Saturday, August 25, 2007

A moment with Justine

We were discussing Ezra Pound that summer afternoon, just a few weeks ago, my partner and I and some customers, when the people ran in the door in a rush of confusion and shouting. Call the police! Violence! Craziness!

My instinct in these situations is always the same--to rush out, to see for myself, to see what can be done. And this is what I did.

By then the action was right in front of my bookstore anyway, in what we term our violence free, drug free, peaceful zone--"hey, do what you like, but not here, guys, okay?" The wild eyed blonde was grappling with the sweet checker from the market down the street. My partner had come out behind me. He pulled the checker away, and she ran back to work. I laid my hands on the wild girl's shoulders. She'd been screaming a lot, and as she whirled to face me she screamed "I want to die, no one cares about me!"

I do, I said, and used her name. I care about you. And she started to sob as I held her , there on the sidewalk, the crowds around. Oh baby, I said, I know it is hard, it is so hard. But I care.

We got her into the shop, and I had her sit down and have a cup of water as my partner called 911. She was shakey, she was on some drug trip or another, she'd just been left by her current male friends who'd driven away laughing, and she'd exploded into that whirlwind of anger and grief.

We'd hoped to get some medical attention for her, but of course it was the police who came instead. I helped her to the door, I earnestly asked the officers--please, please, will you see that she gets some medical attention.

They told me about the check in process at the county jail, where...well, I've had a number of my friends from the street die. I wasn't too impressed. It showed on my face, yeah, you bet it showed.

How do you know this woman? asked the cop. Are you her mother? I was tempted to claim her as one of my own, but I knew that would certainly complicate I introduced myself to the officer and commented that I hadn't met him before.

Of course you know me, said he, I've been in the newspapers.

They cuffed her and drove her north. She never saw a psychiatrist. She never saw a doctor. At 3 in the morning she was released, because no one was pressing charges.

And today she's in the field again, a bit dazed, smiling. "oh, I'm trying so hard to be good" she tells me, and says, yes, she had something to eat today.

She grew up here, child of an old family. Pretty girl, with her bright blue eyes and lovely body and her bright gold hair, though she cut her hair off today. She's been raped, sometimes by those she's trusted. She's been hurt in a hundred ways. Her brother killed himself a couple years ago, and she was there.

She has the soft trembling mouth of a four year old, and a mind that is perhaps stopped at about age 10. For months I've talked with her, as she's wandered through. For months I've tried to watch over her just a bit.

And the other day the governor of my state cut all the funds for mental health services to the homeless.

"oh, I'm trying so hard to be good. Won't anyone help me?" How do I answer those blue eyes?

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