Easter 2014, I took a little trip around Germany, France and Belgium. My job at the time didn't make it easy to take time for holidays, except for a couple of windows in Spring and Autumn. I'd had a lot going on, and I had a chat with my girlfriend at the time, and we agreed that she would see one of her friends down south for a while, Brighton I think. I would go to Munich, link up with one of my best mates, travel around Germany, head over to Brussels and Bruges, and then meet her in Paris at Gare du Nord. That was the first time I stayed in Saint Martin, which has come to feel like a home in Paris.
Munich, Stuttgart, and Cologne were fun and drunk. We got caught out by the Easter weekend in Cologne, the bars shut early, but we managed.
Brussels was a good time too, I've since returned, which is the best compliment we can give to a city in the age of easy travel. I remember a street party in the French Quarter of Brussels, which seemed centred on a French female rugby team, who knew how to have fun. I remember seeing a young gypsy corner boy, around ten, with an old man's face. I watched him joking around and sparring with his friend. I watched him from the edge of the fun, absolutely nailing the last drags of a cigarette, before plastering a winning smile on his face and giving the crowd the theme from the Godfather on his accordion. That scene stayed with me. I wonder how he's doing. Walking away while that tune played made me feel part of the place, I suppose. I don't know what it made me feel, and maybe that's the point. I deleted a few things there but we'll leave it at that, shall we?
Bruges next, and I'll cut to the chase. I'm in a hostel just outside the old walled city. One day alone in the dorm room, I wash all of my clothes in the shower and turn the heating on to dry them. I'm drinking excellent beer, eating chocolate, smoking my rollups and reading in the sun. It occurs to me that my only concerns in this moment are, when are my clothes going to be dry, and where am I going to eat that night. What peace, what joy, in the Fourth world, of "You Shall Know Our Velocity".
I go in to check my gear, and there's this 19 year old American kid there. He seems OK. Dressed a lot older than his years. No trouble. He's got a fucking water bottle on a carabiner on his chino belt loop. He introduces himself as "Steele, Pennsylvania", and shakes my hand like he learned how from a book.
He looks me dead in the eye as he says this, like he really means it. We shoot the breeze for a while and he asks me if I'd like to have dinner and drink a few beers with him. He wants to go to 't Brugs Beertje, which apparently has 300 great beers. This is all very civilised to my ears, so why not, coconut?. He wants to check facebook and then lock his laptop up in a locker before we go out. I haven't seen a keyboard in a week, so I ask if I can check emails etc. after him...
...Which I do, and oh honey, he didn't log out before me. His fucking name is Chris. There's a picture of him, his name's Chris. Steel or Steele is his cool guy travelling alter-ego or something. This doesn't phase me, we've all done a little creative reinvention, at, or before, or after the age of 19. Funny though.
We had a few drinks with dinner and he loosens up a bit. I saw an opening in the conversation where I could gently ask him about what I'd seen and I went for it. I had no desire to embarrass him, I wanted to know if it was a nickname.
Herein lies a tale.
Steele, and he was Steele, told me a tale which I later verified, of his older brother Chris.
Steele lived at home with his aged parents (explains his dress sense, I thought) and his brother Chris. Chris was neuroatypical, and had gone from being able to function throughout highschool (with support and medication), to a shut in. Chris lived between his bedroom, the bathroom, and online. He was a challenge for the aged parents, sometimes prone to aggressive outbursts. They had found that Chris derived pleasure and some measure of satisfaction playing online games. The family wanted to do anything they could to prevent Chris from becoming so unmanageable that he would have to be sent into a full time care facility. There was an uneasy balance in the home of peace, strife, and tolerance.
One morning, aged parents and Steele awoke to the realisations that;
Chris was gone,
He'd packed a suitcase,
One of the cars was gone,
He'd also managed to liberate all of the liquor that had been in the house, and about $5,000 in cash.
If memory serves, the car was found by the side of the road, next to some woods in another state. The cops entered the woods and found Chris, with a woman he had met on facebook. Judging from the scene, they had been having quite a time. Meth had been smoked. Due to the circumstances, no charges were filed against Chris. It seems incredible to me as I write this, but I did get a wealth of supporting evidence from Steele the next day. Chris was brought home. He was now one step away from being sent to live in a care home. His younger brother Steele installed tracking software on Chris's devices and monitored him each day. The family took other steps to secure things like cash and car keys. Very unusual situation, but quite interesting how committed the aged parents were from holding off sending their son away until they absolutely couldn't care for him at home any more. I'm sure he's used up his second chance by now, so it goes.
Bruges is a great place, and 't Brugs Beertje is highly recommended.