Wednesday, October 27, 2004
It was nearly two o’clock in the morning, and Devlin Kerry was out of cigarettes.
A non-smoker likely would have ignored a late-night attack of the munchies and gone to bed, or decided he could live without breakfast cereal or milk in his coffee the next day. But for a smoker, who makes hundreds of compulsive trips to the corner store every year, it was nothing. A routine five-minute trip down the street. Even at 2am.
It was a split-second decision—hardly a decision at all—but it changed everything. Kerry headed out the door.
At the time, he was living with friends in an apartment above an Agricola Street pizzeria. Its neon sign hummed brightly as he stepped onto the street, proclaiming its name and menu in red and green letters: RANDY’S Pizza, Seafood, and Donair.
Kerry glanced up the street to see if the nearby convenience store was open. It wasn’t. So he turned left, and walked down a side street lined with pretty townhouses, all adorned with coloured aluminum siding and complementary trim. He would go to the 24-hour Irving gas bar and convenience store on Robie Street, four blocks away.
At the end of Sarah Street, Kerry turned right. Then left and right again onto Davison Street, winding his way through a residential neighbourhood on a mild autumn night.
He was in front of the two-storey Goodwrench service building when it happened. All he had to do was cut between O’Regan’s car lot and the car wash, and walk past the filling pumps and into the store.
He never made it.
Someone distracted Kerry while someone else brained him with a wood-and-metal squeegee stick in front of the Goodwrench loading dock.
Stacy was already awake. She’d been lying in bed in her Davison Street home, drifting in and out of sleep for five to 10 minutes, wishing whoever was outside would just shut up.
It’s students play-fighting, she thought. Coming home from the bars. They’ll go away in a few minutes.
When she heard the sickening crack of Kerry’s skull breaking, she thought it was a gunshot. Jolted upright by fear, she threw off the covers. She heard a shopping cart rattle, being pushed hurriedly away, and went to the window.
A man was lying face down in the street in front of her house. Blood was pooling around his head. Stacy glimpsed the back of someone else’s head for an instant before they disappeared from her field of view, and she heard their footsteps as they ran away into the night.
Stacy quickly grabbed some clothes and headed for the front door. In the few minutes that passed before she made it outside, two other people had arrived. A female pedestrian was already on the scene—a chance passerby—and Stacy’s neighbour from two houses down had somehow already been and gone; he was running back home to dial 911.
All Stacy could do now was to wait with the stranger for the ambulance, and wince at Kerry’s brains hanging out. The blood continued to pool around him, startlingly fast, soaking his clothes. Stacy would remember that sight for a long time, and wish she’d gotten out of bed just a few minutes earlier.
It wasn’t long before an ambulance sped to Davison Street, and within a few minutes four or five squad cars had pulled up as well, flashing their disorienting reds and blues. The paramedics worked fast. They fussed briefly over Kerry’s injuries—far beyond their capacity to heal—and quickly carted him away on a stretcher.
Stacy and her neighbour watched from a few feet back as the ambulance pulled away. The street had been cordoned off, and a yellow strand of tape dangled all the way from the Goodwrench service building to Stacy’s white porch railing.
The police lingered, investigating the scene and taking statements, and soon the dog teams arrived. The German Shepherds sniffed and tugged, searching up and down the street.
David Holland, a newspaper carrier for the Chronicle-Herald, was called into work at 2:40am on the morning of the attack.
When he got in the taxicab he’d summoned to take him downtown, the cabbie gave him the latest gossip: “There’s been some guy attacked. Behind the Irving station on Robie Street. I guess they found him in a lake of blood.”
“It’s a rough area of town,” replied Holland, unconcerned.
Meanwhile, at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, things were grim. Kerry had left far too much of his blood in a pool on Davison Street, and the doctors thought he was going to die.
He was twitching uncontrollably on the stretcher. His neurons were all firing in an electrical storm of impulses. The doctors induced a coma, hoping to stabilize him, and they attached a ventilator to keep him breathing.
