Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What's Going On

I am great in emergencies. I not only can think of the right thing to do, I can instantly come up with a creative solution particular to that crisis. I have been through serious car wrecks where I was the rescuer, blood stauncher, counselor, and advocate all at once, on the spot. I once found the emergency kill switch on a Sears escalator when a toddler riding on it got his foot caught and mangled in the stair-fold mechanism, holding that child and keeping his mother from hysterics as we waited for the paramedics. (Which is why I avoid escalators now.)

I think much of my skill comes from growing up poor. You face the unfaceable and stay thinking or things go much, much worse for you. I count as my kind the folks from the Cypress Street Projects, one of the poorest and "most dangerous" neighborhoods in Oakland, who poured out of their homes when the 580 freeway beside them collapsed onto itself in the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. They assembled makeshift ladders, ropes, anything they could use to clamber up 30 feet of concrete pillars into the narrow gap where crushed cars filled with screaming people were starting to burn. By the time official first responders were able to find a way to the wreck of a roadway, those folks from the projects had already saved most of the survivors, getting them to relative safety, comforting traumatized children, giving drinks of water, starting to joke about how scared shitless they had been. Nobody took their names or did a news feature on these heros, because they were too poor, too black, some of them too clearly high and pissed off. But I know what they did and how they did it. It was much like any other day, really.

But as well as being a child of my origins, I am also a class traitor. I have sought out and absorbed the intelligent remnants maintained by other classes, I have loved and made allies across the divide, and one thing I have learned is that living in adrenaline mode kills you fast. So when I have a breather, even if it is only ten seconds long, I have tried to take it, make the most of it.

Thus, after the paramedics hauled away that sobbing toddler and his mother from Sears, with her looking beseechingly back at me as if I was part of their family and should be accompanying them, I had to sit down on that Berkeley sidewalk because my legs would no longer hold me up. I sobbed and shivered violently, letting myself feel what I had just witnessed, "processing" as my little brother Bill would say with such intense scorn. Bill who died at 42 because the male raised-poor approach finally ran out of any rope at all.

I began running out of rope myself in 2005, and as resource after resource dried up, I eventually, finally, became hopeless. A few folks hung in there with me, although nobody knew how really bad it was for me. Now the pendulum is swinging the other direction, and I am (tiredly, dutifully) using my out-of-immediate-danger time to face how close to immolation I came. I'd much rather eat sugar and watch Youtube and write cryptic poetry that doesn't pass my own Tell test.

But living to be old means I clean up what I can when I have a chance. And the trail of mess goes all the way back to infancy, to betraying my mama by admitting how she failed me, to betraying my family by telling their nastiest secrets, to facing those of you who are clean and educated and making good choices with the hope that I am worthy of you choosing me, too. Fake it til you make it.

Because sometimes you can't save yourself, and you'll have to say yes to others crawling through the debris to reach you. And you have to love yourself to say yes. Loving yourself is the ultimate revolution. You can't do it and live in fear or isolation.

And, you know me -- I write about it as I go along. Tell until your lips are chapped, that's my credo. Thank you for listening.