I was put on laundry duty.
The transgender individual who normally does the laundry wasn’t in today, so I was next in line. One of the dryers broke, so I did about 15 loads of wash with one dryer. It’s good to have a change of scenery. With my attention span I need a change of perspective regularly to keep me engaged.
I was being trained by Charlie, a Coast Guard vet. He had moved to California from New Orleans a couple years ago. When I asked him why, he said he just needed to get out after Katrina.
“There’s a tree branch done come straight through our windaw. Whole downstairs was a’flooded deep with wata. We done fixed it up, shor as kin be. But I’s done wid dat place. So I left. My kids is grown. My step son’s gots a job washin dishes at a countra club. I tol him I’s proud a’im. Him workin a job. Is a good job too.”
I asked him how he likes California.
“I love it, I sho do love it! I love the diversity here. All kindsa colors an foods. Back in N’awlins, I thought there be jes black an white!”
He works here at the shelter and lives up the street at a hotel. And he’s happy as can be. He makes me wonder if my standards for happiness are set too high. When I compare my life with the rest of the world, I’m a pretty blessed woman. Like Wendy and her “Praise Jesus!” all day long, Charlie’s joy puts me to shame.
I’m in the front office when Greg, the supervisor tells me, “You’ve been leavin at two. You know, you supposed ta stay til 2:30.”
“I haven’t been taking a lunch and have just been working straight through. I have kids that walk home from school at two and I don’t want to leave them waiting too long. The night shift told me that was ok…”
“Well it’s not ok. I can’t let ya do that.” Greg looks irritated.
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“When it come time to count up yo hours, I gotta take the lunch into account. I gotta minus a half hour for lunch.”
“So all my days are seven and a half hours, not eight?”
“Thas right! You a smart one!” He smiles at the fact I know my math. I am not smiling. I’m adding five more hours to my total. Like Joseph and seven more years for Rachel, what can you say?
A stone faced female staff member I haven’t met yet, pokes her head around the corner. “Thas an honest worka you got there, Greg!”
Greg looks at me, sizing me up. “Well, she bettah! She’s needin to reform herself!”
“Reform? What fo? She do somethin bad?” And then she looks at me. “How many hours you got, honey?”
“280.” I feel like I did when the jury was checking me out on the first day of trial. Looking for some visible clue of my innocence or guilt. If anyone ever tells someone they are “judging them” again, I swear. Most people don’t know the first thing about judgement.
“Woooweee! She sho’ DID. She sho’ did do something BAD!” And the verdict is reached. No more questions. No more interest. Just judgement. And she walks away. As does the supervisor. Satisfied that I have had my corners sufficiently folded in. That I have been neatly placed on the shelf I belong.
I go back to folding sheets. The tears are right in the back of my throat again. Stuck chi, in that same spot. It burns. My throat desperate to keep those tears in subjection. Occasionally I clear my throat to let out some of the tension. My brain races to find something else to think about.
“Praise Jesus!” I hear her coming across the courtyard. Wendy is smiling like a beam of light, right at me. She stops at the laundry room. “That laundry is sompin else, ain’t it? Whas wrong, honey?”
“Nothing. Wow. It’s been a day.” I lie.
“Don’t be lettin nobody steal yo joy, y’hear me?” How does this lady know so much?
“I know. Ain’t nobody can do that but me.” I’m not going to lie, my speech has started to take on the color of it’s surroundings by now. Just like my appearance.
“I’m glad to hear you understan that. Joy is right here whenever you want it. Ain’t nobody can steal it but you given it up all on your own.”
And she walks away, still smiling. The ex-crack addict, or whatever she was. Beaming.