While they frantically re-filled his veins with donated blood, they also had to deal with another problem: Extra blood and fluids were building inside his head, pushing on his brain, and squishing it against the base of his skull. The pressure was damaging the brain’s core, which controls basic life-support functions.
The doctors used a miniature motorized saw to relieve the pressure. They cut out a chunk of his skull, the size of a deck of cards. One of them cradled a piece of Kerry’s brain in her hand while they worked. When it was successfully removed, the doctor tucked the escaping bits of Kerry’s brain back inside his head, temporarily leaving the wound open.
They kept the skull fragment, wrapping it carefully and freezing it to keep the tissue alive. Once the swelling went down, it could safely be replaced, and new bone would grow around it.
That is, if he survived.
Back on Davison Street, Stacy’s surreal evening continued. She was still awake hours after the attack, when the police returned to the scene of the crime. Stacy watched through her window as an officer connected a hose to the orange fire hydrant in front of her house, and used the powerful spray and the natural downward slope of the street to wash Kerry’s blood down the sewer.
David Holland finished delivering the papers and got back to his Fairview apartment around 7am. The first thing he did when he got home was take the battery out of his cell phone; he needed some sleep, and he didn’t want anybody bothering him.
He didn’t remember to replace the battery until evening. As soon as he put it back in, it rang. It was his brother’s friend Betty Schofield. “You’d better get in touch with your mother,” she said.
WHO WAS KERRY HOLLAND?
Kerry Holland was born on February 25, 1959. He grew up in McAdam, New Brunswick, a small town 30 minutes’ drive south of Fredericton. He grew up loving the outdoors—the harsh landscape, the lush ferns and glacier-formed rocks and lakes.
Kerry’s brother, David, says he remembers a night from the early 1960s when things got very ugly between their parents. One of his first memories is when he was four years old and his father blew up in an alcoholic rage. He says there was a bloody fight, and he had to carry his baby brother to his grandparents’ place for refuge.
When David and Kerry returned home, their father was gone—and he never came back. From that day their mother, Isabel Bennett Murphy, raised the boys with help from their grandparents. The boys resented growing up fatherless, which caused problems, and later they would have issues as well with their mother, who occasionally left them alone for extended periods of time while she was with her boyfriends.
“To this day, they both have abandonment issues,” says Betty Schofield. “David’s response is fear. Kerry’s response is anger. And of course, underneath David’s fear is anger; and under Kerry’s anger is fear. But they’d never admit it, either one of them. Fear and anger.”
In some such situations siblings turn to each other; but not this time. “We weren’t close growing up,” says David. “I didn’t have much to do with him. Kerry’s friends were punks—I thought so, anyway.”
Kerry’s anger found an outlet in violence and crime. By the time he was 21 years old, Kerry had been in and out of prisons, reformatories and youth homes since he was nine. The longest term he served was 19 months in the Springhill Institution in Nova Scotia, for a break and enter. Once he spent a few weeks in the federal penitentiary in Dorchester.
“Kerry was always in and out of one jam or another,” says David. “There was a time when he’d try and impress you with his jail stories. But not anymore. Mostly he doesn’t want to talk about it.”
“I did it until I realized I wasn’t good at it,” says Kerry. “One day I just realized I had to stop.”
Kerry didn’t meet Betty Schofield, the woman he credits with turning his life around, until he was released from the Springhill Institution to the Carlton Community Correctional Centre on College Street in the south end of Halifax.
Schofield was a divorced schoolteacher, and a staunch Christian. She once considered embarking on missionary work, but felt instead that she had been called by God through the scriptures to aid an obstinate and stubborn people in her own land. She says it was the last thing she wanted to do; but God had chosen her for prison ministry.
It fit her well.
“I was a foster mother,” she says. “So I can relate to those who are stubborn and rebellious.”
When she met Kerry, she was tutoring another convict who was illiterate, plus helping to serve meals on Sundays. “Kerry said he didn’t like my coffee,” says Schofield, “and he started giving me a hard time about it, saying it wasn’t any good, and we just got to talking. There was just something about him. Then the second time, when I came back, I couldn’t remember his name—and he was mad. He said, ‘What kind of person doesn’t remember someone’s name?’ He was a challenge. And I like a good challenge.”
