Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ah, Vengeful and Torturous God, We Meet Again


10:20 Optometrist’s appointment. I am getting headaches, and I think I need glasses. The optometrist agrees. She examines my eyes and quizzically notes that my pupils are different sizes. She tells me I need to go to a neurologist. I ask…why? There are a lot of potential reasons, apparently, but the ones that stick out for me are: Brain tumor, Brain Tumor, BRAIN TUMOR…there was Aneurism, too, but it just doesn’t have quite the same effect. I pick out pretty frames, I pay hundreds of dollars, I rush back home.

1:20 I am twenty minutes late for my psychiatry appointment. I apologize profusely…I had this eye thing, and Brain Tumor, and then the bus took soooo freaking long and I was only home for three minutes to feed my dogs and… My psychiatrist nods sympathetically. I then begin talking about My Angst. My Angst of the day involves my mother, and how when I was a wee muffin (five or six) my mother told me that she didn’t want me and wanted to put me in foster care, and how I remember playing with my dolls sadly and telling them that they were bad and that I was sending them away for being so bad…and how, while I know objectively that this memory is heartbreakingly sad, I don’t feel sad, or angry, or really anything. I cry, though this doesn’t help me feel any less emotionally stunted.

3:05 I am late for a job interview. I wander upstairs and get lost - I can’t remember the name of the woman I’m meeting. Finally she rescues me. I had applied to this organization over a month ago - two of my friends work there, in supported housing for the mentally ill, and get paid good money to play on Facebook during overnight shifts. I want to be paid good money to play on Facebook, and it sounded like a good, low key match to compliment my stressful doom-filled job.

This woman informs me that…no. We don’t want you to work in our supported housing. We want you to work in our community outreach and drop-in program. Also, this isn’t an interview, the job’s yours if you want it. It will be better if you work full time, but casual to start is good. Let me describe how this job embodies all of your hopes and dreams.

Seriously…what just happened here?

3:55 I make it to work with five minutes to spare - I'd already called them to let them know I would probably be late because of my total failure at life, and also bad traffic. I am still filled with shock and glee, my mood resolutely happy, though a little concerned by all the black helicopters. I’ve noticed at least four over various parts of the city all day, hovering weirdly, making life creepy. I remember how strangely slow the buses seem…and then I remember the same odd, creepily slow transit in London on the day of the bombings. (I was living in London and slept through the first set, but was traveling to work when the second [failed] suicide attacks happened two weeks later. I met the bomb squad, and the Israeli prime minister. I drank too much. It was a good summer.)

I check my friend the interweb. There are no reports of bombings, or protests, or anything at all that can explain the weirdly congested traffic and the circling black helicopters. I wonder if the Americans have invaded and no one else has noticed.

I finally find an article from the week before mentioning the start of training operations for the Olympics Security Force, which is largely the American military. Some operations are entirely covert, and some visible to the public, playing out a number of scenarios…I assume that this must be it. I feel pissed off that I was forced to relive my experience of domestic terrorism for no good reason…and also sort of disappointed. I know that is wrong…but…I do find catastrophically monumental world events kind of exciting.

7:30 Our cook is in a foul mood. I ask a different coworker if I’m maybe being rude or at least sort of annoying, because our cook is responding to every word I say as if I’m spraying her with holy water. It’s completely perplexing and I’m taking it personally…she is doing the opposite of everything I say the moment I leave the room. She is not putting enough desserts on the dessert trays and ignoring me when I tell her so and then getting mad at me when I ask for the second dessert tray because the first one is gone already. She is ignoring me when I suggest limiting the amount of choice in the meal in order to deal with the huge backed up line and our shortage of volunteers (we need six, we have two, can we maybe only have one choice of salad at a time when there's three types of bread?). She ignores me when I suggest she takes her break soon so that we all have time to take a break, and she rolls her eyes at me when I ask…really? Eye rolling? What the Freaking Hell, Cook??

