I awoke with a start to the sounds of an engine roaring to life. I shivered in the chill of the early morning, the sky had not yet been greeted by the first rays of light, and though every muscle and bone ached with a vengeance, I knew I had to get up, otherwise it would have been well into the afternoon before I would have returned to my bleak reality, and I definitely did not want to miss my opportunity to shower and regain a sense of normalcy. My eyes burn with fatigue and my corneas feel as if they are being scratched by sand paper, and as I stretched and yawned and tried to regain my bearings I cannot figure out how I managed to sleep for so long in such uncomfortable conditions.
I am begging my aunt to let me stay with her, even if I have to drop to my knees to do it.
I folded my ratty blanket and double check that my only three outfits which included two pairs of faded blue jeans, two bras, three pairs of colorful panties that my former social worker bought for me three years ago, a couple of pair of black socks, two hoodies, a matted ball of Scrunchies, half a bar of soap, an old tooth brush and a comb that was missing half of its teeth, a couple of sanitary napkins (thank goodness my cycle is irregular), my ID, my social and birth certificate, and three crew necks. That was all that I had to my name. Tying my hair back and smoothing my edges down as best I could, I pull my dingy hot pink hoodie over my head, slip on my beat up grey and white Nikes, hook my duffle bag over my shoulder and prepare to walk the fifteen or so blocks to the mission and I send up a silent prayer that all will go as planned. I believe that someone upstairs owes me for the life of pain that I have had to unfairly deal with; and just maybe, today, my life was going to turn around for the better.
I made it to the mission in less than 45 minutes. The local vagabonds that walked the city streets nodded in my direction before returning to their daily routines towards survival. A man whose path I have crossed many a time since I opted to remain in the downtown area screamed violently at the invisible offender; cursing and flailing his skinny and frail arms about, while blank black eyes stared in my direction. He looked as if he had not had a bath in years, and judging by the yellow and thick callous that covered his bare feet, he had not. I used to wonder if he had a family that was somewhere out there looking for him, but then, I remembered that I once had a family and they stopped caring to look for me. I reckon that is what happened to him too.
Bums, vagabonds, homeless folk, society’s failures, whatever you want to call us make up our own society-our own community. One would never understand the struggle to simply achieve the basic of necessities unless one walked in those shoes. And what wearisome shoes they become. The crazy thing about me being homeless is that I often have felt like I was right where I needed to be: I could disappear into the shadows of the streets, away from…
A nun greets me at the door, and welcomes me with a warm smile. She is familiar with me and my situation and has offered several times to let me stay in the nunnery, but I quickly got the impression that she was hoping to recruit, and I have to face it, my situation is too fucked up to even want to dedicate my life to a being that never showed He cared about me in the first place. No, I am not an atheist; I do believe in God, but I think the Lord and I have some unresolved issues that we have to work out before I give one prayer of thanksgiving.
The nun goes by the name Sister Mary; she is barely five feet tall, with peachy toned aging skin, stringy blonde hair and welcoming brown eyes. Dressed in the typical head to toe black and white nun garb with a gold cross hanging from her neck, she guided me inside the Cathedral where row after row of sporadically filled pews of sinful parishioners sought penance for whatever sins they committed. The colored glass windows with varying depictions of the Madonna and her child graced the walls of the massive church. The melodious melancholy hum of the organ playing in the background reminded me of my mother’s funeral, and as the nun quickly guided me into the hallway that led past the cafeteria where they fed what they could to the starving masses of people that greeted them day in and day out, I fought back the surge of emotions threatening to break free. I did not cry for neither of my parents…not even my mother when I found her lying in a pool of her own wastes, and I was not about to start now.
Sister Mary and I engaged in the usual small talk. You know, the “how are ya’s”, and “Why wont you come stay in the Mission” to “God is merciful and forgiving”, etc… I don’t see why I need to be forgiven for dead parents who happened to be drug addicts, but I let her go on with her attempt at laying on the guilt trip on me in hopes that I will see that my sinful nature is the reason why I am living on the streets. I suppose she is under the impression that I am involved in some sort of prostitution ring, which is the only reason in the world why a young woman such as myself would be destitute and living on the streets. For someone who claimed to love God and took pride in doing God’s work, she never once asked me why and what led me up to this point. She already had in mind my history and everything was my fault. Typical.
We bypassed a row of occupied rooms and continued down the stretch of the corridor until we finally reached the last door in which she removed a heavy bundle of assorted keys and opened the door. Flipping on the light, inside the tiny space was a cot with several blankets laid on top of it, a full length mirror that leaned against the plastered wall, and there was a single window that overlooked the parking lot that was saturated with last night’s festivities: used needles, used condoms, and shattered glass. What a view. “I just need a shower, some food and I promise I will be out of the way,” I say, struggling to find that balance between sounding grateful yet firmly against what was being offered to me at the same time. “And where will you go?” Sister Mary pushed with a frown that deepened the lines in her face. “Back to your pimp?” “Um excuse me?” I say feeling slightly offended. “You are too young to throw your life away to the streets,” she scolded. “Stay here. If anyone comes looking for you trust me you will be safe.” “I don’t have a pimp Sister Mary,” I say dropping my duffle on the ground. “I am not a prostitute. I am more of a runaway than anything, and like I said I just need food and a shower and then I will be on my way.” “A run away? Good heavens child! What could you possibly be running away from?” Her normally even toned voice hit a higher pitch and before could say or do anything more she ushered me out of the room and into the room next door where I was greeted by several shower stalls and a couple of unoccupied toilets. “In the long cabinet to your left is soap, clean towels and some shampoo. When You are done I need for you to head to the cafeteria where a hot meal will be waiting for you.” “But-“ “But nothing young lady! It has been placed in my spirit that I am supposed to look after you. Do you know how many times I have thought about you since our last few encounters and I swore to the Almighty that the next time you walk through those door I was not letting you go on in the manner that you are. No woman should be on the street. So shower, and please do something with your hair. I know dread locks are a form of cultural expression but you do need to wash them!” And with that she slammed the door behind her.
I hope that my aunt forgives me. I do not think that my destiny begins and ends in this Cathedral.
I lock the door even though the room was meant to accommodate multiple people, but even on sacred ground one could never be too careful. I choose the larger shower stall which was built to accommodate the handicapped, turn the water on to as hot as I could stand it, grabbed the soap and shampoo and let the hot water transform me into a new person with a new beginning. But, even with a shower, freshly washed hair and a new attitude, nothing was going to change the fact that Fate definitely played a hand in what I was to become: and most importantly, what I am to remember.