The Least of These

I just had a two hour conversation. And I have no idea what it was about.

I recognized a few words. And names here and there.

Patti LaBelle.

Football.

God.

My social abilities really require a pretty specific set of circumstances. To work well.

Last night was not those circumstances.

Y’all know. I have this thing. About needing to feel useful. In order to feel worth.

It’s why I’m a job hoarder. That, and a desire for basic food and shelter.

The Least of These Ministry has this warming bus. For homeless. Or what I guess we’re now calling unhoused people.

They run it overnight when the temperatures drop below freezing.

So that people can come onto the bus to stay warm. Instead of freezing to death on the street.

Because if you weren’t aware. We’re not really excellent at providing accessible resources to people in need.

We have told them that they can’t sleep on the sidewalks anymore. Because if you can’t see a problem. It doesn’t exist.

So I volunteered to sit on the bus last night. For ten hours. Letting people on and off the bus.

Pretty basic role.

But it definitely challenged my…everything.

Because first. These folks like to chat.

I. Do not like to chat.

But also. I’m not going to tell a veteran to just go sit down and hush.

When a veteran wants to tell you about their life. You sit yourself down and hush. And listen.

So I did that. For several hours.

Did my “I totally understand all the words you’re making” head nodding. For several hours.

My neck now hurts.

At one point, one of them asks, “You’re Spanish, right?”

*sigh*

Yes…

And if I can’t understand what these folks were saying in English. I damn sure wasn’t understanding what they were saying in Spanish.

I just did so much smiling and nodding. It’s possible I’ve committed myself to some pretty questionable shit.

Hell, I could be married now for all I know.

I did understand when one of them said, “You’re an athlete.”

I mean, yeah. I run.

“I can tell because of your legs.”

But you can’t…see my legs. Through these sweatpants. Right…?

But hell. If those sweatpants make my legs look athletic. Somehow. I’m probably just gonna wear them always.

Somewhere around 1am. Everyone fell asleep.

Except me.

Because I was required to be awake.

And sit. In the driver’s seat. And monitor the bus.

And y’all know. Ya girl loves her sleep.

9pm y’all.

My phone shuts itself down. At 9pm. And doesn’t even let Rogue and Fall Risk conversations through.

It just tells them “Shhhhh. She’ll talk to you in the morning.”

So I just sat there.

For hours.

Listening to the snoring. And other sounds.

Because some other Army veteran. With solid chefing skills. And I assume a solid sense of irony. Came out to cook these folks chili.

Just so much chili.

On a closed up bus. With nine people. Who’d just eaten so. much. chili.

And then there was the bathroom situation.

Because I’m 47.

I require near constant access to pee spots.

And I’m a trail runner. So those spots don’t actually have to be bathrooms.

But they obviously can’t be just the front section of a bus. Where humans are existing.

So I held it. I held that pee all damn night.

And entertained myself with the book Tommy lent me.

And the Fuck I’m Bored activity book Work Boyfriend gave me.

And just about the time I’m deciperhing the phrase “Pencil Dick.” From the word scramble. One of the older, respectable looking veterans. Appeared over my shoulder. To ask me to let him off the bus. So he could go to the bathroom.

Which is when I realized. This Fuck I’m Bored activity book is probably an inappropriate activity. For a church bus.

Because the last volunteer wrote in the notebook. That she’d spent the night. Listening to Pandora. And praying.

Yeah. Let me take my heathen ass back to my Navy Seal killing book.

Around 3am. I just couldn’t take the monotony anymore.

So I started panic messaging Rogue and Fall Risk.

Until Chunk finally woke Fall Risk up. At 4:00am. So she could communicate with me. And talk me down off the ledge.

Around 3:30am. The street sweeper rolled through.

Prompting my brain to start rapping.

Incessantly.

Just making up lyrics.

Because I sure as hell don’t remember the actual lyrics.

Shimmy Shimmy Cocoa Puffs?

Fuck, I don’t know.

By 5am I was barely holding it together. I couldn’t even see the words on the pages of my book anymore.

Which is about the time folks started waking up.

And getting themselves situated.

And re-engaging with me.

One young guy showed me the book he was reading. Which is the most recent in the series of the book I’m reading.

His excitement over that connection damn near made me cry.

And they all kept telling me. How they got there. To their current situation. And how it was just temporary. And what their next moves are.

And I just…

We are just not doing enough. To help each other.

I met the woman behind all of this. The ministry. Years ago. While I was working for Total Action for Progress.

She would provide extremely low cost housing to our homeless kids.

She says she struggles to find volunteers for the warming bus.

Because people are afraid. Of this population.

And I get it. I have a very high tolerance. For these situations. Really, once you work in prison. Meh. Doesn’t much scare you anymore.

But there really isn’t a need to be scared.

Because these people are so grateful. For this one resource. That they wouldn’t have allowed anything to happen.

We had one dude show up. Around 1am. Clearly tweaking.

But he just asked for some food. And water.

And I felt the people behind me. Watching our exchange. Ready to step up. If I had to deny him entry onto the bus.

But I gave him some leftover chili. And water. And he went on his way.

So when volunteers don’t show up. Dawn. The woman behind all of this. Has to do it.

And she will. She will go out there every single night. If she has to.

She just shouldn’t have to.

And my body is absolutely pissed about the manner in which it spent its night. Last night.

But my heart is full. Because the gratitude expressed. From every single person on that bus.

I just…how do you thank me? When you know I’m going home to hot food. A hot shower. A warm bed.

I gave you one night of discomfort.

And at 6:30am. Made you get up. And go back out. Into the darkness. And cold. To fend for yourself.

Maybe I’ll whine a little less about my job for a while.

Like, at least until…say, January 4th…

For now. I’m gonna hibernate a bit and try to adjust my spine back into its correct positioning.

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