It was the beginning of a 20-year friendship Schofield says is based on verbal sparring. When Kerry was sent back to Springfield for violating the conditions of his release, she kept in touch.
“He told me not to write him,” she says. “He said he didn’t want to think about the outside when he was on the inside. But when I told the warden on the way out, he said to write him anyway, and I did. Kerry didn’t want me to visit, either, but I was up there on Sundays visiting another prisoner anyway, and eventually I guess he changed his mind—he decided to put me on his visitor’s list.
“Kerry was just like that,” she says. “Stubborn. I was just more stubborn than he was. And now I’m trying to be as stubborn as he is again.”
Released once again from Springhill, Kerry began to visit Schofield occasionally, and sometimes ended up sleeping on her couch. Schofield didn’t mind, because her house was full already, and soon he was living there full time, along with three other men: Schofield’s son, and two members of her church. Kerry couldn’t pay much rent, but he did the housework and yard work while Schofield took her Masters in Education, taught full-time, served on various church committees and boards and remained involved in prison ministry.
“Kerry likes to keep things tidy,” she says. “And I was so busy I couldn’t do much, so it was a big help. Once in a while, we’d have a scuffle about who was going to be the boss—but I had a teenage son at the time, so I was used to that.”
It was Schofield who convinced him to go back to school. Kerry had already achieved his GED, and because he’d always loved drawing, he enrolled at NSCAD after his release. But he soon quit the program, frustrated with some of the practicalities, like mixing paint, when he really just wanted to be an artist.
Kerry signed up for a history degree at Mount St. Vincent University. He’d always been a reader, and he devoured the materials. He completed his three-year degree in two-and-a-half years, narrowly missing winning the History prize to a part-time student.
But Kerry came away from the Mount with more than a diploma. It was there he met his future wife, a fellow student, Karen White. She was Acadian, and her family was Roman Catholic—and her father worked at the Springhill Correctional Centre. He knew Kerry.
In a photograph taken before his graduation, Kerry looks smart in a navy three-piece suit, with a red boutonniere. White is standing by his side, looking at him. She has short-cropped brown hair, pale skin, and she’s wearing a white flowing lace dress. Their fingers are interlaced, and they are both smiling. Their marriage would last five years.
In 1995, Kerry quit school, separated from his wife, and changed his identity. He was about to become “Halifax’s Busker” full-time.
Devlin Kerry was born in 1995, at the age of 36.
When Kerry Holland got married, he became Kerry Holland-White. When he got divorced, he became Devlin Kerry, officially changing his name in 1995. He kept Kerry—his friends still call him that—and he chose Devlin out of a book of names.
It wasn’t just that he wanted to erase every trace of his failed marriage. Devlin Kerry was his stage name. Other performers did it—why couldn’t he?
It’s probably fair to say that without Kerry’s love of making music, the person known as Devlin Kerry would never have existed. And it’s probably fair to say that since November 27, 2004, Kerry is wondering if that person is already dead.
Most Haligonians know Devlin Kerry.
They have passed him by countless times outside the public library on Spring Garden Road. Their busy feet have walked past him outside the CIBC bank machine. They’ve seen his hands, stiff and damaged by the cold, in fingerless gloves, plucking six strings twisted tight over a fretboard. They’ve heard his earnest voice lifted high above the bustle of the city.
They’ve also seen his open guitar case—and that’s when some of them looked away. But others stopped to listen, to favour him with applause or spare change. Some made requests. And some of them—the bravest and/or the drunkest—sang along.
Devlin Kerry was a busker in downtown Halifax full-time for more than 11 years. He’s practically a local celebrity.
Kerry always sang for fun, but he didn’t get his
first guitar until he was 19 years old. He was in prison then—and with lots of spare time to practice, he got good fast.
“Anybody that heard him in the years before he got neurological damage to his hands from playing outside in the cold would say he was the best player they ever heard,” says his brother, David. “If the liquor hadn’t got him, and if he were living in Toronto, he’d be playing in a studio somewhere. He could play anything. He knows it all.”
