“She’s a good teacher,” Carolyn said over the phone.
“Yes, she really is,” I said as I drove to pick up our friend CeCe from rehab, now thinking through all of what she taught me. CeCe, my teacher.
Carolyn met CeCe back in 2017 at a worship service at CitySquare, a nonprofit providing social services to those experiencing homelessness in Dallas. They sat at the same table, chatted for a bit, and then CeCe was invited up to the front of the service to share her story.
She was homeless, living in what used to be called Tent City, a homeless encampment in South Dallas at the time. She was a poet, reciting one of her many poems called Broken Crayons, a poem about finding purpose even in her brokenness. And she was someone Carolyn wanted in her life.
It was in CeCe that Carolyn found both a friend and a teacher. And now, CeCe has become my teacher.
She taught me about strength
I met CeCe last year near Austin Street Center, a homeless shelter in Dallas. A volunteer named Emma wanted to surprise CeCe, since they hadn’t seen each other in years. As soon as CeCe saw her coming, she started rolling her way as fast as she could in her wheelchair and then opened wide her arms with tears in her eyes. Emma was crying too as they hugged.
There’s something so special about CeCe, I remember thinking.
Not long after that, we at The Human Impact, put together an event for the homeless, and CeCe came. It was then I learned of her talent for rhyme and spoken word. She recited a few of her poems to me, every word strung together with purpose and pain and silver linings. They were beautiful and so was she.
CeCe, my teacher. Helping me see that there’s strength in expression and self-reflection, and how healing they can be in my brokenness.
She taught me about bravery
Months passed, Coronavirus hit our city, and the streets were now empty of volunteers and full of those without a home struggling to find food and shelter.
CeCe was among them. On one of these quiet days, my coworker Alyssa and I visited the streets to check on our friends.
Then CeCe rolled up.
“I need help,” she said crying. “I’m ready for a different life. I want to get clean.” “Are you saying you want to go to rehab?” I asked her. “Yes,” she responded. “I do!” “I can pick you up at 6AM tomorrow to take you to rehab. Can you be ready then?” I asked. “Yes, I’ll be ready! I want this for myself. I need help,” she said.
There’s not much I can compare to us picking CeCe up the next morning under the bridge where she and many others slept. It was dark, heartbreaking and eerie. When we arrived, she got up, gathered her things, and we left for Nexus, an addiction treatment center for women.
Once we got there, she signed herself in and then we waited outside to see if she was going to make it in. A woman walked up to the entry behind us, crying as she signed herself in. A man had just dropped her off and left. CeCe turned around in her wheelchair, slowly rolled up to the woman, and told her she was going to be okay.
“This is a brave thing you are doing,” CeCe told her. “Show them you’re not who they think you are.”
“Thank you,” the woman said with tears in her eyes.
CeCe, my teacher. Helping me see that there’s hope in weakness, bravery in asking for help, and that the pain we walk through can help us recognize and bring comfort to the pain in others.
She taught me about friendship
A Nexus worker came out to greet CeCe.
“Can you walk up these stairs by yourself?” she asked CeCe.
CeCe got up from her wheelchair, put her hand on the railing to her left, and slowly and bravely walked up five steps for the woman. “Yes, I can,” she said.
“That’s good,” the worker responded. “You can use your wheelchair, but there are some parts of this building where you’ll need to use the stairs. Unfortunately, however, we don’t have a handicap-accessible room available at this time. Can you come back next Friday?”
That was like a punch to the gut. CeCe was ready now but there was no room for her. Thankfully, because of many of you reading this now, we were able to help her with a motel for that week of waiting.
For me, it was a week of getting to know CeCe more. It was a week of singing some of our favorite songs together and helping her with a few necessities like food or a few wants like makeup. It was a week of getting to hear her story in a deeper way, a week of getting to dream and hope with her about the life she wants for herself.
CeCe, my teacher. Helping me see that steps don’t have to stop you, that waiting takes a special kind of patience, that a bed for someone who hasn’t had one in awhile is the quickest way to fall asleep, and that friendship can be found in car-singing and shopping for eyelashes.
She taught me about broken crayons
Friday came and CeCe was able to get into Nexus. She was there for 28 days with no visitors, but an incredible crew of people to walk alongside her, some phone calls with friends, and a few gifts from me and others in the mail.
She stayed there the entire 28 days, got clean and seemed so full of life when I picked her up on her last day. I, on the other hand, had just finished crying in my car before checking her out of Nexus. The day before she called to tell me she didn’t want to extend her stay at Nexus and she didn’t want to go to a recovery home. She wasn’t able to get her own apartment just yet either.
She told me she wanted me to drop her back off to the streets, the place I had picked her up from a month ago, and it broke my heart.
On the drive back to the streets, I and her caseworker tried to talk her out of it. We tried to show her there were other options she could choose and that it would be harder for her to stay off drugs living on the streets. But she insisted she could do it on her own and wanted to be dropped off on the streets.
So, that’s what I did and drove away as I was reminded of one of her poems Broken Crayons.
CeCe, my teacher and friend. Helping me see that healing takes time, that I’m not a savior, and that even in brokenness you can still find purpose, that even broken crayons still color.