The Life


root - Posted on 08 November 2002

One woman’s journey through addiction, homelessness and recovery

by Valerie Schwartz/PNN Community Journalist

On October 21, 1992 I was starting the ascent of the hill starting at Leavenworth and Ellis in the Tenderloin of San Francisco. The sun was out and the wind was picking up and whispering the harsh reality of the attitudes and indifference of the hood. I know this corner well from selling drugs and being involved in the " street life" AKA "the life", as a means of survival for longer than I'd like to admit.

As I had maybe proceeded ten-yards up the block towards O'Farrell I was assaulted. This dude... I won't call him a "man" started to harass me, tried to intimidate me out of my dope. I kept trying to side step him, get around him not knowing that a handful of people were now kitty-corner watching, but not getting involved with what was happening. I finally managed to fake a move and proceeded up the hill towards what was then "home". I took one more step and as I was taking it there was a momentary singular sound like a drunk attempting to slice the wind. The next thing I realized was that I had been hit in the head with... something?

As I was hitting the sidewalk, I remember seeing the mural on the side of Martha Jawad's store in a flash as the cast iron gate on the side of the building winked at me. Lights out! My head was split open and when I came back to reality there was blood everywhere, mine. I then saw a young Latino boy, about 16, chase the man up the hill yelling "you leave her alone!" as he hooked a right onto O'Farrell. At least someone did care enough to help although it was not anyone from across the street that I knew.

I staggered to my feet and made my way to our spot/shared studio. I must have looked like I was dying from the awful contorted faces people were making as I entered the building. I woke up (again) after being out for almost an hour. The police and paramedics were there and I was covered in blood. I didn't know where I was, whom the people were who were with me, or even really who I was. All I knew was that I was afraid of going to the hospital, jail or anywhere and would not leave, because I didn't have a clue. I remembered that I had been hit but couldn't focus on anything else. Everything else was a blank. It was one of the most frightening things I've been through. Not the violence... the loss of memory.

The thought of losing my memory or what sanity I have been blessed with has always been scary to me. I've seen too many people lose theirs. My step-father died from Alzheimer's. I've watched friends in advanced stages of AIDS succumb to dementia; to witness this was like watching a beautiful nascent bloom wither in the midst of a storm. It took a while but I came around. Bottom line was that I had been stabbed in the head 2-times and the other side was split open. I couldn't work I couldn't do anything. I had a severe concussion and was having entirely too many seizures.

My wife had to go out and get money to support our habits and take care of us. It tore me up, because I literally couldn't help her or myself. Knowing that I had used prostitution before as a means of making money, I didn't want her to take another step down the ladder to hell. I didn't want her to have knowledge of all the abhorrence that goes with it and how it can affect one.

We went through a multitude of things, trials and tribulations before things got back to a semblance of normalcy if in fact there is such a thing as "normal" for people who live on the fringes of society between the rock and the hard place. It was more than an awful thing to have experienced... but I survived it.

In retrospect, I have somehow, for reasons not yet revealed to me... survived a long and incremental suicide and today I can say that I have made a conscious decision to join the living.

So, in trying to wrap up this very short story from a long life of craziness, let me tell you a few things about what is going on in my life today. With the help others I am in recovery. I am a woman who is finally trying to redefine my life not as a waste or as a person who becomes overwhelmed easily and stuffs her anger, thus turning it against herself. I have re-found the desire to; live again, learn to live life on life's terms and the desire to become a whole person... (That is something I'm not sure that I've ever been). I am a person who has made some rather poor decisions in my life and learned a lot as a result... a wealth of knowledge that I couldn't have received anywhere else other than in " the life".

I want to attain the feeling of being grounded instead of being grounded by an act of violence like another punch-drunk victim on the floor of a concrete arena whose only radiance comes from the shards of glass on the ground reflecting hate and calculated indifference. I am saying that I'd like to be self assured rather than arrogant, afraid, and unsure. I want to learn new things and re-learn some of the things I never truly grasped or held onto for whatever reasons... to find my voice.

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