I ask the other coworker what is going on. She has no idea but agrees the cook is way out of line. She notes that I am the senior staff member on that night - I am supposed to be in charge. I am incredibly perplexed by the cook's behaviour...I ask what I possibly could have done…I was in such a good mood…I helped out and was nice and was asking her about her day…WHY??

Before leaving the centre, the cook looks at me with a smirk and a giggle when an intensely high young girl mentions suicide. I do not think I like the cook.

10:00 The same very high girl is on the floor in tears. I’ve been helping her all night - I set her up with a shower and bandaged her bleeding abscesses, and I snuck her Polysporin and eye shadow and an extra cookie. She is sweet and intelligent and she does not want me to feel sorry for her, but she’s also in the fetal position and talking about wanting to die, so it’s hard. She wavers between intense anger towards a fellow participant who was rude to her, sobbing apologies, and wondering why her family never loved her. She tells me that she had seen a doctor who refused to prescribe her Ceroquil - a daily medication people take for anxiety. My coworker tells me she’s also very high on crack, which provokes anxiety and erratic behaviour. My black little heart is breaking. She insists she should kill herself, and maybe that other girl, too. When I try and sit close to her she begins banging her head against a wall.

I do not want to call the police. I do not want her to be cuffed, or hog tied, or thrown in a psych ward against her will. I do not want her to meet more doctors who will treat her like dirt because she’s native, or who refuse her anxiety meds because she’s homeless. I do not want the Vancouver police, with their fondness of tasering the mentally ill (and beating up racial minorities), anywhere near this girl or our centre. The week before, I paid off a $600 ambulance bill resulting from some well-meaning friends dialing 9-1-1 after I’d called them in tears and then turned off my phone…the police barged in to my house a half hour later with large guns and tasers, asked my roommates if I was violent, told me I’d get a criminal record if I didn’t go willingly in an ambulance to the hospital…where I went and was released two hours later. I do not want to call the police.

I call the police, and spend ten minutes on the phone relaying the young girl’s every movement as she wanders around the room, distraught, sits down, bangs her head against the wall, gets up again. She asks for a snack so she can leave. I apologize and say I’ll get it once I’m off the phone. The police arrive. She cries and sobs and yells while I cower in the kitchen and feel ashamed. They ask her if she has anything in her pockets, and she tells them she has her crack pipe. She reaches for it and they promptly restrain her and place her in cuffs…she keeps crying and notes that her nose needs to be wiped, please, I need to wipe my nose, I’m crying, what am I supposed to do, can someone help please…Ivy, Ivy, where are you, please…

I go to the staff room because I think we have tissues there. I can’t find them. It takes me ten minutes to find the stash I keep in my locker, buried, and by the time I’m on the floor again she is already out the door.

I wander the centre and mop the floors and feel like a zombie. I want, want, want to cry.
I go home.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Things Born of Bicycles

I recently bought a bike bike, she is a pretty bike.

Truth be told, I don't think I've ever owned a nice bike before. I've had okay bikes bought from the hardware store that I loved to pieces and rode to death, but never anything worth bragging about. This bike is worth bragging about, and exclaiming over, and generally showing off to the world. She is European, and has a bell, and a dutch lock and built in lights, and...well...none of those features do her true justice, because they don't capture her quintessential quality which is...Pretty.

I live in a city, and work in the sketchy part of said city, so any bike in my possession would likely have an inevitable life span due to rampant theft. This bike, however, I fear is not long for this world. She isn't worth thousands upon thousands of dollars, she was actually reasonably priced and on sale...but...pretty. The bike thieves will snatch her up the second I leave her unattended, I'm sure.

So a bike lock seemed more like a ceremonial gesture than a true theft preventative, but I was willing to do the song and dance if it bought me a little while longer to play out my European fantasies on my beautiful new bike. I could buy bread and wine and go to the beach and...see? It's a priceless fantasy. A solid looking lock might protect it, at least for a little while.

