Sunday, November 26, 2023

Journey of Old Journals: 1985


Thus began my life as a streetworker in Boston, working for a longstanding social service agency. The job was second shift, walking through the neighborhoods that came alive at night. The Combat Zone, adjacent to the theatre district and Chinatown, Park Square near the T Station on the edge of the Boston Common, and the "Block" from Arlington to Boylston, adjacent to the Greyhound station when it was there. My primary beat was Harvard Square, the locus of disaffected suburban punk rockers. 

Themes in the journal, where I wrote on the long train ride home on the Orange Line back to Jamaica Plain most nights, were centered around what I saw and what I tried to process before arriving home. Infected wounds, psychosis, my own stress, the never ending violence, and the rabbit fur coats of the prostitutes. The neighborhood where I lived was punctuated by cockroaches, sounds of altercations from the cats, the neighbors, and random people in the street.

We'd decided, after that year together, to split up the apartment. Two friends were moving in with each other, my former lover was planning a move to an internship in the Midwest, and I reviewed classified ads and flyers seeking seeking a place to live. After four interviews with the women living there, I was happy to move into a two story house in Cambridge, just a short walk from Fresh Pond and a bike ride to Harvard Square.  There, I was able to breathe amid a backyard, and an attic bedroom with views of the treetops. 

That helped, as I downloaded each night at work. On March 8, I wrote a list. "Prostitutes, drug addicts, bums lying in the streets, thieves discussing napalm, small time pretzel vendors, confused kids, violent roommates who throw TVs, isolation within an all night pizza store, young boys with skin problems who couldn't hold down a job, gay hustlers, the life that, at times, I cannot fathom." 

Part of the job was driving around a rebuilt Winnebago that was intended to deliver medical services through a couple of exam rooms. Getting into the garage at night from North Station was an adventure, something I still have nightmares about. 

In the middle of this journal was a weeklong Outward Bound canoe trip in the Adirondacks. I felt a glimpse of power there, amid the rain and the ponds and the woods. It was a beginning to recognizing my connections with the natural world. And then I returned to the streets, feeling changed and the same. 

"Today I met a 15-year old drag queen, the potential in the large hulking body with dancing steps. Another pudgy teen, both from Peabody. The queen dragging the boy to BAGLY.  Karina got cut again above her left breast. The stitches opened up again, she says she's leaving Joey on Monday for California. Last night, Mark I picked me up in a big hug and swirled me around and around. I think you are the greatest, I love you I love you I love you. This beats getting spit in the face. Mark's friend had just gotten kicked out of the house- he was a small young man with half a t-shirt; taking hormones.  

Ronnie had gotten stabbed a few weeks ago. Keeps getting drunk in the park everyday, as he lifts up his same old t-shirt and says, 'Look I fot the stitches out.' I  see a huge scar across his stomach, terrible and dramatic. 

Mucci had a seizure from booting coke. A terrible addiction- to money, drugs, security, that keep these youth imprisoned in destruction. How do you convey that prostituting can destroy everything you have, because it feeds on your self esteem. The women pretend, but they still say, 'I feel guilty when I see you.' I feel so much of the endless cycle of abuse. Janet "Ma" holding her daughter's child, when only a baby herself. Homeless at 13. You feel as though your presence, your commitment, your way of walking down the street makes one kid think- then the pain that you see and the you know you can't cure, will somehow be lessened through the levels of street work.  How to get more in-depth about issues is not making a conscious effort to change the way you are, but letting things happen. 

Timmy Flynn, very short, always drunk. Knows he can get away with so much, because of his stature. He says to a passerby, 'Mistah, can you help me out, out the door, out the window,  whatever! I'm going to drop my pants, see? I'm doing it, I know you want to see. Ha ha I'm wearing shorts. Giggling. My parents, they planned me. I wasn't no mistake, no sah. If they really wanted me, they wouldn't let me live like this.' "

Through the year, I find myself being tired of listening all the time. In hindsight, re-reading, I realize how hard this job must have been for me as an introvert. I was writing of my own addiction to sugar, trying to keep myself balanced. By the end of the year, I was making a commitment to therapy. There were conflicts around this, articulating my goals:

"Feeling more like a centered, confident woman. Many things will arise from this: self esteem, ability to make friends more easily, and become intimate. Open myself up- honestly- to others. I do this already,, but feel a sense of secrecy about my true emotions. 

