I don’t think I’ve told you the story of Naked Lady yet, which is both unfair and strange, as she made such a huge impression on me, in the throes of post Gabriel Grief.
The story goes like this: Not quite a month after Gabe died, I was on the phone with a friend, who called to see how I was doing. Suddenly Mr. Spit called out to get off the phone – that he needed me.
There was a mostly naked lady on our front porch. She was wearing a short jacket, and nothing else. Yes, I really do mean nothing else, not shoes. Not anything. It was, for the record, January in Alberta, and it was about -18Celcius (about 0F for the Americans). Which is cold. Very cold.
So in she came, and we found her some clothes and I hauled out the first aid kit, and splinted her hand (her fingers had been dislocated from their joints by an angry John.) We called someone for her, and they came to get her. I tried to ask some gentle questions about if this person was safe, when she had last eaten, if there was someone else to call. As it turns out, it was her mother we called, and things were, I guess ok.
I think I’m remembering this today, as we did the follow up from a United Way training session, and someone commented that the United Way presenter was depressing. Homelessness in Edmonton was depressing. The thought of children being homeless was “sad”. They didn’t like hearing about the root causes of homelessness, and they thought those addicts should just get off drugs. You could see the disquiet when one of the speakers talked about providing addicts housing, without making it contingent to get off the drugs, off the booze. You could see our middle class sensibilities offended at the thought we would house, without requiring someone to kick the addiction.
Naked Lady was on my porch because of a “bad date”. A bad date, for those of you who don’t spend a lot of time around street level sex trade workers, is a john that picks up a prostitute to hurt her. It’s not that something goes sideways, it’s that there are men, extremely violent men, who pick up women to beat them. To leave marks and scars that I have now seen, that I’m not going to discuss with you, but that I remember still, and cringe. Something small and female in me whimpers on her behalf.
I phoned a friend after this, because it occurred to me, that if she hadn’t had someone to call, I didn’t know where to take her. I didn’t know which shelter to bring her too, what to do, who to call. She wouldn’t let me call the police, and I didn’t know what to do next.
My friend’s answer was and is nowhere. At that time of night, in that weather, the shelter beds are all full. There are no places for her. Moreover, my friend pointed out, given the choice, between the john who hit her and the pimp who beat her, because she didn’t bring in enough money, she’d take the john.
So, when I head how depressing homelessness is, I thought of Naked Lady. I thought about what it was to be stuck between two, terrible worlds.
It is not sad and depressing that there is homelessness. Naked Lady is not a sob story, she is a stunning and powerful indictment of our callousness. Our unwillingness to hear. Our desire not to be “sad”.
What’s depressing is thoughtlessness.