If you have never seen "Memento" it is a movie whose story is told backwards.
10:12 AM October 31, 2011 - I sit down to remember some of what has happened in the past day. My face and hands are chapped from the cold. My lips are so chapped they are swollen. My Occupy friend David calls to check on me. He is going to see if he can find Pretty, BBoy, Jesus, and Lightup; find them a drier spot than an entrance ramp. I have stopped crying for now.
9:00 AM October 31 - The kids make it to school just in time. I see parents driving up in their vans and SUV's. What I would have given to have seen about six of those at 2 AM. I see my lifelong friend, Patty.
"The reports of my incarceration have been greatly exaggerated!" I cry out.
"Mmm hmmm. That's what we all say," she responds.
Here comes Marie. "Girl, just move in with us tonight. We are ready for you."
Marie is an amazing cook. Once I unpack the car and find my stuff I may take her up on it. When I told the kids I was thinking about staying with Marie awhile they cheered.
I start to walk back to the kids' house. All the chaos of last night rolls in and I get really angry. My friends are checking in on me but I am too angry to respond coherently. Anger. Sadness. Exhaustion. All adds up to tears.
I post a thank you to the Richmond Police Department on Facebook. It is a weak gesture. But when I was trying to help Pretty, Bboy, Jesus, Lightup, Miguel, Jose, Mama and Big Daddy, Last One, Statue, and the Mario Brothers... the police were trying to help them, too.
Try to focus on gratitude and love, not anger at those who abandoned them.
7:45 AM Monday - I wake up in a blazing hot bail bonds office. I finally stopped shivering. The kids' daddy checking in on text woke me. Thank goodness. I would have overslept. I jump up and race out to get to the house so he can go to work and I can get the kids to school.
One of my eyes won't open all the way and I am limping. I laugh. I just went through a police raid and my eye is half swollen shut and I am limping. Police brutality? Nope. The eye is from too many tears, not enough water, and sleeping on my side. And I always limp when I wake up. Well, almost always. For some reason, I walked perfectly every morning I woke up in tent city.
I get home and the kids are happy happy. I had forgotten. It's Halloween. I break the news to the kids that the police raided tent city last night. My son is really sad.
"It's ok," I assure him. "They helped me take care of our friends who lived there before."
"But where are you gonna' live now, Mama?"
"I think I'll move in with Marie for awhile."
"WOO HOO!!!" They both yell. Marie has a huge backyard. We can play tent city out there.
Many cynical thoughts come flooding in. If we play tent city who gets to be the people who talk too damn much? Mama, can I be the self-righteous, misguided ones who let train hoppers verbally abuse the homeless with racist taunts for four hours?
No, honey. You can be the ones who were so busy singing and chanting for the cameras and cops during the raid that they didn't bother to see who needed help moving back under a bridge.
I look at their cute, oatmeal stained faces and push those thoughts aside. Bad mama! Bad protester!
The Occupation is a failure in my mind. My greatest hope was the shared community with the original settlers, also known as homeless people who lived in Kanawha Plaza before we got there. That hope was destroyed over 10 hours last night.
But for my kids, the Occupation was a wonderland. Maybe I'll let them keep telling me their version until I can get back some of the dream.
4:45 AM The End of the Occupation - I am covered in coats and blankets in a bail bonds office. It's ok. I have the key here.
The heat is cranked up hotter than 70. I am fully dressed. But I can't stop shivering. I see Pretty's face in my mind.
"Why did they leave us? They said they cared about the homeless," she says.
I close my eyes. My teeth chatter. I was outside for almost 12 hours and didn't shiver but once or twice. Now I am inside and no matter what I do I can't warm up. Except for my face and lips. They are on fire.
Faces. All I can see are their faces. Pretty, Statue, Lightup, Jesus, BBoy, Mama and Big Daddy... and the ones who got away: the Mario Brothers, Peachy, Clown-o, and all those whose names I did not know yet.
I have made it inside. Where are they?
The knocking of my teeth together drums me to sleep. It is not altogether unpleasant. Gratitude. That's the way to go. I have teeth. I have warmth. In just a few short hours I will be telling my children to stop picking on each other and eat their breakfast.
Dear Lord, please don't let my children grow up to be train hoppers. Amen.
Note: The names of the settlers have all been changed to protect their identities. The names of my friends who live in homes have not been changed because I'm too tired to think of that many pseudonyms.
Next Installment will go from when I left Kanawha and the ruins of tent city at 4:00 AM to when I saw the lights and the police cars at 1:00 AM.