Saturday, July 27, 2013

Moebius Hears Confessions on the Street

       The strangest things happen on my way to therapy, as if they were preordained. I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe divinity. One of the great oddities of my life is the feeling that some unseen hand protects and guides me. This is something that has happened at various times in my life; usually during times of adversity. A needed rescue, either physical or financial would arrive just before the zero hour. It seemed miraculous, even if the agent of change was just as down-to-earth as I am. Still, it makes me wonder if guardian angels, even without wings, do exist. 

October 3rd 2012. 
I had some spare time before my session with Julie (my therapist). I decided to wander a bit, and kill some time. Her office is located in a part of town that’s happening. It’s full of shops, restaurants, bars, and even several tattoo parlors. It reminds me so much of the Mission in San Francisco, that I just can’t resist its pull. I often take brief rambles either before, or after a session. I use it as a chance to explore, and see what new venues I’d like to try out. 
During one of these rambles, I heard a soft, feminine voice over my shoulder. I turned around, and saw a young woman. She was begging for change. She had a slight punk rock vibe about her. She wore vintage flair trousers and tank top, both colored aqua teal. She wore a short-brimmed hat, a painter’s cap. She completed the ensemble with laced-up combat boots. Her eyes were a bright shade of blue, and sparkled like rhinestones. Her hair was black, parted to the side, and cut in a tomboy style; short, but feminine. She was what my LGBT friends would call, a soft butch. She was actually quite pretty. Her body was slender and graceful, but she had all the qualities of a girl who preferred baseball over Barbie dolls. Needless to say, she warmed up to me quickly.      

All she asked for was a quarter, but I gave a few dollars. I started to walk away, but then stopped. I felt that something else needed to be said, or heard. I had a feeling that I couldn’t just walk away--I was right. The girl, who introduced herself as Mindy, began to walk with me. This put me in a unique position. I’ve had conversations with complete strangers before, but this was different. It wasn’t the usual small talk about weather, or traffic, the usual gap fillers. Instead, she began to open up about her life. 

  I’ve often said that I’m the one hears the confessions of everyone. I often joke that, “I could have been a priest, except for the celibacy thing. I don’t think I could handle that.” 

I’ve been privy to the sins, past history, and concerns of everyone I encounter. It used to bother me, because I didn’t feel I was equipped to hear it all. But this conversation changed that for me. I don’t mind as much, when it’s someone who really needs to open up. And this girl needed to open up. 

Right away, she told me that she was homeless. 

“I’d been workin’ this job, like, cleaning offices and stuff. And, like, they cut back when, like, the company folded. So, like, I was out of a job. I lost my apartment.” she said. 

She then added, “You know the people downtown are rude. They don’t give change or nothing. I’ve had better luck here.” 

I told her that I’d been homeless once as well. 

“It’s hard to make it on minimum wage.” I said. “When I lived in San Francisco, ten dollars an hour didn’t cut it.” 

“You were making ten dollars an hour!” Mindy exclaimed. 

“Yeah, but that’s about average in California.” 

“Dude, that must have been so expensive! Pardon my language.” 

She smiled a bit, and then chuckled. 

“It’s ok,” I said. “It is expensive, but it was a learning experience for me. I learned a lot about myself.” 

Mind then continued to tell me more about her story. 

“My mom died about three months ago. I was living with her after I lost my apartment. But my brother didn’t want me living there after she died.” 

“Why is that?” I asked. 

“He didn’t like me and my girlfriend living there. I’ve been with her for eight years. We lived together that whole time. And, like, my mom was cool with me being gay. But, like, my brother got all p*ssed about it.”

Stories of homeless LGBT youth are more common these days than not. Sometimes, they are turned out of their homes. Other times, they are runaways, looking to escape abuse. There are organizations that help, but not many; especially outside of areas with large LGBT populations. 

“Do you have somewhere to stay?” I asked. 

“Yeah, I been stayin’ in a shelter. It’s hard, dude. I been lookin’ for a job, but without a cell phone, an address, or anything it’s hard. I can stay in the shelter at night, but they kick me out in the day time.” 

At this point, we’d come to small playground. It was so different from the ones I knew as a kid. There were no woodchips and dirt under our feet. Instead, the ground was covered in this orange, rubbery substance. It was like astro-turf for kids. Perhaps the whole playground was sponsored by Nerf? It was empty, the sun was out, and the air was fresh. This was just as good a place as any to hear confession. I sat on a swing, and Mindy joined me. Together, we swung in tandem, side by side. All the while, her narrative continued. 

“I been with her for eight years. She stabbed me in the back! She left me for some skank.” Mindy said. “I loved her for a long time, man. I don’t know someone can just walk away from that.”

