The skinny black man sat in his tumbledown chair and stretched his legs out long and long across the patio there. He was wearing a tattered straw hat that had a bright red and frayed ribbon laying droopily around the brim; it might have been attached at some point in its various pasts, the ribbon, but today it was laying loose against the hat’s crown with its thrice-tied knot to keep it all together with itself. A hot breeze stirred through the patio columns and caused the screen door to complain with a creaky voice at having to move so when it was content not to at this time of an afternoon and summer day.
“I tol’ you and your partner the other day that I don’ know nothin’ ’bout no Peaches,” he said from below his hat brim. His mouth moved like he was holding pebbles inside his cheeks, keeping his lips all in a pucker and moving still; I couldn’t see his teeth, as they were hiding behind his fleshy and purple lips, but I knew from a young lady’s description, that he was missing top and bottom twins on the left side of his mouth. He had caught a tire iron or a bottle there during a mid-alley brawl on a last-July evening; said people started calling him “Kissy” after that because of the way he always pursed his lips when talking so nobody could see the remnant and damaged teeth within.
– I never said anything about Peaches, Kissy; I never told you who sent me looking for you; I just said I talked with someone….
“Well, I still don’ know nothin’ about her; ain’t seen her none, leastways not in a long time, not this summer anyways.”
– Well that’s ok, really, we don’t need to talk about her. We just need to get you to the clinic and take care of those spots on your hands, that’s all. You need some medicine, Kissy.
“Yeah, you tol’ me about that before, you and that other Lionel boy from your office, but I’m ok; Kissy’ll be jus’ fine. These spots come and gone once before and I ‘spect they’ll do the same again, so you can go on now, Doctor Scott, don’ try and reason with me none either, just leave me set here of an afternoon, cuz it’s too hot to move and I’m waiting on my check besides. So go on now…and if you’ll ‘scuse me, I’m goin’ to have myself a little nap….”
Years ago I found stories in the everyday lives of the people who populated mine, those from my workplace, especially, and sometimes, and still, with my family. In those years of the past, the situations and lives of my clients easily became the foundation or the substance of the stories and recollections that I put into stories and musings. Yes, I changed the names, always, but the things and events that I shared were straight from their lives. I would change some things, as is my license when I’m the writer; I would add to or delete from what they had told me, as sometimes the truth was too raw…other times I made the truth a touch stronger so that it would bite harder when it was read, so that it would cause us to think more, you and me both, about our own lives and the importance of the people we love and the things we take so for granted in our own little orbits around the sun.
I have recently returned to the first “former occupation” that lived so vividly in my earlier writings. When they say that you can never go home again, this seems to be true in this instance as well. Things are different than they used to be. The grass isn’t greener, by far, over here, but it is still good and the rewards are similar to what they were in the past. Some notable differences, though, come in the level to which I am able to participate in the lives of my clients and the other categories of people who used to fill my work life as I did what I did in the health department context. Most of my experiences and involvement with people are now over the phone, similar to when I worked with 9-1-1. I participated in the callers’ lives over the phone, I was witness to their tragedies as they played-out through the headset, I typed the facts as I obtained them, or as they were hurled at me through the technology of a cell phone or land-line that was so utilized to request our certain brand of help. And today, or now, again, with this health department, it’s back on the phone. Most of the interviews with my clients/patients are conducted on the phone. I do, occasionally, as much as I’m able, bring people to the clinic to speak with them face to face, the contacts anyway, if I can’t do so with the original patients, so that I can deal with and participate in the human exchange again. Yes, I enjoy it being a limited exchange, 20 to 30 minutes of their lives, but face to face, looking into their eyes, watching them try to find the right words to express their concern, or watching them react to the pointed and intimate questions that I must ask them in order to do my job…it’s so much more preferable than doing it over the phone. I can observe and then respond to the nuances of their half of the conversation, those non-verbal parts that can betray the spoken parts.
