends. Billy walked over to us and said “thanks
Dave” and without saying a word to his father, relieved me of my burden and my shame. I
walked away , head down, embarrassed about being seen with Jim and having to deliver
him to his son, my friend in that condition. My shame and embarrassment could only have
paled in comparison to that felt by Billy and his family.
Over the next few years there would be many other episodes involving Jim and his losing
battles with the bottle and self-respect. Battles where there were clearly no winners, only
losers. Jim passed away several years later from cirrhosis, but his pride, his will and his
family’s hopes died long before he did. Jim’s four sons ended up involved in violent crimes
and at least two were sentenced to Walpole Prison. One still remains in Walpole having
spent at least half of his life behind bars.
I wonder how different things might have been if Jim had been able to hold a job, behave
like a husband and father should, find his way home and win his battle with the bottle. The
losing battle that Jim and his family waged against alcohol was fought by many of us in the
projects. Unfortunately for Jim and his family, their losing battle with alcohol was a very
public one with tragic consequences. For some the battle was far less public but in many
cases the results no less tragic.
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