The first time Kerry played on the street was in July of 1987. He didn’t know how he was going to pay the rent, so he grabbed his guitar and set up on the street. He stayed out playing for 10 hours straight, and made $100—and he was hooked.
“Kerry treated it like a job,” says his brother. “There were very few days he didn’t go out.” The amount of money he made, however, varied a lot. Once he got $400 in one night. But most of the time it was between $10 and $20. “And when it’s only $20,” says David, “Kerry would only have $10 for cigarettes and $10 for beer. You never make any money playing rock ’n’ roll in Halifax.”
Nevertheless, in 1990 Kerry bought a good guitar and started busking more frequently. He was becoming a well-known figure on the streets of Halifax and within the street community. He briefly formed a band with two friends called All Mama’s Children. Then in 1993, Kerry organized some time in a recording studio, and produced the first of two albums.
The black-and white album photo from the first Clusterbusk recording shows a ragtag bunch of 11 different buskers. Kerry is standing at the bottom right, with shoulder-length hair, roped off in a ponytail. The ones in the middle are holding a sign that says: We haven’t heard of you either.
The album contains 17 original songs from Halifax’s street performers, including two of Kerry’s own compositions: “I’d Rather Be Lonely” and “Work Sucks.” In the liner notes the performers give special thanks to “Everyone who ever threw to a busker (if they had it) or applauded (if they didn’t).” And there is a long thank you: “Thanks to Devlin Kerry’s inspired effort much deserved recognition has descended on a neglected corner of Halifax’s musical talent. Under Devlin’s direction, this unique collection of earthly street music captures the soul of downtown Halifax’s warm summer nights and brings it to life for a wider listening audience.”
In reply, Kerry wrote: “Hey, where’s my free beer and cigarettes?”
WHERE IS DEVLIN KERRY?
In January 2005, Kerry sits in a wheelchair in the middle of room 749 of the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre.
His room is small, but it’s all his. The walls are a soothing shade of deep blue. The window overlooks a reconstructed church, and although it’s snowing and blustery outside, the temperature inside is toasty warm.
Devlin Kerry is wearing a green t-shirt, blue-and-purple plaid flannel pyjamas, white stockings and light gray slippers. His brown eyes are still sharp and intelligent. His skin is naturally a bit dark, almost tanned. His goatee shows no signs of gray. His fingernails are long, yellowed and hard—a smoker’s nails. A finger-picker’s nails. He hasn’t smoked or played guitar for a while now.
The right side of his body is paralyzed. But his limbs haven’t atrophied and he looks relatively normal. Except for his head, he looks as if he could be a victim of a simple skiing accident, expected to get up and go as soon as his bones knit.
His head, however, tells another tale. His hair is jagged and uneven—it’s been shaved a few times recently, in different places—and “scar” doesn’t do his head justice.
It is a wicked, Frankenstein-monster, thick stitching that starts at his hairline above his left eye and goes straight back for a good three inches before it arcs down and then up in three-quarters of a circle, like the blade of a scythe, or a dot-less question mark.
Three weeks after the attack, Kerry had stabilized. The swelling had gone down, and the doctors operated again on November 22, re-inserting the skull fragment they’d taken out nearly a month before.
They closed him up again, hoping for the best, and left him with the question mark.
Nothing he says is 100 percent reliable, although it takes me a while to realize it. For a few minutes I think I’m the one who’s confused, that I’m just not hearing it right through his slurred words and his half-paralyzed palette. But it’s not just me.
Kerry is experiencing aphasia, the loss of the ability to understand or express speech, caused by the damage to the left side of his brain. He can’t remember certain words and symbols.
Numbers in particular cause him difficulty. When I tell him that my phone number is 431-83XX, he starts to write the numbers down with his left hand, writing 458-6 while asking me to repeat the rest—and assuring me he’ll have his friend Betty Schofield call me back. He keeps writing a five when I say “three.”
“Shit!” he says. “Fuck!”
He knows it’s wrong but he can’t fix it.
We go through the numbers one by one until he gets it right.
On my second visit he’s speaking more clearly, or I’m understanding him a little better, and we talk a bit about busking.
