Back Again

Sunday the sun was going down, and I was lifting my granny cart out over the threshold to go to Smart and Final and get coffee and spaghetti.  D walked up the driveway and I changed my plans.  “Can I sleep here?”  She’s thin, sunburned, her cheeks a bronzy pink that superficially looks healthy.  She still has her teeth, and her hair is permed and pink on the ends.  She’s wearing two shirts, new pants wildly patterned with black and white, new black shoes.  Our stray cat-children have no problem finding clothes.  I’m glad to see her; but now, what will happen?

She brings a can of grape soda and a packaged cupcake.  She talks about men, women, a problem, some “fuckers,” an issue.  She talks so soft and fast I can’t hear her, let alone understand her.  I give her a tiny rainbow bouncy ball I found when I was cleaning; she accepts it and puts it in her pocket.  I ask her what county she has been spending time in and whether she has a social worker.  But she is listening to something imaginary below her and to her left, and can’t hear or understand what I am staying.

I tell her, “I was hoping you had a social worker in the City, because there they can sometimes find you a bed to sleep in, even if you are using.  Do you have a social worker?”  She doesn’t seem to understand.  “I told them to watch out for you.”  She is listening hard to something else.  “I told them at Homeless Outreach.  Have you been to Homeless Outreach?”  She jerks as if batting away a fly and shakes her head.

She sits on the edge of the bed and drinks her soda.  Once it’s empty she takes her shoes off and sets them on the floor perpendicular to the bed.

“How are your feet?”

“Stinky.”  No sores on her feet, good.  She is wearing hospital-style non-skid socks.  Has she been in John George?  I check her wrist but see no wristband.  Our cat-children wear hospital wristbands for days on the street, they are not ashamed of them.

She lies down and covers herself.  I drop an extra blanket on her.  I set the laptop to play 1950s YouTube cartoons in her language and set it on the table near her.  She sleeps.  I feel joy and energy; I sweep the floor, I start dinner, I throw out old bills, I find last year’s tax forms.  C is in another city, so  D can sleep all night.

Why doesn’t C understand that D as well as C is my child?  I chose to be C’s mother, and I chose to be D’s mother.  One doesn’t quit being a mother just because one’s child does not hear what you say, or say anything that makes sense, or keep from killing herself slowly.

After a couple hours, though, D awakes and looks through the closet and her suitcase for pants.  She mutters softly again, “I have to be, I have to do, there’s something going on…” Again, I can’t hear enough to make sense of it, even if it does makes sense.  I figure she has to go out and find drugs.  After a few weeks on meth, once her breasts and the fat on her arms are gone, she can’t seem to sleep for more than an hour or two at a time.

The Search for D

UN Plaza stays light for a long time but the light is chill.  My feet and legs hurt and I need to sit on the pedestal of the statue of Bolivar like a tourist, because there aren’t many places to sit in the Tenderloin.  I sit with my back to the sunset and see perspective—the lines of lightposts converge, it’s obvious.

A man sits down next to me.  He sits on a sheet of cardboard that’s sitting on the pedestal like a yoga mat; that makes sense, because the concrete is cold and his butt is scrawny.  The man begins bending forward in the middle, fluid, folding up like a Gumby.  He is sleepy, but instead of lying down, he folds forward.  There is probably a law against lying down around here, but I want him to defy it and lay down before he cracks his head on the pavement.  A vial of medicine drops from his hand and skitters away on the windy bricks.  He raises his head, looks at it and me, and laughs.  I don’t know what about, but I laugh too, because I feel a bond with all these people  I see while looking for D.  His longish hair is brown, not gray, but his face is indented, caved in and squinched as with many people who have used meth.  He is thin and white and young.

A young African-American man comes by and slaps him on the shoulder.  “Bucky, Bucky, I’m your nigger, lay down if you need to.”  Bucky continues to curl forward.  The friend says, “Hey if you fall down and hurt yourself I’m going to come back and kick you in the forehead.”  I point to Bucky’s medicine on the pavement (I’m too tired to go and pick it up) and the young man picks it up and puts it near Bucky on the base of the statue.  I read the label, “Nits B Gone.”

I ask, “Will he be all right?”

“Yeah, yeah, he’s just high.”

Just because he’s high that makes it all right?  I doubt it. That Bucky is high doesn’t mean Bucky isn’t  also sick, crazy, or dying.  “As long as we know what the issue is,” I say snottily, and the friend just laughs.  Again and again Bucky curls almost to his feet, and then straightens up again; he neither lies down nor crashes.

I walk away towards the subway hole to check out the folks shooting up at the other end of plaza, and when I come back Bucky and his friend are both gone.

Now what is D’s issue?  She has two.  She is schizophrenic, she went off the rails when she was 18.  She is a meth addict.  And she has a third that ties the two together:  she has a delusion that she is an undercover researcher working for the FBI testing meth as a cure for mental illness.  If she takes meth every day for three years she will get millions of dollars, help thousands of people, and get meth legalized.  I firmly believe that is what she firmly believes, and that’s why she does the things she does.

So when D goes barefoot, sleeps on the grass in front of Bill Graham auditorium, talks to herself, calls her friends whores and bitches, tells the police to arrest people, and takes meth, what is the issue?  Mental illness?  Drugs?  Loitering?  Who do you call?  Police?  Ambulance?  They don’t care, unless she’s a danger to self or others, like right this minute, like hitting me or stabbing someone, which isn’t common so there is a low chance of anyone witnessing it.  Danger to herself from dirty needles, AIDS, overdose, risk of rape doesn’t count.   Social workers?  She’s in the wrong county today. Or do you just say that she is making a lifestyle choice?

I describe her to many of the people I see, often the women.  A lot of people aren’t sure who she is because there are a lot of homeless young white girls in this area who take meth. “Is she one-legged?”  “Does she limp?”  “Is she cross-eyed?”  “Is she covered with tattoos?”  they ask.  No.  Not yet.  Not the last I saw her; she was 21, well-fed, and bored to death with being in the mental hospital.  So far, most people I talk to have got her confused with someone else.

But in the Homeless Outreach office, I give a very handsome tattooed man one of my flyers, and he knows who she is.  “I knew her last summer.  I am no longer on that path.  But I think she is all right.  She has a knife and she doesn’t let people mess with her.”