Around midnight I ate some trail mix and thought about food. I worked here in the downtown area for years and have my own unique mental map of food finds--crumpets, California rolls, blueberry tarts, grinders, pizza. I'm not someone who goes to clubs (I'm a lone drinker) so being here again doesn't spark drink cravings the way it does food. The Nordstrom Grill, though, used to have $4 Jack & Cokes, strong ones. There's something about being waited on in a dimmed cave, in your own high-backed booth, ordering a meal, reading a book, and drinking Jack & Cokes.
So anyway, that's a place to avoid.
B., one of my bunkmates--I'll call her Beryl--got on a mentoring jag last night, giving me the benefit of her own experience. Mostly these took the form of dire warnings. YES, I should beware the toilet seats. Do NOT lend clothing to others, especially hats. BEWARE of sitting next to someone who is scratching themselves. Apparently there's a lice issue in the main area of the shelter.
If my introduction to a homeless shelter had been the main women's dorm, I might have turned around and left, gotten into my car that I still precariously cling to, and driven off a bridge. As it was, I spent my first few insomniac hours last night monitoring every stray phantom twitch in my pubes, imagining the birth of millions. My childhood fear of toilet seats has been restored and reinforced. This morning I grabbed a large handful of seat covers from a public bathroom and stuffed them in my backpack.
Beryl also had stories of suicide attempts ("You mean here--in this room?" -- "Yes!") that occurred during the six weeks she's been there, including one that required her to wrestle a bunkmate into submission in the absence of shelter staff, and another that resulted in a full-on invasion of EMT and police, and a sea of blood that required forever mopping up.
I should say that Beryl is a skillful and dedicated conversationalist. She's attentive to precisely what is being said, the words used, the implications and shades of meaning along with any cultural resonance a phrase might have. She mentioned writing poetry and she has a poet's fascination with shiny turns of expression. I like talking to her a lot, and I'm someone with limited patience for chit-chat when I'm trying to read a book. The fact that I often find myself putting my book down and engaging in talk says a lot. We fill in each other's sentences when we're groping for words and often synch up on sensibilities.
She also spends time just hanging out in the main shelter, talking to people. I admire that without really wanting to emulate it. I feel like mingling would make me a better person, but it's the deep end of the pool and I'm afraid to immerse myself.
I had twinges of feeling yesterday that I haven't had in a while--the feeling of being where I'm supposed to be, of events unfolding as they should to give a specific shape and path to my life. It's not happiness--I'm definitely not happy to be where I am. But that particular feeling, which I've had in the past, is probably the closest thing I have to a spiritual instinct. Beryl said emphatically last night, after telling me scary stories: "I want you to have some of these experiences yourself." I'd just begged her to stop talking about body lice and bodily fluids. But later I thought, maybe I should get a case of lice, at least once in my life. Maybe that's what it will take to make me feel human and to connect to the rest of humanity. I'm so attached to fear. Here I am in a homeless shelter, broke and desperate, and there's still a large part of me that clings to any hiding place it can find, like a child determined to keep her unseeing head buried in a book while a fight breaks out around her.
Of course, a fight did break out last night; I listened through the walls. And I'd really prefer not to get lice. So my personal evolution and enlightenment proceeds in fits and starts.