Everyday I get up and take my clothes to the bathroom. We are incredibly lucky, despite it being a shelter, the full bath is for our sole use, just me and the Boy. Every single day I am grateful for a toilet and shower that is inside. Five years on the road will do that to you…years of public toilets and pay per minute showers in cold dank blocks that during the tourist summer months always seem to have at least one shower stall that someone with a strange fetish has left a giant shit under the bench or on top of a cupboard. I wondered why would they shit and then lift it into a strange place, leaving it curled up like a cat, displayed just beyond sight, but not smell, leaving you to horrified pull on clothes and head for a different cubicle. Why! People are animals.
For almost my entire adult life I have had a horror of being interrupted naked and vulnerable. Shower droplets seem to talk to me in the pitter patter on the plastic. I detest being dirty, showers are luxury, lifeblood, but not without trauma. I get dressed bit by bit. It takes me three or four trips to get completely dressed, removing one piece of clothing at a time, and replacing it with daytime clothes. Off comes the nightshirt, on goes the bra and tee. Go outside the bathroom. Check at the door. Pig isn’t there, I wont be dragged off and raped. I still check even now. Is he there. Don’t want to be caught naked. Head back in. Change jeans, put new undies in my pocket. Now I’m vaguely dressed, at least decent. Check outside again. Safe. Head back, take off jeans, put on undies and jeans as quickly as I can….and so I go..on and on…until I am cleaned, coiffured, teeth brushed and dressed. Showers are rushed. I have the quickest showers in the history of womankind, heart thumping, breath coming in panicked gulps, hurry hurry. It is a panicked flurry of soap and shampoo. I would never be able to sit in a bath for hours. I simply would never feel safe enough to do so.
Showers in campgrounds were sometimes visited by men in the women’s side, sometimes by women who would grumble and complain, and one particularly scary one that did something akin to Tibetan throat singing, managing two simultaneous sounds fighting with herself to the death in there. There was the man who trapped me outside the shower, clearly in some kinda mental breakdown, flashing a knife at me. So we talked. We talked and talked. No one came looking for me. Billy oblivious with his guitar and his notebooks doing more important things. He didn’t wave the knife, it just sat in his hand, passive by his side, demanding I didn’t move. We talked about how he had come up from Tennessee because Oregon had legal weed, and how he saw vibrations, we talked about hummingbirds and his sisters, we talked about the weather and how society didn’t understand him…or want him…and he was living in his car, but hoped to find work soon. I managed to take a step back, careful and deliberate. Eventually I told him I had to go, that I was leaving now. I had just been showering, and people would be worried, my kids would need me. He took a few steps back and stood on a log, “Nice talking to you!” he called after me. Men. Men demanding time, men taking time, men taking because women are smaller, less powerful physically, because we are told to Be Nice from the moment we hit this earth, till the second we leave. No wonder my lesbian sisters are running for the testosterone and mastectomies! Opting out of womanhood, standing closer to the leopards and the lions and away from the gazelles and zebras. I turned my back to the predator, the demander, the dictator of terms with his knife and his dick and his power over my movements, and walked all the way to the corner of the trail in the empty campground, and then ran. I ran in my shower shoes and my terror. I ran in my intimate knowledge of what men can do to women. I ran all the way back into the arms of the kids, crying and gasping, heart rate rising, and of course, immediately dismissed by Billy as it “being nothing.” Hey babe, what goes around comes around, darling…
I spend my life scouring my surroundings for trouble. A yell out of place in the pattern of yells in the alley outside. A look too long in my direction. A person coming towards me with no mask on, staggering with poison in their veins and mind. Compassion does not translate into trust. I KNOW people like these people. I was something a little different – I never stole, I never hassled, I never aggressively begged. I worked, in this way or that, selling what I had to sell – myself – in exchange for what I needed. It goes that way for so many women in those situations. Then in later years, after kids and marriage, I just suffered and went poor and hungry. I look at the news for earthquakes and disasters, diseases and situations, taking note of all the ways the world outside could hurt me, kill me, destroy me and the Boy. Back in early January 2020 I spoke to a friend about this new disease that was killing people in China, she – like any sensible person – dismissed me as worrying too much. By April she was calling me Cassandra. I liked it. I might keep it. I tried it on and twirled around in front of the mirror, but all I saw was death, so I took it off again.
The shelter has been an exercise in controlling my nerves. I hear women being beaten by partners, men getting angry and smashing and yelling. I see things outside that I can’t even describe to you, so as to give my street homeless sisters their privacy and decency. I’ve rushed downstairs grabbing workers yelling they needed to get the cops, that it was bad – just there, just outside the window. “I know. We saw. Nothing we can do.” I refused to accept it, yelling and crying, so eventually one of the people who could help, did. I asked how she was. OK, came the reply, she is ok as she can be.
I wonder if I have to go through life on constant alert. I figure there is no way else to live, because once the world has demonstrated itself dangerous and hostile, to not accept and treat it like it is, is not healing, it’s not learning your lessons, it is plain reckless stupidity, and I’d only have myself to blame if something bad happened with me not on watch. So, beware world, I’m watching. I’m watching for attacks on democracy, for racism, for misogyny, for dangers of all breed and kinds and threats thereof. I’m the watchwoman at the gates, and I’m old and I’ve seen it all, almost all. I’ve been that child abused and ignored when I’ve cried for help and rescue, I’ve been that junkie in the shooting gallery, my boyfriend declaring that all drugs go to him, begging for my shot and having my arm put between frame and door while he slammed it repeatedly both breaking and dislocating it and my wrist, after I had to to ‘work’ for those drugs in the first place…. I’ve been that redeemed young woman, her wings around her babies, protecting them from their own father, and now I am grey and I’m tired, but I won’t be done watching till the day I die.
A new social worker was talking to a room full of women. He pointed at us, one by one. “You are young, you have time…You are young..You…you are a young woman, plenty of time…” He got to me and stopped. He said: “you ..you…are a woman.” and laughed at his own humor. I stood there serene and took note of what he was telling me. little OLD me, huh…Yes, he was saying to me loud and clear that he was an asshole and knew fuck all about me, and I didn’t care to tell him more. Wish me luck, I’m gonna need it.