Thursday, April 29, 2010


I saw quite a bit of Tina yesterday. Other than her methadone, she continues to stay clean. It's been months since she nodded out at YANA. She seems to be making friends. She has even begun to take on expression in her face and voice so that she matches her own words, laughing, frowning, and smiling as she speaks. It's really sort of wonderful to be near her, and, still, sort of horrifying as well. The story of her life hasn't changed much.

Her sister has been in the hospital, very seriously ill, for more than 30 days now. Tina makes the daily pilgrimage to visit her. Because the sister had served as a buffer between her and her mother, Tina has also made the entirely reasonable decision to live in a shelter while her sister is gone (see some of the previous posts on Tina to find out what a piece of work that mother of hers is). Tina believes, also entirely reasonably, that her own health has dangerously deteriorated, but she won't get medical care herself. She wants to wait until her sister is home, with her children, not waiting on Tina's daily visits.

In the shelter, Tina met up with up with one of our old clients who's come back to town. Tina brought her in and begged a blanket for her as diligently as she begs for herself and her sister. A grad. student who comes with the professors gave the woman a beautiful, embroidered blanket that she kept in her car. Tina also brought another woman from the shelter, an older woman with what to me was a fascinating appearance. She was slightly built, hair completely covered by a red bandanna. She was wearing a jacket with a skull and cross bones motif (see superstition post for how common something like that is at YANA). She moved with the slow, hesitant gait of many of our women over fifty, and she had a face that reminded me of a turtle's -- bony, with a blunt nose and chin that protruded out at about an equal distance. Tina and this new woman, Marcy, are friends now, but apparently Marcy had previously avoided Tina. Tina explained that she had originally planned to beat Marcy up in retaliation for something a childhood friend claimed Marcy did. Marcy knowing how Tina fights ("I never stop," Tina explained) kept her distance. Tina considered, however, Marcy's age and the fact of her pace maker and decided not to. Then she found out that her childhood friend had lied, and she and Marcy are friends.

"How did Marcy know how you fight?" I asked Tina.
"She's seen me," Tina answered.

That was what I'd figured. It's hard to know what to say to any of that. For one thing, Tina weighs about 11 pounds and has one tooth (o.k., maybe a few more pounds and a few more teeth, but still, she looks like a sweet, little gap-toothed 8 year old, or possibly a wizened little, almost toothless 100 year old.) For another, Tina will sometimes stop in a fight. She's stopped before when she and the other women both ran completely out of breath. For a third thing, though, if someone hadn't intervened, she really probably would have started back up once she could breathe again. Sweet, serious, horrifically sick and abused little Tina is long on ideals and short on pragmatism. And somehow she still has the fight left in her to carry out the family ideal of retaliation. Little Tina is nothing if not loyal.

Santa Clause is Dead

Jennifer walked in. "Santa Clause is dead," she told the room flatly. That wasn't a joke or a bit of irony. Santa Clause was a homeless man who lived in her neighborhood. She had talked about him many times, how he was a fat, white man w/ a tummy like Santa Clause. How he fixed his abandomium up nice and everybody liked him. How children liked to hug him and call him Santa and how he cried one day because, she thought, he wasn't used to being hugged and loved by children or anyone else. How eventually he came to trust her well enough to knock on her door at night if he was hungry and know that she would always give him food.

Santa Clause was in intensive care from the beating someone in the neighborhood gave him. Jennifer worried about him. She tried to visit, but didn't know his real name. This morning, she heard that he died. She said that this weekend she would buy some balloons, say a prayer, and release them in his name. Jennifer loves her neighborhood, all however many blocks of poverty, drug abuse, violence, early death, neglected children and battered women. She absolutely loves it. And when you love a group of people you invent -- or perhaps simply recognize -- all kinds of small beauties, kindly characters, funny moments within their midst. Jennifer's own neighborhood had just killed one of hers.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Liz's Rainbow

Some of our professors are back -- I'll let them write in and identify themselves if they care to -- and they're asking our women about their hopes and dreams again. They brought craft supplies for YANA clients to make big pictures of their goals. Liz, dressed like the 60s had exploded all over her, purple tie dye, giant dream catcher earrings and all, spoke up right away. "The rainbow!" she called across the room. "I'm going to paint the rainbow!"

I was surprised by how excited I was by the thought of Liz revealing her goals. "At the end of the rainbow?" I asked. "What's at the end of Liz's rainbow?" Liz just smiled. I went back to taking care of the day to day needs while Liz joined the four or five women who were who were making their posters. Liz got into the glitter markers right away. She drew a long, brilliant rainbow from corner of the poster board to the opposite corner, using no colors any rainbow ever saw.

"What's at the end?" we asked. She told us there was a pot of gold, then obliged by drawing a few round smudges to represent the pot. When we asked what was in the pot, Liz answered, brightly, a little uncertainly, "Everything."

Other women drew happy homes, sobriety, pretty clothes, peace. Liz had no idea of what to draw. I don't think she has ever had any dreams, just a wild, long streak of glitter and her name signed beneath in tall, red letters.