All the while, I listened more than I spoke. I heard the story of someone who no one would have listened to before. I offered the occasional word of comfort. At no point was there judgment in my voice. Frankly, I feel that judgment is more so the self-appointed judge feels superior. It doesn’t help the judged. I knew then that Mindy needed someone to listen to her. She had enough of people telling her what to think. 

At last, her narrative came to a close. She asked me what I was up to next. I was honest, and told her, “I’m going to therapy in a little bit.” 

She then offered me some booze from her backpack, which I politely declined. I always go into therapy sober, honestly (just in case my therapist sees this).  

I did asked, “Will be you be around here tomorrow?” 

“I might be,” Mindy said. “I’m sure I’ll see you around.” 

I shook her hand, and then said, “Good luck.” 

I had offered to buy her lunch, but she said, “That’s cool, man, but I gotta hit downtown.” 

That was the last I’d seen of her. I sometimes wonder if I’ll bump into her again. I just hope that she didn’t become one of the nameless, faceless statistics. Those are the people who are never seen, never heard, but referred to as casualties. The world doesn’t do much for them. It could, but most people assume that it’s somebody else’s problem. Much like the invisible S.E.P. field in Douglas Adams’ fiction, it blocks out the obvious.* 

I don’t want to get political here, so I’ll move on. 

I went to my session that day, and recounted the whole conversation to my therapist. 

Her response was, “You were there for this person in that moment. She needed you to listen, and you did.” 

“It was by random chance.” I remarked. 

“Maybe it was,” Julie said. “Maybe it needed to happen.” 

There are no absolute answers, but it did seem planned in a way. I would never have met Mindy, or heard her story, if I’d not arrived so early.  

A week after that, I helped a man at a bus stop. He’d fallen over, and spilled a thick wad of green cash all over the street. It was a bundle that consisted of twenties, tens, fives, and singles. It was an overcast autumn day, with a strong wind that scattered his money like confetti. I helped him pick up each bill, and then handed it all to him. 

All the while, the man said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I should know better than to do this.” 

I said to him, “It’s ok, man. It happens.” 

He was a ragged man; unshaven, odorous, and clad in old, unwashed denim. There was dirt on his arms and face. But I wasn’t revolted by him. Instead, I helped him gather up his money. I made sure he had it all too. A moment later, the bus pulled up, and he disappeared. I haven’t seen him since. 

Another odd coincidence happened today (July 26th 2013). 

I shared some of my writing with Julie. It was a piece that mentioned the Moebius Strip; a lopsided symbol of infinity. She then made reference to it when making a point about something we‘d discussed. After I left my session, I went to the movies. 

Afterwards, as I walked downtown, I saw a young couple in front of me. They were a young man and woman, respectively. The young woman was blonde, built gracefully, and wore a black spaghetti-strap dress. Her hair was up, as it was a hot day. And I could see on her back an infinity symbol tattoo! I couldn’t believe it. I nearly took out my cell phone to take a picture of her, just to prove it was real. I then realized how rude this might be. But there it was, in the naturally tanned skin of a miniature blonde. 
I also saw the famous “feather” symbol from the Led Zeppelin IV album cover spine (this symbol denotes Robert Plant…I am a feather in the wind.) Alright, maybe I was supposed to listen to Led Zeppelin that evening? But what are the odds of the infinity tattoo prominently displayed above it? 

I came home that evening, and checked my mail box. I had received only two bits of mail. One was a financial aid award letter, which informed me I was eligible for student loans. Another was a request for a paycheck from my previous employer. My old job still owed me money. The former was something that my therapist and I had discussed; whether I should take out more loans to pay for college.  

I wonder if I should rub my therapist’s head for good luck. She might be ok with that. As for keeping a therapist’s foot as a good luck charm, that might get dicey. The point I want to make here is this: anytime I feel that I’ve lost direction, something comes up. It proves to me, anecdotally, that something is out there. Atheists will think I’m fooling myself, but so be it. Coincidences stop being coincidences when they keep happing to you. 

And so, I sit here, and wait for the next time God says, “See, I told you not to worry.”     

*See Life, The Universe, and Everything. The third novel in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series. The S.E.P., or Somebody Else’s Problem field, is a major plot device. It’s a spoof on the concept of a “cloaking device.” 

Copyright Riley Joyce 2013 


Sunday, July 21, 2013


      My niece Miranda is blue-eyed, brown-haired, and about seven pounds (as of writing). She sleeps a lot, cries when needed, and then passes out again. She likes powdered formula, being held, and her binky. She’s adorable, and still has that new baby scent. I never would have guessed that I’d love someone at first sight. Or, that I’d love someone who belches like a trucker. We all have our quirks. 

