Monday, April 30, 2007

last week at the shelter...

was a hard week.

I guess I just wanted to write about it here. I actually wrote about it in a letter to a friend (yes - the old fashioned kind that you put in one of those red boxes!) and i thought i would give it voice....because I have this weird theory that sometimes is can be good to remember the hard weeks.

Sometimes being at the shelter can feel like a boulder has landed on your last week. Some of it is a vague feeling of sadness that you can;t quite put your finger on - and some of it is obvious and poignant. In any are some snap shots of last week in the shelter.

Benny Zilber died.
It's a weird thing, but death where i work is part of the package. You become oddly accustomed to it - or numbed by it - or something. I can't say that i have come to the point where i am completely numbed by it...but it is a bizarre and weird thing to have to get used to it on some level. Benny's death was a bit of a hard hitter. He was one of the first guys I remember when i started working. I remember feeling especially comfortable around him....he had an easy presence. He was quiet, kind, intelligent and very courteous. He was one of the guys I looked forward to seeing and having small conversations with....the weather, crosswords, food. I remember feeling a bit sad when he found housing, although i was happy for him of course....
It's so strange when I heard about it...I think some residents came to the desk and told me...and then we received an email about it...and then suddenly 3 people were at the desk asking me for something or other...and that was it. No time to pause, feel, grieve. Someone else needed my time right went something like this:
In my head - "Woah. Benny died."
Guy at the desk - "Hey Julia, when is my restriction up?"
Guy #2 at the desk - "Hey Julia, I need to make an appointment with ____ right NOW"
Guy#3 at the desk- "Hey Julia can I get a bag lunch?"
In my head - "Benny...reading papers at the sunny table...taped glasses...dead."
Guys at the desk - "HEY Julia..."
Me - "OK - one at a time..."
And Bennys death gets filed away with the countless other events that i don't have the time or luxury of processing. So here's me meager.."good-bye Benny Zilber. You'll be missed."
Mr X isnt eating. I begin to notice it. Mr X is clearly very very ill. Mr. X doesn't speak english at all. Mr X plays with his pendant that he keeps in his left pocket much of the time. He is small and slight and stays out of every ones way. He likes to sit near me though when I am in the drop-in. He likes to watch me with my puzzle. He reminds me of a small, silent child. He wears a house-coat that he found in the clothing room...he's been wearing it for a week...very proudly. He often leaves me a cigarette...silently...places one in front of me...and smiles. I tell him I can;t take it...but I do anyway and throw it out later. Like I said...Mr.X is sick. But he doesn't like hospitals, or the people who work there. I can't say that I blame him. I don;t like hospitals either. he has a communicable disease, they say, and must go....he leaves with people escorting him out. He flashes a glance my way. Terror on his face. It looks like they are carting a child away.
I go out for a cigarette and try and think of something else.
We have a resident right now who annoys the heck out of me (one of them anyhow!). He tries so hard to be good, and right, and on my side....sometimes I feel like the biggest bitch in the universe...cause he still drives me nutz! Something happened with him last week that shocked me out of my annoyance - for a brief moment at least...
It was after a very very hectic afternoon. I was flustered at the front desk...and tired. 'Enter" Mr.A (for annoying). He comes bouncing in and cheery and yammering away about something - I'm not sure because I was kind of tuned out. Then he says this "By the way...Thank you."
I snap back distractedly, "For WHAT?"
Then he does something that floors me...he looks at me for a minute, smiles a huge grin, spreads his hands out as if he were Merlin the magician and says, "For Everything", as if I should have already guessed.
This may sound weird but it completely undid me. As he was bouncing off, I had to fight back a torrent of tears. And I was totally weirded out by my reaction to it. It was like Mr.A melted a black heart in that cheesy as that was like hearing the word 'Thankyou", genuinely expressed, unfroze all the forced "coping" I can do in this place.... very few people ever say it. Because they are so desperate and needy and sad and fuckedup on crack or booze or their own mental illnesses or what-have -you...they don't have time for 'thankyous'. But Mr A did...of all people. I don't find him as annoying anymore.
Miss Lonely showed up a half hour before quitting time. She was dropped off by 2 contentious citizens who found her on a idea where she was, no i.d, no belongings, just the clothes on her back. she said she got dropped off by a bus. Didn't look especially "street" or dishevelled...just normal jeans and T-shirt. She could not remember where she came from. I asked her for her name. Blank stare. I ask again. Blank stare. Finally she got it out. I ask her how I could help her...she told me that she'd been wanting to kill herself all day and it was driving her 'up the wall'. She stated it very simply as if she was used to it. every now and then she muttered something, then looked at me and apologized, "sorry - it's the voices". We decided to go to the hospital emerg and I hoped that it would be quiet so that she could get help fast - before she really had the opportunity to kill seemed to me like a very real possibility. I walked in with her and it was packed - wall to wall people....sick people, coughing people, ranting people...lots of people. I couldn't stay I asked I pleaded with her not to leave until someone saw her. She looked lost. But she agreed to stay. She asks me to stay. I told her that I really wanted to but that I had to go back to work. I walked away with a rock in the pit of my stomach. Cold evening....soon quitting time.
A few of last weeks events...out of many many many many many.
Never ending.
I'm glad to have written out.
little less heavy maybe. All the things we never talk about....
Some time I'll write about the happy or funny things that happen...which are also many many many many.
Peace OUt -j


sequesthered said...

Wow, Julia. It seems like you are meant to live in very intense situations all the time. Good thing you're an artist.

Princess Christa said...

Came across your blog after checking out your facebook profile. This post hit me, and in some strange was was what I needed to hear. Especially the part about Benny. Different situation...some of the same emotions. I work at the Childrens Hospital in the ICU. Challenging yet rewarding. Most of the kids make it. Some don't. You become a changed person when a baby dies in your arms... only because their parents could not make it there in time. Yet life and work go on. No time to stop, reflect, grieve, cry. People still demand much of you, and sometimes you feel like yelling "don't you get it?"

Something happened at work yesterday. Not at all the worst of the many horrible things I have seen. But it really hit me. I could hardly hold back my tears. I found myself wondering if I could do this anymore...where I would find the strength. After reading your beautiful post, I was somehow reassured that God places people in certain places in this world to have an impact... that is what He has done with you... that is what He has done with me.

So thanks... I found a bit of hope in your rough week.

Will chat soon... would love to catch up!

Lisa said...

sad & beautiful, hulia.

Barbara said...

Hi Julia. For old times sake I googled my brother Benny's name and to my great surprise I came upon your blog. It was a shock to see a total stranger write about him. And it was also heartwarming to know that someone out there appreciated his warm and kind personality, and was affected by his death. He was my beloved big brother, and I miss him very much. I have missed him for many years. Thank you for writing about him.

hulia said...

Barbara - wow - it is much later and was looking over some old posts...i'm glad you saw it. I have thought of Benny often. Thanks so much for commenting.

Barbara said...

Hi Julia,
What a pleasant surprise to see your response. Is there any way we can connect? I would love to hear your stories about Benny.