Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Final Move(Part 2)

Murder Crime scene taped off by the LAPD. This Murder took place at the "Drug Swap Meet" outside of the Union Rescue Mission on San Julian St. There have been two murders on that street within the last two months. Needless to say I am glad I am no longer living on that street. I also do not have to ride my bike past crack smokers and people injecting themselves with heroin every night coming home from work.
The Drug Swap Meet on San Julian Street outside of the Union Rescue Mission.


When I walked out of Karl's office there was inside of me a sense of calm--a belief that my life was going to change. I knew it. I worked hard for it to change. I had been putting together to get out of Skid Row. Now I needed to get to the Courtland. There I could hear myself think and bring together the management and communication systems that I created and begin to plan my next move, to leave skid row. There was no doubt that this was going to be my last and final move. I knew I was close to experiencing freedom like I had never before experienced in my life. No matter where in the world I traveled, or what VIP lounges I was sitting in high profile, exclusive nightclubs where the paparazzi frequented, there was always one truth--I was a prisoner to cocaine.

When that part of my life was over I was certain that I was going to begin enjoying a healthy life. I don't mean a life without problems. I just mean a clean, wholesome life, a life of which I could be proud. I could exercise, study and pursue employment again. I had decided not to work until I released myself from that cocaine prison.

However fate stepped in and gave me another set of challenges--first jail for four and a half months, and, after that, 8 months in a one hundred male bed shelter in Skid Row, ordered by the court. Most people do not realize that I did not come to Skid Row to get loaded or get laid. I did not come here for rehab. I came here because the court told me I had to come here. It was as if I was in the Twilight Zone. After all of those years fighting to rid myself of a drug dependent lifestyle, I was ordered, by the court, to go to an area where there are more drugs per square foot than probably anywhere else in Los Angeles. I just shook my head. I saw more drugs and more people using drugs than I ever saw when I was consuming drugs. It was absurd.

After the Transition House came the Marshall House, the filthiest and dirtiest of all Skid Row Streets. Men look like zombies sitting and standing against the wall smoking crack at the southern end of San Julian Street near 6th. Around that corner, on 6th and San Julian, turning east, you would immediately walk into the heroin shooting gallery. Men and women sit on the sidewalk or in cars shooting heroin in their veins. Syringes liter the street. I lived in the heart of a cesspool. Every day I had to walk through every kind of sickness known to man.
Drugs. Prostitution. Violence. Ever morning I had to navigate my way through a crowded side walk and dodge the drug dealers. "Cavi, cavi. Mota, mota" were the morning shouts letting everyone know that the drug mart was open.

I was consumed with the Skid Row atmosphere. I was determined not to let any part of the negative Skid Row state of mind permeate my being. I survived it and now I was getting ready to say good-bye. I was only going to be a block away yet it was a completely different world with a different value system. And I could only see it on the surface. I would not realize many things until I was finally in the building and experiencing it but for now I was at peace. I knew it was going to happen.

I left Karl's office with the confidence that I would be moving soon. My only concern was that I not have to wait two or three weeks to see the unit. Certainly things can get put aside as management of buildings deal with contingency matters. On-going contengencies are a matter of course for Skid Row. But I learned to be patient and I was going to exercise patience for the amount of time that it would be necessary. I needed to reflect on the past. Say good bye to it and plan for the future.

With that in mind, I walked through Skid Row,visiting every place where I had been. I usually avoided the "drug swap meets" throughout skid row but now I walked through them. I wanted to remember all of the things and people that I had seen on the sidewalks. I needed to understand how being thrust in that environment gave me a sense of hopelessness. I used to walk westbound on 5th or 6th streets and look up at the skyscrapers that seemed to form a perimeter from north to south, creating a moat that separated me from sanity. I wanted to be on the other side of that skyline where things were "normal".

There was a deep need to understand, in all of the various ways, how far I had come and, in the most important of way, understanding that I had no barriers between me and anything I want to do. I had defeated the illusions of defeat that engulfed me when I first arrived on Skid Row. Battles were fought every day, sometimes every second, to maintain hope and faith.

I did not fight those battles alone. I was provided ammunition from the gestures of men and women who took the time to encourage me to fight myself and continue to have faith. I remembered each and every face and every tear I shed when they talked to me as I walked the streets of Skid Row. It was necessary for me to walk by every physical landmark that had some significance to me. One of them was the guard shack at the Transition House. I walked by that little shack that guards the parking lot many times and thought about the times I sat in there and wrote. It is hard to believe I volunteered to sit in that shack for 12 hours a day, from 8:00AM to 8:00PM writing longhand on blank pieces of stapled paper. I still have everything I wrote starting from the first day I arrived there.

This time I stopped and stared at that little guard shack. I was saying good bye to it. I may see it again but my state of mind will be different.

I stared at the Aon building that was stuck out among the office towers when I turned westward in the Transition House parking lot. On my very first night in Skid Row, when I was released from jail, I saw it. It became emblematic of many things to me.

I kept walking and remembering all of the men that injected strength into my system, vitamins that kept my faith alive. Then I began to notice something. As I walked down the streets, some men started waving to me. Never before has so many people waved to me on the Skid Row streets. They were the men that gave me strength. They had left the Transition House before I did. Each time one left, I felt more alone. In jail it was the same way. The dormitory in which I was placed had 100 beds. 99 were filled when I walked through the electrically locked doors to a maddening noise of men yelling while playing cards or watching a television show. Ironically, they all wanted to watch the television show "Cops". I could never understand that. When I left there was only one other person who had been there longer than I. He left shortly after I did.

