my period and I can feel the blood going all drippy-squishy
between my legs. It feels like my vagina is crying: "Sad to
be Living. Sad to be Living. Sad to be Living." I have on my
Stay-Free sanitary pad which at this point feels like a piece of
cold lasagna pressed in my underpants. Another glorious day.
Down in the lobby of my apartment building, the usual gang is gathered to wait for the Bread Man. Head down, I push my way through the thick cloud of smoke, nodding politely when I hear my name called, and glancing in the general direction of it's sound to acknowledge the caller. There are people leaning everywhere, on the handrails, against each other, and against the broken water fountain that now serves as an ash tray. I used to wait for the Bread Man too. I am allergic to wheat, and I can1t eat bread, but, as a favor I used to get bread for a woman who lived above me and went to G.E.D. classes in the morning. It is a pathetic scene. People without front teeth snarling over smashed 29-cent loaves of week old white bread the grocery stores donate to Christian Charities. If it is a day that sweet goods are delivered, the bread is ignored in favor of sticky rolls with imitation chocolate on them. The melted brown icing is plastered against the plastic wrapper making the pastry look like somebody's lips pressed up against a pane of glass, or the raw, wet vital organs of a dismembered animal, dipped in gravy. They definitely look like they should be preserved in a screw top jar with lots of formaldehyde poured over them. The tenants wait two to three hours for this.
I don't blame them.
I get outside into the
cleaner air, but my clothes now reek of cigarette smoke from the
lobby. As I pass by the metal newspaper box, I see a picture on
the front page I'd like to use for a collage. I splurge and pay
the 35 cents for a newspaper. "Hold the box open!!! Hold the
box open!!!", some one yells1 and before I know it I am
surrounded by a swarm of people. All I can see is arms grabbing
around me. Mothers send their young sons over to get a paper
without paying. When I first moved here, I used to think this was
stealing. Now I don't know from crime anymore. I only know from
poverty. Thirty five cents is a lot of money and can go towards
washing a load of laundry. It is good to be able to save it. I
shrug my shoulders and leave them at it. Silently oozing
menstrual blood, I walk away dripping.
* * * * *
Once inside my car, I
slit open the letter I retrieved from my mailbox. It is the
letter I have been waiting for: the letter telling me that my
pre-application for housing has been accepted.
But as I read on, I
understand that this is not necessarily good news. Since I am not
a resident of T_____ County, I am only eligible for housing if
there is no one else in T_________ County who needs an apartment.
This means that I can wait several years.
Drip. Drip. Drip. I know
I will have to make some phone calls.
Later on that day, I
call the housing office. I speak to a Very Nice Woman and I
explain to her that I am in a housing crises. Can she make me a
priority? I'm sorry she says. I can only give priority to the
homeless. Before I hang up though, she tells me that if I want to
sign on for an efficiency apartment1 I can then move into the
county and gain status as a legal resident, which would move my
name up on the waiting list far a one bedroom.
I agree to this
insanity, even though I know I can not live in a space that will
be even smaller than the space I am living in now and still stay
alive emotionally. It is killing my soul.
I have nothing to do all
day, except have a nervous breakdown, set myself on fire, and be
hungry. I do not have one dollar to rent a video, I do not have a
VCR, I do not have money for a postage stamp or money to put gas
in the car to go to the post office to buy one. I do not have the
money to buy paper for the typewriter. I do not have money to do
the laundry. I do not have the money to cut my hair anymore. I do
not have money to go to a movie and I can not watch my TV,
because it is broke. Drip. Drip. I am a creative spirit that is
I go to the park for a
walk. The ground is covered with spicy brown leaves that look as
if they've been pressed from a horse saddle. They are as glossy
as well worn leather. I feel self-destructive. Along the gravel
path, tall purple and green blackberry canes bow over the
walkway. I do not step aside, or brush them away from me. I keep
on walking straight ahead and let the thorns snag on my cheek,
they tear my jacket. My face is bleeding, Drip. Drip. I do not
flinch, I walk through the pain. This is nothing like the time
with the cigarettes. Remember the cigarettes?
One year, when the
mental stress of being constantly sick, became psychologically
unbearable, I took a cigarette to my arm to "burn the pain
out'. I felt it was logical at the time. I was barely aware of
feeling my flesh singe. It felt good. Only physical torture could
be strong enough to get my mind off the mental anguish. I burned
five holes in my left arm with the cigarette. One hole for every
year I had been ill. Little did I know that fifteen years later,
I would still be disabled. Each hole smoldered into my flesh all
the way down to the bone, leaving translucent, rubbery scars as
they healed. It took a year or more to grow new skin over these
holes, new skin the color and texture of a used condom, or latex
surgical gloves. The scars are perfect circles, much bigger than
the circumference of a cigarette. When asked about them, I often
tell people I got splashed with hot grease and change the
subject. Only one person ever came close to guessing the truth a
doctor who treated gang members in an inner city emergency room.
He recognized these marks and thought that I had submitted to a
type of self mutilation as part of an initiation. Well, he wasn't
far off. It was an initiation all right. An initiation to living
in another reality. Another dimension. Another existence. Here,
on this side of the chasm, there are no heroes. Only endurance
champions. Only animals with crying vaginas. I am a Warrior of an
invisible war. I have the battle-scars to prove it. Drip. Drip.
Drip. Sad to be living. Sad to be living.
* * * * *
On clear days, on days
that are good driving days, I make the two hour trip, (one way),
to the Towns I Might Live In Someday. They are ugly, uneventful
towns that have no beauty, but, they have meaning for me.
Ordinarily, visiting these towns would be just about as exciting
as visiting the onions in my vegetable bin, but it is not really
the towns that I am going to see. I am going to visit my dream of
getting out of the inner city. I am going to visit the beginning
of my dream. I know that I can not afford the gas to take casual
drives around the country, but it reminds me that there is life
outside of where I live. Right now, I live in a Third World
Country called The Ghetto. I live in the United States.
* * * * *
When I get home, I am
exhausted. The elevator is out again. There is no electricity. I
have to walk up three flights to my apartment. I take the stairs
as a child would, with both feet on each tread. Due to an hip
injury, I can not lift my legs. The black out is not unusual. I
have paid my light bill, but often the power gets cut for the
entire building. My apartment is cold, there is no electricity
for heat. I can not warm up any food to eat, because the stove is
also electric. I sit in the dark shivering, eating a bowl of cold
lettuce for supper. My lungs feel like a refrigerator. I become
bone-cold and I can't get warm.
I strike a match and
light a crooked green candle. It begins to drip wax all over my
stove. I pull out a brochure that came in the mail three days
ago, the one I sent away for with three limp grocery dollar
bills. The brochure was advertised in the back of an
Thank-You-Very-Much' magazine. I begin to read by candle flame.
The brochure gives information about government land available
for homesteading. Only twenty dollars for twenty acres. Claim it
now. I will. By God, I will Vaguely, "that" thought
runs through my head that says, "If it sounds too good to be
true, it is." I hate that thought. That thought is No Good.
I want to be hopeful. I want to dream. For twenty dollars and a
postage stamp, I can own land somewhere. I make plans to send
away for more information when I get my next government check.
I tuck the brochure away in a Safe Place, blow out the candle and climb, trembling with cold, between heatless sheets. I lie in bed, dreaming of working my own land, until the voices in my head begin to talk backwards, and I fall asleep.