Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Journey of Old Journals: 1987


This year of journals begins with affirmations. "I am a wonderful person whose depth, warmth, and spirit cannot be truly perceived by all. I have radiant eyes that take in everything equally and without judgement. I seek out injustice and find new ways of coping with stress and pain. ...  The statements went on for pages. In hindsight, I recognize my voice from those days, when I was enthralled with free writing. I'd discovered Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (first published in 1986) and filled journal after journal with keeping the pen moving. 

I'd moved to Cambridge with a house share, living with a group of women and caretaking my former girlfriend's cat while she was in law school.  The cat was mysteriously  injured and required surgery, but I took care of it despite making $7.50 an hour in a middle management job. The promotion wasn't a good fit. The work continued to stretch me, "eyes falling out of my head with the stress and strain of being alive." I also noted that one of my supervisor colleagues commented that my appearance had changed. There might have been days when I forgot to comb my hair, or wore the same set of pants all week. During the early part of the year I had a a difficult report, "Andy" who caused a lot of consternation around leadership. He refused to sign probationary paperwork and was eventually let go by the Executive Director, a hard-ass nun.  I hosted Geraldo Rivera on the medical van, and I noticed that his shoes easily cost more than I made in a month. I got feedback from management that I worried too much, that I took too much responsibility, that I had to work on letting go. 

The streets continued in their low-level, survival drama. Sometime, the clients died. Young Darren from the Q, who drowned. I arrived a bit late to the funeral. He'd been on PCP on the boat and couldn't remember how to swim. The family could barely look at the team of punk rockers that represented his flirty street  nights. I found the crew congregated across the street from the church, collectively sobbing. I was so sad, too.  I wrote a note to his parents and reflected on my grief. He was a good kid that got on the wrong track.  

Evette, who thought she might have AIDS, who told me that if a john refused to use a condom, that he got what he deserved.  I wrote of the clients with Kaposi Sarcoma scars, of the news they got from the lab, and of their emaciated bodies still on the street. I thought a lot about clients dying and of the death of everyday. A near overdose on the medical van, observing the "drip drip" of destructive behaviors and the pure futility of these lives that were barely clinging on, yet so determined to do so.  I wrote, "one reason I care about the youth with AIDS is that I can say, 'I will miss you when you die'. Perhaps no one else will miss them." Then, one of their customers would appear, and it was time to go. Go on, live. 

The harassment continued, constant from clients who were quite clear in their messages. From the garbage men, one person grabbing my ass from the rear, from people patting me on the head, stroking my face, sometimes kissing me on the cheek in their gesture of good will. Someone called me love chunk.

Despite the drama, I still managed to have some relationships. I continued to surround myself with the core group of college friends. I met a couple of new girlfriends and experimented with building trust. I committed to writing in a combination of self-processing and respite from the pain of the streets.  There were some house conflicts emerging, a friend of one of our roommates had moved in and the couple that was the mainstay of the house were fighting. 

I went to the Harmonic Convergence celebration in Woodstock in August with my college friends. The leader chanted, we welcomed in a new age. There was a power point, and I felt uncomfortable with my old lover and her friends. So I left and leaded into town for a coffee, later feeling revved up about my the new used car, a Toyota wagon. 

The year ends with more of the same, internal musings and processing of everything around me. I started using a new journal with quotes from women. In it, a favorite from Willa Cather, "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before."

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Journey of Old Journals: 1986

Early in the year and after the crazy client stalking incident, I was ready to leave the job. I started getting therapy; the therapist thought writing was a great idea. I focused on character studies, bubble maps of thoughts that led to short essays, and writing more of what I saw on the streets. I was withdrawing from friends because I felt "I needed silence to hear the important things."  In hindsight, I laugh as I read that I was "breathing in rainbows", a habit I still use today when I am particularly distressed. I wrote of the emergence of AIDS on the streets, the whole scene at Jacques, and the teens in Harvard Square. 

My life alternated between the continued violence on the streets and the respite of the backcountry. I started volunteering with the Appalachian Mountain Club, which at the time operated a couple of canoe campgrounds on the Saco River, one at Swans Falls (a busy put-in and dam portage site) and Walkers' Falls. Walkers was where I went alone to spend time. It's simple cabin, where I slept in exchange for answering a few questions and selling firewood, was down a long dirt road. I invoked Marian UnderhillGrandma Gatewood, and Helen Bromwell (whose name I wrote then, but I couldn't find on the internet.) It was there that I explored the neighborhood. I encountered moose tracks, purple mushrooms, herons, immense dragonflies, and Pleasant Pond.   

I paddled upstream to access the marshy pond. It was easy to get to the leeward side of the lake, but when I turned the big canoe, with only me in the middle, to head to the other side, I floundered. Trying and trying again, I thought more about survival. So I pinned the key to the cabin on the strap of my bathing suit, tried one more time, and found the right angle to the wind to start moving.   I wrote odes to the Goddess, asking to listen to the voices of her children through me. I wanted to attune to the woods, the rocks, the tracks of deer and the rushing of water babies. I wanted to bear witness to her complexity, picking up a rotting birch log and inhaling the clean, unique scent of decay. I circled treasures of pine boughs to the north, acorn at the east, bark at the west, and moss at the south, bringing myself to the stars. I wrote of infinity and protection, and of the richness of uninterrupted time. "I am frenzied with the purpose of being."

As the weather turned to the early winter, I found a girlfriend. I had an easier time processing the pain and violence on the streets. I wrote their stories down so I wouldn't have to carry them. 

Nov 12

Met Patty on the streets tonight. I hadn't seen her for about six months at least- mentioned that she was burnt out of a hotel room at (illegible.) Eye makeup smeared all around like a misguided raccoon. Jeff G tells me that his parents and all his family were killed in a car accident and he is the only one left. How callous of me not to believe it, in my own unrealistic mind frame.  Steve talks about how his army jacket was ripped off, Anita tells me about court (and the fact that Jizz went on a binge and no one hears from him. Diane discusses how 'no one hangs out anymore.' I talk with Lee for a long time about life.  

These stories sit like a knot in my stomach. Turning in on itself until I purge here, in the journal, berating myself for not catching the moment: the passion of being. Sometimes, I don't feel sorry for them, caught up int heir swirling denial that may lead to their death. I wonder- what dealt me this hand of cards, to be here and alive."  

Dec 12

"High.  (This was a common coping mechanism for the second shift work, sometimes combined with alcohol.) My head spinning with all sorts of thoughts, my eyes glued barely open. The image of Jimmy by the state house. His eye so bruised that it was bulging out of his head like frogs' but red, blue, and purple swollen skin. Face flecked with small, deep cuts, the eyelashes barely visible, oozing blood. I am firm, trying to control my sense of fear and horror of pain with a professional demeanor. His chest is bare with bandages. A person should not be walking around homeless on the streets in that condition. It tears my heart out to remember. Wish I could wash it all out with the good things I feel when I'm with the younger kids. I told Jimmy he had to go to the hospital, but he staggered off downtown instead. I wonder if he will live through this year, or tonight, or how he will feel when he does. Somehow, this thought doesn't become real until I imagine myself articulating it. "

I didn't write about why, but instead of quitting I decided to go for a management position, replacing my mentor and friend.  On January 1, 1987 I wrote of the syzgy, the rare alignment of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.