Saturday, October 23, 2010

She brings me a rose

She came in with a striped coral rose, rain soaked. She said it was from a seemingly dead rosebush on a back street of the town where an old building burnt to the ground in the summer. There's a bud still left, she said, but she thought she'd bring me the open rose, for pretty.

I put it in the old greeny-purple medicine bottle dug from the desert sands some years ago by a crusty old traveler who brought it in thanks for the time I called for medical help for him, as he lay in a field unable to move. It does look pretty, the rose in the green bottle, near some photos of people I love and critters long since vanished from my life.

She approved. She goes by her initial, D., and she looks as if she stepped from the frame of a PreRaphaelite painting: red-orange electrically curling hair, pale skin, a determined but wistful set to her expression.

She is 22. For some weeks, maybe a couple months, she has quietly come and sat outside, in a little nest of her own making, reading books from our free book display. Sometimes she has discussed her reading with me, sometimes she has simply smiled and nodded.

Once she asked for food, not having eaten in a few days. I told her I always have fruit, the fruit is always available, she need never ask.

She tidied the porch a few times; she likes to remove the falling leaves from the top of the little fish tub so that the water doesn't get clouded and she does seem to know a little about fish, a little more than I do.

Like many of the travelers she has made a fast friend in Champ the pitbull, who whines with joy when he sees her, and gazes with great love into her pretty eyes.

She lives beside a fence, in a vacant lot, out of the view of people in houses. She has a small tarp, a good sleeping bag, a couple changes of clothing.

Three days ago she told me her baby will be born in January. She smiled, saying the due date is the birthday of her mother, who is living in Seattle, which is where her dad also lives, which is far away. I haven't asked if these nice people know she is pregnant; she left home when she turned 16, and I haven't asked why.

With the travelers you don't ask a lot of questions, you don't start a lot of sentences with "you should..." What you do is offer a little space, an open heart, time to talk if talking is needed. An endless bowl of fruit. Clean socks. Connections, if wanted, to a clinic, to public health, to whatever shreds of resources might be out there. And books.

She came indoors today for most of the day--I told her yesterday that she should always feel welcome, she could sit by the fire and read, she need not do or say anything, she'd be out of the rain. I was glad to see her, because the storms began last night, and I couldn't sleep, knowing that she was by her fence, under her fragile tarp, probably awake and wet, feeling her child move and turn.

And not only her, but little Rhea, about the same amount along in her pregnancy. She was just taken to the emergency room after her boyfriend beat her in the rain, in the storm, in their camp. He's not a bad guy; he is trying so hard, he has come to me for help and advice and focus--but the rage comes on, and this frail blonde child I saw growing up is now battered and broken and he has been arrested.

There are times I cannot bear the weight of it all, the children in the ditches and beneath the bridges, the pain, the cycles of hopeless violence. But there must be a way.

Meanwhile, it is a beautiful rose. It is glowing, perfect, unfolding. A gift of love.

(the rose photo comes from someone in Switzerland called Tambako the Jaguar)

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

another of the disappeared

A letter came from her mother the other day, and I put it in the basket where I keep the mail for my street friends, hoping that perhaps she will make her way back to my door soon.

But I stare at the return address, and wonder if maybe I should send a note to a waiting woman up in Canada, and tell her...but I don't know what to tell her. So I keep the letter in that basket, and I consider what to say.

Leah is tall, and slender, and very young. The first day I saw her she was turning in the sunlight, turning and turning out on my porch, her face lifted to the gentle late autumn sun, her hands stretched out. She seemed in her own world. The store was closed, and I didn't want to disturb her, there in her small, centering dance. And after a time she walked away, leaving me wondering.

The next day she came to my desk. Her hair was cropped very short; I know the style well because I cut my own hair myself, or did before I discovered the wonders of letting it grow long enough to be coiled and pinned up out of the way. A pair of scissors and a few moments and you get that rough gold look, and it is easy to care for, and it keeps pretty clean. These are nice if you are on the road and don't get much of a chance to wash up.

Her first words to me, after she gazed at me with those hurt blue eyes, were "I think my toe is broken".

And I of course jumped up to look. Her feet were bare. She was wearing a thin Indian print muslin skirt, wrapped around her hips and legs, and a wooly pink/orange sweater a little too small for her. Her toe did look bruised at the very least. So I talked of the clinic, and I talked of what they might do for her, and how they might give her some pain pills too, maybe.

But she said "if only I had some arnica I think it would feel better". Being a lay homeopath, well, I had arnica on hand, pills and salve, and I gave her both.

I thought about finding shoes for her. She said she'd hit her foot on the rocks by the river, where she had been sleeping.

