It is June 2018, I cannot remember the exact date. A breath of fresh air blows through the beautiful Rotterdam Central Station. The station piano is unoccupied and there are only a few people walking around, which is not surprising given the time of half past one at night. On the benches, between the tourist office and the Starbucks, I lie with a few “colleagues” (to name them like that for now). Half slumped, I have been looking for a nice position to lie down with my belongings safe under one arm since I arrived. Not that I really had anything that people might be interested in. In fact, people walked around me without glancing at me. I also understand it; I used a lot of drugs and it showed. I looked unkempt, wore unwashed clothes, couldn’t smile anymore, and I was paranoid and confused. Fantasizing about a warm bed, I still see the gentlemen of the NS walking by, even though they were the only ones who wanted to address me, I hear ‘good evening’ and I fall asleep…
“My name is Giovanni, and when I was born in 1999 I came as a surprise. Not entirely natural, but not planned either. The family in which I was born consisted of my father, my mother and my sister. Most consider it unlikely, but I still remember what that house looked like when I lived there during the first two years of my life. There was an atmosphere that could be described as “sorrowful and musty”. It was often dark and uncluttered. As soon as my sister went to school and my mother to work, it was full of my father’s friends. At least, “friends”. It was extremely unsafe, smelling like drugs, and the drug bags were all over the house. Without anyone looking back at me I ask my father “Daddy, Daddy, can I have a drink?”. At first that was too much to ask, I did not cry, because that was a single ticket to a bath filled with cold water. After some urging Dad finally wants to get me a drink. Despite my cow’s milk allergy (lactose intolerance) I get a carton of milk, which must have been past its date. I look up and tell Daddy I shouldn’t have it. He knows this but gets angry. “You had to drink something, right?! Then drink! DRINK!” “But daddy, I’m not allowed to drink this!” I struggle to hold back the tears and try to get out. I was scared, and Dad knows the doctor can’t do this. With a fear of what will happen if I don’t do it, I reluctantly drink the package. Dad goes back to his friends, and I? I’m hiding next to the fridge, afraid someone would see my tears.”
“Sir? Sir ?! Sir? !!! ” Slowly I open my eyes, still seeing the same gentlemen of the NS. I realize I just got knocked out by the Xanax. “Sir, you can’t lie or sleep here, you can stay here but keep your eyes open.” I reluctantly thank them. They do not sleep now but when their night shift is over they can go back home, to a warm bed. My mind is a haunting place to be. I had been homeless for two weeks and slept on and off with people, but more often on the street. The next morning for the umpteenth time I had to reappear unshowered and in unwashed clothes, without a good night’s sleep, at the Town Hall at the Youth Service Desk and then heard that the night shelter has no place and I can come back the next day. Then again dive into the city looking for a post where water comes out for a drink, looking for ways to get money so I could get drugs and then (breakfast and lunch was not in my dictionary) walk around all day and look for benches to sit on. Waiting until the next day.”
“A fresh wind is blowing through the station once again and my weak immune system makes it feel even britty. I almost knock out again but try to stay awake. My thought goes to when I was in Harreveld (a closed youth institution) in 2016. My mentor sometimes said that addicts are always cold. Looking back on difficult times back then, I realize what I lost in just a matter of two years. Again, again I lost so much, but this time it’s so much more than then. It all started like this: in 2015 I restored contact with my father after 13 years, which did not work out well. It went terribly. At that time I was very vulnerable and things have happened that I prefer not to discuss substantively. Due to my difficult childhood and everything else, I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and also my minimal drug use, which started at the age of 14, was maximized. The flashbacks made me anxious, paranoid, depressed, aggressive. I am a walking time bomb, charging and charging until it’s time to explode. I saw smoking as a kind of self-medication. This also quickly backfired and my problems (read: behavioral problems) kept getting bigger and bigger. I then went to a youth crisis shelter for a while, where I was allowed to leave after four weeks. It would be “fine with me” again. After a few more weeks at home, a Crisis intervention team came home on December 30, 2015 to see if I was not psychotic. That turned out not to be the case, so they left again. Then December 31, 2015, it wasn’t a typical New Year’s Eve, I woke up around half past 1 and there was an unprecedented atmosphere roaming around in the house. My mom asked what I wanted to eat tonight. “Go for Turkish Pizza or something, frankfurters. I do like Unox’s.” She goes out the door to the supermarket with both my younger half brothers.”
