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Monday, September 7, 2009

The Vulnerable

That evening at bedtime, I lay upon a stack of pillows and a folded sheet spread out the length of the front seat, relishing the quiet. It felt good to lie down and stretch out, and the back windows of the truck cab, as well as the front triangular vents (out of which my father might have flicked his cigarette ash), let in a slight breeze despite the late-August heat.

I will be glad when it is finally over. It will be peaceful and complete the way it feels to lay one's body down for a night's rest. I survey my small quarters, looking up at the ceiling overhead and out the back windows. Very little turned out the way I had hoped --- no big wedding, no husband, no children, no idyllic family life --- and the prospect of those wishes manifesting now at my age are very slim. I'm quite done with it. I'm a hanger-on who might as well leave. Of course, I figure, because I am all too happy to die, I will somehow linger on and, perhaps worse, manage not to find the respite I need from the poison of grief and regret.

I had trouble falling asleep, not because of my wish not to be here, but because of a particularly rigorous yoga class that left me with achy legs. A cold-water shower usually soothes the muscles after a work-out, but I was several hours late getting to the public washroom. I paid for it with tossing and turning and all manner of trying to get comfortable.

Then I was awakened out of deep sleep by the sound of a vehicle pulling up beside mine. I was surprised to be so awake, alert, and immediately drawn in by a peculiar conversation, even though the couple in the vehicle beside me were speaking softly. I heard the word, body, over and over again. We do not usually refer to living things as bodies unless, of course, they happen to be dead.

The couple's language was English, but it was a dialect, perhaps Creole, maybe Cajun. The woman's voice was melodic. She seemed to speak and laugh lightly at the same time, making her words aspirated and giving her voice an overtone. When she stopped talking, she tittered. But I kept hearing about a body . . . when I saw the body . . . I heard her say. I pictured her with small, square, saw teeth visible through lips drawn back in a constant smile.

Her male counterpart would answer with a slow "Uh-huh" in a deeper voice that complemented hers. He would occasionally mumble something in the space she made after the tiny laughs with which she concluded every phrase. Creepy. I lay in my truck attempting to see in the dark in my imagination what the two of them looked like.

It was the hour of thieves, that time in the night, deep in the night, when thieves (and murderers, by extension) come calling. It is a time when no one who is sleeping wants to get up. It is possible to deceive oneself at that hour that one is only dreaming about a signal or alarm that warrants getting out of bed to check the doors and windows. Fortunately, when I had a home, I had a dog that, true to species, was never too asleep to hear the slightest approach of encroachment upon our territory and to react accordingly.

Now homeless, I find I have somehow acquired a new sensory ability to come to full alert. My mind races faster than thought over combinations, possibilities, and outcomes of the situation and possible peril in which I find myself, though, interestingly, unlike the canine, I stumble over human curiosity.

It is not the blind obsession of the horror-movie teenager who moves inexorably (and fatally, of course) toward the danger lying somewhere in wait beyond the next door or just around the corner. Yet, I was very surprised at how long I lay there wondering what was next, whether the couple would get out of their car, if they were really just nice people who happened to park next to me, or if they might have seen me day after day in the same parking lot doing my daily routine and had some unknown purpose for . . . well, my body.

Some years ago, I viewed the scariest horror film I have ever seen in my life, mostly for the fact that it was not fantastical or extravagant and did not rely upon special effects. The movie is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It only occurred to me while lying there in my truck ---listening, wondering, imagining --- that psychopaths spent a good deal of time in their vehicles in parking lots, their primary source of victims.

Suddenly, thankfully, time was up and whether perfectly rational or not, I bolted out of my supine position and proceeded, all at once, to sit up behind the steering wheel, tear down the front window shade, start the engine, and hit the gas. I happened to glance to the right to see out the truck's side window that my neighbors were driving a truck at least as large as mine.

For a micro-second, I wanted to tear the shade off the passenger-side window to see what the man and woman looked like, but they would see me, too: now that I were able to identify them, they would have to kill me. It was not a good idea, and I let it slip out of mind as I sped away toward the parking-lot entrance. I spent the rest of the evening under the nose of the City police who have a sub-station not even a block away from the scene of the possible crime.

But then no one would have known there had been a crime. Though I am not entirely out of touch --- I have a cell phone, a lap top, and a calendar in my purse, assuming these items would not have been taken by my abductors --- police, typically, are not pursuing serial killers. They are busy with more routine tasks. It would be days, maybe weeks, before someone missed hearing from me, and more time would elapse before the police were notified. At what point someone would suspect a kidnapping is anyone's guess.

