one time, in 2016 which feels like a whole other lifetime, I was a case manager in San Francisco. I don’t know how to drive, so I spent a lot of time on the bus. I have an energy that kind of draws weird people to me, or maybe I’m just an observer by nature. But I saw this one moment that I really loved–on the 9, hands-down one of the wildest MUNI routes (possibly because it goes to SF General Hospital [which i REFUSE to call its proper name, Z*ck*rberg Hospital, named after a certain wealthy tech mogul who donated a lot of money]). A client of mine called it the “Crazy 9” which I feel encapsulates it nicely, although I try to not over-use the word “crazy,” but he was right.
Anyway, these two women ran into each other on the bus, and they were old friends who clearly hadn’t seen each other in a while. One of them was going on and on about all of the bad things that had happened in the past few years, and I don’t remember exactly what it was and I wouldn’t tell you here even if I did. Honestly, I would have probably forgotten the whole interaction were it not for her companion’s response: she threw her head back and yelled, “YOU CAN’T LET THE MOTHERFUCKERS STEAL YOUR JOY IN LIFE!”
It wasn’t a platitude, wasn’t a “oh, cheer up!” It was a simple truth from a woman who clearly had had a rough life, on a wild bus line in a cruel city. I wrote it in my journal, stamped it out with rubber stamps. I wondered how I’d let the motherfuckers steal my joy in life.
That job really fucked my life up. I spent 11 hours a day either there or commuting, working for an ineffective and corrupt agency, witnessing my clients in intense suffering. I frequently went into apartments festering with blood, shit, and bedbugs. I listened to peoples’ trauma stories and begged their landlords to not evict them for being physically or mentally ill. Nine of my clients died that year. I was a fucking mess.
I spent a lot of my non-work time that year alone in my onesie, drinking tallboys of Budweiser, playing Sims and reading tarot and clutching crystals in some desperate grasp towards safety, towards protection. I would run out of beer and stumble down San Pablo Avenue at midnight to get more, singing to the full moon the whole way, partially because it felt like the most spiritually fulfilling thing to do at the moment and partially so people would leave me alone.
I’d go to work exhausted and sweating out booze. A client, a middle-aged Vietnam vet who didn’t drink anymore, confronted me on a home visit: “I can smell the booze on you,” he sighed. “You’re a nice girl, and I’m sure once you quit you can find a nice man and get married and have some kids. It’s not too late.” I laughed with my queer co-workers about it. He really has my number! He totally gets me! Something about it unsettled me. I already had a nice man and I had no desire to get married or have kids, so I used the inaccuracy of that part of the sentence to highlight the inaccuracy of the other part.
Now I’m 127 days sober and that old life, as painful as it was, sounds deeply appealing. Just being back in the bay, just having my feelings again (I lost em in some of the trauma of 2018 and they have yet to return), just being able to drink again. I hate sobriety, yet I’m at the point in my life where I really can’t do anything else. Just being able to fucking do things, being able to breathe the air, being able to leave town, even if it was just to take public transit for a few hours to see the ocean. It all sounds so great, even though I know that it wasn’t.
You may have heard the West Coast is on fire right now and our air is not exactly high-quality. I’m in a new city and I still don’t know how to drive and I still have to go to work every day (although at the much more forgiving hour of 3pm). Nothing heartwarming or inspiring ever happens on the light rail here. Maybe it does during non-emergency times, but I’ve never lived here during non-emergency times. The light rail is half-full at most. Everyone’s burned out and scared and having a mental health crisis, whether it shows or not.
Bad air quality playlist:
I Wanna Be Sedated/The Ramones
Girl On Fire/Alicia Keys
Straight to Hell/the Clash
I’m fucking bored, which I haven’t really felt that much throughout this whole pandemic because I don’t get bored easily, haven’t had much of a social life for a while, and I am an essential worker. I’m still working but now I can do absolutely nothing after work, can’t go to the park without gasping, can’t ride a bicycle without feeling like shit, can’t go anywhere, just back to our stuffy apartment. So I’ve been thinking, and I remembered that woman on the 9 from years ago. Writing this, today, is my attempt to not let the motherfuckers steal my joy. Despite everything, despite everything. I used to fight it and then I stopped but the good thing about stopping certain things is that you can start again whenever you want to.
Around that same era, I met another woman on the 9. I offered her my seat and she yelled back at top volume, “NO! BUT THIS IS WHY I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO! EVERYONE IS SO CRAZY AND SO BEAUTIFUL!” I don’t know where any of these women are, obviously, but I hope they are all safe and loved and able to breathe. I hope they are still fighting against the motherfuckers. I hope you are, too.