I was also in need of a bike helmet. I am not a fan of helmets, at all. As I child on route to the nearest gas station convenience store, I would abandon my helmet in a ditch a block away from my house, bike down a busy highway full of transport trucks, and then pick up my helmet on the way home because...well, I guess I wasn't the brightest of children. But also, because I do not like helmets. They mess up the hair, they irritate the neck, and It's not that I want to be brain damaged, because that does not sound fun. It's just that if I do get into a serious accident, I'd rather not have only my brain protected and everything else smooshed, because having an already depressed mind trapped inside a useless body, drinking out of a straw, and communicating through blinks to resentful family members while I slowly die of an untended bed sore....also not fun.

I happened to be talking to my little sister on route to the bike shop and, while I expected a lecture, she enthusiastically applauded my anti-helmet stance. And at first I was thrilled and validated but then, I felt the sour pangs of elder guilt, and I worried: am I being a bad influence? What would my little sister do if I was killed....or what would I do if she was killed? Such deep routed fears are best dealt with through retail gesturing, so I promised to buy a good helmet if she would, too. I had to wear it, she noted wryly, and I responded in kind. We both sighed and agreed, and I found myself stuck. I now needed both a helmet and lock, though I really didn't see the use in either. The bike shop loomed in the distance and I rolled my eyes, then dutifully stepped inside.

The fog engulfing the city, at that moment, lifted. The clouds parted, a single light shone down from the heavens, while underneath the din of rush hour traffic, a chorus of angels in perfect harmony began to sing. The words were celestial in the tongue of the gods, but their message was clear:

"Can I help you find anything?"

"No, I'm okay." I stammered, then smiled. "I'm just browsing, I mean. I need a lock?"

The man...he was pretty. He smiled back at me as I compared brand names, and the smile, it was pretty, too. Truth be told, he could have been the spitting image of my grandmother and I wouldn't have cared, because he possessed An Accent. Donegal women are particularly vulnerable to the charms of accented men, and I am no exception. Was he from New Zealand, or was it well-spoken Australian, or colloquial English? I don't care. He slurred his words, pronounced no 'R's, and I was smitten.

I'm not one for crushes, and I rarely flirt. I'm shy, I guess, and inevitably awkward. It's easier with liquor and, for me, the perfect accent is the equivalent of three tequila shots. I asked for his bike lock expertise. When he mentioned he was a bike mechanic...swoon. I don't know why, actually, I didn't think I would find that sexy...but there you go.

The pretty, accented bike mechanic sold me a bike lock. We will see how long it lasts. And then he sold me a helmet, and we'll see how much I wear it. But at the till, he smiled, and he gave me a discount- "Wait, stupid computer, I was going for an even hundred but it won't...."

...Aw, you're awkward, too. I think I love you, Bike Boy.

Ode to the Cookie Man

Whenever I tell people depressing tales of work which end with me running down a sketchy back alley after a pregnant woman (“I’ll hold you needles for you if you would just please go with the paramedics for my sake because you’re bleeding.”)…I feel the need to tell them of something Happy and Inspiring, too, lest they jump off the Granville Street Bridge.

I tell them about the Cookie Man.

The Cookie Man and his cookie wife are an older, retired couple. They have an oven, and they have time. Every week the Cookie Man shows up on the porch of our drop-in. He’s holding at least eight bags full of cookies, heavy with butter and steaming with warm cookie smells. We thank him and he leaves, to drop off more cookies at the other drop-ins, and we don’t know his real name because he Wishes to Remain Anonymous.

The cookies are rich and calorie laden, and on top of each cookie is a message written in colour ink: You are Loved, You are a Special Gift. We hand them out with vague descriptors: “chocolate something, double chocolate, I see coconut in this one,” and use them to bribe women out of their chairs at the end of the night when we need to close. In black market currency two cookies equals a cigarette, and a cookie is generally more precious than all but the best of meals.

