I had the room key in my hand. I shut the car door and looked around for the right room number on one of the doors of the motel. There at the end of the building on the second floor was the room I needed. Oddly enough, the room was the closest of all of them to the neighboring liquor store. That seemed convenient.
The motel was old and a bit shabby. Many years ago, when the road was the main transportation artery between Milwaukee and Chicago, this motel probably had a thriving business. Back in the 60s, the freeway was built, and this highway and all of its cozy motor lodges became part of a sluggish economic backwater. The motel didn’t have any high rollers stay overnight anymore. Now, it was a temporary home for people skidding on a downward path. A room in this place was better than sleeping in the backseat of a car, but not much better.
I got the room key from a person in the ER. They had been brought there by ambulance after a drug relapse. The individual needed me to collect their personal belongings from the motel room and turn in the key to the front office. I asked if the person had left any items in the dresser drawers. They shook their head slowly and then rolled over on the hospital bed. They closed their eyes to sleep.
I opened the door of the motel room. The drapes were closed, and all the lights were on. It was utter chaos in a very small space. That was no surprise to me. I have been in other rooms like that one, for similar reasons.
The motel room made me remember when I helped to clean out my brother’s tiny apartment after his death. His apartment didn’t have much in it, but it still seemed to take forever to pack and move everything. The place was a mess, just like his life. The sink was filled with dishes encrusted with dried food. The refrigerator was empty except for a light bulb and some items that were clearly well beyond their shelf lives. I found a disorderly pile of mail. Buried in it was a birthday card I had sent to him four months before his death. It was still unopened.
I had no intention of cleaning the motel room. I was going to find the person’s stuff, and then get the hell out. The room had a bad energy. A relapse is a grim and lonely event, often leaving broken behind broken glass and broken dreams. This room wasn’t too bad, the person had not been staying there for very long. I found clothes scattered on the floor. I found miscellaneous objects on the bed, half-hidden under the crumpled sheets. Next to the toilet was an almost empty case of alcoholic beverages. Empty cans were lying on every horizontal surface. The odd thing was that there was still one full can in the box. It’s rare that a person going on a killer binge will leave anything unopened.
I gathered up all the things I could find. It is likely that I missed something. I don’t care. The person who mislaid it probably won’t remember where it was anyway. A relapse seldom leaves many memories, mostly just bad feelings and a gnawing paranoia.
I threw the bag of stuff into the back seat of the car. Then I walked into the office. There was a sheet of plexiglass in front of the counter, with a thin slot for business transactions. The sheet of plexiglass was partially covered with numerous notices and rules for the guests. The nastier the motel, the more rules there are for the people staying there.
A young man came out after I pressed the buzzer on the counter. He smiled at me. I told him that I grabbed all of the occupant’s belongings from the room.
He asked me, “Are they alright?”
I shrugged. How do you define “alright”?
I told him, “Thanks for the help,” and tossed him the key.
Frank (Francis) Pauc is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He completed the Military Intelligence Basic Course at Fort Huachuca and then went to Flight School at Fort Rucker. Frank was stationed with the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany at Fliegerhorst Airfield from December 1981 to January 1985. He flew Hueys and Black Hawks and was next assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, CA. He got the hell out of the Army in August 1986.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.