On Thursday, our new assistant Victoria joined me inside to write with the monthly mentor/mentee group. Later that evening, she sent a thoroughly touching email about her complex initial impressions. I do not want to say we become inured – although slamming doors eventually do feel less jarring. On the other hand, I hope we never become jaded or forget our shared humanity.
Some women remain slack-jawed and vacant-eyed. Perhaps it’s the drugs, or the bottom line of a hard life. But there are others whose eyes spark alive and in whom hope grows, bit by bit. Even some of those who have massively misstepped again and again begin to awaken over time. This is the magic of our work. This is why I continue to write inside.
What follows are Victoria’s own words to me, shared here with her permission:
“I have just taken the elevator down below the cold crusty earth to one of Dante’s rooms for the lost women in Vermont.”
Was it OK to really be myself inside?
I was a little uncomfortable figuring this out.
I think I was in some type of shock.
I felt rather wowed and OMG’ed by A’s demeanor,
dreams and pains in her body. I had to curb
all my instincts to NOT respond as a massage therapist.
To, in a way, not BE a massage therapist.
When we were on the tour earlier in the day,
we stood by a caged door into a room of women. We saw them
and they saw us, but who was in the cage? I felt we both were.
Our guide didn’t seem to care to talk about them
even though they were right there. Some women went in
and walked near this door all tight lipped
and eyes sharpened.
It felt more like an insane asylum. A bad fluorescent white ‘n blue film
about lost children growing into women’s bodies with no mothers
or teachers or lovers to help them go on vacations and make mistakes
in safe places. I am haunted by the white fluorescent lights
and having to orient myself to think of touching as some type of sin.
It scares me when people’s eyes are so dead or consciously turned off
that they don’t recognize that I am human too, that they can sit and stare
lifelessly as if I didn’t even enter the room.
Culture shock I guess it is. Like entering a war zone I suspect.
I have just taken the elevator down below the cold crusty earth
to one of Dante’s rooms for the lost women in Vermont.
I am fascinated and infuriated by my painful smallness
next to the enormity of this display of human desperation;
still as a stone’s pulse, my memories fresh
creep along the walls in this prison.
Prison. A big word for big problems.
Am I the only one who feels a Darth Vadar presence
behind the dark black one way glass room
that sits like the heart reaching into all
the arteries of this cement painted building?
I see connections between the behaviors of humans
within the rigid institutions humans have also created.
It seems people think they need to be dull,
like playing dead so the predator goes away.
Inside my body was confusion, I didn’t know
where my words were going
as I do ordinarily; in familiar situations, I can sense
when words will hit soft or hard.
But being INSIDE the prison I wasn’t sure even
what the air was made of, no less where my heart
and words would sound like or land.
Who am I inside this place?
Who will I become?
I will not hold their heads or release their muscles.
They’ll keep their hands to themselves
I won’t hold them, and I’ll try not to slam those doors