“Equal pay for equal work!”
His words broke the silence. The midnight air was sultry and my feet ached from tromping around in sandals all day; in March, I’m not used to 90-degree weather, and my body was protesting. The bright moonlight and headiness of three new soul sisters, along with being 100 yards from my air conditioned hotel room were close at hand. In three days I have grown close to these three women surrounding me in the parking lot, and knowing this was the last night together was keeping all of us from retreat.
“I was billy clubbed for you,” came a voice from beside me. “Equal pay for equal work!”
Turning, I saw him as he spiraled, dancer-like, around his suitcase. “Billy clubbed – I stood up for you!”
I glanced at my companions and giggled at their astonished expressions. They’d obviously never come this close to a tweaker before.
“I went down and stood up for equal pay and those cops just billy clubbed me and you know I used to be the face, I used to be the one the agents were calling. I have two children, you know, and now those goddamn….taxi driver, you’re running the meter, right?” His voice rambled, almost incoherently, but we were intrigued.
The taxi driver stood with a coy smile on his face, his eyes glinting in recognition. Tweaker guy was entertaining, and he was getting paid.
“Why are you standing so far away?” he growled at Kim, who hadn’t moved a muscle since he interrupted our soul sister circle.
“Dude, what’s up?” I tried to connect to his eyes, but they were darting between us like a well-caffeinated mosquito. Meth, I thought.
“I have two children you know. I was billy clubbed for equal pay for women. Those celebs, I was with the best of them. And now nothing…” his chiseled features and Southern California tan made him believable as he teetered between our reality and his. Twirling on the handle of his luggage, he recited his lines with Academy Award winning accuracy. “I was raped by a priest and then I protested for women. Burn the bras, I say! Burn them!”
It was silent in our circle; no one could respond nor get a word in. I reached out my hand to stop his pirouette, to somehow connect and see beyond his ramble. He grabbed it, and for just one nanosecond he stopped spinning. We were there, under the Palm Springs starlight, and I had gotten under his Hollywood veneer and seen him.
“I’m 51, you know. 51 and they all knew me, equal pay for equal work, I say! I love women!” he rambled as the moment was lost, and he was back inside his story. Four sets of eyes fixated on him, the taxi driver chuckling in the background as he waited, trunk open, meter spinning.
“Take care of yourself, dude,” I cautioned as we stepped away and down the driveway.
“Burn your bras!” he screeched back.
I walked along the moonlight driveway surrounded by my tribe. I wanted to buy him a coffee. I wanted to hear his story – how did two of us, the same age, take such different paths yet collide in a hotel parking lot? What choices did we make to create this moment? Why did the Universe have our journeys collide?
“We need to load the car at 7:45,” I heard myself saying. “We can leave straight from the conference with plenty of time to make it to the airport. Maybe even grab some lunch close by.”
I could see the taxi lights in the distance; he hadn’t left. What was going to happen to him, this soul-sister in solidarity? Where would his story end tonight?
Helpless and hopeless, I slipped my key into the door, wishing I had taken his photo, wondering what his name was and where he would go. The taxi lights were still there, and the silence washed over me. His journey continues. I wished him to find a safe place to sleep, and someone to reach out a hand in the morning.
Drug abuse and homelessness are a choice away from so many in our society. Once whole, once vibrant, our journey can pull us in directions we never imagined – away from careers, from friends, from our children. We have the choice to look away or to extend our hand to those who are suffering. In your community, is there a way you can extend your hand, open your heart, and help?
In Sacramento, we have Saint John’s program, an organization dedicated to break the cycle:
“There is no easy way to escape living in crisis. Since our founding on the steps of St. John’s Lutheran Church in 1985, we’ve challenged many homeless mothers with children to grapple with that difficult truth. And not everyone can. It takes a certain type of woman to stand up to everything that’s ever damaged or broken her and take full, complete control of her life. It’s difficult. It’s painful. And again, it’s not for everyone. Saint John’s is for the woman who wants to make the leap. Who will fight the pervasive influence of homelessness, poverty, and abuse. Who will make an empowered decision to rise up and become a productive community member. Who understands, unequivocally, that the decision to create a better life – for herself and for her family – rests entirely on her.”
I’ll be working with Naot Footwear on April 2 as my way of reaching out. The Naot Trunk Show & Donation Event at Birkenstock Midtown Sacramento allows us to combine two things that we love, fashion and helping those in need. Everyone invited to attend the event will be able to contribute to Saint John’s Program for Real Change just by simply trying on shoes. If you try on a pair of Naots, they will donate a pair to those in need. If you buy a pair, they will donate two pairs. It’s fashion for a cause – and your small action can make such a huge difference!
If you’re in the Sacramento area, reach out and join me on April 2 between 10-5 at Birkenstock Midtown 2500 J Street Sacramento, CA 95816. Catch a ride with me if you need to!
I hope to see you there- remember together, we can do great things.