Friday, October 23, 2009

Tina Gets a New Dress (The Lord Provides)

Tina came in Wednesday sober and coherent, as she's been for the past few weeks, but obviously sad. Her cousin had died. He had been released from prison a few days earlier and had already been found dead of an overdose in an "abandominium." She had come to YANA to find a black dress for his funeral. In the strange way that things so often work at YANA, there was one black dress in our little donation closet. It was an absolutely gorgeous Liz Claiborne, and it fit her perfectly. Tina looked through our 7 or 8 pairs of shoes and found a very cute black pair that also fit her perfectly. Ditto for our one black blazer.

The other women all began to fuss over the sight of our usually woebegone little stick figure in rags transformed into a runway-way thin model with the great outfit. "Is someone going to take her picture?" Jennifer wanted to know. Heather, our volunteer psychologist, got her cell phone. Tina hurried to the bathroom to fix her hair, and another client said, "Let's do it professionally!" and set up a screen to serve as a backdrop for the shoot. Heather took a few pictures; the room admired Tina, and Tina, staring at the images on the phone, asked if she could get copies. She said that her mother would probably want to enlarge the pictures and hang them on her wall.

Tina's mother tried to hang Tina when she was eight. Tina's brother stopped her, but to this day, when mom gets drunk, she tells Tina, "I should of kicked that chair out from under you when I had the chance!" She curses Tina and hits her when she lives with the family. Much of the time Tina survives on the street or in shelters. And, I can imagine that Tina's mother really would hang up the picture proudly. Our clients have very complicated family relationships.

And, certainly, all the women at YANA were delighted with Tina's good fortune in finding such good clothes. Again, I heard the word "blessing" and the explanation "This is how God works" far more than I would have cared to, and, once again, I managed to restrain myself from saying anything along the lines of "Halli-fucking-luah a 22-year-old is dead, but Tina has nice clothes!" For all that Tina really was pleased with both the outfit and the attention, she was still grieving deeply.

She got me aside a bit to talk again about her cousin's death, and for the first time in the nearly five years I've been at YANA, I heard what one of our women thinks about the afterlife. It was every bit as bad as I'd feared. Tina said that since her cousin had died of an overdose, he had committed suicide, which meant that he was in hell. She said that Jesus suffered and died for our sins, and instead of finishing that sentiment with anything about forgiveness or redemption, she said contrasted his goodness with her own evil and shook her head, grim-faced. Tina told me that she wanted to be with Jesus and the angels, but she didn't think she had much of a chance. After all, she explained, there was no excuse for the things she did.

I didn't know what to say to Tina. We don't tell people how to feel about religion at YANA, and we especially don't do it if their belief in the damnation of addicts who overdose might be what's saved their lives so far. Add to that the very real possibility that smashing through a fragile person's self definition might have more consequences than I know what to do with. . . and I decided to fob off the whole problem on someone else. I asked Tina if she would like to talk to Sister Catherine when she came back, and Tina eagerly said she would. I figured that Catherine's decades of comforting the downtrodden would serve her in good stead.

I also didn't know what to say to Tina about her grief for the loss of her cousin. She said she worried about going to the funeral. She said her last funeral was for her grandfather she'd only seen once in her life. She said she tried to pull him out of the coffin because she didn't want him to leave her. How do you comfort someone who feels her losses that deeply? My answer was to give her a couple of bucks for bus fare and to accept her hugs and thanks for having done "so much."

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