The Transition House was the same way only this time I was used to being left behind.
It was different. I shed tears for different reasons but I shed many tears each time someone left. And now, I saw that they were all back. I talke to one man and was told he was staying at the LA Mission. I talked to another man and he was at the Union Rescue Mission. They had lost their jobs and apartments. They had relapsed. I kept encountering men from those nine months at the Transition House. So many of them were living in tents on the streets.

They were all proud of me. They wanted to know how my writing was coming along. They had all encouraged me to write just like in jail they always encouraged me to write. "Keep writing, Walter. Keep doing what you are doing. It is going to work out for you. Keep writing." And I kept writing.

I was baffled to see ninety percent of the men who were in the Transition House back in the streets or in shelters. It was hard to see that many of them could not follow the advice that they had given me. I kept focused. I kept doing what I was doing. Many times I did not know what I was doing but I kept doing it. I asked so many questions and I tried at many times to understand the answers. It is strange that as I walked the streets of Skid Row looking at my soon to be past life in the neighborhood, I came to light that I was beginning to understand all that those men and women had tried to explain to me. Finally I am beginning to clear away the fog and see their message, understand their words and feel their dreams and hopes for me, dreams and hopes that they could not reach for themselves.

It was as if I was saying good bye to many of those men. I may see them again but it would be different. I was no longer in a limited stated of mind. I was no longer fignting to survive. I was no longer grasping for anything that would let me hang on for another day. I had made it and I knew it. I was leaving the stormiest seas of my life and heading for calmer waters. Where I was going, I did not know I only knew I was going to enjoy the trip. I will carry the words of each of those men and women as I walk each step, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. Their words will live in me and I will be a shining light for them to follow, a guide to where they have not been before. They took care of me, hounded me, cajoled me into stength and I won't let myself down or them. I let them know that. But they already knew. It was good to see them and say thank you again.

On Tuesday, July 8, I had my interview. Everything went fine. I could not see the apartment as Danny the manager was busy but I called him and he told me to be there the next day at 11 in the morning. I spent the remaining of the day. getting ready. I purchased a money order for the deposit as no checks are accepted in Skid Row for any form of business that I know of. In many cases money is not accepted.

Next, I walked to Chrysalisto take a look at that office. Many hours were spent in that place as I used their computers to write my blogs. Many mornings I would come back and see that comments were left for me to read. I remembered all of them. "You are no longer alone as you walk with dignity and face the challenges ahead." "This is an interesting blog. Keep writing." Each time I saw a comment I was excited. For most bloggers those comments are only opinions and feedback on topics. Those comments kept my spirits alive. They kept me going and each time I saw one from people that I never before met, tears ran down my face. It is difficult to explain how such kindness kept me alive. Simple acts of kindness from one human being to another can do so much. I know because acts of kindness did so much for me. Whenever I read those words on my blog, I never felt alone. I felt like I had friends, new friends that believed in me. It was so important for me.

"Dont stop writing." "keep writing". "Your posts are improving each time." I sang those words in my head each time I saw them.

Finally, on Wednesday, July 9, at 11:00AM, I saw the unit and was in love with it. I couldnt wait to move in. It was bright and cheery. It had two large windows that allowed me to look west and view the downtown skyline. The skyline no longer looked threatening to me as it did when I first arrived on Skid Row. I remember one comment on my blog where a woman mentioned how those huge buildings with all of that money were looking down on the little people of Skid Row. She was correct in many ways and i was intimidated by those buildings when I first landed on Skid Row. But now I was within reach, I thought, figuratively and literally, as I stood looking out of the window. The street below was so quiet. It was like any other street in New York lined with brownstone buildings.

I was planning my future as I stood in the window. I knew I needed a workstation to be organized, efficient and productive in my next phase and I made a note to see if Office Depot had any in stock.

When I was at the Transition House, I was hesitant to leave. That is not true. Let me be honest. I was terrified to leave that place and move into the Marshall House. Not now. I was eager and ready to mow down anything in my way. I could not wait to get in because I knew that I was going to have fun building my life while living in this unit.

I told Danny I wanted it. I knew it long before I saw it. I dreamed about it. At first he said for me to come back on Friday. He took a look in my eyes and he changed his mind. "Come back tomorrow at 11." he said. That is the power of desire. He knew I did not want to waste one minute shedding the past pain and beginning anew.

On Thurday, July 10, at 11 in the morning, I walked into Danny's office. We talked about many things while I filled out the necessary forms and finally signed the lease. It was a great beginning as Danny is a consumate professional and as a colleague I hope to learn much from him. He appreciated my commercial real estate background so there was much we could share with eachother. He showed me how to operate the front door while at the same time checking the keys. My heart was beating in great anticipation like an athlete preparing for a big race, waiting for the gun to go off and the race to begin.

We went upstairs and I patiently heard his presentation about the trash, rules and other pertinent matters. Finally he handed me the keys. It was mine. The past was over in so many ways. 99% of Skid Row, mentally and physically was behind me, to the east. My windows looked to the west. Everyplace I needed to go to was to the west. I no longer had to hear "cavi, cavi. weed. weed."

Finally, after retiring from drug usage for almost two years, I no longer had to see them or hear about them. Finally I could move on. The Final Move had started. The gun went off. I prepared for this race. I endured. I persevered. I was finally in my last term of a rigorous independent study curriculum and could see graduation ahead from the University of Skid Row.

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