And then there are some occasions, very limited ones, thus far, in which I am actually out on and in the street again, traveling, driving the new old streets in this new town and home of mine, seeing people and places for the first time that my daily routines and even weekend wanderings don’t usually allow me to see. On those few times that I was able to get out there again, I felt an odd familiarity and excitement, almost, at being on strange doorsteps and knocking on those strangers’ doors again, watching and wondering at their reactions, or wondering if they’re going to answer the door in the middle of a late afternoon snowstorm for whoever might be knocking or ringing the bell after I’ve already seen them walk past the window or move the curtain after I parked in front of their house. I haven’t been out and walking up and down dusty alleyways or sitting at a picnic table in the park, watching a dominos game while asking about whoever knows whomever yet, but that day may be here again, someday…maybe…maybe not.
At any rate, I’m back inside the stories again, on a vastly different plane, but still there, listening sometimes to the confusion, marveling with them as the light comes on or as the blinds are pulled-up on what they had been told, and hearing that “Aha!” moment come through over the phone or in person as they’re learning the truth about how they got that particular infection, etc. Back inside the stories…not on the 9-1-1 phones again, not on the radio where the cop-talk became a way of life, but back inside the stories where intimacy got defiled, or germy, anyway, and sometimes watching the eyes as realization comes, or as truth is rearranged or lost in the speaking of a few words.
Another thing that’s different and a concern of mine/ours, in this recent time, this current working with the health department that I do, is that of confidentiality. Yes, the concern was there in the past, those 10 and 20 years ago in which I did this same work, but it seems that the emphasis then was upon medical information and names, not necessarily the stories and the content of those lives. At least that’s how I remember it anyway. And today, this day and yesterday and the literal tomorrows of my work here, all of that information is confidential, somehow, especially in print. Their step into the clinic and the color of their car and the big tree under which it was parked in their neighborhood home and the 20 weeks at which they lost their baby and the husband or wife or boyfriend who cheated on the patient and the other, and whatever, those things aren’t mine to share…as much as I’d like to in some of their various forms, their disguised forms, their interesting stories and then, they’re not mine, somehow. I can almost hear a voice inside myself saying “Don’t use that name. Don’t say it aloud. Don’t spell it while you’re doodling and sitting on hold. Don’t whisper it as you’re typing your notes. Don’t think it as you’re driving home, and don’t say it in the echoes of your imagination, not even in a conversation within your hidden self. It belongs to someone else in a different place, in a different life, and it ceases to exist in yours once you’re done doing what you do with it. If you remember it later, you had better forget it just as quickly. If your pen starts to write it down, you’d better put it away. When you dream at night or in the middle of the day, that beautiful name had better stay gone from your thoughts and reflections. In all of your remembering, remember that it’s not yours. When your heart cries with your mind in knowing why you know it, when that ache transcends reason and thought, your bones had better remember what will happen if you don’t forget it. It’s not your name, so leave it alone. Years might pass and places change and the context of your rotating around the sun might be different or the same…and you might start reflecting on life and your trod steps and the people you have known. You might remember the faces of those who peopled your earlier lives in those earlier places and those other worlds, but when you start to recall their names and the places and contexts in which you knew them, you’d better remember to forget some of them. If your self fails and your resolve dwindles or your heart still aches too much to ignore, you’d better change the frame, the context, the situation, the details, the heartbeats, the coursing blood, and the number of stairs that led to the place where you knew it. You’d best make it so different that nothing is the same, not even the smell or the taste of the memory that resides in your cells. Don’t use that name…it isn’t yours.”
Anyway, if I tell stories here, they aren’t true…but they’re not made-up either.
