There's a protest in downtown Seattle today, something about Israeli apartheid. A block of cops have wedged themselves in between Pike and Pine, paying very little attention to the protestors, Hare Krishnas, Scientologists, Nation of Islam pamphleteers, pollsters, and street magicians. Here in one of the central Starbucks, a homeless woman cradling a tiny service chihuahua is being warned against sleeping.
My newest bunkmate, the one with anger issues, I'll call Toni. Toni has been puzzling me. You know how, since the advent of Bluetooth-y devices, it's sometimes hard to tell on the street whether someone is talking on the phone or to themselves? It's like that with Toni, except she's usually lying on her bunk, her head just out of direct view, murmuring in a chatty tone spiked by occasional laughter. I'm nearly sure she's not using a phone, but someone does seem to be filling in the blanks to her side of the conversation.
I've been worried about Beryl. The smell I thought came from her bunk actually turned out to be coming from under it. She's a hoarder, and the space between the bottom bunk and the floor (she's in the top bunk) was stuffed with papers, magazines, clothes, plastic cups, food stuffed in bags, loose fruit, unmatched shoes, and a hundred things she'd be better off without right now.
The staff had apparently also mentioned the smell to Beryl, which drove her into an obsessive search for it. This was Wednesday, the day before the big Spray Event and our enforced day-long evacuation. Posted signs warned us to store everything in our lockers--anything not put away would be thrown away. As of Wednesday morning, though, Beryl was sitting on the floor, surrounded by crumpled bags and her chaos of belongings. I watched with a vague sense of doom as she sorted items into categories without actually subtracting anything. She'd pick up a ragged mass of papers and get lost in reading ads or articles; pace slowing, she'd rip out selected pages and stack them to the side. The blast radius spread, spilling out from under the bed and across the floor of our small room. The entire lower bunk was also taken up with her stuff, along with a tall double-door locker, easily three times as big as the standard lockers we were assigned.
Wednesday afternoon, I returned from errands to find two of the case managers digging through the piles, making judgments on the fly about what to keep and what to toss. They wore gloves and held giant garbage bags, the kind you use for bagging raked leaves.
"Where's Beryl?" I asked uneasily, eyeing the scene.
"I don't know," one of the case managers said in a deterrent tone, avoiding my eyes.
"Are you putting stuff in storage?"
"We don't store things."
"Oh. Does she know…um?"
"I really can't discuss that."
Beryl came in about an hour after they'd finished. It was painful to watch her work through the shock. I talked to her for a long time but she couldn't completely grasp what had happened. I could only help up to a point, because I couldn't really grasp it either. She'd been trying so hard to get organized, to root out the smell, to prep for spray day. And of course she'd expected to have until Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m., deadline for leaving the dorms. There'd apparently been no warning of the official purge, no formal ultimatum from the staff, who made executive decisions about what items were trash and which weren't. It was hard to take, even to witness.
I say "apparently" though, because Beryl has a knack for diverting her train of thought to more interesting ideas if danger looms.
Later, I wondered aloud, tentatively, how she was going to fit her remaining bags into her already stuffed locker.
"Oh, they won't fit," she said, surprised at me. And I realized on a moment of brain-locked shock and dismay that she intended to take the two massive bags with her and babysit them from 8:00 to 4:00, somehow, somewhere.
I suspect that she accumulated most of her belongings while staying at the shelter. I worry about her getting kicked out of CRP into the main shelter; she's already stayed longer than the program guidelines recommend. She keeps getting lost in fuzzy mental loops, like a staticky record skipping on the same spot. I know that feeling, I've been in that place, where the effort of making a single phone call is an emotional wipe-out.
I have been receiving funds and am like a hamster twitching at input. Several directions at once, and I want to respond every which way, but find myself burrowing instead. I might also have beady eyes and a pink nose.
I'd like to say something deep and gracious, like, I express the universe's gratitude on a particle wave of endless thanks. Thank you for the strawberries I ate yesterday and the dollar Sue Grafton novel I'm reading today and the dominoes and card deck I bought for the CRP ward. Thank you for today.
a wave of particular hamsters