Thursday, October 20, 2011

I remember

Subject: To Marcia I remember
The place is a small town the story takes place in 1971.  The main character is Marcia who ran away from home when she was fifteen in 1967 and went to San Francisco. Because her mother was a single mother and had problems keeping a job life was hard. The mother was not only an alcoholic and abused barbiturates and amphetamines she was both emotionally and physically abusive to her daughter. The mother sometimes simply disappeared leaving her child home alone. Running away was the easiest thing she ever did. Besides it was 1967 and the streets were filled with love. It was effortless to find places to stay and people who would help you out. Days were spent wandering the Park and at night more than one door was open to her. Life was good in this carnival atmosphere. Days turned into months and life was good. Then she became pregnant and some very nice people at a church gave her a nice place to live it was a shelter with other young girls in her condition. I say girls because they were still children themselves.  She was never sure which church it was. Once or twice the church people asked Marcia if she would like to go to church and she said no and they never really bothered her again. When the baby was born the nice people gave her counseling and told her that they had a nice home for little baby girl and it was really better that way. Marcia was sad but she knew they were right. After that she moved in with some friends. Then some other nice people took Marcia to free clinic, which gave her a year's supply of birth control. She wasn't sure who the nice people were but some social agency. By this time it was 1968 and it was really easy to trade her birth control for drugs.

The story goes like this history repeats itself.  By 1970 she had given up three babies. The streets were a lot harder. The friends she could stay with were themselves a lot harder. The men Marcia knew were all completely irresponsible. The women Marcia knew were in competition for those same men and became very mean. She spent more days on the street or some shelter. Most shelters in 1970 had limits on how long you could stay there. It was easier for a man to get day laboring jobs than a woman. If things got really hard Marcia had one thing she could sell which was the source of her problem.

I am not sure why but she was no longer getting pregnant. Then one day in late fall 1970 while hitching around the country a family who gave her a ride also gave her a place to stay. They found her the next morning on the couch where they let sleep on very sick and unable to get up.  They took her to the free clinic. The clinic took her directly to the hospital she had an enlarged liver and was extremely anemic. The local ecumenical center took an interest and took her in. She stayed at the center they gave her a job taking care of the center. For the first time in her life people took the time to get to know her. She received tutoring and what seemed like a short time, it really wasn't, she was ready for her GED exam.

At that time I was living in the same town. I lived in a crude lean-to behind the Mormon Church next to a creek in a willow and cottonwood thicket. I live there with a group of both men and women who could not afford shelter. We all had jobs and shared the wealth. I would clean up bars and I also weeded people's yards when weather permitted. Sometimes time I would clean leaves out of roof gutters, or clean basements and garages. All of us who lived in our little community worked for a local junk dealer. Our job was to collect scrap metal. There was a lot of it around in the surrounding countryside. Abandon farmhouses; abandon farm equipment, BLM camps and so forth. It was a dangerous work because the people who owned them would shoot to kill if they caught you. The Junk dealer never asked questions. In fact let us barrow a gassed up truck, he would give us maps and lets us know when no one would be around. But, if we got caught we would still be on our own. However, his brother-in-law was the sheriff.

Anyway this story is about Marcia not me. Marcia was like a local hero. She was going to college in the spring. She was the one who was going to make it for all of us. If just one of us could make it life would have meaning. My group talked about her the way another group might talk about a returning war hero.

She was had been clean for several months. An old boy friend shows up in town selling China White. We knew she would have nothing to do with him, even if he tried to get back together by giving her free samples.

It was late fall almost winter; November - December transition when the days are short and dark and cold.  When the skies are steel gray and hang on the land like molten lead that has frozen on the ground. That cold that makes your marrow hurt.

I was cleaning up outside around ecumenical center, cleaning leaves out of the roof gutter. It was a good job enough to keep me busy for a few days.  Marcia lived in the old garage behind the center. It was separated from the center by several feet. The source of heat was butane and wood.

I don't why when I was cleaning up by her place I looked in the window. It was day outside but still dark in the garage. I could see the dark outline of a woman's body draped of her bed backwards. Panicked I checked the side door it was unlocked. I went all the heat in the dwelling was gone, even colder inside than out. When I reached her body she cold and stiff with frozen vomit below her head. My knees gave way; water came from my eyes almost like they belonged to someone else. As I fell next to her I grabbed her and held her stiff cold body hoping if only I could make her warm again she would be all right. I couldn't tell you why I cried so hard. She was a friend, not a lover. But, she was our hope she was going to go to college. Now she was just a street person, and when street people die is like they never had a name and were never born.

I couldn't be more wrong they buried her with a headstone and not in potters field. When the ecumenical center had her services people were standing in the halls because there wasn't enough seating for everyone. Those who wanted too could say something.  I got up and wanted to say "she going to college and if just one of us could make everything would be worthwhile". But my mouth was shaking, my voice wouldn't work, and my eyes were crying so hard couldn't hardly see. Everyone there knew exactly what I was saying and agreed.

That was then and this is now. Everyone I knew then has been dead for years and years, decades even. None of them made it. Sometimes I wonder what it is all about and I get this thought in my head hope is the one thing that can't be killed.

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