In those many orbits around the sun, and the moon around ourselves, in that figment of time and space that we call months and years, and in those days of our passing, in that time that I’ve been gone from that place where I had worked and worked and wondered for other years and gone, things changed and progressed and grew and became other things that someone else had imagined. Technology and practice and practice became new and better and more precise and less invasive in a personal sense, for some, for those in the practice of this medicine and art and then. Time has changed some of the occupants, too, of the circles in which and around which the plagues are passed and given and shared and transmitted in knowing and unknowing senses all. While some advances have been made in several of the related realms, some of the old and tried and true remain and serve as beacons and exemplars of what works and what lives still in our humanity and theirs. A handshake and an eye-to-eye look of greeting and acceptance or a touch on the arm or shoulder or a shared smiling frown still connects their lives and ours as we mix and meld in our humanity and striving so. There is the unknown and the fear and the real pain of their physical pain and non-understanding and guilt and shame and glistening eyes and downcast, as they ask questions and await answers as they stare at the lines in the tile on the floor. No quivering today in that unshaven and rugged chin on that young man, little boy, who described his estrangement from his parents, their disapproval of his life and his mom’s fears for his future and health and physical living. He spoke of church bonds that are harsh and unforgiving and uncompromising and are tied harder and faster and sharper than a love for a child. He said, too, that there is a sister of mom or dad who still loves and accepts him and will always be there. He wonders at what a test result might mean, in that it changes the way even friends look at you. They don’t joke the same, can’t tease the same way…maybe like stepping on an un-dug grave, so he couldn’t share it with them either. “You are so young,” I said, “and that is both good and bad. You believe in your invincibility, still, and in your right to conquer the obstacles in front of you, but you’re not old enough to remember your friends wasting away and dying from what they contracted during the fun and love of an earlier time. Your brain tells you that the others’ memories are true, but you live in your actions as if they aren’t.” We think it can’t happen to us, he said, unconsciously squirming at the sensation of what was leaking out of his front and back-sides as he has waited so long to come in for a simpler malady. He was quick to respond to my call that he’d been exposed and needed treatment. Whatever he had scheduled was suddenly less important because he now knew and understood that what he had been feeling for weeks and weeks was real and could be ignored no longer. And so he was there…and so was I.
No radio was in the background and I had no concern for a status-list. I couldn’t feel a headset cord at my side and there were no black-banded badges or shields on posters on the wall reminding me that it wasn’t how they died that made them heroes, it was how they lived. My heart wasn’t beating with an anxious pulse waiting and waiting for someone to clear that it was Code-4, it was beating in sympathy and empathy for the distraught young man who sat in front of me who was wondering at test results and the fact that his father hadn’t spoken to him in over three years because of who he loved, yes, both the father and the son, the “he” in their each and solitary selves…and the men they loved.
Many things have remained the same…since I’ve been gone.
Several years ago, a friend asked me to write something about my thoughts and feelings pertaining to the transition from employee to supervisor within our workplace, from 9-1-1 operator and dispatcher to Radio Supervisor. When contemplating the paper, I thought I would discuss the relationships with my immediate co-workers, the relationships with peer supervisors from other shifts, the relationship with my supervisor, the aspects of the performance of my job that my supervisor evaluated, the relationships that I had with my employees and the employees of other supervisors, both on my shift and other shifts, and related to and intertwined with all of the above, the political nature of written communication, things said and/or not said, actual and implied or perceived intent, and the ever-present need to actually consider and weigh one’s reaction to any other word, intent, omission, look, possibility, idea, etc..
After discussing the changes in relationships and interactions with all of the people in the workplace, and when considering those changes, there was also the immediately personal aspect to look at – my evaluation of myself inside myself, the changes in my thought processes that included moving from a solitary person to one of community and all that it entailed, i.e., what I lost and gained, etc. And then more – my thoughts of the bureau, the department, the officers, the citizens; my responsibilities to my co-workers, my employees, my boss, the department, the citizens; how my perspective of liability had changed or remained the same; my dedication to the job; my thoughts of other people’s dedication to the job; my sense of belonging and not belonging; it was just a job, a means to a nice paycheck that provided for my family and the commitment I had to making sure I deserved what the city gave me for compensation; and then my occasional thoughts of demoting, or other thoughts of trying for another promotion where I would supervise my then co-worker supervisors.