Kerry knows thousands of songs.
“I stopped after four to five hundred,” he says.
I assume he means he stopped counting.
“I gave up,” he finishes.
He says he doesn’t have any favourites, which I find hard to believe. I notice a box set of CDs on his desk. “Johnny Cash?” I ask.
He shakes his head, grunting.
“I can tell you songs I hate,” he offers, helpfully.
“Yeah, like ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” I reply.
He nods. “That kind of shit. And rown-eye gill.”
“Yeah. And that one that goes on and on and on…”
“Oh—I know,” I say, laughing. “The, um, Don McLean one—uh—‘This’ll be the day I die—’”
Kerry laughs, nodding.
“What is the name of that?” I ask. “Oh, shit! …oh… ‘American Pie!’”
He nods, smiling. “It’s so fucking long,” he says, miming playing it, left-handed, and falling asleep. “With that one, you better have it out,” he says, pretending to take some bills out of an imaginary wallet in his pocket. “I want to see some money up front for that one.”
There are a lot of questions I want to ask him, but although he remembers busking stories, he can’t get them out. Sometimes he can speak fine for a few minutes at a time, and sometimes he gets stuck on one simple word and gives up on the whole conversation. It’s frustrating for both of us.
“I have stories that would make you laugh,” says Kerry. “Stories with presidents and prime ministers…” and then he trails off into gibberish.
“I can’t do it. I can’t tell you. Talk to my brother,” he says. “Talk to David. He can tell you.”
David is Kerry’s older brother, by three years.
They look remarkably alike. They have the same slight build; neither of them can weigh more than 140 pounds, especially since Kerry’s lost so much weight in the hospital. They have the same brown hair, although David’s is a little grayer. David is clean shaven, but he has the same face.
“Presidents and prime ministers?” he repeats. “I wouldn’t be surprised. Kerry met all sorts of people when he was busking. He was out there for, what, nearly 15 years? He’s got hundreds of stories—but I don’t really remember any of them. Not well enough to tell them, anyway.”
What David does remember is the last time he saw Kerry before the attack, back in March 2004. Kerry had shown up to his brother’s one-bedroom apartment in Fairview, looking for a place to stay.
“He must have been pretty desperate to come here,” he says, “because we weren’t close. So I said yes.” For a few days, Kerry slept in the living room on the small couch with the blue slipcover. There were three of them packed into that small space: Holland, Kerry and David’s fat, white, fluffy cat that shed all over everyone’s clothes.
“And we both like to wear black,” says David, laughing. “But we all got along OK for a while. I gave Kerry some rules, and as long as he followed them, everything was fine.”
One morning, however, David got home from work at 10am, and his brother was lying awkwardly on the couch. Kerry was drunk. “I told you,” said David. “No drinking in the house.”
“I wasn’t,” replied Kerry. “I was drinking on the balcony.” Kerry was in an argumentative mood. Soon the brothers were yelling at each other, and Kerry’s language turned abusive. Finally, David’s patience gave out.
“You have to go,” he said. “Go.”
“No,” protested Kerry.
“Yes. You have to go.”
And David ushered Kerry, stumbling, to the door and out.
“Wait,” said Kerry, standing in the doorjamb. “I need my gear.”
“It’s in the elevator,” said David, closing the door.
Kerry stood, disbelieving, in the hallway. He swayed, and swore; alternately talking and yelling.
David peered through the peephole from the other side. His neighbours were coming out of their apartments and passing by, which made him nervous. It was the kind of place where you never saw anybody until something happened.
“David,” drawled Kerry, loudly. “Why can’t you be a good brother?”
“Go on,” said David. “Go on.”
But Kerry wouldn’t leave. Twenty minutes went by before David called the police. The last time he saw his brother before the attack, two policemen were escorting him out of his apartment building.
The next time David saw his brother, he was in the hospital, near death. “He was covered in blood,” he says. “He looked bad, swollen, blood all over him. And the tubes, readouts and machines. If they had it, he was attached to it.”
