Odilia Rivera Santos
I stood in front of the classroom full of adults -- some newly-homeless and others stuck in the cyclical experience of being well enough to manage for a while with the call of the wild leading them back to danger and homelessness. Stripped of belongings and any pretense, they stared at me.
I had no lesson because it was a surprise -- I was asked to sub for a runaway teacher. Several students had plastic bags with their belongings and miniature toiletries. Some looked as if they had slept in their clothes, matted hair stuck to the sides of their heads. I thought of how self-neglect is an act with its roots in childhood that keeps people anchored to poverty.
I chose to riff on self-love. The visual of lowering a rope down a deep well popped into my mind, so I could let go of grandiose philosophical abstract plans for the day. Before people can learn to love life, they first have to stop thinking of suicides and mistakes and losses and false starts.
Rituals, I said, in my hyperactive Mr. Rogers voice, are important, necessary and calming.
You get up,shower,brush your teeth,put on deodorant.
At this point, a woman, in the front row,reached into her plastic bag, pulled out deodorant and she attempted to discreetly apply it. I pretended to not notice.
Privacy ceases to matter once people have done so many things in public: writing your manifesto against the government for sterilization via drugs in your Koolaid, cat naps on trains and bird baths at Starbucks and meeting your life partner on line at the methadone clinic. A person you trust to not judge you for your transgressions but never trust to be trustworthy.
I wondered as I watched couplings when being around peers was beneficial and when it was a detriment to be in the same boat. The boat might be too small or you as a couple with the trail of baggage might be too heavy. The boat might be full of holes from the start and not as new as it seemed from the hazy angle from which you first scoped it out.
Are there life rafts?
I never judged people for their troubles.
My main concern was they remain childless until they learned about self-love and taking that boat in for a second opinion before they climbed in.
My simple words streamed out as the philosophical spiders built intricate webs.
And then, a student says, Are you an actress?
Yeah, I'm an actress, researching a role I said with a smile.