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Patty and I agreed we needed a drink, even though it was now the middle of the night, hours after all the drama. We’d gone with Yolanda to the hospital, and the police agreed to keep watch on her for the night, and transfer her to another shelter across the bay in the morning, off the turf of her so-called friends. We knew we’d be at it first thing tomorrow, making sure they did what they promised, but for now, we were both wrung out and needed to decompress.
Patty invited me to her place, which turned out to be not too far from my own. But where my place looked and felt a little like a refugee camp, hers was cozy and warm, simple and clean, with bright colored cushions and soft lights. I wanted to cry, just walking in there.
She poured us each a glass of wine, set out some munchies, cheese, apple slices, actual healthy food she had in her fridge. I didn’t have munchies at my house. I was lucky to have a spoonful left at the bottom of the peanut butter jar.
Sitting there, feeling that cocoon of warmth creep up, the impact of the day began to hit me. I felt something coming over me, reaction, I’m sure. Just sitting there, trying to keep a grip, telling myself I was not going to lose control, not there, not then, not in front of this woman I barely knew.
But there it was. I started to shake, just a little, then so badly I set my glass, down lest I spill wine all over her sofa. I tried to staunch the onslaught of emotions, only vaguely aware that it was much more than the evening’s events rising up. I choked back ragged breaths; all at once there was this ferocious, uncontrollable anger, at Yolanda’s asshole boyfriend/rapist, all of those animals who’d done this to her. Anger even at Yolanda, for having agreed to it all, for having chosen that life. Anger at myself for being no better, no stronger, no less stupid than she. Anger at Dale, anger like I hadn’t let myself feel in all this time.
And grief, grief that was eating me away from the inside out, grief for everything I’d lost, everything I had never fucking found.
And here I was, in this woman’s apartment, falling apart. I felt panicky, like I had to get out of there, right that moment. I might have bolted, but something deep inside me was so much more afraid of the dark and the cold outside.
Patty just sat there, as if people fell apart in her living room all the time. She seemed almost oblivious, in a way as if she was lost in her own thoughts, but occasionally, she would meet my eyes, and give me a smile that was so… radiant, compassionate, non-judgmental. I’d seen her that way with clients, even the grittiest, most problematic ones, borderline mentally ill, women off the streets, reeking of whiskey and their own unwashed bodies. I never thought I’d need that tranquil, accepting manner myself. I never really considered that her loving aura might be more than a superficial act.
She let me sit there and hyperventilate, didn’t try to comfort me or hug me or anything, and the wave kind of washed on over me, leaving me with an emptiness that was almost more terrifying than the anger.
I seem to recall looking over at her, aware that the pain and emptiness must show on my face.
And then finally, she slowly started to talk, in that same plain-spoken way she’d used with the gangbanger. I didn’t know anything about her, her background, her education. She had a reputation for getting things done, for not adding to the over-supply of drama around the Center, and, unlike some of the other staff, she didn’t try to fancy things up with a lot of social work terms. Now, she talked simply but openly about her own search for meaning, her own floundering efforts to make sense of life, about some of the things she’d been through herself, the sister who’d been raped and beaten. She talked about finding her “path”, her “teacher”. She even laughed and sounded, well, like me, saying how she never believed in all that guru stuff, how this was… different.
For some weird reason, the usual objections and arguments didn’t leap to my tongue. For some reason, I felt her words almost physically washing over me. I felt this beautiful state of… peace.
This odd image came to me: I wanted to save her words in a bucket, so I could hear them again later, because for the moment all I could do was feel this… calm, peaceful understanding that was somehow beyond words. I wanted to remember her words, but at the moment, there was something more filling the room, leaving little space for anything else.
And I felt the hunger come back. Only, for the first time, the hunger had a focus. It wasn’t just that I wanted that indefinable “something” that was always just beyond my grasp, beyond my ken.
It was that I wanted… this.
I took a couple of books home, written by Patty’s teacher, her guru. That still sounded so woo woo to me. But I took the books, and read them, devoured them, over the next days.
And within a week, I packed up all the other New Age stuff I’d collected during my own search. Nothing in them held up to the wholeness, the pristine rigor that came across through these new writings. I hauled it all to the used bookstore. I knew I’d found what I was looking for.