All of that processing of my transition within that particular workplace got my mind going in similar yet unassociated areas and caused me to wonder about the different and many transitions that one undergoes in a lifetime – which I then applied to myself and the many aspects and experiences of my own existence that have led me from one place to another, both literally and figuratively. My mind went in directions ranging from being an innocent in every sense of the word and passing into and through the stages of gaining knowledge that removed the innocence and replaced it with experiences that changed me forever, even if only in the slightest ways. My thoughts wandered, then and now – if I’m going to have this current and up-to-date, down the trails of my childhood turning into adolescence and adulthood; the paths that led me from the Air Force to the health department, from the health department to the police department, and from there to my present workplace in another health department in an altogether different state and locale; from carelessness to concern, or selfishness to awareness; the journey from being a solitary person, as I mentioned earlier, to one who out of necessity or yearning became one of community with a participatory audience, be it large or small; the change from being a young father with little children to being an older father with young and older children; from being a Believer to being a non-believer or disbeliever…and…. So I wondered at change and transition.
And then a friend of mine sent me a link to another article about a man who tossed caution to the wind and left his steady and secure job that paid well, but wasn’t fulfilling, and bought a boat and started a charter business and sailing school…and changed his life. He left the security for something he loved, something that spoke to or moved his “soul” or the core of his being. And I thought of transitions again and still. I thought of how I have done something similar to the guy who “quit” his former job and bought a boat so he could pursue his dreams, however unsteady they might have been. I thought of pursuing a simpler life, one less complicated, without and within, one that was rewarding and fulfilling and wrought with a different and compelling potential that didn’t exist in another place, for me and mine, anyway. I thought of how making that change will cause other transitions to occur within me as so many transitions and changes were occurring outwardly in my life.
Yes, I’ve only been there for a few weeks, but I actually look forward to going to work in the morning. I also look forward to waking and seeing that big beautiful mountain down at the end of my street, knowing that at the end of my work week, or even some afternoon after work, I will be out there driving or hiking among its hills and valleys, listening to its streams trickling or rumbling over its rocks, and hearing its scolding squirrels and singing birds touching the otherwise quiet and clean forest air. No…the monetary rewards won’t be there at work; I’m not going to be rich or even “well-to-do” after working there…but then I don’t have dreams of making millions. I’m looking for peace that lives within.
So the other day, when I was in the turn-lane to merge into the lane of traffic that was going to take me out and into Mill Creek Canyon, I suddenly saw and heard, racing toward me, three police cars in a line with their lights and sirens going full blast, “Code-3,” with a fourth one coming a minute or so later, flying so fast that they shook my truck in their passing. In my mind, and in my memory that has formed over the past eleven years, that many cops heading in the same direction, so close together, with lights and sirens screaming and blaring, could only mean one thing…someone got shot…some police officer got shot and the others were driving there as quickly as they could so they could render aid and catch the bad-guy. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest.
The view of the big beautiful mountain in front of me was suddenly absent as my former life and concerns came crashing and screaming into my very real and present and different life. I almost went back to my apartment to await the news flash on the television. But, I didn’t. I did, however, ask the mountain “Why?” and then sat there for another half-minute or so before venturing out into the traffic on the road that would take me away from my immediate concern and anxiety and out into the green embrace of that lush and welcoming “other world” that exists a few miles down the road from the everyday. I did watch the news that night, which I normally don’t do…and…regarding all the cops in a line with their lights and sirens and my imagined tragedy that struck or befell those brothers in blue…nothing. It was a “Big Fat Numba-Three.”
