So much anger, I carried in Albuquerque. Spurting all over, leaking from pinpricks and stress points, tears speckling my glasses, cursing spittle flying like suds at the University Laundromat on Central Avenue, its windows riddled with bullet holes. Desperation, which so often sounds like anger, adding pressure to my blood, just waiting for the aneurism.
Instead of blowing up, I decided to blow this town.
I’ve sent my story to the L.A. Times. Twice. They don’t want it, long or short. Even though they told the story first.
I read the Times’ story about a homeless outreach worker, stabbed to death at a Pasadena park, allegedly by one of the very people she was trying to connect and build trust with on the streets. I read it two months after I left my job — as a homeless outreach worker, visiting people in Albuquerque’s parks. Work I’d done in various forms for over twenty years. Until the day a guy brought weapons, a knife, a gun, to our agency building. Management did a building lockdown. But didn’t do a perimeter sweep. Outside. Where I was.
Maybe I saw him. Maybe I talked to him. It was a Friday, the day I usually worked in our memorial garden, weeding, planting. Remembering people who had died homeless. A man had walked by as I was digging holes. A woman passing on the sidewalk had asked the names of some of the perennial plants. Another man had said hello. We talked about the garden, that small corner meant to honor those we lost.
When I found out about the lockdown, I was stunned. By the casual, offhand way it was discussed. By my own supervisor, with me, at the end of the day, as I stood in the memorial garden, spade in hand.
I wrote it all, in the story that the L.A. Times didn’t want. About standing in the dirt, my supervisor on the clean sidewalk, as he told me he never worried about me. “Besides – you had a shovel!” How we laughed together, him nervously, me in shock. I wrote about what it felt like, having harped on the agency’s ineffective safety protocols for a year and a half, realizing that the day I had warned about…had come at last. And I had brought a shovel to a gunfight.
I knew in the moment what I wanted to do, watching my boss walk away after he’d told me to have a good weekend, see you next week. But I waited, slept on it. I did not have a good weekend.
On Monday, I met with HR. I said I was done. I told the story the L.A. Times had no interest in. HR took notes. I thought that was something, at least. “What are you going to do?” HR asked me.
“Whatever the hell I want,” I replied.
Over the next few days, I re-read the stated purpose of my personal website. So many stories. Stories of following my path, wherever it leads.
I had the perfect opportunity, right here, right now. I opened up my laptop, and with a few clicks of the keys, gave notice to vacate my Albuquerque apartment.
A few days later, I saw a quick blurb from National Parks Traveler on my newsfeed, asking for volunteer contributors. I emailed. They emailed back. I sent a story I had already written. They replied, “Yeah, I think we can use this.” I pitched a couple more story ideas. I moved what few belongings I had to my daughter’s garage. I packed my vehicle with dried food, jugs of water, and my camping gear. And then I set off to backpack into the wilderness areas of the Southwest. Alone.
At the end of my last blog post, dated only two days before the lockdown incident, I had written:
I dropped [my laundry bag] at the front door. It makes a good doorstop, letting air in that idiotic iron screen door, an icon of the palpable fear of Albuquerque, a place that sells bourbon at fucking Walgreens.
I know what I’m seeing, outside my stupid screen door. I know how to describe it. I hear my chile ristra scraping against the crumbling adobe wall out there, the wind blowing it as it hangs from the vigas on my front porch. Fuck you, Albuquerque. And publishing. And social media.
I’m ready to pack my backpack and chuck this whole thing. Leave the bourbon on the counter for the next sucker. Spiral your over-inflated egos around that, book publishers. I’ll still be writing, even if I’m living in a tent. Go fuck yourselves.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, he of the opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night,” also said, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Mightier than the shovel, too, I hope. I’m betting my life on it.
Social media is not my deal. I’m going to get some stories published, instead. Let’s see if these stories can help me get my book published. Let’s do this thing. Now.
I’m not going back. No more social work. I’d rather fight off a bear or struggle through a snowstorm in the mountains than face my end in a memorial garden where I am already among the forgotten.
This is my turning point. Cheers, Hemingway, wherever you are.