Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween and some updates

As you know from the last post, I went to YANA armed with (overly) elaborate plans and bags full of supplies. And. . . . .almost no one came in. The few who did were not our more high functioning clients. We tried anyway. Jennifer did a good job, introducing Poe as "a guy from my neighborhood." I talked about the uses of fear and got a little thrill from the way the most ancient of the Pammys nodded and sent me understanding looks from beneath her cascade of gray hair as I said that sometimes our emotions are so big that we can't describe them with everyday words. We need to talk about demons and monsters just so that we can explain how bad something is. Pammy, and for that matter the entire room, seemed to know exactly what I meant.

After Jennifer read Annabel Lee out loud, we tried to do the group poem. I started it off with a line about a demon "on my back." Most of the people who wrote were the volunteers, however. Other, more articulate groups at YANA have done better with this sort of thing in the past. Then, as we talked about Halloween, one of the newer clients said her husband used to dress her up as a princess and the like. She made a few more, grim faced, inarticulate references to this dressing up before I asked her how she felt about it. "Not good," the woman said. "He had a gun to my head." As Sid pointed out later, you know somebody has problems when she forgets to mention that part of the story.

The new client, Mary, held forth for most of the rest of our hour or so together. She had been a military brat herself. Her husband was a traumatized vet. who did terrible things to her and then didn't remember later. He gave her black eyes and a jaw that had to be wired back together. Her parents called to ask if she was all right. She said she was because she was afraid, then she was more afraid that God would punish her for lying. At last a general came to the house and made her husband stop. In court, her husband jumped over the table to attack her, but this time she fought him off herself. The weeping female judge told the bailiffs to stand back and let her do it. Later, her jealous sister got her put away in a psychiatric hospital for two years, but she found a way to do good there. She listened to others and tried to help them.

For Mary's sake at least, we turned out to have exactly the right group of people. They weren't talkers. They weren't judgers. They weren't interested in drawing attention to themselves. They listened in quiet support. Our Sister Mary said the right things about how well the woman had done and what a long process it is to forgive an abuser. I don't think Mary the client could have spent a better hour. She told me so many times afterwords how relieved and happy she felt about being able to talk that way. She said she couldn't usually tell people what happened to her and that we "just drew it out of" her. For myself, I was feeling a little sick from too much peanut brittle and candy, a little disappointed that we hadn't produced a collection of meaningful poems, a little foolish and annoyed with myself for caring about the poems, and more than a little depressed from the experience of listening to the drawn out ramblings of a mentally ill woman with no idea at all of how to help her. Even I couldn't help but notice, though, the relief that filled that woman by the end.

For the rest of the clients -- I don't know. There were so few of them that they got a lot of candy and Halloween socks and little toys. I'm sure they liked that. They could have left at any time, but they stayed. My guess is that actual community, rather than an art project and discussion of metaphors, probably did them good. The point of YANA, after all, is to listen and support. Maybe, in their quiet ways, all the women there felt a little more like family.


I forgot to mention that Tina came in Wednesday, dressed as her usual rag doll self. She had gone to the funeral, but stayed only briefly. She said that her cousin was so heavily made up that he didn't look like himself. The backs of his crossed hands were more or less flesh colored, but the palms were purple. After she saw that, she had to leave. Tina hadn't talked to Sister Catherine yet, and Catherine wasn't there when Tina came in. I told Sister Mary about her as well, and now there are two vigilant nuns primed to find Tina and reassure her of God's love.

I asked the youngest of the Pammys if she would mind telling the room about her HIV status. She didn't mind people knowing about the disease at all, though she was rather floored at the public speaking aspect once I announced that she had something to say. Pammy was diagnosed about seven years ago with HIV. This past February she became AIDS-defined because her t-cell count had gone below 200. She got on the "cocktail," and her t-cell count went back up to 359. Her viral load is so low that it's undetectable. There may not be a cure for HIV, but apparently you can come back from full blown AIDS. The room applauded her.

Best of all -- I asked Diane if she'd heard anything about the client that the little mean woman said had been arrested for arson and murder. "I haven't heard anything," Diane said. "Since she went into the program." According to Diane, the client had been hospitalized again, then moved directly into rehab. The client really was very sick. This move from hospital to rehab. happens. It makes a lot more sense than the client having been let out of jail. And Diane knew the client much better than the little mean woman did. Of course, I didn't repeat the rumor to Diane. I have the feeling it's nothing more than that.

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