And today, with the “new employee” orientation that touched on emergency preparedness and the talk of 800MHz radios and interoperability and incident command and chain-of-command and what if our cell-phones won’t work and the radio towers are down and they’ve got two new fancy trucks with mobile antennas for the radios and stored rations and a cache of this and a cache of that and a 72-hour kit and we need to get help to those in need and 9-1-1 will be out of business and so will we and…and…what does all of this have to do with gonorrhea?
So…I am still somewhere in-between the past and the present, the “used-to-be” and the “is.”
More memories from the STD Clinic Journal….
November 8, 1996 – I spent a couple more hours in Estrella Jail this morning. I conducted two interviews on patients for whom we had been looking since July of this year.
Crystal B. was finally in jail long enough to receive her twice-daily doses of Doxycycline. The last time I had spoken with her, she was released the next day and never made it to the clinic. She had sworn that she would make it to the clinic so she could be “cured.” It never happened. Since August 7th, her blood had risen from 1:128 to 1:256, bringing forth new symptoms of the infection. This time, she had vaginal and perineal lesions. The chart said that she may also have herpes.
I mildly admonished Crystal, telling her how I had driven for hours, several times, trying to find her on the street. I also told her that one of my partners had driven around looking for her, as well. Even “ex” prostitutes have feelings – Crystal’s blue-green eyes filled with tears as she told me that she had made a mistake. I wasn’t looking directly at her, and not seeing the tears, continued with my scolding. I told her that I wasn’t concerned with all the aspects of her life, I was just interested in how this disease had come to play. When I looked up and saw her tears, I felt that I should back-up and go more slowly. “Can’t a person make a mistake, huh? We all make mistakes, don’t we?” Crystal asked. Yes, I said; we all make mistakes. I was just concerned that she was going to become sicker and possibly spread the disease further. She assured me, kind of, that she hadn’t had contact with anyone since both of her sex partners were locked-up. She denied any contact with dates. Crystal could have been acting, but she seemed sincere.
Crystal had been on twice-daily Doxycycline for about a week now, halfway to her cure. The sores were healing nicely and she said she’s feeling better about herself. She said that she is tired of this life, here in Phoenix. Crystal said that she never had a record till she moved here. Now, at 24yo, she is ready to move back to California where her family and children are. Crystal told me that she will be released on November 21st and hopes to leave right away. My proof of this move and restart on a new life will happen when the health department from her California town calls to let me know that she has had her blood tested again. We’ll see what happens.
After leaving the jail, I went to the field to try to locate a person with 1:128 dilution blood that had just been released from another jail. The person didn’t even know the results yet. I had spoken with Stephanie at the jail this morning and she had given me the address and phone number, supposedly belonging to the patient’s uncle. I had already called the number and left a message, so now, in the field, I hoped to be able to speak with the patient face to face.
Approaching the door, I wondered if this was really where the patient lived. I am almost ashamed to say it, but the house did not fit the stereotypical house of a young, black male who was recently released from jail. As it turned-out, the house was that of his girlfriend. She, Nicole, answered the door, and to my question about whether or not Sammy lived there, she replied that he did. After I learned that she was his girlfriend, I told her that both she and Sammy needed to come to the clinic. Suddenly, Nicole’s face changed from a look of curiosity to one of fear. Then, just as suddenly, she recognized me. She said, “You came to my school and did a talk on STDs. You’re from Maricopa….”
Nicole recognized me from the presentation I conducted at her school, The Center for Xxxxx, where my wife was serving her internship for the BSW program as ASU. Nicole remembered the pictures of syphilis and gonorrhea. The realization of who I was and what I represented slowly spread across her face. She assured me that she and Sammy would be to the clinic that day, and they were. Nicole ended-up having the infection and was treated the same day. Sammy ended-up being the dog, having at least two other sex partners, completely unbeknownst to Nicole.
