Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Breaking Barriers

When we went out to dinner last night, we were looking for a place to park and found on street parking.  I realized the building we were next to was familiar to me, though I had not been in it for about 10 or more years, but I recognized the bread store next to it.  Last time I saw it, the bread store parking lot had a mural on the wall; now it's all painted white and I don't know what is in the building I knew so well, but when I volunteered there, it was called Breaking Barriers.

I don't remember how I heard about Breaking Barriers, but it was a volunteer organization that provided service to people with HIV / AIDS.  There were three levels of assistance...maybe more.  I volunteered to drive clients to doctors' appointments and for a short time I was someone who would just befriend a client, talk to them, just be their friend.

But I started out driving two or three times a week.  This was the very early years of this journal and my favorite client was a woman named Priscilla, who had both AIDS and cancer and I took her to get her Methadone once a week (she had other drivers on other days). I wrote about her often and called her "grandma" to preserve her privacy.  For someone with all the problems she had (social and physical), she had the most upbeat attitude of anybody I knew while working for Breaking Barriers.

We became friends and I got wrapped up in her life....too wrapped up, it turned out.  One Christmas when her daughter had been incarcerated in Southern California, leaving nobody to care for Priscilla's grandchildren, Priscilla brought the kids here from Los Angeles. At about the same time, right before Christmas, her bed collapsed and I bought her a bed frame.  I mentioned that I was planning to do that on Funny the World -- I believe it was the first year of this journal, (which is no longer accessible on line).  People who had come to know "Grandma" and follow her life, were incredibly generous and sent me so much money I was able to buy her a bed and buy Christmas gifts for the kids and Christmas dinner for the family.

But after the grandkids returned home, Priscilla asked if I could give her a ride to the nearby prison where her son was incarcerated.  She had no car and she had no way to see him, so I took her twice --- it's an hour and a half drive, after driving an hour to pick Priscilla up -- and it got to where she was calling me every week, angry if I couldn't take her back to the jail. She also wanted me to help "kidnap" her mother from her brother's home, which I foolishly did.  What a mess that was! 

I just kind of stopped answering her calls but I always wonder how she is doing.  I heard that she was eventually able to buy her own car and her health improved so she no longer needed Breaking Barriers.

I remember one day taking a one-legged man to his doctor's appointment and discovering how difficult it was to get him out of the car.  He was a large man and I nearly dropped him.  That was pretty scary.

Most of my clients were fun people that I enjoyed chatting with going to and from their appointments, but I had a couple of really bad experiences, especially the woman who got into the car with her kids, while talking on her cell phone.  She talked the whole way to her kids' school, to drop them off, and then out to her doctor's office and all the way back home without so much as a thank you.  But the worst was that she seemed to have zero awareness that I was there.  She was talking about how she had gone out with her cousin and her cousin's date but her cousin got drunk and fell asleep so of course she (client) had to f**k the boyfriend because he expected something her had cousin was sleeping.

(In subsequent trips with her, I got go know her better and she really was a nice person, trying to put herself through school to become an attorney.)

It was definitely a look into a world that I was not familiar with.

One of my "friend" clients was a woman with a grammar-school aged daughter.  I took them up to our cabin at Tahoe to have a fun weekend.  I don't think the little girl had ever been in a swimming pool before.  It was a real feel good weekend, but when I went to their house to take them Christmas gifts, she had moved out and I assume she was back on drugs again, since Breaking Barriers had not heard from her either.

My favorite client was Mary.  I think she was in her 60s and she contracted HIV during a blood transfusion.  She lived several miles north of Sacramento, so driving her to her doctor involved driving about an hour or more from Davis to get her, then half an hour back into Sacramento to her doctor's office, waiting around until she was finished, then driving her home again and then driving back to Davis.

She was very particular.  She didn't like most of the drivers who showed up and she would refuse to answer her door if she didn't like the driver.  But she liked me.  When she liked you, she asked for a 5x7 photo to put on her wall.  She also had a big doll collection and I remember that when we went to Scotland, I bought a doll for her then, but never got to give it to her.  At that time, gas prices were going up to astronomical levels and I had to give up working with Breaking Barriers because it was just costing too much.

But Breaking Barriers is gone now and I don't know how any of my old clients are. It was a brief, but memorable period in my life, when I broke the barrier between my comfortable middle class life and made friends with people I might never have met otherwise.

I don't know if it was before or after that I volunteered in the Davis homeless shelter.  I worked in the office and helped some of the men (there were no women in this shelter) learn how to use a computer.  I really liked this one guy who had come in and left the shelter many times.  The last time he came in, sober, he said that if he started drinking again, he would never come back  He was a nice old alcoholic, but one day he was gone and we never heard from him again.  It saddens me that alcohol had such a hold on him that as much as he wanted to get sober he just couldn't do it.

It was politics rather than anything else that took me out of the homeless shelter.  The new manager was impossible to get along with and most of us didn't last long after she took over. She was so disorganized that you could never get anything done...and if you did, the person who came in the next day would undo all the work you had done. Now I hear the shelter has become a halfway house for guys coming out of jail and needing to get oriented back into the community.

My volunteering is more mundane these days, now, with the loss of Logos, just the hospital, but I think back fondly on the days when I worked with my friends at Breaking Barriers.

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