I am about to have a baby (official seven-week countdown). That means some number of weeks or months away from the streets of South Dallas while I try to figure out this thing they call motherhood. I’ve been going there weekly for nearly two years, and I am terrified of being away for any number of weeks …
Here’s why: when I first started spending time on that shaded corner in South Dallas, I was uncomfortable. For the first few months, all the way driving down from my comfy home in North Dallas, I would have this conversation with myself, “Elisabeth, turn back now. Why are you doing this, going to the streets to be with people who are homeless? It’s not to late to go home. Turn back!”
When I arrived, I would open the door to my black VW Passat and be assaulted by a smell I had only experienced in third-world countries. In that moment, I still thought, It’s not too late to leave.
And yet, I wouldn’t. I would stay. At some point, maybe six months in, the uncomfortable of the streets actually became comfortable. I honestly started feeling more uncomfortable in my old world of glitz and glam than my new world of smells and streets. For a while, I felt like two people – the old me wore nice clothes and put on makeup every day and said and did proper things, while the new me wore tennis shoes with jeans, forewent makeup often, and squatted in the dirt while sweating profusely (improper). I actually began to resent the old me because the new me felt so alive and authentic.
Over time, something happened though. The two mes converged. I could be the person who dressed up for a cocktail party and the person who trekked to South Dallas at 5 a.m. to take a homeless crack addict to rehab. In fact, I realized this was the point: not escaping one world for the other but learning to live in both. Learning to be myself in both.
And now, I am afraid of losing a part of myself as I step away from the streets to take care of an infant. I am afraid that, when I come back, the streets will feel uncomfortable. That I will grow comfortable with spit up and dirty diapers in my air-conditioned home during the summer and will feel uncomfortable sweating it out in the dirt when I return in the fall. In essence, I am afraid of losing part of myself, a part of myself that I feel has been gifted to me by the streets, by the men and women who are homeless who are my friends.
You see, when you have a baby, you still see your friends who can drive a car to come visit and know to stay away from you with a fever. But you might not get to see your friends who sit on paint pails and for whom it would take an hour an a half on the DART bus to visit.
My worlds have converged to a point, it's true, but this dichotomy reveals a part of my life that still feels incongruent. And so I wonder, what will this new phase of life look like with everyone I love – those who live inside a comfortable home, like me, and even more, my friends who live outside under an overpass?