It’s now March 28, 1997, and I’m just now finishing this entry. Nicole didn’t return to The Center for Xxxxx until just last week. Five months have passed since she was there, working on her GED so she could become independent of her family’s support and get a job on her own. Nicole never mentioned anything to my wife about that afternoon in November, she did, however, ask her to tell me “thank you.” For several weeks after Nicole failed to return to The Center, my wife and I occasionally discussed the situation. I had resolved to go past the house and check-in on her under the guise of follow-up for the syphilis. I never made it to the house, and further, don’t know if that would have been a good thing to do or not. Maybe things would have been too difficult for her in the face to face encounter that would have occurred in her doorway or in the front yard of her house. At any rate, she is back in school and it’s almost time for me to get back to The Center for another STD presentation. “Thank you” is a small reward, but in this job, it is often everything that we can hope for. A few times in my almost eight years here with the county, a patient has ended-up dead, sliced to bits and tossed into a garbage dumpster after finding-out she had something and subsequently telling someone else of her situation. I will take the “thank you” any day. It means more to both Nicole and me than words can really describe. Not that I thrive on the appreciation of my clients, it just doesn’t come often, and is, therefore, a real reward. Thank you, Nicole.
Here we go again….
April 4, 1997 – I went to Estrella Jail this morning to talk with two syphilis cases. I found there, two very different, yet similar, individuals. Mary Lou, who my partner, Sylvia, knows as “Lulu,” is 40yo and has been prostituting for 27 years. She started this mess when she was 13yo. Mary Lou was either kicked-out of the house or simply left at that age and started dancing at one of the clubs in town. She said that she carried herself like a woman and convinced the manager that she was really 22yo. He never asked for her ID. Mary Lou said that as she was dancing, some of the guys would talk about how they wanted to do things with her. She said, “That’s fine, but if you want to fuck me, you’re going to pay for it.” That began her 28 year career as a prostitute in Phoenix. She said that she is ready to retire, though. She is just waiting for that golden watch so she can quit in style. Mary Lou is very straight-forward, a characteristic which Sylvia says has always been hers. They know each other from childhood. Sylvia said that Lulu had always been the black-sheep of the family, her sisters would have relations with several people on the side, but Lulu would at least charge for it. This lady said that it is too dangerous to be on the street anymore. When she first started, a girl could go out on the street and within just a few hours, make about two hundred dollars and there was nothing to worry about. There were no beatings and no worry that one of the dates would turn bad and kill you. Now, she says, the money isn’t very good because there are so many girls on crack who will get fucked or suck someone’s dick for five or ten dollars, sometimes even less. And now, too, you have to worry about AIDS. In the old days, the worst thing around was herpes. Syphilis and gonorrhea could always be cured, but not herpes, and now, not AIDS. So, Mary Lou wants to retire and move up to Globe and get a job, something she’s never had, maybe working at “Jack in the Crack,” she says. Mary Lou is about five-five or six, weighs probably 155 or 165, big-breasted and flat-bottomed. Her mouth is foul and full of the street. She and I are both surprised that she has lived so long. When I asked if she had any children, she said no, “He (looking upward) has taken care of that.” She has had two miscarriages and one tubal pregnancy. Mary Lou said that He knew what her life was like and took care not to allow her to have any kids. That throws a twist into my picture of what God does and doesn’t allow. I know another lady of the street, Von, AKA: Lepizia, who is my age and has eight children; had nine, she said. Being only thirty-five with her oldest child turning 21 this year means that Von had her first baby when she was 14yo. What does God allow and disallow? Who can tell?
Anyway, Lulu is looking to change her life, and that is good, we agreed. She has been smoking cocaine, pot, crack, and all other types of things for these many years. Her mind seems to be all there. The whole time we were talking, Lulu was hitting on me, asking if I was married, telling me that I looked fine. She is a character who, in herself, is a whole book. She said she is going to look me up when she gets out of jail in June. I told her that she, Sylvia, and I could sit and talk for a while.