Our women are often starving. They are vulnerable and fighting infections. They are living outdoors and facing addictions which strip away all of their dignities, family, and friends. They are amazing and worthwhile human beings, and most people don’t care.

But I think You’re Special. And I know You are Loved, because…I care. I don’t know how to tell you without sounding creepy or clich├ęd, but I know that you’re special.

Somewhere in Vancouver, the Cookie Man bakes to show he thinks so, too.

Me of the Day

Likes: Sleep, puppies, feeling competent at life

Dislikes: Life, when puppies pee indoors, the feeling of never having enough sleep

If I were Queen for the Day: I would abolish any occasion where there is undue pressure to Be Happy. Happiness happens on its own terms, people. With every major holiday and event, you will have at least some portion of the population who choose not to partake simply because the stakes have become too high, the pressure to much, the overhype too overhyped. New Years is never as good as New Years should be, Birthdays are never...oooh, don't get me started on Birthdays.

My most memorable Bad Birthday was my sweet sixteen. I was a month into my exchange to Thailand, had been attacked the week before right outside of my house, and shortly thereafter caught dengue fever, lost 10 pounds in two days, was admitted to a third world hospital where I lay under the close supervision of creepy Thai businessmen who cared. In an attempt to cheer me up, they brought a birthday muffin decorated with candles which lit my hair on fire. more birthdays.

Watching the Little Girls Dance

High Baby is back. When she moves she flails, and when she eats the food dribbles down her front and liquid foams at the side of her lips. Her presence bothers the other women. They watch her spastic movements from a distance and feel she takes up too much space. The room is already crowded. We try to be gentle with her – we guide her to a bench and replace her water; she spilled the last glass and doesn’t touch this one. We don’t know what to say to her – she does not talk, but grunts meaningfully and looks wildly from place to place until eventually her eyelids grow heavy and she collapses into the wood.

The other women call her a junkie without a sense of irony; we’re all superior in our own habits.

I take little notice of her – it’s a very busy night. We feed a hundred and fifty women and send them on their way. The regulars settle in front of the tv, and no one complains about the girl who no longer twitches and sways. I get someone a spare jacket, and some one else has lost her shoes. At the makeup counter, a woman’s hand shakes as she paints her face with eyeliner and lipstick with the precision of a surgeon and artist in one. Someone asks for more juice, and we’re out of tampons. I pause in a back room to catch my breath.

“That little girl on the bench is breaking my heart.” A staff member says, as an aside, while she digs through her purse. She doesn’t smoke but she gives out cigarettes in exchange for favours. “Do you know her?”

I don’t know her, but she ate the night before and, after fifteen minutes and two spilt plates, we asked her to leave. In the last twenty-four hours she’s lost most of her clothes – her tiny dress is riding up her thighs and as her head lolls back we try not to notice her pale, exposed breasts. Her hair is dyed blonde and her skin is dark brown, but I don’t know her name.

As we walk past her again, we guess at her age. She lies unconscious and for the first time I get a good look at her face. Fourteen or fifteen. I wish she would stop breathing so I could call 9-1-1, but her chest keeps on rising and she lets out a low groan. I start wiping down counters and watch the tv.

It’s the end of the night and I can’t wake her up. As I shake her shoulder she lets out soft grunts but never opens her eyes. I ask for her name and she doesn’t answer – the other women shuffle past us towards the door. Someone has given her a purple blanket and black, woolly sweater – I wrap it around her shoulders.

One of our regular participants notices my struggle.

“Her name is A***. I know her from detox.” This girl is also young, high, and homeless. She is going to an emergency shelter and offers to take High Baby with her. “You can’t leave her alone. Look at what she’s wearing. Someone will finger-fuck her.”

Her friend takes the blanket and waits outside while I walk High Baby down the front stairs. She’s responding to her name and her eyes are half open now. She sways at the doorway and leans her tiny weight against me as we wait for her friend to return and retrieve her.

She looks down quickly and sees herself – I watch the embarrassment well up in her eyes as she asks me to zip up her sweater.