Kerry has a red plastic binder that contains everything he needs to know right now. It was provided by the folks at the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre. There’s a section describing traumatic head injuries, and explaining all the “common” problems Kerry is currently experiencing, such as aphasia and difficulty swallowing.
There’s a section with speech exercises and a reading list. Kerry has to speak them aloud, and practice saying the words with his dead palette. There are even pictures of big-lipped mouths making specific noises—all puckered up for an O, or drawn back and almost smiling for an E.
He must read the days of the week, the months of the year and there are phrases to complete, like:
Cat and ______. (dog)
Loaf of ______. (bread)
The answers are in parentheses after the blanks; which seems to defeat the purpose, but apparently doesn’t. For the next year, Kerry must practice these exercises until he can reclaim his words, and his voice. He can’t yet read those simple sentences aloud.
“At,” he says, “and enhh. Og.”
Luckily, in the interim, there is the first page.
It is an alphabet board, listing all the letters and numbers so he can point to them when he’s having trouble communicating. There are even commands down the side: YES/NO, Start Again and Repeat.
“Four, five,” repeats Kerry slowly, like he’s counting. “Four, five.”
Before I can answer, he flashes all the fingers on his left hand four times. Then a single finger.
I take a guess. “Twenty-one?”
“Eff!” he says—or almost says—and he cocks his head in anger. He twists his wheelchair hard with his left hand, and his legs crash into the TV stand—but at least now he can reach the binder. He backs up his chair and swings around again, smacking the bedpost this time, before he flips open to page one.
This is why he has a protective piece of equipment on his good foot today, a kind of padded grey mukluk laced up with Velcro.
Finally, he points to a four, and then a five.
“You’re 45 years old.” I say.
“Right,” he says. “And there’s nothing left. Nothing left.”
I don’t know what this means.
“Look,” he says. “I’m right-handed.”
And he picks up his droopy right arm with his left, and lifts it a foot off the wheelchair arm-rest before he lets go. It falls like a dead fish, landing quietly.
“If I were left handed,” he says, “I could…” Kerry pretend-scribbles on his leg, and then he shakes his head.
“And this,” he says, reaching awkwardly over his own body to grab the binder of speech-therapy exercises again. “This,” he says, “is going to take years. Months. Years! I don’t want to do it. I don’t! There’s nothing that I want to do. I’ll just sit here. I’ll live until I die.”
He turns his chair and mimes vegging in front of the TV. “And this,” he says, pointing to his foot protection, incredulous. “What the fuck is this? The problem is this—and this.” He flops his arm a second time, and points to his sleeping right leg. It has some feeling, but he can’t move it. “And this,” pointing to the right side of his mouth.
Then he’s quiet. When I ask, he says he doesn’t want to resume studying history.
“No,” he says, annoyed. “No. I’ve done everything. In my life? I’ve done everything. Everything. Married, divorced, jail… The only thing I ever wanted to do was busk—and now…” He flips his dead arm again. His picking arm. His strumming arm. “I did the only thing I ever wanted to do. I didn’t want a big band, I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted to get up and busk—and I did it.
“I think about the attack,” he says, “and I wish they hadn’t found me. If I’d just laid there a little longer, I’d be…”
“If I had a gun…” he says, raising an awkward left-handed finger-pistol to his head. “Boof!”
“Fuck!” he says, shaking his head.
Then Kerry gets a sly grin on his face, and he looks around the room, as if he’s seeing it for the first time—he’s had nothing else to look at for weeks—and he laughs. “The worst thing,” he says, “is there’s no fucking way to kill yourself in this room.”
THE MUSIC RETURNS?
Kerry is still in the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre when he turns 46 on February 25. He was supposed to have moved out and into the Victoria General Hospital on February 10, but instead he’s only moved from his single room across the hall to a shared room on the other side of the ward.
Betty Schofield and I have come to visit him, and she’s brought him a birthday present.
He looks a lot better these days; his hair has grown back in well, covering the frightful scar. And he’s good with the wheelchair now. He zips past me in the hall and swings noiselessly into his room, gracefully spinning around to face us.
“Look,” he says, lifting up his shirt. “Look.”