The next day she came in and said "I'm hungry". I gave her some fruit and bread and almonds and water. She was wearing shoes and said her toe had felt better as soon as she had put my salve on it. I told her I was glad.

She stayed a while and talked with me, with a peculiar and disjointed clarity I have seen before in people with diagnoses like schizophrenia. "Are you a healer?" she asked, "because I need healing in so many ways".

I said I wasn't, not trained, I wasn't a doctor or a nurse or anything official in this world. She said "But you see that we are not separate, I can see that you see that. You are a healer."

I told her I simply listen,mostly.

Over the course of a couple weeks we talked almost every day. Leah was curious about many things, from the way plants grow to what my pitbull dreams of. Champ the pitbull liked her a lot; she was gentle and very attentive. The cats would come and sit in her lap.

One day she came in holding something in the palm of her hand. "What do you have?" I asked, and she opened her hand to show me the smallest of mice. She'd found it on the roadside. She thought maybe it should live with her. She was radiant with joy at her little pet, and wondered if I had a mouse house somewhere.

We found something--a container that might work--and I looked up the care and feeding of small mice. It was a cute thing, bright eyed and delicate, much like the girl who'd tried to save it.

And then one morning, very early, I found her sitting on my steps, and asked how she was. She said she was fine, but worried about the mouse. She thought maybe it was sick, or it needed milk, or something. As we wandered through three hours of odd conversation she told me she was leaving, and the mouse maybe needed not to travel, because the mouse didn't understand the road.

I offered to keep her mouse for her, for a day, for a week. I offered to do my best, and she put the creature in my hand, where it sat and cleaned its whiskers. I had discovered puppy formula is good food for toddler mice, and mixed some up, and Leah and I encouraged the little creature to have some.

He wasn't impressed. We had another hours conversation, and then she said "The mouse needs to be free. It has to go find its family. And if it finds its family, then maybe I will find my true family and I will be healed".

Maybe, I said. You found the mouse, so the decision is yours, whatever you think is right.

Freedom was right, she said, and she left, thanking me.

The next morning the empty mouse house was on my steps. She'd said she was traveling south, and I suppose she has gone on, finding some new place where sometimes the sun will warm her face, and maybe someone else understands we are all connected.

(the mouse photo is by a photographer who has the awesome name randomtruth at Flickr)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

some of the disappeared

It's my stepfather's birthday today. Or, well, it would be, if he and my mother had married and if he had stayed in my life in some way, or in hers.

Sometimes I check out his name on the internet, but there aren't any hits that make sense. Of course, he could well have changed his name. He could perhaps be dead, but if he were dead...I think, if he were dead, somehow the echos from far away and long ago would reach me even here.

It's not as though he was in fact, in any way at all, a father to me. It's not as if he held me on his knee or read me stories or walked me to school. I had a father. That father also did none of those things, but, well, he was my father.

Tony, well, Tony's something else again. When I met him he was motorcycle slick and back from Vietnam. He'd met my mother in a bar. He said she seemed so sad, so beautiful, sitting in the corner nursing her drink, her long gold hair spilling over that black dress. He had to go over.

And I gather things progressed from there, I don't know, I was traveling through Europe. The last thing that mattered to me was the love affairs of my 40 something beautiful mother.

I'm not even sure Tony was 30 yet, back then. But they had a lot of years together, and mostly they seemed happy, and he helped her through some of the really rough ones, the years of crime and punishment, the years when my brother served time for murder, the years the world seemed to fall apart.

He carried my picture in his wallet and showed his friends. My mother said he'd say "This is my beautiful daughter and her children". Yeah, it was strange. Sure, it was touching.

He helped seal the roof of my cabin one year. And somewhere along the way he disappeared.

Well, my mother's life kind of fell apart that year, between the cancer and the end of her job and the loss of her apartment, and she was swept up to North Dakota by my other brother.

The last time I heard from Tony I was visiting her there--it was maybe 14 years ago. He called, he always called, said my mother, he always promised he'd come up, only there was a court case. Only there was a job somewhere. Only there was another woman, or two or three. Only...

My brothers won't even mention his name. My mother in those days was...discreet. I never knew quite what she thought, quite what she felt; she was busy trying to survive. She managed another year.

I guess he knows she's dead.

I think of him on his birthday, because it is close to my own, and easy to remember. I wonder where he is, and what was ever true, back in those days. With his startling blue eyes he claimed he was Indian, he claimed he knew the old ways. He taught my son how to make paint of flower petals.

It left the slightest stain.

(the photo, which was titled "umbrella man" is from Flicker, where the photographer goes by mysza 831)

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