“They just left the house and my stepfather came in. “Giovanni, you have visitors” Visitors? At that moment about eight police officers entered and I saw the police vans twenty meters away. Behind the first four officers is a woman who introduces herself as an employee of the Child Protection Board. “You are Giovanni?” she asked. “Yes ma’am.”, I answered suspiciously, ” The judge decided this morning that you’ll be going to a closed youth institution. You can grab some clothes for the next four weeks together with the agents, and after that we’ll see further. I pack my things, I get searched several times before and afterwards. I’m escorted to the police van. “First to the office and then the transport will pick you up.” As if I had any idea what she meant by all that. I was in the van, and in between all the confusion, a clear question arose: What am I even going to eat tonight? Four weeks turned into thirteen months, so when I later left the closed facility, I hadn’t eaten any frankfurters.”
“I wake up abruptly. It is a quarter past 6 in the morning. I probably won’t eat anything right away. I quickly check my belongings, I am still on the same bench and wonder why the NS employees have left me there. I quickly feel the constant struggle in which I live, do I really have to go back to that youth counter for which we already know the answer? Do I really have to be alone all day again? Roam all day outside to do it again tomorrow? Suicidal thoughts kept running through my mind, ignorant of what would happen later that day.”
“It went as usual, but today I only left the youth desk at half past three. I had to wait and was later told to come back the next day. I step outside and pause outside the door. A North African-looking man comes to me, a bit of a gangster-like type with 2 more dark-skinned men. While the Moroccan man takes off his sunglasses, he looks at me piercingly (was probably suspicious) and asks several questions. “What’s your name? Where are you from? Do you use drugs? Where do you sleep? Night shelter?” I answer the questions suspiciously but slowly it starts to become clear.”
“My name is Mo, I work for a treatment center for young addicts, we can offer you temporary shelter, but under two conditions. You may not use drugs and aggression is not tolerated.” “I agreed to go to a rehab clinic and he asked me to enter the Youth Desk. “I would like to speak to someone, this boy has been on the street for weeks and there is no one who does anything to help.” “Everyone is busy at the moment, sir, you can make an appointment …” Before the receptionist haD finished speaking, he walked to the first consultation room, interrupted the conversation, sat down and called me. I stayed in rehab for a few days.”
“After 7 weeks in rehab, my detox treatment was stopped early. I used benzodiazepines, which I had to taper off with prescription benzodiazepines. That was not completely finished, but stopping at once would be too dangerous, so the doctor gave everything, including three prescriptions. The same day that my internal treatment ended, a stay in a night shelter was arranged. To my surprise, only a few beds were occupied, and in my opinion there was enough space all the time. Two months later I went to live on my own with assistance, after which I independently stopped, against the advice of the doctor, with everything in terms of drugs and medication (including drinks). Although this was considered impossible, my personality, my purpose, my vision also changed. Fighting my addiction was perhaps the most difficult of all. For months I suffered from withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting, (at the strangest moments) sweating, severe headache, mood swings, stomach cramps etc, etc. That was not even the most difficult, the most difficult was the struggle with myself. I feel that I have been in a struggle with myself for years, that I no longer dared to be myself, which led to self-destructive behavior. Still, I recommend everyone to do that battle, the energy you get back if you succeed, is immaculate.”
“It is now October 2019, there is a normal atmosphere at Rotterdam Central Station and I play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata 3rd Movement on the station’s piano. While I play the piano, people gather around me, they start filming and they listen carefully to what I play. As I play the piano, my thoughts slowly drift away.
“My thoughts lead me to eleven months ago, where I made the choice in Maaszicht to stop using drugs, and made the choice to learn to play the piano. After a month of pinging it started to sound like something, after 3 months of practice I did my first mini performance and I was approached and scouted for a talent show. Of the 20 participants, I was the lucky winner. It’s such a power boost, everyone clapped, photographers wanted photos and I was the center of attention. Less than a year ago people walked around me in a big arc and now they can’t get away from me. That feeling is indescribable, I don’t want this to go away.
“Working towards the future with the recurring thought that I will become known and the puzzle is almost complete, I approach the end of the song. As soon as I stop playing I am applauded which brings me back to the present and motivates me to share all the lessons of life I have experienced, including the talents and passions I have developed. Even though people walked around me in a big circle, I still believe in the good of society. And in myself.
From the station piano I can see the black steel bench… .. from lying down to sitting up to standing up …”