This story is a reflection of me on a small part of my healing journey. A simple Anishnawbe/Irish kwe (woman) that has had a long battle with mental health issues and how chi (big) changes are needed in order to be reborn. I reflect back on a teaching of an eagle and the changes it has to go through in order to survive. How it has had an impact on how I look at the changes within my journey.
My life like many anishnawbe kwe’s has been filled with chaos, trauma, and self sabotage. I had to make a choice to move from a place of unhealthy behaviors to a place of comfort and acceptance of myself. Two years ago I hit rock bottom and became homeless. I ended up in a native women’s shelter where I currently reside. I felt very alone and helpless when I first arrived. I didn’t know how I got myself in such a bad position. I was living a lifestyle that questions ones morals on a daily basis. The time had come to an end for me and no matter how hard I tried I kept falling down. My previous survival skills were not working besides I was aging and no longer a young woman in an industry that caters to the youthful pretty girls. I was an exotic entertainer in a strip club.
There is a teaching about an eagle and that without some painful changes it cannot survive past forty years old. When an eagle reaches this age she can no longer fend for herself. She is unable to catch pry, feed herself or fly well. Her talons are no longer sharp she is unable to catch prey. Her beak is bent so she is unable to rip her food apart to eat, and her feathers become thick and dense making it difficult to fly. If she is to continue like this it won’t be long before she dies. Or if she goes through a very painful and time consuming process she can continue to live.
The eagle will fly to its nest atop a cliff or mountain rock. She then beats her beak off the rocks until it breaks off and waits for it to grow back. Once this happens, she then pulls out all her talons and dense feathers also waiting for them to grow back. Once the talons and feathers grow back is able to survive another 30 years.
This teaching has given me reason to appreciate change. Although it may be painful and unbearable at times it takes patience. There is a rebirth of one’s self, confidence to move forward in life and be better equipped to face challenges in a new way. The changes that I had to make were learning to love myself in spite of the abuse, trauma and shame that I carried within myself for far too long. I had to put my life on pause to deal with these unhealthy ways. I had to relearn new coping strategies to deal with mental health issues. Most importantly to be self-loving, and believe that I do matter in the web of life and creation. Turning to my community for help and support I was able to heal and have a new perspective on life. Now, like the eagle that has done its work ready to soar off that rock and regain its survival skills back. I too am ready for new adventures and opportunities that await me.
None of this would have happened if I didn’t take the time to look deep within myself and change the old habits that were no longer beneficial to me. My greatest challenge is also my greatest teaching. For, had I not experienced losing everything becoming homeless. I would not have seen the need for change. I wouldn’t be the self- loving confident Anishnawbe kwe I am today.
You don’t want to know me
You will not know me
You will not remember me
And, furthermore, you don’t want to know me
You may bump into me on the street while I’m mentally confused, trying to hide my embarrassment at not having enough change for the bus, yet still desperately counting, “…
You may look at me and give me that look
I’m used to it
Always hurts just that little bit
I may be your sister, your niece, your daughter, your cousin,
But the blood may as well be as thick as water
You either don’t, or can’t relate, or don’t want to
Because you can get up, go have a shower, eat, go about your daily routine
Without a second thought
About as much thought as you give me
And you will not want to know me
If you ask me what is happening with me these days
I will have nothing to say
Beyond the uphill battle to do everyday things
You will say nothing’s changed
A judgment so out-of-touch with reality
All it does is add new pain to the pains and traumas of the past for me
Do I stay on the phone and say nothing like a good little girl? Mais oui
And I will know that you do not want to know me
You have a car, a house, a good job, a good soul
But after seeing my place
And knowing I spent time in a mental hospital
You’re seeing a side of myself I once kept hidden from you And I recall you saying you’re getting bad at returning phone calls Do you really want to know me? Anymore?
“All she has to do is get her act together”
“All you have to do is develop a routine”
“If you take your meds you can live a normal life”
“All you have to do is make an effort”
“She’s probably just doing it for the attention…”
It is so much simpler, so much easier to put it down to an aspect, a fault of myself, my personality Rather than acknowledge that it’s not me
But an illness that rears its head every moment of every day
And of the two, it and I,
I’m the one who gives way
But that requires a re-education, deconstruction, you see
And the honest to goodness truth of it all is
You just simply do not want to get to know me
A lifetime of not knowing
Let’s just have a lifetime more
That’s so much more effective than having to guard keys
Or a lock in the door
You don’t want to know me, you don’t want to understand
We could be standing toe-to-toe
But it’s like I exist in a separate land
Little big man
His heart thumped deep and strong, waking him from his nightmare. He was being chased by a crazed demon, and he just had to keep running. Like a centipede, the relentless assailant moved impossibly fast, its face too grotesque to bear. Wait. No, that’s wrong. The demon’s head was actually twisted 180 degrees around, facing backwards! Tony shuddered as his eyes opened, his head dizzy and disoriented.
