His wild eyes were surrounded by a blustery crop of long wavy hair pointing in all directions and a shaggy grey beard that drooped down to his chest. Ali kept to himself mostly, but now and again, he would let fly with an outburst of rage over the strangest things. He lost his temper over a piece of pizza once and smashed a random bush in the courtyard for no apparent reason. Ali had an odd way of refusing to pay bills. Whenever he got one in the mail, he would return it to the front desk attendant, mumbling that he “didn’t recognize the institution.” Ali was from Iran and was a veteran of that country’s terrible conflict with their neighbour Iraq. He never disclosed any stories, but it was clear he had PTSD. “He is a ticking time bomb,” I told his social worker one day after a dust-up over paying rent.
An open door is what finally made Ali snap. His past trauma, combined with copious amounts of Vodka, made it impossible for him to stand idly by while another tenant kept his apartment door open. For Ali, all doors must be closed at all times. So he did the only sensible thing a man in his state of mind would do — he tried to kill “open door” man. With Jihadi-like intensity, he screamed curses at the unsuspecting tenant whose door was open. Then, with all the ferocity a malnourished alcoholic in his mid-sixties could muster, he charged down the hallway, scissors raised, determined to cut out the throat of the offender. John was in the hallway, taking out his garbage. He is a peaceful tenant on oxygen 24 hours a day and often keeps his door slightly open to help him breathe. Panic-stricken and gasping for air, he darted into his room and locked the door seconds before Ali could rain down, slicing fury upon him.
A staff member was called in to try to help but had to retreat to the safety of his room. The wild eyes, crazy hair and swinging pair of scissors made a terrifying impression. Ali was in no mood to be trifled with. The staff called 911. Eight or ten police officers showed up, and they filed up the back stairwell one by one to meet the threat. When they arrived on the floor, Ali had retreated to his room. The police were firm, “come out with your hands up!” After a few tense moments, the door cracked open, but the Vodka infused liquid courage surging through Ali’s veins prevented him from making a good decision. His hands were not where the police could see them. Was he concealing something under the towel he had in his hand? As Ali approached the gang of police officers, their commands were clear. “Stop!” “Stop!” “Stop!” Ali did not stop.
The police have something called a “less lethal” gun. It’s a shotgun that shoots out tiny lead pellets encased in a kevlar sleeve. It’s a nasty bean bag powerful enough to knock a grown man down. The blunt trauma of a blast like this will hurt a lot and damage the body, but it won’t typically kill someone.
“Bang!” the blast from the weapon on the 5th floor was heard down on the first floor, but Ali continued forward, “Bang!” another shot to the chest stopped his forward momentum. “Bang” a third blast hit him in the hand, breaking it in several places, splitting the skin, and severing a vein. Blood gushed out and spilled all over the hallway floor as the police rushed to subdue the suspect.
On the one hand, I look at Ali and see a wrinkled, frail old man who surely didn’t need to be shot three times with a “less lethal” shotgun. I’d be surprised if Ali weighed more than 120 lbs. Surely, there could have been an easier way to subdue him without all the broken bones, bruising, and blood. But then, on the other hand, if a person is not willing to obey clearly spoken police commands that have everyone’s best interest in mind, how can I fault them for doing what they can to stop him short of killing him? What do you think? Is this bravery to light up an old man like this, or is it brutality?
Ali spent several weeks in the hospital recovering from his injuries. I had to evict him. Attempted murder is something we frown on here at the Manor. I had several conversations with the hospital social workers and local outreach specialists to ensure Ali would be appropriately housed when released. But one night, in the middle of a snowstorm, Ali drifted into the Manor and up to the 5th floor before I could stop him. I raced up the stairs and met him as he stumbled out of the elevator.
There was over a foot of snow on the ground, and he was wearing only a thin shirt, light pants and a pair of crocs. I could see his bare toes. He was shivering from head to toe. His hand was swollen and red from under the cast he still wore on his arm; what else could it be but an infection?
“Ali what are you doing here? You don’t live here anymore; remember what happened?”
“Are you sure I don’t live here anymore?”
“Yes, I’m sure; look, you’re freezing. I have your clothes from your room. Let’s get you properly dressed.”
We hauled out the bins that stored his stuff and found a winter jacket and some proper shoes, but he refused to take them. He just kept mumbling to himself that he didn’t need them.
“What are you doing out of the hospital?” He gave me no answer, only incoherent mutterings.
“Well, you can’t stay here. Let me give you a little money and call you a cab to take you back to the hospital.”
Snow and Vancouver don’t mix very well, it might take hours for a cab to arrive and Ali didn’t want to wait for hours. After about 20 minutes, he shuffled out the door and into the teeth of a biting winter snowstorm.
This is the last time I saw him.
(The names of the the people in this story have been changed to protect their privacy)