Jay was ready for rehab, and in Carol Rostucher's head a clock ticked.
She set her cellphone down in the front seat of her weathered Acura. She knew she had only so much time — to find a treatment bed, to find Jay, a young man in his 20s from rural Pennsylvania who'd been in Kensington for a month and was growing thinner by the day.
She needed to get him inside, before the opportunity was lost, and maybe Jay with it.
"He's young, he's wild, but he wants to go," she said. "He's gotta go."
Carol is a finder of the lost. The first person she searched for on the streets was her own son, then battling a heroin addiction. Three years ago she started a volunteer organization, Angels in Motion. Now she searches for hundreds of other people's sons and daughters.
"In this major crisis, people are forever falling through the cracks. Carol is the safety net," said Jose Benitez, the executive director of Prevention Point, the local needle exchange that subcontracts Carol's services. "I can't even begin to guess how many lives she's saved."
A few hours with Carol are a master class in navigating the city's treatment system. The long delays for medical assessments that are the first step toward entering a treatment facility. Detox beds that might as well be assigned by game-show prize wheel. Recovery centers that send their clients, now "cured," back to Kensington with two bus tokens and a shelter pass.
"That might as well be a needle and a bag of fentanyl," Carol says.
There is no average day for Kensington's mom, which is what her hundreds of clients call her. She dresses the part, her blond hair tied back, in jean shorts and her Angels in Motion T-shirt.
On a given day, she could be testifying in court, arguing for treatment instead of jail time. Or racing to pick up someone from rehab. Narcan-ing overdose victims in McPherson Square Park. Handing out food and water in the encampments on Lehigh Avenue. Or sitting, ready with the Narcan, as a client relapses in the back of her car. Sometimes, that's all she can do.
And now she pulled up to Girard Medical Center, her best shot at a bed for Jay. Her clock ticked — nearly an hour passed as she wrangled for a placement. Then it was time to go pick him up.
Eric Belfioure spotted her as she raced to her car. Eric, 36, originally from Brooklyn, met Carol during a blizzard on Kensington Avenue a few years ago. He's still battling. Carol has been with him every step of the way, with food, clothes, rides. Support.
"You don't got nobody out here if you don't got a Carol," he said. "It's rough, man."
She's past tough love. She spent that on her son, who's now in recovery. But the 54-year-old Kensington native, a former bartender, remains brutally honest.
"I don't lie to them," she said. "I don't tell them I can do something unless I can do it."
What she hopes to do, now, is provide a gathering space for the lost. There's a fund-raising effort afoot for a permanent home for Angels in Motion. Somewhere where they can find treatment, a cup of coffee, a community, or at least a welcoming smile from Kensington's mom. Right now, that space is the front seat of the Acura.
Beside the clock in Carol's head, there's a ledger. In one column, the dead — the nearly 25 of her guys and girls whom she loved and grieves over. In the other, the living — the hundreds she's trying to keep alive. On Thursday, Jay hung in the balance.
She pulled up to the methadone clinic in Parkside where she was supposed to meet him.
"You just missed him," the guard said. She went to the bus loop and walked the aisles of the ShopRite, the tinny Muzak playing overhead, and hoped he had not gotten caught stealing Red Bull again.
She wound her way back to the clinic, where she waited, and waited.
Jay never showed.