My story begins in Eureka, California, one hundredclimb all the way to the top, and then one day clearing my mind. My 23 year old intellect was jus and ten feet above the forest floor. In a tree we called Poseidon. I remember being too scared to t zcircling and exploring this idea of meditation, a word that had been associated with satanism and damnation in my capital C christian upbringing. Between that smell, so clean that it was almost alien, and the sunlight reflecting off the ocean 5 miles out on the horizon. That was my first face to face meeting with the essence of nature, the curious birds priviledging me with their presence for an entire morning, the mind lifting up the platform at night, like I was on an ocean swell. The windstorms could get so loud they sounded like so many locomotives barreling through the branches. It’s sad to think that they cut that tree down, a tree older then even today I can comprehend.
The nights in Liberty Square weren’t that different than any other part of New York. It would only get so quiet, the tinny sounds of handheld radios, the clanging of the trash cans as they were emptied, political words exchanged into the late night across a table bending under the weight of political literature. As the night medical point person, I was the victim of the attempted daily ambush by a number of New York Post reporters. The questions always danced in this nebulous place, they hitting their first assignment of the day, me floating in that space angling toward much needed rest. The tent talking to me like a expectant lover.
‘You don’t need that cup of coffee, you’re about to come to bed.’
It was a briefing for one, if there was the rare incident overnight, a rare belligerent drinker, a twisted ankle. They always ended the interview with the same question, and would state it as if it were no big deal what I said. The back and forth could have been almost scripted.
‘Do you know of any sexual assaults that happened in the encampment last night?’
‘I can tell you that there were no sexual assaults in the camp last night.’
‘How can you be sure?’
‘I’ve been awake all night, and I worked as the main medical person here. If something would have happened I would be in a position to know.’
‘Well, you get some rest.’
They didn’t want to hear about the people from Bellevue dropped off in the middle of the night, shivering across from the Brooks Brothers, bags of clothing clearly marked from the hospital, police scrambling back into their cars and pulling off. It was an interesting moment in time, before the NYPD had the violence dialed in just right, so that in person I could be in some of the most jarring, brutal violence you could ever see— but on TV, it looked liked yesterday, which looked like the day before that.
The scale of the disaster was cataclysmic, almost to a humorous level, A brown line that fell somewhere between my belly button and my sternum. An offending scar across the entirety of existence as far as the eye could see. Those first weeks were a blur of blood pressure cuffs and insulin test strips, the knowledge that for a lot of our patients we were the last and only protection against disaster. Old grandmothers with bleach in their eyes, contractors from texas knocked out cold after a fall from a ladder. Unprotected illegals plagued by the mystery coughs that came from gutting moldy buildings without the semblance of adequate protection. We were in this together, those that stayed, those scrambling back, and those that came back for the weekends to see their quickly dilapidating houses, if they were lucky. I will never forget that moment that I could see in someone’s eyes, when the emotion went from confusion, to that mind-shattering dread, the moment that they knew that in whatever place they were at physically, mentally or spiritually, there was only one thing to do: start over. A stoop all that would be left, if they were that lucky.