Friday, November 20, 2009

The Thief

We had some unhappy women at YANA the other day. Jessie was visibly wilting. She whispered that she needed to talk to me and Heather privately, then sat staring sadly out the window. Sherie was there too -- which was good news because Health Care for the Homeless had managed to procure a small grant for her to get some special services, and time was running out for her to collect it. Sheri had to wait a while to see our nurse practitioner, Marti, and then she came back out scowling dramatically and muttering grimly about people not understanding that she had appointments. Marti called me in to talk, and Sheri and I both knew who the subject of the conversation would be.

Marti was just plain fed up. Sheri came to get prescriptions refilled and wouldn't submit to any examinations. Marti had already refilled more than she thought she should and wouldn't do it anymore until Sheri came in for some blood work and the rest. Sheri had even turned down the grant, claiming that she didn't have time to come in over the next couple days. Marti is like everyone else I've met at Health Care for the Homeless, absolutely dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor, patient, good humored, a consistently positive person to have around. I expect that the experience of being ticked off with one of our women was distressing for her. Although I needed no convincing whatsoever, she explained at some length that it had been necessary to cut Sheri off, that Sheri was harming herself, that even more than most of our other clients, Sheri was the source of her own problems. I agreed, also at some length.

Meanwhile, Heather was left with the furious Sheri whose humor had not been improved by the knowledge that Marti was in the next room telling on her. Endlessly patient Heather "reflected back" to Sheri her emotions, calming her considerably. I've seen Heather in action with the other women (and with me when I've had her trapped in the car on the way to YANA and decided to get a little free counseling). She is very, very good at sending out the sympathetic rays. By the time I returned, Sheri was admitting that part of her "condition" was a tendency to overreact and snap at people. She was also making somewhat vague promises to go down to Health Care for the Homeless for a check up. She also looked exhausted, and after, foolishly and against the rules, giving her a little bus money, I hustled her out of there to go home to rest.

I wanted to get to Jessie and have that talk about what was making her so terribly sad. When I turned to her though, she told me, smiling, that she had already talked to Heather about it. Jessie had been grieving because she'd seen Sheri stealing four deodorants. I'm not kidding when I use a word like "grief." As I've mentioned a time or two before, our clients are fragile people. They come to YANA to be in a safe place, removed from all the ugliness of their lives. I think that when they see people getting away with "addict" behavior here, they feel hopeless. It might not be too great an exaggeration to say that they see it as the bad winning over the good.

"Well," I said. "Addict behavior. We had one client who almost made it out the door with a t.v." This gets a laugh. Heather has obviously done a good job calming Jessie as well. We talk a bit about people being at different stages, and Jessie nods. She says that some people come to YANA for the wrong reasons. I say that some people get less out of YANA than others do. They get coffee and donated clothes, but not a start on a better life. Jessie doesn't seem to be angry any more, but she certainly had been. She would have called Sheri out on her behavior if they'd been at the rehab., but Jessie had figured out that angry accusations and heated discussions weren't the thing at YANA. Her self imposed restraint hadn't been easy. Respect for YANA had made angry, and it had kept from getting any satisfaction from her anger.

Oh well. Sheri had been close to my son, Daniel. He laughed when I told him about it. How does a healthy person, happily off at school, get mad at someone like little Sheri? How does a comfortably middle class person take the theft of four deodorants seriously? When I told Sid, she made the obvious assumption that Sheri wasn't getting any blood work done because she was selling the pills instead of taking them. Sid wants to help Sheri "go away somewhere." When I told my husband, he said he felt like crying. How could anyone be so bad off that she needs to steal four deodorants?

What's my reaction? I guess I'd like to see her off in some rehab. too. I'm not the one to talk to her about it, though. Sheri's poverty doesn't make me particularly sad. As far as I'm concerned, the circumstances of her life are just that -- circumstances. Something needs to happen, though. Sheri has been coming to YANA longer than I have, and she hasn't made friends there. Not any. She hasn't gotten clean. She hasn't gotten counseling. She sits alone with the three deep slash marks on each arm from a suicide attempt, barely coherent, stealing on a fairly regular basis and persistantly wheedling me for small hand outs. And, as far as I can tell, she longs for. . . everything, community, love, expression, recognition. The same things almost everybody else wants. I have no idea whether she'll even start to try to get them.

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