Yesterday and Today
I sit at my desk, creating purchase orders for music books, receiving books that have come in, scrolling through the computer files on all the books we carry, editing out of date information at my own discretion. I look online for new books to order and make my own decisions on whether they would sell - whether I should order some. I use my calculator to figure out how much we should sell them for. I wander up and down the shelves of books with my clipboard and pen, jotting down titles that are running low and should be added to the next order. I fax the order to our distributor. When a box of books arrives, I sign for it and tear the tape off the box. I understand the invoice and use it to receive the books into our system. I phone customers whose specially ordered books have arrived. I make a package of books to be sent to our sister store in the next town.
During all of this I answer the phones, I take customer's money or swipe their credit card, I fill out their invoices. I make myself a cup of coffee blended with hot chocolate. When I'm asked, I sit down at one and then another of the pianos to play a song for a customer who wants to hear the difference between the two, but doesn't feel comfortable playing. I joke around with my co workers. I lean back in my chair to look into the office of my favourite co worker, whose desk is near my own. We have a lot in common and have become good friends, we talk about a lot of things. When one of my other co workers comes to the front of the store to hang around my desk and talk, I easily join in the conversation.
Does all of this sound ordinary to you? I suppose it would. I suppose it is ordinary, but not to me.
When I was on the street, the people I work with today belonged to the segment of society that was greatly intimidating to me. People who worked behind desks, who wore dress clothes, who didn't have anything to do with the dark side of life. People who lived conventional lives, and only knew about my kind through what they might have read in the newspaper, or the glimpse they might have gotten when they drove through downtown late at night.
I hated them. The people who lived conventional lives and didn't give a damn about people like me. I knew they rarely thought about my kind, and that when they did, it was with disgust. They wanted the streets "cleaned up". They wanted us to disappear, they didn't want to know where or how, just so they wouldn't have to look at us. They believed we'd brought ourselves to that end, that we deserved our lot. If they were wrong, they really couldn't care less.
I hated them because I felt their hatred for me, and it left me feeling baffled. I took it personally. Though now that I'm viewing things from a different angle I know that they were simply lumping me with all the others. They hated us en-mass, I was not being singled out. And I, after all, was doing the same to them. My hatred for members of society didn't single out individuals, I lumped them all together. If I ever found myself considering the possibility that one or two of them might feel compassion for me, I quickly dismissed it. I didn't want to weaken my armour.
I was intimidated by them because I believed they were well adjusted, while I had fallen apart a long time before. They were smooth and capable. They were confidant. Beside them I was an uneducated urchin without a single social grace. They made up the traffic through the downtown streets where I worked. They sat in their heated cars, drumming the steering wheel as they waited for the light to change, staring at me standing there on my corner, as though I was an alien. I hated them.
I sneered at them because I knew they feared me. They were afraid to leave their cars because it was dangerous. I laughed at them because I, a girl of 100 pounds was unafraid to be out there night after night, while they couldn't wait to get out of the neighbourhood and into their familiar suberbs. I saw the fascination on their faces as they watched the streetlife happening beyond their windshields. I knew they would tell their families all about what they'd seen. The mundane happenings in a usual night - things that had become ordinary life to me, these were, for them, exciting scenes to be remembered and told later that night.
I felt that their fear of me and my kind was my one advantage. And I knew that I would lose that advantage if I left my world and tried to make it in theirs. Everything I knew about survival on the streets would be useless to me. I would make a fool of myself as it became immediately obvious that I didn't know the first thing about life in society. This made me hate them more. As I suppose, their own hatred for me and my kind escalated when they remembered that they would be just a helpless if they tried to make it in my world.
Strange to think - we were, after all, very similar.
When I worked at an office supplies store last year, my co workers watched the homeless junkies in Jubilee Park across the street, as though they were watching t.v. As the street people sat at their picnic table for hours, occasionally getting up to cross the grass, my co workers stood among the office furniture for sale, rivetted to the scene. It was not in the least boring to them, because it was a glimpse into a different world. They commented on the street people with such vehemence, I truly believe they were jealous. It was a gut reaction they wouldn't begin to understand. It would be too much for them to handle. Instead they dismissed their powerful emotions as hatred. Nothing more, nothing less. And they continued to play audience unable to tear their eyes away. Imagine their horror if they'd known about me. Imagine their shame if they'd known they had exposed themselves to someone who knew the other side, and used to fear them.
It was this experience that helped me to lose my intimidation of society. I saw them with their guard down, though they were unaware of what was happening. Now I'm working at a different job, with people I have come to like and respect. Yet some of them, (not all), will sneer when they see a homeless person passing by the window. They stand and watch and let their emotions spill out. And I watch them as I sit at my desk, and keep my knowledge to myself.
I don't hate members of society anymore, and my intimidation has faded away. I'm left with a feeling of sadness I guess, because people are so blind. And because sometimes, now that I've been away from the streets for over a decade, I find myself judging people who live the lifestyle I used to live. I have to remind myself of what made me tick, before I joined society. And sometimes I forget.