It was the first day of school, and I was sitting on the floor next to a clerk

on

I’m not sure how much time passed as I gazed at her, watching her work the
custody list for the next week, checking off the names as she was asked to do
so – because it was her job – and just trying to find words for what was
happening to me the way air is to a balloon. She could be only a few steps
from me, but I couldn’t be sure.

Once the school library opened, I became a regular volunteer at our shelter,
a place where many homeless people find refuge. I have a soft spot for
homeless people because I used to be one myself. They are a different
species altogether. They have a unique and unpredictable way of looking at
the world, a way of living that is often unmoored from “normal” sense and
feeling. My time at the shelter felt more like working in a laboratory than
a museum – where I could experiment with things like empathy and the
creativity inherent in people who feel that they are being pushed out of their
tribe.

When I walked out of there that day, I returned to my apartment, where I
decided to sleep and sleep and sleep. The next day was not much different. I
was out in the world, but I felt my mind and body were disconnected and in a
space that was alien to both, which would only get worse over the next few
weeks.

I was working in a small warehouse owned by my girlfriend at the time, and
I was finishing up a job where I had to use both my hands to pull heavy
lumber. On the ground, I was surrounded by boxes full of random things that
I’d found in the dumpster, my first foray into recycling. I was in such a
rush to get it done that I hadn’t even looked up to see that I was surrounded
by three men in their fifties. One of them grabbed me by my shirt and pulled
me to the ground. I remember thinking, “What the fuck happened to my shirt?”
As he pulled me to my feet, the other two men in a circle around me, not
giving me a chance to respond or get myself under control.

“Sorry, sorry,” I said, trying to shake off their grip and looking for a way
out.

“Are you okay?” one of the men asked, his voice and attitude somehow
definitely unhelpful.

“Yeah, I have a meeting I was supposed to be at. You’ve got a job to do,
don’t forget,” I said, trying to stall. He still didn’t say anything to me,
and I finally looked up at him with a pleading look on my face. “I think I
know where I am,” I said. He looked at me, confused, but I knew I was right
because he grabbed my arm and dragged me along as we walked into the warehouse.

As we walked through the warehouse, I thought to myself, is this what it
feels like to be invisible? Do guys just like to feel like they are getting
the same level of respect that women are? Then, I realized I was talking
about things that weren’t going on in the warehouse, but were right outside
the building.

Two other men were working in some other area of the warehouse and I
couldn’t have gotten a better position, so the one who grabbed me was giving
me the choice to leave. I looked at him and said, “Okay,” because I didn’t
want to hurt his arm, which was already in a bad way from the day before. I
was scared, but I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t want to be a part of what
took place the following day, not as a human being, not even as a young
human being. So I left. I felt that I was letting down the one man who had
been kind to me. I walked out of the warehouse and out of the alley that
belonged to where I found myself, and I made my way to a restaurant I’d heard
of during one of my shifts. I knew a lot of places to go when I’m nervous,
so I tried to make my way to the most neutral place possible.

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