As usual, the place is packed. The fire marshal has been here several times to control the massive amount of people crammed into this tiny reception area…and there are bright fluorescent signs up on each wall…evidence of the Fire Marshall’s growing frustration with the Department of Economic Security. I can’t blame the guy, I hate coming here because of the crowding. The air is always thick with people’s different energies and I’m never sure what the net effect will be on me until after I have been bombarded by energies for a few minutes after sitting down. The air is also heavy with humidity and it feels like everyone is using so much damn oxygen to breathe that there’s nothing but CO2 floating around. I’m guessing it’s at least 80 degrees in here right now.
I take a seat and hug my purse close to my chest, my eyes looking to the floor. I don’t wish to make any eye contact with anyone right now, I just want to get in and do what I got to do and get back out of this third world experience. The DES experience. If you’ve never been a part of any state funded program consider yourself extremely blessed…because—you’re not cattle! Without warning, a little boy tumbles into my lap. Hes crawled over the chair behind me. I jump, startled. He smiles a toothless grin and says he is sorry in Spanish before running away again…this time, out the door, without his mother.
It’s then I noticed my “neighbor” for the first time. She was sitting across from me, busy knitting. A car seat was perched on the chair next to her and inside was a baby girl with a head full of afrolicious air. I could tell the baby was mixed. This young lady didn’t look like she belonged near a place like this. I noted with envy the black jimmy choos, her toes appearing freshly manicured and with a shade of red polish to die for. Her nails, the same. I began to take in every detail of her; I was intrigued by this outsider… I felt implored to take in the whole picture. Who wouldn’t? She was knitting what looked like a little dress for her daughter, and I watched her mouth as she quietly counted her stitches or occasionally mouthed the words “knit, purl, knit” to herself. Her hair was impeccable, beautifully done, and it was easy to see that she kept herself up nicely. She wore a ponytail, her hair sleek and black….and the BOSE Headsets that sat atop her head could have been a damn tiara for all I cared. In some strange way they looked regal! The more I studied her the more intrigued I was by her presence and her silent yet commanding energy. An iPhone rested in between her baby’s feet in the car seat to provide a ready musical reprieve from the noise around us. The mysterious girl seemed perfectly at ease inside of herself, her knitting, and her baby….whom she stopped to glance at least every 3 or 4 minutes…..
This girl had a beautiful, cherry red, glossy coach handbag at her feet and sported oversized “Jackie O” coach sunglasses and a classic Tiffany choker, heart and all, that rested just right against the tanned olive skin of her neck. The choker necklace looked like it was made just for her. I smiled, memories flooding back…… I would have guessed that this visit was a breeze for her, that it was no big deal, that this was just another bump in her day. But I knew better. I stole a momentary glimpse of one of her legs bouncing up and down quickly as she sat knitting. What irony. This girl is flawlessly put together, is wearing a beautiful skirt and blouse, her makeup looks like it took hours to get just right, —everything is perfection. But I know shes holding back her nerves….She sits here knitting like the world and everything in it is as it should be. But I know better, Ive worn that mask so many times here….
Just then Miss “should not be in a place like this” looks up at me, she catches me watching her….studying her…..My face becomes flushed with embarrassment and I open my mouth to say I’m sorry when she turns toward her little girl who has started crying. She takes her out of the car seat and cradles the infant but when she turns towards me again I see a reflection of me over a decade ago. The me now, is looking at the me back then…..My reflection locks eyes with me and I am afraid to break away. I’m enamored by her image. She watches me, watching her, with harmless inquisitiveness. Here I am with my daughter…..who looks exactly like hers….only at a different time…….her baby has a pooh themed car seat just like mine did many years ago……I’m so stunned by the similarities here but I’m afraid to speak or ask questions. I don’t want to look away because it’s like seeing a ghost….you wanna be sure you’ve seen it, and that you have committed each detail to memory no matter how big or small.
We lock eyes and spirits one more time and she smiles at me…a small, quiet, resigned smile. I smile back and she nods as If to say “I get it. I understand you. How’d we get here mama?” This quiet regard we mothers share at the DES office…its a subtle yet powerful recognition of our journeys and of our pain; it’s our way of showing one another respect in here. Just then, her name is called—only it’s my name that’s called not hers, what the hell is going here? We both have the same name too? …..As she jumps up to collect her diaper bag and car seat she pauses to say something to me. I see a single tear sliding down from underneath Jackie O’s sunglasses
”We don’t want to come back here anymore. Do the best you can so we never have to see each other again ok?” As our spiritual connection weakened and she pulled away , I didn’t want “me” to leave “me.” I still had too many questions…As she passed me she left an invisible trail of a heavily rose scented perfume so familiar to me……my grandmother Sophie…..this was her scent. Helplessly, I watched “me” disappear behind the heavy wooden door that led to the main interview cubicles and I knew this was a once in a lifetime experience……I was sure Id never see “the me of 14 years ago” again.
There was so much left unsaid….but was there? So many questions left unasked or unanswered. But…perhaps that wasn’t what this experience was all about.
The heavy aroma of roses still surrounds me, right now, hours later.
To My Compadre Dr. Jay Zamora–the best father figure a girl could ever have for her baby. You better take good care of her!…….. Gracias, Carnal. There’s a song that reminds me of both our families at such an amazing part of our lives together. I miss those days you taught Anaya how to eat EVERYTHING with hotsauce and got me hooked on Amaretto and Cokes on Friday nights at NAU!