Yep, I gave up. After sitting there for a good 20 minutes trying to find a title for this post, I just threw one in. Hey, at least it’s a title of some sort. Sorry I haven’t written in a while. I really don’t know where this week went. I guess that’s what happens to time when you get closer to Christmas. But I’ve been thinking about something for a while, and tried to post about it, but oh no. My computer had other plans for that post.
Like I said a while ago, I started volunteering at a women’s shelter. I knew going in that it might be heart-breaking. But I guess I expected the heartbreak to just smack me in the face like it does sometimes at the telephone help centre where I volunteer. But I’m figuring out slowly that the things that rip me apart aren’t in the obvious, but in the subtle.
Let’s just run through a few things that have happened over my few shifts there. At the beginning I didn’t know the way there because the address is confidential. So they were meeting me and showing me the way. As we walked towards the door, the staff walking with me stopped me, turned and talked to someone else. She said very nicely, “Hello, are you looking for some apartments? I live in the area, I know it well, do you need some directions?” It turned out to be a man. After gently directing him away from the shelter, she told me she wasn’t sure if he was trying to sneak in and get past the staff. That freaked me out. How often do they have to politely fend off people from trying to get inside? And One day, would I have to do this too?
When I finally get to the door, I am told it has cameras, shown a keypad where you punch a door code that I still haven’t been given, and a doorbell that connects the person on the outside of the door to someone who speaks over an intercom speaker. I understand the reason for all this security. I mean, the women in here have x’s that aren’t exactly friendly and when they drop by, it’s not to bring the women some cookies and maybe a nice card. But even understanding it doesn’t make it any less forbidding. Then, the door opens, and I have five seconds to get through the next door.
So I’m now inside the walls of the shelter. At first it feels sorta homey. I can smell some rice cooking, I can hear some music playing and some women talking. And then I hear something else. A baby crying. This should add to the homelike atmosphere, but it doesn’t. It shakes me and brings me back to reality. This is a shelter. A shelter for women and their kids to get away from someone who’s beating them. That means, what has this poor baby seen already? In this baby’s brief life, what has he or she had to go through? What does this world seem like to this little baby?
I walk to the office to check in and see which kids need a babysitter. I get there and the phone rings and someone’s prescriptions come in, and she doesn’t even have the money to pay for them, so they have to be paid for by the shelter. Then I start to notice the state of organized chaos that is the norm here. As one of the staff starts to deal with the prescription, a woman comes in, cannot speak English at all, and the staff on the phone has to hand off the phone to someone else because she’s the only one who can speak Spanish, so she can talk to the woman who’s just walked into the office. Can you imagine not only needing to run away from someone who has probably controled every aspect of your life, but on top of that, not having the ability to speak the predominant language spoken where you are? Not being able to ask for help? Having to hope that the person offering help is an excellent reader of body language? She’s just lucky that there is one person in the shelter who can speak Spanish fluently. But what happens when that person goes home?
I’m told there’s a little girl who needs a babysitter. So I meet up with her and we go off to play. She decides to play with a jack in the box. But the character refuses to come out of the box. So the little girl says to me, very calmly, “I know how to fix it.” With that, she picks up the jak in the box and smashes it down hard on the floor. My mouth opens a little and then I manage to not make a big deal. I say to her, “Oh, I don’t know. I think you might have scared him. Now, he might not come out at all.” Then, with the next crank, the little guy pops out. I find this whole situation freaky. Think about it. She got what she wanted by smacking the thing around, just like I’m sure her mother’s abuser got what he wanted by smacking her mother around. I know the jack in the box doesn’t have a mind and it was just a strange coincidence, but it was the wrong kind.
Back at the office, someone comes in and wants to speak to the staff about donations. What she has is not anything huge, but what it is seems to be needed. It’s a bunch of clothes and blankets. Then I got thinking about how these people usually arrive. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, and maybe a kid’s favourite toy if they managed to grab it on their way out the door. And they’ll likely be leaving soon, having to start all over again from scratch. How does one do that when they don’t even have the money to pay for their prescriptions?
I come back a couple more times and the little girl really wants to see me and is talking to me. As I go to leave I say, “I’ll see you next week.” There is a pause and the staff with me says, oh no you won’t because she and her mother are moving out on the weekend. I give the little girl a hug and tell her I hope she likes her new place. And that was the last time I saw that little girl. I wonder how stable her life has been up to this point. Has this been the only time of Chaos? Or has it been a series of moves, always hoping the next house, the next town, the next man, will be better?
Then I think about how it’s going to be the whole time I’m there. The high turnover, the constant change of faces. I know it’s a good thing that they’re not stuck there long, it means there’s hope for a new life. But for me, It also means I’m going to have to grow a thick skin and not get attached to anyone there, because likely before I know it, they’ll be gone.
As I go to leave because my shift is over, I have to hit a big button to activate the intercom and ask if it’s safe to go. She says it is and I step back into the parking lot, the street, the seemingly normal world. Then I wonder how normal it is, or how many other strange worlds are spinning in their own little orbits all around me. And then I think I should stop philosophizing because nobody needs a big pile of philosophy. Whatever I may think, I know this. It sure didn’t need much time to simultaneously scramble up my brain and make me thankful for how good my life really is.