Don Rogers: Nothing short of lifesaving
March 1, 2018
Sissy, a little white scotty dog with pink bows on her ears, comes bounding into the meeting room, everyone her friend.
She's loved. She knows it, trusts it and gives it freely to the women gathering for their Monday night session.
They need it. The ones in trouble and grasping for the lifeline this group offers. Also, the mentors who know the veil between making it and the abyss is thinner than anyone likes to think.
I stick out here, the lone male sitting in a close-drawn circle of folding chairs. Half a dozen Project HEART Women's Team members are sick this Monday night, while one illness or another runs high in the community. And the group is smaller than the men's group, if only because it's harder for women with children to attend. They could use a place with child care available.
I stick out at first, but I'm soon forgotten. A young woman fights tears as the group leaders declare she needs to share before they get into the central discussion for the hour-long meeting.
She's recently become homeless and is terrified about staying at the homeless shelter.
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"Why, exactly?" someone prompts.
"I'm scared I'll use again," she says, shakily, and wipes her cheeks.
There are other, practical problems. She can't take her gear to work. The shelter lets in people late, turns them out early. They can't linger in the area. Where to go before work? How to get to work? Things like that.
"I suck at being homeless," she says.
She learns maybe an important lesson. I believe this is the first time she's spoken up like this in the group.
"If only you could see how far she's come," one of the leaders, Robin, a probation officer in her day job, says later. She tells the young woman the same thing during the session, lets her know how far she has come, how brave she is, how she can do it.
The young woman nods. Maybe believing, maybe not. But she smiles, breathes deep. The tears have stopped.
The other women are full of help, their minds working. One can pick her up. Another can store her gear. Another suggests they'd make great roommates. They react like family, full of love in that pragmatic problem-solving way laced with lots of encouragement. I'm convinced she's getting help, big time.
All she had to do was express a position where more than a few of the others have been.
Another talks about feeling numb after the death of an in-law. She's point-blank honest about it. Numb, made some no-doubt callous comments. Regrets those, which counts as progress.
She's another the leaders tell me is unrecognizable from when she first came to the group. Her family has a history of using, short-hand for hard drugs. Heroin, meth, opioids. Parents, grandparents. Dear God, not the future for the children. Not if she can help it, but she has so little support at home. Maybe only this group, which gathers for these meetings, but also for coffee and other outings to keep in touch, lifelines all.
I learn some other things sitting there, hoping not to break this spell in which I get to witness improbably without being noticed. Harder things. Mainly that men are big deals for women — big disappointments all too often. Untrustworthy, self-centered, controlling, minefields that must be negotiated at least as much as loved.
This is me interpreting, so I might have much wrong in my dim awareness, a fish in that water as a male, not noticing these things on my own.
And this thing, beauty, is bane as much as blessing, I see. Think about the jobs available to these women. Missing teeth, say? Not as physically hardy for jobs men in the same straits would take on? These are huge challenges, along with almost inevitable responsibility for the children born into relationships gone wrong.
Even the mentors talk of having a bag packed and ready should a relationship with a man go wrong. Some clothing, some money, ready to be snatched up in the worst case at a moment's notice.
I don't have a bag like that. Never thought of it. There's a lot I never thought of before being allowed to sit in their meeting at the Interfaith Food Ministry.
I left changed. I'm telling you the very tip of the iceberg here.
But I didn't leave before Sissy hopped on a bench I sat on while waiting to talk with leaders Kathleen Foxx and Robin Tamietti after the meeting. I wasn't leaving without becoming her friend, basically, me with the fluffy dog in pink ribbons loving me up most determinedly. Giving me trust I wasn't so sure I deserved.
Someone told me Sissy's one of the gals, one of the lifesavers.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent and Truckee Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 477-4299.
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