"I'm his Supported Living Carer" I say. To the doctor, dentist and optician, to the Job Centre and Housing Benefit advisor, to the police officer, solicitor and magistrates, to the receptionist at A&E, the barber who asks if I'm his girlfriend and the operator of the prison visit booking line. Nobody has heard the term before, it needs some explanation, a label that the hearer can understand. It marks him out as someone different, someone conspicuous, someone with an asterisk against his name.
I am more than his landlady but less than his foster carer, although the job doesn't look very different most days. I am technically not family, but perhaps the nearest he has to one, and too old to pass as friend. Any introduction requires some kind of label or the situation becomes (more) awkward as the official or acquaintance jumps to their own conclusion: mother? aunt? cougar?
"How would you like me to introduce you if we bump into someone I know?" I ask before a supermarket trip. He shrugs. The options are rubbish. Do we pretend a family connection where none exists? Do we explain my role, which inevitably takes a good five embarrassing minutes? Do we keep it vague and leave some poor acquaintance, who was just being friendly, feeling a bit awkward and embarrassed?
I don't know the answer to that question. I don't even know if there is a good answer. What I do know is that my official job description says I am to provide full-board accommodation within my home along with some life-skills and emotional support. Unofficially I am his safe place, I am the voice that will answer the phone at a time of crisis no matter what the hour, I am the person who shows up when needed and explains a past that he doesn't want to talk about. Label that.