Thursday we talked about clothes and whether nuns are virgins and the drive down Wilkens Avenue, but something else was happening that day. Or, to put it more precisely, something else was not happening. That something else was Diane's not coming to YANA. She didn't come in at all Thursday, and I still don't know why. I'm worried about it enough to be writing about it now and to wonder if I can contact her somehow before we open again.
Diane is a client-volunteer who's made herself in charge of donations and the general physical order of YANA. This is no small task, and it means that she incurs the resentment of some of the other women -- the ones who don't want the rules quite so reliably enforced and who certainly don't want them enforced by another client. Conflict is hard for Diane. She walks away sometimes. She tells me she knows she has to work on her "attitude." I believe she suffers from chronic anxiety, and I know there are times when she wants to lash out. She sticks to the rules, though, and, almost always, she does so with real kindness. Without the hugging, the professions of love, the gushing and the weeping we get from so many, Diane takes care of our space and everyone within it. She quietly, but deeply, enjoys the respect she has earned, and maybe because of it, or maybe for some other reason entirely, she is dramatically remaking her world.
Other women happily do our craft projects, but Diane is the one who tells me that she "woke up at 5 o'clock this morning thinking about my collage." She is learning to cruise the internet, wants presentations about current events, goes on retreats to the mountains with the nuns at Hezekiah House, seems to be helping every needy old woman in a one mile radius of her home, lobbies for a YANA trip to a museum. She's gone from dressing almost as badly as I do to developing her own very tasteful style -- slightly afro-centric, more black and tan than any bright colors, the details, assembled from donated clothes, generally dead on.
So, after decades of drugs, poverty, sexual abuse in one form or another, she's eagerly building a new life for herself. She'd be another YANA success story if her old friend, Edgar, would just leave her alone. I imagine her apartment is a big part of the attraction. He moves in. She gets a protective order to keep him out. He leaves, and she worries about whether he has clean clothes. She borrows my phone and spends hours calling the hospitals, imagining he is hurt. The protective order lapses, and he moves back in. He rapes her, then cleans the apartment, figuring that makes them even. She considers another protective order. I realize why the police, in a city as violence plagued as Baltimore, have been driving by her home, trying to keep an eye on Edger.
The day after we found out she'd been raped, Diane was late coming in. Sid and I abandoned YANA to the medical volunteers from Health Care for the Homeless and drove to her home. It was Edgar-the-Rapist who answered the door and told us that she had gone to Hezekiah House. "Oh, no!" Sid trilled with the kind of feminine alarm that assumes a sympathetic listener. "She hasn't come in! Can we leave a note?" He allowed us entry, and found Sid a piece of paper. It was a beautiful day. The apartment was well decorated and well kept. Early Michael Jackson music flowed out the open windows, greeting the neighborhood with its innocuous innocence. Edgar sat in easy possession of it all, eating his rather substantial breakfast.
Sid scribbled a word or two, then asked to use the bathroom. Edgar nodded. I sat in the corner of the dining room, secure in my (accurate) assumption that the indomitable Sid was searching the closets, under the bed, any place that Diane, or Diane's corpse, could be hidden. Exchanging a sentence or two with Edgar, the only real surprise I felt was that Diane could have ever worried about a man like that. Not that there was anything obviously wrong with him -- other than the sense I got that he'd rather run somebody over with a car than to ever, ever be considered so inferior as to need assistance. Polite, in other words, but wound up rather tight. We parted, cordially.
Diane was waiting for us when we got back, wondering if we'd brought the police to her home and if Edger was upset, chagrined when she found out that Sid had looked in her messy closet. She'd set her own plan into place for getting rid of Edger. She went to the home of one her neighborhood old ladies, then waited for the police to pick her up and remove Edger for trespassing. She'd already arranged for someone they both knew to pick him up and take him away. It was a good plan, but I knew by then that she wouldn't be consistent with it. The next time she was late, I went to her home again, but the doors were all locked. She was waiting for me, once again, when I returned. I felt ridiculous. I told myself I wouldn't do it again. I wasn't helping, anyway.
So, I didn't go to her home this past Thursday when she didn't come. She's been taking care of a lot of people in the neighborhood, including a kindergartner sometimes, and the most likely reason for her absence was that she was helping someone else. Still, the day before, she told us that she and Edger were both in court-ordered domestic violence classes. She wasn't sure whether they'd be attending the same one. She was, however, sure that Edger was allowed back to her apartment because his clothes were still there, and he got mail. I don't know what the judge actually told her in this latest go-round, or what she had told the judge. I only knew that she believed Edger's attitude had changed in the two weeks since he had raped her, that a judge had told her he was allowed back in for his things, that there was no chance she would heed my nervous advice and throw his clothes out. I also knew that, whatever other feelings Diane had, she was miserable, wandering in that blank space our women live in, a universe away from a world that can be remade just because someone wants to.