Today could have been a day as bad as yesterday, only it was worse. All week I'd felt like I was inside a blender that someone had deliberately stuck on HIGH, then walked away. Today was something so backwards that I couldn't wrap my mind around it, which made my brain hurt and my sense of humor break into brittle pieces. Today was the day Rebecca was scheduled to move from her apartment back into homelessness. She had arrived from the street (under a bridge, actually), slept in a bed for six months, and was now headed back to the street, but only after everything had been packed in boxes in a weird reverse motion, and shoved into a 5" x 10" storage rental unit which promised the first month free, but lied.
The day hadn't started well. When I arrived at 8:30, Rebecca was passed out on the living room floor and had peed her pants. It was the same situation as yesterday afternoon, only today she had on shorts. An empty vodka liter lay beside her 98 lb. frame. One of the two movers I'd pulled from nowhere had vanished back to nowhere, and the other guy was scurrying between apartments, looking for someone to help. I'd found the truck after 20 phone calls and a few prayers, and had to return it by 2 p.m. Rebecca's friend Sharon had sprayed every inch of the stove with Easy-Off yesterday and I'd defrosted the fridge and washed the crispers and the racks, so we were good there. But there was an awful lot left to finish, much less to move.
Curtis found another helper and I promised the new guy a check for $40 once the move was complete. The two men started strategizing about which heavy things should go first, and by now Rebecca was sitting up, propped against a chair, her eyes glazed. I handed her the cleanser and a sponge, asking her to start cleaning the tub and sink and toilet. Her head lolled, though I knew her intentions were good; sweet girl. I took the cleaning materials and headed to the bathroom, emerging a half hour later after washing the floor and backing out from the bathroom on my knees.
By noon Rebecca had sobered up enough to help me carry four boxes of food upstairs to donate to her friend in apartment #10. The guys and I had made one trip to the storage unit and even though I disagreed about the way they put the mattress and box spring in, I let them do it, as it would be evident something would have to change with the second and last truck-load yet to fit inside the locker.
Between truckloads, Curtis decided to shower, and I was nervous about our timing in meeting the landlady at 1 p.m. Time had suddenly stalled and slowed down, and Michael sat on top of the truck overlooking boxes and pillows, unconcerned. I called the landlady to say we'd probably be a half hour late.
Curtis and Michael were also homeless. Curtis lived outside, and had made it his recent mission to take care of Rebecca. Their relationship wasn't sexual, but he was her protector -- a common thing wanted and needed for a homeless woman on the streets. Michael lived at Murphy's Shelter, and was hoping for an opening in a new Lutheran Arms building.
I vacuumed the rest of the rooms while the last boxes were carried out. Rebecca was more alert now, and helped as she could. I imagined her back under the Dunwoody Bridge and just as quickly, backed away from that thought.
The guys and I brought the last haul to Public Storage. The box containing pots and pans came apart, and Curtis taped it back up again. The last thing I saw was soiled pink towels, a roll of toilet paper, a pepper grinder, and a frayed 1st grade picture of Rebecca's son.
After that, we returned to give the landlady the keys. I went in to meet Linda; the guys waited outside. Linda was pretty gracious for a property owner, and praised Rebecca's cleaning efforts. She told Rebecca that she wasn't mad at her; that she liked her music, and felt bad about having to put her out. They talked about Rebecca's abusive boyfriend Leonard having stayed there, and how that was a lease violation, especially after Leonard's two arrests where he gave his home address as Rebecca's apartment.
Just after Rebecca received her third lease violation (the current grounds for eviction), Rebecca's toilet backed up and overflowed. She was afraid to call the landlady because of the lease violation. She mopped up the floor and left for two days, thinking the leak had been solved -- total inexperience, total ignorance. When she returned, over $22,000 damage had been done from the deluge to the apartment below. It was all too much.
I needed to return the truck, to give Rebecca a ride somewhere, and to also drop Michael and Curtis. Beyond the rigors of the day, I was caught in a psychological whirlwind of backwardness. My job was to house people, not to spin them back into homelessness. For every inch of gladness I'd known in taking someone out of homelessness and into their very own apartment, this grated.
We dropped the truck and got my car. I swung by the office to get Michael a check. It was another 85-degree August day when I dropped Rebecca and the guys at Mary Jo's to get blankets. They were headed toward Dunwoody, toward that bridge and the woods.
Ethna McKiernan is author of three books of poems, the most recent of which is Sky Thick With Fireflies (Salmon Poetry, Ireland).