Reduce the emotional obstacles that prevent me from meeting new people, achieving success, and becoming a more creative person.  

Feel a sense of peace about my role in the world. My work the potential for social change, the balance with nature, and my sexuality. 

DISCIPLINE- eating, writing, finding freedom. 

In three words:  Search (dig), confront (hit a rock), resolve (strain until the rock is released and I can clear the land for farming.)"

After I published this post, I found another journal that detailed a scary incident with a client. "Ann" had developed a serious obsession with me, following me around, continually approaching me, and leaving love notes at the office. One night, she followed me in a car while I was working the RV medical van. She wouldn't leave me alone. She was drunk, unpredictable and unstable. My streetworker teammate tried also, but she was relentless. 

Since I was driving, I made a decision to send the volunteers home and took the van back to the North End garage, which entailed backing into a parking space. She pulled her car in so I couldn't park it. Fortunately, a colleague showed up and tried to talk her down. Got her to leave (not before she crashed into a piling) and I left for home, wracked. The conclusion from the leadership- it was my fault for losing control of the situation and I shouldn't have brought the van in early. 

I'd forgotten about this, completely. Part of me wondered if I wanted to relive it again. But I had little emotional memory about that particular incident. It was just one int he stream of trauma, abuse, pain, and violence that I saw daily. It was one chink of the armor of why I was doing this job, and why I began to think I should leave. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Journey of Old Journals: 1984- 1985


I started this journal by mentioning the "countdown to Seneca", the Women's Encampment for Peace and Justice, a righteous collection of women forging a new path to peace at the Seneca Army Depot. "It was a good feeling to come alone, to set up my tent. I feel like I've entered something important a year after it was first founded."  I wrote of the feminist process, discussions that I felt went nowhere but reached a far more satisfactory goal.  I noted that the women weren't interested in engaging (visitor fatigue in hindsight) and knew I should have stayed longer than a couple of days. But I commented to myself that I was brave to go alone. 

And alone, I ventured to Boston, getting there in advance while G and J drove the van down. I wrote, being perturbed that they "broke down" on the way, a happenstance in the location where G's new lover lived.  I got the keys to the new apartment and tried to make the best of it. My high school friend helped me rent a carpet cleaner from the local supermarket.  But when G and J arrived, my housemates collectively freaked out.  It was a blur, but I'd seen another ad in the local newspaper for a place in Jamaica Plain. Old, clean, hardwood floors, and cheap. So we were able to move there. 

Tension living with G, she wanted to return to our past amid all this change. I was looking forward: to new friends, a job. Copying and delivering the resumes around town. Community organizing jobs, something meaningful. I had two interviews with Bridge Over Troubled Waters, which I was fairly sure I'd get the job, and then "failed at my own great expectations" when I didn't.  I took the offer as an intake worker for ABCD. That job, at the desk, involved a new slew of characters in my world. The stories were mindblowing for my suburban mind. A deaf Chinese woman who did not speak English and sought services. An elderly man spitting on me as he was seeking a flu shot, with hairs growing from his nose and ears that reminded me of a sea urchin.  It was an urban adventure, back in the day when Jamaica Plain was gritty and real. 

Through this, I still took notes on the books I read, May Sarton, Kinds of Love. "Was growing old a matter of learning to close doors on the unbearable?" 

Sketched out more embroidery pieces (now long gone), dreamed of dresses for my new sewing machine. Dealt with the realities of sharing a space with former intimates, cockroaches on the toothbrush in the middle of the night, and sounds of violence in the city.  Found a new lover, who was too clingy and gushy for my taste and eventually left for a trip to India. Bridge offered me the job  and I started working second shifts. I began my search for a new place to live.