I watched him hold onto the handles of the cart with a grip so tight I felt my skin tingle. The man was literally holding his entire weight up by his hands. He was dragging his red tennis shoe covered feet with great difficulty, one at a time, behind him. I have never, in all my 37 years, seen someone have more difficulty walking. It was obvious he would benefit from a wheel chair.
A young woman steadied the cart as he walked and made sure his belongings didn’t fall off as he labored along. Although she appeared to be about fifteen years younger than him, her face was bright and cheerful and it was obvious she was a pleasant companion and loved him dearly. I see that a lot down here… bright and loud, shiney and witty… the women are like ornaments on the necks of the men they care for. Some of them aren’t women, technically. But the men don’t seem to mind. There is definitely a lot more testosterone than estrogen on these streets. And even more loneliness.
The man in the red tennis shoes was another reminder of the uniqueness of each individual here. Every person has a story, a lifetime lived with all their various issues dancing across the various years. Not one is alike, even if many share common themes. It’s part of what draws me into loving people. I love stories. I love them even more when I am an uninvolved viewer. I don’t like to live the drama myself.
Yet somehow, despite that, my life has become more dramatic than I ever wanted it to be.
I was drinking a water in the bed area when I overheard Paul asking one of the case managers about a newly opened office position.
“What would that person have to do?” He asked.
“Well, among other things, they would need to be good with people and developing relationships with clients.”
Paul nodded and then excitedly pointed at me.
I immediately dropped my head, embarassed to be pointed out.
The case manager laughed a little uncomfortably and then said, “Shoot, no. We don’t hire just anyone!” Within a minute I could tell he realized how painful his statement had sounded and he began to cover his tracks: “I mean, not that you’re just anyone or something. I mean they need experience and a degree and stuff.”
I laughed, but on the inside I broke. I slipped away and found an uninhabited corner to sweep up leaves and cry.
I worked hard to get through eight years of post-highschool education and have nothing to show for it. I have no degree because none is offered to licensed midwives. I have no experience in anything but loving others. I have loved with a wide open heart and served until my body ached. I’ve deprived myself of sleep for nights on end and gone without food because someone else’s need was greater. And in the end, one judge’s word brought it all to nothing. My wide open heart had a gallon of arsenic poured into it. I drank the tyranny of the cubicle dry.
And now I’m just anyone. Now I’m nameless and faceless and lost in the crowd. I could be the woman on skid row who is begging for a dollar. I could be the addict. I could be the drunk. I could now be the single mother who wraps herself up in relationship after relationship looking for satisfaction. I could be the waitress who tried to become an actress all her life but never landed anything but a handful of extra roles. I could be the hooker.
I walked a mile to 2nd and Los Angeles Streets during lunch to get away and try to remember what life was like before skid row. I bought a coffee at the cafe my attorney and I sat at in Little Tokyo and tried hard to remember the hope I once had that the system would show itself true on my behalf.
I lost myself in the crowded streets and remembered that just two months ago it was, actually, me who signed lab orders and travel approvals and birth certification letters on letterhead that had my name and medical license on it. It was me who was trusted to hold women in their most vulnerable state and honored to be the first to ever touch a human being on earth. It was me who was giving advice and calming fears and healing hurts.
As I walked back through the masses of hurting humanity who are more like me now than any other group, I was relieved to see the man with red shoes wheeling himself down the sidewalk in a brand new wheelchair given to him by the staff I love so much. There he was, my medalion of hope that love can find one solitary lonely anybody.