It’s been twenty odd years since I last held a baby. I thought I’d forget how to do it. But the second that her mother handed her to me, it all came back. Holding her was practically instinctual. Just as baby’s know how to smile and kiss without being taught. There are some things that are built into us, and cannot be excised; no matter how confusing the world becomes.  

Miranda opened her azure eyes, and then yawned. I kissed her on the forehead, and then the hand. She cried soon after, but I didn’t mind. I knew that this was her way of reaching out. She can’t form words yet, and so cries and coos take their place. She calmed down after being changed. That was all she needed; new nappies. And then I held her again later on. 

While I held Miranda for a second time, I noticed that she had this habit of stretching out, similar to a cat. She’d stir and yawn a bit, but soon subside. 

I told my therapist about this experience, and she said, “You know, you were that small once.” 

I hadn’t thought about that. Of course we were all that small once, but it just didn’t register at first. Yet there I was, in that moment, holding Miranda. I had no distractions, no thoughts or worries. I could feel the warmth of Miranda in my arms. My eyes were focused on her as she slept. That was all that I needed in that moment. 

I thought later on about how important human contact is to us. We are a species that needs to be social, and tangible. Talking to someone is one thing. Holding them, and feeling a pulse is another. It’s in those moments that the ineffable is given texture. We can’t see the soul, be we can feel it. In scientific terms we could explain why living bodies are warm. But that warmth is connected to an essence in that body. We can’t explain it, we just feel it. We feel it best when close to a loved one. Outside of that, it seems that essence is allusive. 

There she was, little Miranda. She can’t form words yet. She doesn’t know yet the power of words to heal or hurt. She hasn’t learned the power of colors or images. Her eyes are still adjusting to the fresh environment around her. She sees light, but shapes are a bit off to her. She doesn’t know the motion of dance yet. Nor, does she know the scents of lavender, mown grass, or city streets after rain. She’ll learn all of these in time. 

I realized awhile back that life is truly longer than he assume, but it is shorter than we expect. Though I think it’ll be a long road before Miranda reaches these simple milestones, I know it won’t seem long. She’ll know how to hold a crayon in the blink of an eye. You’ll wake up one day, and she’ll know how to read. Soon after that, she’ll know how to drive. Soon after that, she may be a mother herself, if she so chooses. 
As her family, we’re in a unique position to witness this. We can see a life grow before our eyes, like a time-lapse of a flower in bloom. She may not be aware of this blooming, much as the flower is unaware of it. Perhaps she’s find it mushy and silly that we smile and cry at her first bike ride. Or, that her first Christmas or birthday is captured in digital amber. She’ll grow to learn that it’s about the passage of time, and marking that passage. She’ll know that both puberty and gray hairs are not opposites, but just part of growing up. She’ll come to learn the lessons that we all know…and are still learning. 

I asked, “What will she be like when she grows up?” 

Her mother wondered the same thing. 

We can’t predict the outcome of a human life; or what legacy they leave behind. Nor can we predict their opinions, their thoughts, or the things they’ll say. We experience it as they experience it; twenty-six frames a second, twenty-four hours a day, three-hundred and sixty-five days a year…except during a leap year.

I said to her mother, “The world she’ll grow up in will be very different than the world we grew up in.” 

“I know,” she said. “She won’t know what a cassette tape is. Or, how a pencil works with it.” 

“She won’t know a floppy disc, a VHS tape, or a CD.” I remarked. 

I then added, “Well, they still make CD’s. But she’ll never know the simple pleasures of the Twinkie.”

I stand corrected, as the Twinkie has now returned to store shelves. Hopefully, it’ll be for good this time.

So, to return to more philosophical matters…we are born in the middle of everyone else’s story. I was born in the middle of my parents’ story. However, what I didn’t know at the time was that I was born near the end of my grandparent’s story. I couldn’t picture a world without any of the people who were here when I came in. That used to bother me for the ages. Now, I see that I can’t imagine a world without the people who are here now. And I can’t imagine what it would be like without Miranda. She may experience the world without me at some point. But I’ll never experience the world without her. 

And so the children born now will hear the stories of their family members, and carry on those stories. And so the story that began in the middle will have no end. It might even have no beginning, save for when our memories start. That means it’s like one long Mobius strip. 

And if that just didn’t blow your mind. Perhaps you’re on the wrong formula. Try an Infamile blend instead. 

Copyright Riley Joyce 2013 

This photo was taken by Kethry, Miranda's mom. :)

The photo at the top of this post was taken by me.