A door creaked, and light from the hall burst into the laundry room where Tony slept. He had broken into several apartment buildings to find shelter from the cold, dark, winter air. By some grace of god, this particular basement contained an old mattress, which the 16 year old homeless Tony came to rely on nightly, envying his buddies who had the luxury of retiring to warm, safe, familial homes. Out of the light a middle aged man appeared. “Oh!” remarked the surprised stranger.
Embarrassed, Tony instinctively leapt up, and began to collect himself. He was afraid he was in trouble. “Are you okay?” asked the stranger. Even though he was ‘on the street,’ Tony dreaded being seen as needing help. Like an animal he eked out a daily struggle for survival, hustling for change and cigarettes, and stealing food, or anything else, when he saw the opportunity. “I’m fine,” Tony responded, “I gotta go.” Tony threw on his coat and raced past the man and out the building.
Since the video arcade wasn’t open until 10, Tony headed to the only other warm place he knew he could go without having to buy something, the downtown bus station. At the station he found an empty chair, and plopped himself into it, and nodded off.
As daylight grew brighter, the station began to bustle with traffic. By 8 am, the familiar sight of high school kids transferring to the Central High bus were beginning to arrive. Tony would not be joining them. Ironically, in this moment, he wished that he had stayed in school.
Another familiar sight disconcerted him. He had noticed the thirty-something man, unmistakably peculiar in his light blue suit and nappy hair, on previous occasions at the station. On this particular day, the man walked up to Tony and discreetly handed him a note. “This is for you,” the man said. Tony looked up at him, but he turned away as quickly as he had approached. Tony opened the small folded piece of paper. It read, “Come and meet me if you want to make some money.” He looked up at the man who was now staring back at him from a wall across the station. Tony’s heart sank, and an empty pain filled his stomach. Though tender in years, he had learned something, somewhere, of how kids get exploited like this. “What is this?” he thought to himself, “Sex? Violence?” Disturbing images of what this jerk might have in mind flashed through his brain. His street instincts kicked into gear. Making sure the man’s gaze was still fixed upon him, awaiting his reply, Tony demonstratively crumpled up the paper and tossed it into an adjacent trash can. He was letting the man know that he was not up for….whatever.
“Goddamn creep!” he thought to himself. Slightly shaken, he sensed a breakdown coursing through his veins. His whole body, and indeed his soul, seemed to tremble with emotional and psychological overload. The low level of humanity that the teenaged Tony was being exposed to on the streets was beginning to overwhelm him. He had no preparation, no skills for this. He had to get the hell out of there. Ashamed to be seen crying, he rushed out the far door of the station, into the frozen exterior.
He tried to muffle the blubbering that was forcing itself out through his taught mouth. Like throwing up, he wanted somewhere private to let it out. He quickly ducked around the back of the station, and slumped against the wall. Though his mother had given up on him, maybe rightly so, for all his wildness and trouble, he really needed her in this moment. “Mom, please!” he muttered in despair. He was so lonely, so vulnerable. A strong gust of wind whipped him in the face, freezing his tears. He tried to be a big man at 16 years of age, but he was now just a boy who needed his mother. “Help me!” he pleaded. New tears soaked his face, and he sobbed as quietly as he could manage.
August 30, 2016
Paul A. Eng
“Don’t call me sick! Who is sick? You are the sick one.”
She flung her hand down in a swoop. It was a snowy January evening a week after her 75th birthday. She had cleaned off the bench and sat content as she lit another cigarette in the dim package of night. The fingertips of her black wool gloves had been cut off for added dexterity.
It was a friendly area with dog owners that met each night to allow their animals to play but now it was past 11pm and the area was vacant.
Her sales had been good that night and she bought herself a small bouquet of flowers at the convenience store along with cigarettes, beer and sherry and she roamed with her black cart a few blocks west and a block south to the Central Tech Collegiate. Behind her the handsome front entrance of curved stone was romantically set by a hypnotic snow that fell in unison from lampost to lampost.
She was tall and thin and never wore a hat. She had big luminous eyes that were dark brown and sensitive. Her grey hair was parted in the middle and tied in a bun at the back of her neck. Usually she sat on a cushion that she placed on the edge of a cement flower planter in front of a coffee shop around the corner from where she lived.
It was the busy student area called the Annex and she sold handmade earrings and bracelets that she hung on a rectangular metal screen that extended out of her black cart. Her name was Deni and she had become a local icon in her black garb. She had two older sisters who were married and had grown children. They had stopped calling on the phone or writing in the past years since the parents had died, one after the other.
She pulled out the bottle of sherry and poured some into her styrofoam cup and drank from it.
“You can all go to Hell!”
Deni had a French accent from Quebec, her place of birth, but she claimed the city of Toronto as her residence for the last 20 years.
She lit another cigarette and looked from side to side in a casual serenity. She remembered her sisters, playing with them in the backyard, singing songs and telling jokes.
“I do not have to be like you!
I do not want a husband! I do not need children to love me!”
She felt tired and settled herself on her side and the cold wood bench became warm beneath her. Snowflakes fell on her lips and she heard a noise.
“Come child, kiss me, kiss me up my child.”
She closed her eyes and murmured. “Oh Mama.”
Softly came the cold and tender sank her heart.