The next person I talked with at the jail today was a 20yo Hispanic girl named Martha. After talking with Lulu and having a pleasant time, it appeared that things would be different with Martha. She seemed sullen and removed, almost business-like when I began telling her why I was there, explaining her test results, etc. She appeared to be the “typical” hard-nosed Chicana from the street. Her eyes had the dark underlining that is common with some of the Hispanic girls. Martha’s eyes were also beautiful, very dark, almost black. She was missing her top front four teeth, which, I later learned, were lost in a car accident that she had when she was high on crack. Only a steel cable had prevented her car from falling from the overpass at Van Buren Street and the freeway. As it was, Martha lost those teeth and cut a big gash in her right eyebrow. The doctors told her that she was in a coma for seven hours following the accident. When I asked Martha how long she had been prostituting, she told me that she started when she was 14yo, so that has been six years. I also asked Martha why she started selling herself and she explained that an aunt had given her a hit from a crack pipe when she was 13yo and she had to have it from then on. So the prostitution was a way of “earning” the money to buy the crack. Where was Mom at this point, or Dad, or anyone else who could have made a difference? Mom left her when she was six years old and she was sent to live with her grandparents in Payson. Martha explained that she had two different sides of her family. One, she described as living off of food-stamps and welfare, the others were very well-off. Her grandfather or uncle, I forget which, is a judge and is living very well. These are the grandparents with whom she lived after her mom dumped her and ran off with a boyfriend and Martha’s older sister. What does that tell a child, Mom ran off with sister and not you? Well, her mom came back when she was 11yo, and deciding that she was old enough to “wipe her own ass,” as a friend put it to me, she took her with her, back into whatever life she had carved for herself. This became the introduction into the life which she herself now lived, but being of her own mind, having a brain of her own, she said, she is responsible for everything that happens in her own life. Nothing that has happened to her is anyone’s fault but her own, she said. I countered that with the responsibility that her parents, mom or whomever had to her when she was only 13 and 14yo, should have prevented half of the shit that happened to her. Well, she responded, she was witness to her mother’s boyfriend killing her mother’s brother when she was only 11yo. She was the only witness and ended-up testifying against the boyfriend. The mother then hated her, accusing her of trying to ruin her life by taking away her man, rather, having him put away. If this isn’t enough for one person to endure, two years later, Martha watched yet another boyfriend of Mom stab a man and woman to death who were tied into their chairs. Where is God, I wondered? I like angels and have thought that they truly exist, but in situations like this, I begin to wonder if I am not mistaken and there really are no celestial beings whose jobs it is to protect the innocent lives. I am beginning to feel strongly that my wife is correct when she says that there is no God. What loving God could allow this shit to happen? Tell me, Child of God, where is He? Martha spent five months in the state hospital for “crazy” people. “Those people were really fuckin’ weird, talking to themselves all day.” She said that she uses the crack so she doesn’t have to think. I can’t blame her. I asked her what she was going to do when she gets out in August, the day after my birthday, and she said that she doesn’t know. I said that she had been here for two months already and she hadn’t yet figured it out? She said that her mind is just now beginning to get straight. Martha said she was so sick from the drugs that she was down to 112 pounds. She is five-feet eight-inches tall…and she was down to 112lbs. She said that she has gained about 40 pounds since being locked-up and eating three times a day. She wants to go back to the street because she is more comfortable there. “People baby me,” she said. Everything she needs is there and it is exciting. She would go stay with her grandparents, but it is too boring up there. Her grandfather did promise her, though, that if she stayed there for a little while, he would pay to get her teeth replaced, so she is considering that heavily. As I sat there listening to Martha tell me things that had nothing to do with my syphilis investigation, I couldn’t help but just stare into her eyes, realizing how absolutely beautiful she is. It is such a fucking shame that her life has come to this. I know it isn’t over, by far, but where is it going? She graduated from eighth-grade in Adobe Mountain, the state facility for juveniles. She has never had a job and she has a two year old daughter who lives with the biological father. When I was questioning Martha about the one steady contact that she has, a somewhat, but not really, boyfriend, she said that she knows he loves her, and she even admits to herself that she loves him, but she refuses to tell him. She said that if she did let him know in words that she loves him, that is when things would fall apart. I suggested that this might be something that she really needs, to be loved and to love somebody back. Martha agreed, hesitantly, but confessed that it is something that she doesn’t want to do. She added that her boyfriend is probably the best thing for her, but he is too nice to her and she wants someone to keep her in her place. Not someone who is going to be mean to her, mind you, but someone who is more assertive than she is. She says that he’s always kissin’ her ass, trying to make her happy. When I asked if something was wrong with that, she said that she didn’t know, but she probably should try to be with him. The interview ended with her thanking me for making sure she doesn’t get any more shots in the ass, as the nurses had planned, and me wondering what was going to befall this beautiful young girl. Life sure is fucked-up sometimes.
