Street Treasure

It’s okay to have damage

It started with a doll.

Two days after Donald Trump was elected to be the new president of the United States, I found this doll nestled among leaves on the sidewalk. My friend Mary and I had only gone a few blocks from the house. The color of her shirt would have made her easy to miss, but I accidentally kicked her while playing in the leaves. I heard the sound of her meeting pavement. That’s the only reason I found her. She felt like the moment; raw, with a future uncertain.

The doll looked as banged up as I’d been feeling.

My friend Mary joked that the toy had rescued itself from immediate danger and now, having depleted her resources, she was hoping, waiting for back up. Sticking her in my felt pocket immediately felt right. I’d been resisting the impulse to personify her. Letting the toy remain nameless, I held her gently in my hand. She was everyone. She was no one.

Our walk lasted several hours. Mary and I talked about everything and nothing, wandering down posh then poor streets, meandering through quiet parks and then resting in an old cemetery. It wasn’t the walk we planned at the start. It was an adventure that grew from necessity. The rhythm of crunching leaves was soothing and encouraged us to keep going long after our other senses screamed stop.

The vibe in the city that day was weird.

What had seemed laughably impossible days before had come true; no one knew yet what a Trump presidency would mean. Some people stayed home. The news reported several individuals in a group had been out in force harassing women and minorities. While some locked their doors and stayed in, a surprising number of people felt compelled to be outside, to be visible and to stick up for their streets.

People went out of their way to be courteous as we passed. My white neighbors were nervously trying to demonstrate that they were safe, that they weren’t going to harm anyone. People yielded on sidewalks, eyes softening as strangers passed. Each look a plea: “I’m not dangerous. I’m not like them. Please don’t be too.”

Separately, on a deeply personal scale, my week had been rough. I’d just come home from an uncomfortable trip in Portland. An hour before needing to walk to catch my train, I was interrupted while writing at Powells bookstore. A man pressed a napkin in my hands. He said he’d been watching me write for a long time. There was a note scribbled on it, a crude request to fuck. In response to rejection, he followed me for several blocks screaming insults and obscenities at me. I ducked into a business and hid until he got bored. I barely made my train. Hours later I came home to discover my room, and my room alone, had been broken into. I’d been robbed while I was gone on a two day trip. My housemates had thrown a party. They were defensive. Home didn’t feel safe. My streets didn’t feel safe. I didn’t feel safe.

By walking I hoped tired legs would help me remain calm. It was a feeling I doubted I’d find, settling instead for fatigue. I wanted to be the kind of tired at the end of our walk that makes momentary indifference possible. I wanted to be tired enough that I could then sleep in my own bed and temporarily forget the person who’d gone through all my clothes and stolen from me. I wanted to forget the strange man who’d followed me screaming, threatened by a two letter word.

Walking outside together with Mary felt important. It wasn’t enough to be together; we had to be visible and passing folks on the street.

In most of our crossings, strangers seem to approach each other with a little more mindfulness and care. My neighbors were filled with collective anxiety. No one knew what to say, yet they too felt that pull, that longing for community and a desire to be near people.

The doll was the perfect encapsulation of the uncertainty of that week. She’s missing her hair, one of her shoes is gone, her battle damage authentic. Her arm was bent back like this when I found her, like a person restrained. Her skirt, damaged, mirroring another recent assault I’d experienced by men in masks and “Make America Great Again” hats. The president’s statement about grabbing women by the pussy rang in my ears. I wanted to give this toy comfort. Today it lives in my tool box. I see her every time something gets built or fixed.

When I first put her in my pocket, I promised her she wasn’t alone. I was talking to a toy, but really it was a reminder for myself.

It’s okay to carry damage. It doesn’t make you disposable. I put her with my tools as a reminder that the first step in fixing something is acknowledging there is a problem.

America, we have a problem.