Monday, February 23, 2009

The Other Part of my Life ~

I wish I could show you where I work. It is a building/house with some bedrooms, some offices, and some funky smells. I had not seen it before I accepted the job offer and when I did see it, I almost cried. There was a hefty man sitting on the porch with his back against the wall. On the other end of the porch a young woman continued the conversation she had been having with herself. "Here's the staff bathroom." our supervisor said. I peered into the small, ratty-looking room with the dirty floor and rusty mirror. "Nice." I replied. I had a whole week to get used to the idea of working there. Thank Goodness I had yet to find out about the roaches ~ that would have been a deal-breaker.
So a week later I worked my first night and called my mom crying the very next day. I was still in shock from listening to my new coworker describe how she had lost her two front teeth to a client. (She neglected to tell me that it happened where she had worked previously). Then there were the roaches, who had nerve enough to approach me, crawling on my paperwork and computer screen. On top of it all, this building was in a neighborhood where people milled around at all hours of the night and sometimes tried the front door to see if it was locked.
I complained to God. "God," I whined, "why am I having to work here after seven years of school, 2 degrees, and the writing of countless research papers?" "Why do my friends get to work in real offices with chairs that have both arms and I don't?" I was feeling really sorry for myself. I kept asking God these questions and I kept hearing only silence. I didn't have a choice so I kept going back to that run-down building to work.
It was only a matter of time before I noticed changes. My coworkers and I began to be able to tell the roaches apart. I commented to my coworker that the roach I was watching was unique - he had stripes on his back. She replied that he was probably just bi-racial. It was routine to check our bags at the end of the shift to make sure that none of them hitched a ride home.
Then there were the cats who hung out on the front porch. "You better run!" I thought to myself when they ran away every time I came out. After a couple of months it got bitterly cold and I noticed the 3 cats huddled together in the corner as I left work that day. I stuck my head back in the door and yelled out, "Somebody needs to feed our cats. They look awfully cold and miserable out here." Our cats?? I guess we were all family now.
But something else changed. I began to learn the names of everyone and how they came to live there. One time I commented to a man about how much he walks around. He replied matter-of-factly, "Oh, that's because my ankles have hurt ever since I jumped off that three-story building." He tells me that he hears his dead brother talking to him, telling him to hurt himself. Another time I asked the hefty man from the front porch if he was going to watch the football game on Sunday. He informed me that he always watched football, especially since he used to play for the Dallas Cowboys. He just couldn't remember what number he wore on his jersey. There was also a lady who spent her entire nights making jewelry because every time she laid down the voices kept her awake. She read her Bible to pass the time. She also gave me a pink bracelet she had made. I wondered if she just figured that pink was my favorite color or if she somehow knew.
Not long ago we moved to a temporary location because our old, shabby house is getting a $500,000 facelift. A number of our residents moved into nearby apartments and some had other living arrangements. We discuss them regularly as if they are our brothers and sisters. We worry about how they are getting along and call to check on them. Many of them came with us to our current location. When we move back to our refurbished house, there will be new faces and (hopefully) fewer roaches to keep us company. It did not take me long to figure out how I ended up in this old, funky-smelling house. And I really don't mind at all.

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