There are stories one hears about homeless people disappearing. Even though the verb, to disappear, does not have an intransitive form in English, I use it in that way, as the Spanish-speaking world does, to evoke the possibility of malevolence. My own friend, Bob, has disappeared, but maybe someone disappeared him.

Indeed, the Online Journal reported on July 8th of this year that the homeless have been disappearing from Washington, D.C. in large numbers, that is, vanishing without a trace, since 9/11/01. Maybe the homeless were only relocated, though no one is saying that actually happened and, if it did, where. The D.C. officials in charge of the homeless, when asked about the disappearances, are being very tight-lipped. One official commented that, with federal camps and a high demand by the transplant industry for usable body parts, he feared the worst may have happened. What a frightening conjecture, but it is even scarier that a public official would say such a thing lest we read in the possibility of collusion with body-traffickers.

Sickening. (And what does "federal camp" mean? Is there an Abu Ghraib for the homeless?)

This makes the purported policy of Atlanta and New York, of dumping their homeless on other cities or paying their transportation out, seem like random acts of kindness. Though I can barely bring myself to think it, I heard a story from Sacramento of homeless people there being kidnapped, murdered, and sold to agents representing facilities that mine body parts that are then sold to hospitals.


This was the word used for the people who were rounded up, detained, questioned, tortured, and then murdered during and after the 1973 coup d'etat in Chile, led by General Augusto Pinochet. While the first four years of the junta were the most brutal, draconian repression through the consolidation of power and the use of secret police effectively neutralized any dissent or resistance for the next 17 years.

Some bodies were found. Some were never found.

My situation with the strange couple is nearly comical by comparison, and I admit a partiality to the quirky films of Joel and Ethan Coen. The script would open, "It all starts in a large, mostly-empty parking lot where obviously there is no need for anyone to park next to anyone else . . . "

Of course, who that couple was and what their intentions were are nothing more than speculation. I will never know, but I do know this: there are outcomes I do not want and can prevent simply by not being there. I chose to place myself somewhere else. I overcame a morbid curiosity to remove all doubt which might have sealed my fate. The storyteller lived to tell.

And, yes, I am still happy to die when death comes, but that is a long way from being murdered. For all my worried existence, I do not want to be thrown at death. But what about the more vulnerable Bobs out here in the street? The homeless who are alcoholic, physically challenged, or mentally ill? What about those days when I am overwhelmed, feel crazy, and unsure of what I might do to relieve my desperation?

We are not living in a nation like Chile, which, like other third-world nations, tends to fall prey to military strong men and the machinations of dictators. To think that our homeless population faces harm just as frightening through reprehensible municipal policies and exposure to criminal elements is boggling. The magnitude of the problem of a lack of protection for the homeless is still dawning on me. It is difficult to grasp, and I feel shame, the kind one imagines as though standing before God when one must account for what one knows.

1 comment:

  1. First and perhaps most importantly, thank God you haven't been disapeared, and had the good sense to get out of there. I'd have done the same thing given the same circumstances, it was the right thing to do.

    I too have been ready to go for a while, and had my hopes and dreams so madly dashed by a husband and his family in a way I wouldn't recommend for anyone. But you know that. I guess what I'm saying is having ruled out taking my own life, I'm not really in a rush to have someone take it for me. Glad that you're of a similar mindset.

    As to the difference between a regime and what we have, you'd be horrified to know just how close we came during the last administration. The camps WERE in fact built, and the satellite pictures of them are horrific. Rail yards to hold tens of thousands of freight cars full of people, barracks for miles and no way out. The official is worried with good reason, we came way to close and many still worry that now built, they will sooner or later be used.

    I prefer to imagine a world where they serve a lasting deterrent to the horrific, much like the proliferation of nuclear (Sorry George, but there is only ONE U in the word) weapons world wide. It is however something that was quietly slipped past the public in '06. Yes, three years ago the New York Times, as well as plenty of other media outlets wrote about the $385 million for detention centers. You can read the article here: http://tinyurl.com/ltjnxb it links back to the original NYTimes site. I wish it wasn't true, but I remember being horrified back then. If you do a google search, there's no end to the thousands of pages, and photos of some of this stuff.

    My hope is that we'll never have to see it all come to be. My hope too is that the current administration continues to fight to undo the damage left by King George and his minions. Inb the meantime, all I can do is pray that much better days are coming for all of us! Somehow, I still have hope, and like Pandora, I'm keeping that in the box for fear all will be lost.

    Hang in there girl, better days are a commin. We may not get our dreams fully realized, but I'll be happy with precious little at this point as long as it's good. I'm focusing on the friends and family I do have at this point.