He’s gained a little weight, which is good, but that’s not what he’s demonstrating. There’s a slightly bloody bandage on his stomach. Kerry’s happy because they’ve finally taken the tube out. He takes a few minutes to describe how painful it was—apparently it took a few tries—but he’s smiling almost the whole time.
We’ve only been there a couple of minutes when the phone rings on the desk behind him. “It’s probably your mother,” says Schofield. She politely scurries out of the room to run an errand, but I sit there for a minute. Before I decide to get up and wander the ward, their conversation is over.
“I love you too,” says Kerry, hanging up.
That was weird, I think. Pretty quick for a birthday phone call.
Schofield pops back in, and they talk for a while about how things are going, how David plans to call, and how Kerry is completely unimpressed that it’s his birthday today. After about 10 minutes, Schofield’s worked up her courage.
“I have something for you,” she says, bouncing nervously on his bed.
Kerry looks around, as if to say: “Where?”
“I’m going to bring it out,” says Schofield.
Kerry looks suspicious. “I don’t want anything.”
“I’m going to bring it out,” she repeats.
A pause. “Promise you won’t get mad.”
Kerry glances my way as Schofield gets up, walks to the doorway, and reaches around. She comes back holding a big Yamaha keyboard in a transparent plastic bag, and lays it on the bed.
“Ah, god, no,” exclaims Kerry, writhing. His head twists, and his lips are forming the f-sound again. “I told you. No. Get that eff—get that out of here!”
But Schofield already has it out of the bag and sets it up on a rolling platform.
“Just have a look at it,” she says, plugging it in, and turning it on. Immediately it starts playing a horrible, tin-can dance beat with a cheap music-box melody.
“Oh, god,” says Kerry, tortured. “What are you—”
Schofield frantically pushes buttons until it transforms into some kind of a sing-song march, only slightly less offensive.
“There’s bluegrass here somewhere,” she says.
“No!” he shouts. “I don’t want that here!”
“There’s a guitar sound. And here—a kazoo.”
“NO! I don’t want that here. Get it out.”
Mercifully, Schofield shuts it off.
“That’s dunh,” he says. “It’s ding. Ah, Eff!” He whips out his red binder and points to the letters, spelling it out one by one: D—I—S—C—O.
“It’s disco,” she says.
“And dinh,” he says. “Sunh.” He spells it out again: S—U—C—K—S.
“Disco sucks,” says Schofield.
Kerry nods. “And that whole thing…” he says, pointing with his good arm.
“…is disco,” she finishes.
Schofield is hurt. “I just thought—I thought you could play some music with it.”
“I thought you might like to make some music.”
“NO!” says Kerry. “What am I going to do?”
He mimes playing a Bela Lugosi-Dracula-sized chord with his left hand, arm extended, and pretends to sing along: “Dooby doo enlh munh munh munh.” It’s horrible, but true. Even if he could play one-handed—left-handed—he couldn’t sing.
“But you could write the words in your head,” says Schofield.
Kerry is seething, and Schofield’s shoulders slump. “Well, I’ll just leave it here, and I can take it home the next time I bring my car—I’m going home on the bus today.” There is a long pause before Kerry’s colour returns to normal. “OK?”
“OK,” says Kerry, tiring. “But nunh closet. There’s no room.”
After Schofield manages to put it away, in the closet no less, she stops, and looks him in the eye.
“Don’t be mad,” she says. “Don’t be mad. Do you forgive me?”
Kerry is stone-faced.
“Don’t be mad. I had to try.”
“Can I have a hug?”
“Sure,” says Kerry.
Before we leave, they hug for a minute.
In the elevator, Schofield says “I had to try. Now it’s in his closet. Maybe he’ll take it out. I had to try. I have to be more stubborn than he is.”
I drive her home. She was never taking the bus.
Will Halifax’s Busker ever return?
It seems unlikely, although the doctors don’t know the true extent of the damage caused by the attack. They don’t know how much of Kerry’s movement may return with time and physiotherapy. If any.
