I finish pulling my hair back, holding it tight, getting the rubber band around it. I want it to look neat. I catch my eye in the mirror. The reflection of my face stops me. I can’t help but smile, and the person in the mirror smiles back at me. She looks hopeful, maybe even happy.
Today has started out as a good day. And I’ll keep it that way. Mr. Answers is right. I have the power to make it good.
Months ago, it wouldn’t have been this way. There were no mirrors or even a bed in my life. If I was lucky, there would be some piled-up boxes at the end of a quiet alleyway. You never really sleep in alleys. You can’t. I only rested, always jerking myself up and awake.
COTS, the Coalition On Temporary Shelter, changed all that for me. I didn’t know what to think when I first came here. A day or two, that’s what I told myself. But that wasn’t their plan. They had more plans for me than I could imagine.
I kept to myself at first. Not trusting anyone. I watched them all. Who wanted what from me? Who could I trust? I categorized them and gave them all names. I called my group leader “Mr. Answers,” ‘cause he had them all–not just for me, but for everyone in group.
Then there’s Ms. Social, determined to get me into the world. Telling to me how to present myself, saying stuff I knew. It’s just been awhile since I had to use that stuff in the world.
It was my room that held the biggest fear for me. At least, on the street, I knew what to expect. There were nights I could get into a shelter, but more often than not, it was up to me to figure out where to hide out. Now I have a room and a bed. Things I hadn’t had in my life for nearly three years.
My first few nights here at COTS were the hardest. I walked up and down the hallway outside my room, looking for problems. I returned to the room, closed the door, and leaned up against it. That’s where I spent my first few nights. Back up against that door, waiting, listening. By the third night, the bed called me and I finally slept in it.
I laugh now at how I was, but there is more seriousness in that laugh than you would know. I try not to imagine “what if?” What if I can’t stay here any longer? What if’s can be bad, at least bad for me. I try to listen to what Mr. Answers says. “It’s about today.
This morning I’ll be picking up a bundle of newspapers. I’ll be out on the streets in an hour, hocking them, selling them to people. Some will pass me by without a glance. But that’s okay too. It’s taught me to value the ones who see me. It’s a step for me, doing this. But I got to have steps to come out of this.
It’s a good start for me, but just the beginning. Ms. Social tells me it won’t be long before I have another job. She’s working on it. I’m working on it too.
Diana Creel Elarde is a writer and a business consultant. She recently published her first book, A Star in My Hand. She can be reached at email@example.com.