The patients were unremarkable on that particular day, July 17, 1996; however, there was one older man who we treated for secondary syphilis that might be worth mentioning. He was roughly fifty years old and lived around 15th Avenue and Tonto. When describing the situation of his meetings with the unknown people with whom he had sex, he said that it is similar to being thirsty in the middle of the night and going to the refrigerator for a glass of milk. It was that simple. He just goes out to the street, finds some female walking past and asks if she’s interested in having sex. Of course, there are a few dollars that must change hands, and given that this wasn’t one of the more posh districts of town, there were literally only a “few” dollars that must be exchanged. The prostitutes in this part of Phoenix did not require much in exchange for their wares, five to ten dollars, sometimes as much as twenty dollars, was all that one must have to find a willing sex partner on or near West Buckeye Road. Any amount would help them get what they needed in the way of rock cocaine. With the fee paid, they got down to business. They cleared a spot on the alley floor, consummated the act, redressed, and went about their respective ways; the woman continued down the sidewalk and the older man turned the corner and walked back to his house. Free enterprise, supply and demand, capitalism at its finest. Thirsty for a glass of milk in the middle of the night….
I happened upon two viejitos today. A former gangster in knee length “Dickies,” also wearing his telltale sweat-rimmed straw hat. A rock pipe was recently put away and the cigarette in his nervous hand twisted and rolled with a life not its own. Surging varicosed veins edged nearer the outside of his moreno skin. “Ay, bueno Senor. Estoy buscando a un hombre que se llama ‘Jessie.” Una persona me dice que El vive aqui. Conoce el Senor Jesse? Es Usted, no?” My source had been right as rain, jellied as jam. And correct. Then came his friend, Victoria, la otra querida de la pacienta original. She shares needles and sex with the original patient, Sylvia. The two, lovers and needle partners times seven years, also take their wares into town to sell on the street. Anything to get that extra bit of rock or heroin. Anything. Stifle life and ruin hope. Cease the smile. Encourage no light thought. It is gone. Recapture love and affection. Effect. Affect. El otro Viejo fue en un otro lugar, hablando con una Negrita, si, una prostituta, con quien el tuvo sexo anoche. This man was much darker-skinned than the other and wore the style of clothes often seen on an older Mexican man living in this country – dark tan work-pants and a shirt of matching color. Bare-footed, he followed me into the yard where we could talk out of ear-shot of the young, black woman sitting on the couch in his “living-room.” Proudly displaying the lengthwise scar in the center of his chest and the other scar that divided his right calf, the old man denied suffering from any malady other than the ones which had delivered his proud scars. He, too, lived exactly where Sylvia had told me that he could be found. In the projects behind the Edgewater Apartments, “It’s right there off the road, number twenty, and it has a black screen door covering the regular one. You can’t miss it.” And, so, I didn’t. I found his hovel, his nest, which smelled like unwashed hair and cigarettes. I found his home. Home. Where the heart is. Sweet home. The place like no other, adorned in reflection of the lives therein, or gone.