There are no pensions for buskers, local celebrities or not. No insurance. No workers compensation. Kerry, like all buskers, relied on the charity of strangers to survive. Even now he’s grateful for the handful of tokens he’s received from well-wishers, which include a snow-globe, a wire treble-clef and a pin with an X-ed out swastika. There are also get-well cards tacked onto his bulletin board. “Nineteen cards,” says Kerry, surprised and pleased by the number.
“And a lot of people don’t know what happened to him,” says Schofield. “His friends don’t know where he is. They’re not the kind that read newspapers.”
The cast of Trailer Park Boys sent him $200 when they heard of the accident—enough to rent the TV and DVD player in his room. He’d helped them with a commercial a few years ago. The TV gives him something to do when his dead leg hangs in a sling above his bed and he can’t sleep, which is every night.
But Kerry can’t stay in the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre, or even the VG Hospital forever. “Right now we’re looking at his future,” says David Holland. “Barrier-free living this; assisted-living that.”
The problem is money; no one around Kerry seems to have much. It’s $4,000 for a motorized wheelchair, and that’s just for starters.
“Right now he needs a high level of care,” says David. “He’s still on a catheter—although he’s come a long way. He can deal with his own bowel movements now.”
Some day soon, Kerry will be moved into the VG, where he was supposed to go on February 10. After that, he’ll be moved to a nursing home within a 100 kilometre radius of the city—wherever there’s an opening. “And how stupid is that?” asks his brother, “When he has to come into town for his rehabilitation?”
Still, the worst part for Kerry’s friends and family is his own apathy. He’s not working hard at his rehabilitation. He’s determined not to get better.
“Because he’s stubborn,” says Schofield, “he’s not getting all the benefits he can. If he wrote left-handed, it could help him learn. It helps transfer the information over to the other side of his brain. But he won’t. He talks about cutting off his arm and his leg. And I tell him: ‘There’s nothing wrong with them! You have a perfectly fine arm and leg—it’s your brain.’”
“He’s no dummy,” says David. “He just needs time to stew.” He tells me a story about how Kerry learned to ride a bike when he was a kid.
“It was a CCM Mustang,” he says. “Blue, with a banana seat. But the goose neck—the goose-neck handlebars—were on the wrong way. They’d assembled the bike the wrong way at the store, I guess, and with any kind of movement, the handlebars would flip around, and this bike would fall right over. Well, Kerry taught himself to ride a bike on this bike. On a big hill. He’d go up to the top, and come flying by, down the hill. And he’d be holding on to those handlebars so tight—and with the slightest movement, he’d crash. And if he crashed, he’d pick himself up, bloody—and go do it again.” He laughs. “He was a scab by the end—but he taught himself to ride. Nobody else could teach him. Kerry just wanted to do it on his own. His own way. That’s just the way he is. He’s always been like that. And with a willpower like that, there’s no stopping him. He just needs to do it his own way—just like the bicycle. That’s just the way he’ll do it—if he wants to get out of it, he’ll do it.”
Still, the question is if—does Kerry want to get better?
“If I were betting, I don’t know,” says David. “Pick ’em. Fifty-fifty. I know he has the resources. He has the will, if he’ll exercise it. He sees this as the end. He thinks it’s never going to get any better than this. But he’s already come a long way. He’s speaking a lot better now. He’s going to get out of it if he wants to.”
“He doesn’t see any hope for the future,” says Schofield. “But I’m not giving up.”
No one knows what will become of Devlin Kerry, Halifax’s Busker. Perhaps he’s already dead, and it’s only his alter-ego Kerry Holland who’s languishing in the Rehab Centre. Or maybe not. Maybe Devlin Kerry just needs time. Time to find the strength to fight, or to see a new path.
Maybe the most reliable prediction of the future can be found in Kerry’s own prophetic song lyrics, taken from “Work Sucks,” written many years ago, before he became a full-time busker.
I am young; rock ’n’ roll is my religionWhen I get old I’ll be in the park feeding pigeonsIn between I’ll probably drive a truckBut work sucksWork sucks
The part about the truck looks like the only part Kerry got wrong. He does still have a lot of work ahead of him.
And it sucks, all right. Boy, does it ever.