“Back already?” the guy at the reception desk asks me as I walk into the Sydney hostel. “Though there, they’re waiting for you”, he points over to the doors of the hostel common room.
I’m confused. “Who’s waiting for me?”
The reception guy does not look up from his screen. “The common room……waiting in the common room”, he reiterates, mumbling, and then gets up and walks away from me, to the back office and shuts the door.
‘Weird’, I’m thinking as I’m now left standing in the empty reception, ‘where is everyone?’
I walk towards the common room double doors and push myself through. It’s a fairly large area. A big industrial kitchen at the back, a line of PCs across the side wall, and a pool table in the middle of the room. There is a ‘den’ area made up of various mismatched chairs, couches and cushions and a small group of 6 or 7 people are sitting in a circle, in silence. There is no-one else in the room.
I walk over and spot Rach within the silent circle, sitting on an orange beanbag, her head pointed downwards and eyes on the floor.
“Hey!” I smile walking over, “What’s going on?”
Rach looks up and makes eye contact with me. Her eyes are bloodshot from crying but she doesn’t reply. Instead, I hear a voice from the back of the group.
“Hi Craig, my name is Keith”
The voice is calm and soft. I turn around and spot a middle aged man who I have not seen before. His hair is dark grey hair and he has salt and pepper stubble. He is sitting on a wooden stool which looks like an enlarged version of one that, I’m pretty sure, I used to sit on in infant school.
He’s smiling and his eyes are sympathetic. He’s also clutching a turquoise scatter cushion close to his chest with both hands wrapped around it.
“….Hi?”………I’m even more confused
“Craig…” Keith pauses… “…this is an intervention.”
“An intervention?” I repeat slowly, feeling how the words sound in my mouth whilst trying to let my brain catch up.
“I want you to know that you’re in a safe place”, Keith continues, “we’re all here today because we love and care about you. Today is about…….help”. Keith stresses the word ‘help’. “You have a problem and we are here to help.”
“What’s going on?” I turn away from Keith and back to Rach. Rach doesn’t reply.
“It’s the mountains, Craig”, Keith says. “You are an addict. And you’re addicted to mountains and mountain views.”
“I’m addicted to mountain views?” I repeat slowly, turning back around to Keith……the situation is slowly starting to sink in.
“Good! Good!” says the girl who works behind the counter at the Domino’s Pizza, excited. She seems to have misinterpreted my question as a statement, “Recognition is the first step!”
Keith shoots her a glance and I get the impression that she has spoken out of turn.
“I know this is a lot to take in”, Keith continues, “but I want you to let us all say our peace and listen”. He stresses the word ‘listen’.
“I’m going to pass this cushion around the room.” Keith explains and raises the cushion in his hands, “Whoever has the cushion has the opportunity to talk. Everyone will get their turn and you will also have the opportunity to speak and ask questions in time”.
Some people in the circle have started reaching into their pockets and are pulling out folded up pieces of paper…… pre-prepared statements. One guy pulls out an iPad where his statement is typed up…….I think he works at the bar around the corner where we went for a drink a night or 2 ago……or maybe he’s one of the hostel staff…….not 100% certain.
“Who would like to begin?” Keith asks.
“I will”, Rachael says, her voice shaking slightly. And Keith gently tosses her the pillow.
“Wait a second…..” I begin.
“Craig, please!” Keith cuts me off. “Please respect the cushion of honesty!”
I pause, my mouth hanging open like a fish, dumbfounded and lost for words.
“Dear Craig……” Rach begins, reading off some handwritten notebook paper. “At first I thought it was just circumstance. There are, after all, a lot of mountains in New Zealand….”
“This is ridiculous!” I interrupt, my voice raising. “I don’t have an addiction to mountains!” “That isn’t even…….even………a………a thing!!”
Keith tries to step in, “Craig Please!!…the cushi………”
“No!…..Just No!….There’s no way!….I’m not an addict!” I’m shouting now….probably.
“Please don’t lash out!” the guy who, a few minutes ago, was working behind the hostel reception desk says. He is sitting on a blue felted chair in the circle. I didn’t see him come in……was he in here before I walked in? “We’re not here to hurt you, but to help”, he stresses the word ‘help’, “This is painful for us all and we are all here because we care!”
I don’t feel I have any words………..
“Dude!…….I………I……..I don’t even know you!”……….I stress the word ‘know’.
“That’s just hurtful!” the girl who works at Domino’s says as she bursts out crying. She turns and buries her head into the shoulder of the guy next to her sobbing…….it’s the guy who works at the bar, or the hostel…….I still can’t remember for sure.
“It’s not hurtful!” I yell, “I genuinely don’t even know his name.”
“Of course you do”, Keith says, “It’s Dave……we all know it’s Dave”
“That’s only because he’s wearing a nametag!!” I shout back, noticing the nametag and walking over and sticking my finger in his chest where the nametag is pinned to his shirt..….probably standing a bit too close and aggressively.
“In New Zealand…..” Rachael continues despite the growing chaos in the circle, “it was hard to go anywhere without them. I knew you enjoyed them, we both did….I just don’t think I realised how much……” Rach stops, emotional. This is hard for her.
“You can’t blame yourself”, the cleaner at the hostel, a middle aged woman who is sitting next to her on a shiny plastic chair, comforts her, gently taking the pillow from with one hand while unlocking her phone with the other.
The Domino’s girl is still crying…….I’m speechless.
“After you arrived in Sydney, you were back in the city”, the cleaner says, reading from her phone. “That was when the problem became…..well….obvious”.
“After only a single week in the city centre, you already had the train ticket booked to Katoomba.”
“Katoomba……in the Blue Mountains”, Keith stresses the word ‘Mountains’.
“Keith Please!…….The cushion!” I reply……..pointing to he cushion in the cleaning lady’s hands.
“Yes, we went to the Blue Mountains!” I say defensively, “Yes, it was brilliant!….It was beautiful!…..But we’re not the only people who travel there! Hundreds of people go every day! It’s a really popular tourist destination!”
“We’ve been through your computer”, Domino’s girl says, who has now composed herself, “Searches for ‘Uluru’?…….Mount Gambier?”
“Uluru is an iconic Australian landmark! I’m thinking about visiting there….it’s not that unusual!” I feel like I’m losing an argument I don’t understand, “Mount Gambier is just a potential stop off on a road trip we’re planning!……It’s not even a mountain!…..It’s a mount!”
“A mount is a gateway…..it’s a stepping stone to mountains”, both Keith and the guy from the bar (or hostel) say simultaneously.
I sit down and sigh. I’m tired and emotional.
“Just look at your photos!” The cleaner adds “Hundreds, literally hundreds of pictures of mountains!”
I start to sob quietly…..I’m exhausted and my defences are down…… “I know!”
“……….I know……I need some help!”
“That’s why we’re here”
“Thanks Dave…..I’m so sorry I lashed out before”
“So……what now?” I ask the room…..I ask of my friends….
“A city!” Keith answers. He has the cushion again. “We have booked you on a train to Melbourne!…..You’ve already overcome the hardest part….the acceptance….but now a city rehab is what you need!”
The Domino’s girl is crying again…tears of joy. The bar guy is holding her and (70% sure he works the bar) has a single tear coming down his cheek as well.
I take the train tickets and give a hug to everyone in the circle, one at a time.
It will be a hard journey ahead. But with Rach and Keith. With Dave, the cleaner, the Domino’s girl, and the guy I’m 80% sure works at the bar……I’ll get there…………
I’ll get there!