Stained glass window detail, Quarrington church

From My Window: All Is Not Quiet. Survivor’s Guilt. Fear of Being Outside Again.

After days of unseasonably hot weather, we are back to fog and even a little very welcome rain. The regular sounds of traffic are augmented by that wet swish of fast tires against wet roads. I had to pull the heater back out of the cupboard, and sat huddling under the blankets last night, fighting with a now unwieldy number of words. I cut characters like I was some tyrant Goddess, taking out people that I didn’t like very much, ruthlessly snipped out paragraphs, and am now sitting with a half pruned manuscript that is waiting to be finished, and I like myself a little better. There is something about removing words that feels good, something about cleaning up a room or a text that is immensely satisfying. There is some dirt that cannot be cleaned, some narrative that cannot be satisfyingly polished. There is some filth, that no matter how many showers I take, that does not come off under the bubbly attention of soap and hot water. Some things are doomed to remain sullied.

The streets outside are so irredeemably dirty that the rain is as much a public health service, as it is a welcome addition to reservoirs and the water table. I love this City. It is not nearly as much in trouble as some of the more prissy residents like to paint it out to be, or seemingly, the entire population of places like Texas who exist partially, it would seem, to hate California, and wish we would fall into the ocean. I never understand people who wish a devastating quake on this beautiful State, and hope that innocent people die, and the land mass break off to drift apart from the contiguous United States. It seems unAmerican to me to wish suffering and death on an entire state just because we swing blue and are more progressive in our attitudes. San Francisco is partly made up from refugees from less unenlightened states, who run away from homophobia and towards the welcoming arms of San Francisco. We don’t do loud religion, our churches are too busy helping people for the most part. I am not saying that we are perfectly welcoming – my child was not welcomed into the school system or the social life of the city, due to our status, but overall, it is a more inviting and inclusive place than most. Besides he is blissfully happy at school now, has wonderful caring teachers, and doing so well, I can’t help but feel everything worked out for the best. I feel safer and more included here than anywhere else I have been or lived in the United States. We are truly a melting pot, even if the summer of love has gone, and we have our divisions and problems and sometimes violent outbursts, the general arc of the San Francisco rainbow leans towards unity, and that is a good thing.

This feels like a city that is open to change, open to being told when it is being hurtful, or damaging or doing things wrong. I suppose those that wish us ill tend to live in places where censure and violence, petty bullying and isolation of those who don’t fit the states idea of the ideal citizen is the way they roll. Judgement and hostility is the name of the game, and I never could understand it. I love America, despite the problems and faults in our society. I can only hope America doesn’t hate me and mine in return.

Outside it is wet and cold. I know how miserable it is to be out there with nowhere to go. In a tent it is almost unbearable long term. Everything gets wet, everything gets blown loose, and it is noisy and dank and airless. In a camper it is not much better, at least not in the old rust bucket, whose roof leaked so badly we were drier in a tent. The sound of rain on a tin roof always haunts me. It is spectacularly loud. The feet of crows in the morning and the sound of rain on metal hammering out an aggressive constant tripping beat used to torture me. You can’t hear yourself talk, let alone think. If the wet sleeping bag doesn’t wake you up, the sound of rain and crows will. Or else some man with a bad attitude and a badge on his chest will knock loudly on the door. Real bad news scary cop knock…and demand that you move on immediately, asking for papers and reasons for existing where you are when you are how you are. They never accept that you do not have a choice. They never understand that people have to put their feet somewhere upon this earth and we were tired and stopped in the wide open empty parking lot just for a few hours sleep. It is always move on and move on and move on again.

People never realize or want to understand that people need to sleep. They need to stop moving. They want the homeless to keep on going and never rest. No one wants the unhoused in their town, but the simple fact of reality is, that people need to be somewhere, they need to rest their bodies somewhere, they cannot disappear, and have the right to exist, and if society doesn’t want to offer them housing that is not congregate, and that is possible long term, then their only option is a tent or a vehicle or a piece of cardboard and a sleeping bag on the sidewalk or a roof. People just want to live.

I have survivors guilt. I feel guilty that I am dry. I feel guilty that I survived where others did not. I feel guilty that I am happy most of the time. I feel guilty that I am sitting here on my bed with the clean flowery bedspread and the pristine pillows that are not black with mold, and not in a campground somewhere even wetter than this, watching the lake flood and the ducks swim past my window. I feel guilty that if I am cold I can switch on the heat. I feel guilty for every breath I take. I feel guilty that it is just me and my son. I feel terribly horribly guilty that I can’t save anyone else. I feel guilty that I am fed and my clothes are clean and that I no longer stink like someone without access to a shower, that has bathed in a bucket of tepid water for six months. I feel guilty that I know that I am too old to handle it again, but don’t see much hope for my long term future, at least not right now.

I need to stay inside. I never will need any more than I have now, this is more than enough for me, but to keep this going is $2000 a month in rent which has to be paid on September 1st. To be frank, when the shelter were finding housing they should have got me a rent controlled, low cost apartment somewhere, not a private landlord at market prices. I am not ungrateful, I am just terrified of being unhoused again, because next time, I don’t see how I can keep my son with me. He is getting older, he needs to go to school. I have given up so very much just to stay together, and I am terrified that I cannot make it last. I need him. He needs me, but he needs a future more. I don’t know if I am staring down the barrel of the endgame, finally taken out by capitalism, or if I will live to fight another day, manage to make it as a writer before the clocks ticks over to the day I have to pay for my shelter, and I will survive to keep on being his mother.

That is the terrible thing they never tell you when you have a child: that you can stop being a mother. All this kindly meant words of ‘you will always be their ma’ mean nothing when they are gone. Nothing. All those sweet days of total sacrifice get screwed up into a small ball rolled in the mud and thrown into the trash. They become meaningless. All that time given up. All that love. All that pain and suffering and devotion. Meaningless. It disappears into the ether and it is as if it never existed. I have one child, and I am desperate to keep him.

I want to be an old grandma, set in a chair, watching my grandchildren play by a lake, camping with my family for fun, not necessity. I want a good dog to pat on the head and keep me company while they have their own lives. I want to write and be impossible. I want to be loved and sometimes feared. I want to be together. Looking at the possible futures feels like a peering over a precipice. One path is freedom and happiness. The other is a sad early end. I don’t think I can take the suspense.

I am exhausted. Not just tired, but down to the bone stupefied with exhaustion. I am so tired I crawled into my bed last night, the Boy looking hopeful for some company to watch a movie, but 10.30 being my limit for the day, and shutting my eyes. He padded over to the bed and kissed me goodnight on the cheek. He didn’t see the tears rolling down my face. My arms felt so empty, so vacant. I felt so totally alone and scared of the future, and furious with the past. I felt dumb and old and lost and isolated. I almost tried to call a friend, but time differences are also awful things. There is no one who wants to be bothered with my tears at 5am. I need to sleep for a week, I think, but I don’t dare. The world feels like it will disintegrate in my hands if I don’t do something, but with each day that passes I get tireder and more hopeless.

At least I find comfort in knowing I survived and that I hate myself for it, and love the fact I did in equal measure.

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