Bring me Back Home!

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Barbara, 1948-

“I said, ‘Lord, why? I want to go, I want to come back home!’”

I didn’t have the courage to slit my wrists. I wanted to, you know, I tried. . . But I was a coward, I didn’t know how to kill myself. And I was scared. Scared and alone. I said, ‘Lord, why? I want to go, I want to come back home!’ She looks up and points at the sky.

I don’t know what I did up there that was so bad to send me down here. I might have played the piano in heaven, before he got mad at me and kicked me down here, to this hell zone, to learn a lesson before bringing me back home. Isn’t that a beautiful thought?

I am tired of the pain, it is not going to heal down here on earth. God, what did I do so bad that you put me down here, tell me. What? I want to come back home!

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My Bodybuilding Years

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Barbara, 1948-

“It built my body and my self-esteem. I could lift my head up again.”

Oh, I forgot to tell you!

Look there, at that photo. See? I was a big bodybuilder back in the day. Started at 21 years old, and did it for nine years, before HIV. Back then, I was doing time in penitentiary. Five years, now what? I thought. I had nothing better to do, so I started exercising. Every day, after my kitchen duties, and whatever, whatever, or whatever, I’d start my routine. And once I started, I loved it! I loved the high, it’s a natural high.

When I got out of jail, I kept working out. I’d work out till I got burned out, six days a week. Sometimes I’d work out two hours, take a break downtown, then back more. I worked hard, I was in competition with myself. I had to do something to make me feel good about myself. And it did, it built my body and my self-esteem. I could lift my head up again.

The strongest part of my body? My arms, baby! And thighs! I used to love doing dog-man squats, that’s how we called them back in my day. We didn’t use the modern machines they use today, big discs on a bar, not that fancy stuff. We worked hard!

And then the illness got me. God, then everything just stopped! I lost my self-esteem and body, I lost everything. I sometimes want to go back to it, but now I have asthma from smoking cigarettes and osteoarthritis. And I’m 67 now. 67! God knows I didn’t think I would make it this long. . .

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A Giver More than a Taker

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Barbara, 1948-

“It is like God is speaking in you, or a feeling in your stomach.”

If someone really needs money for food, I give it to them. I can tell when it is for food and not drugs. I take one look and know, I am a pro. It’s a feeling inside, you just know your own people. I’ll even give if I am overly blessed with more than I need, and my associates around here made none. We have been all working here for years, we know each other.

Like I said, I am a giver more than a taker. That’s what I do here, give. She points at her small stand with a box of free condoms and an HIV educational leaflet. I gotta make a living, too, but It is important to me, so I’m here to give myself. Voluntarily.

That’s how I’ve been all my life. That’s why I got kicked in my butt, too. I don’t go looking for it, but it is like God is speaking in you, or a feeling in your stomach. ‘You’ve got all this money in your pocket, you’re blessed with it, go give it to so-and-so.’ You know?

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HIV

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Barbara, 1948-

“You could feel the distance, and back then, in ’99, it was still a death sentence.”

She went and bought disinfectants that she ain’t bought in her life. That was my mom’s reaction when I reached out for a helping hand, ‘Mom, I got HIV.’ I was heartbroken, of course. She is my mother! Who do I have? Nobody. I tried to buy my love. Be the girl that she wanted me to be, but I was miserable as hell. You could feel the distance, and back then, in ’99, it was still a death sentence.

I wound up near the Amtrak and was homeless, she points at the direction of the train tracks. Spent there many cold nights, and there I met a homeless guy, Charlie. We call him ‘Oh Man Charlie’. He taught me how to survive. How to sleep in a cardboard box, tight around my body like a coffin. He told me, ‘If you’re going to be homeless, you need to do it right.’ He is the one who introduced me to all the merchants out here. He taught me how to survive.

If I had family support, maybe it would have ended differently. You gotta have that support. Parents are key, and unconditional love. Now I am trying to help others, she points at her stand with free condoms and an HIV educational page. Have a choice, not like me.

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My Family is Right Here

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Barbara, 1948-

“These are my real friends, they never let me go hungry. Before, I didn’t have that, but now I know where I can go.”

A person I admire? Sen-Sen, the lady who works at the store across the street. She didn’t give up on me. She opened me up to church. She would give me gifts on my birthday, I never got gifts for my birthday before. She would help me with money for my meds. Also, the lady who works at CB2, she never fails to help. She invited me to her house on Thanksgiving.

Oh, this is Michael from the jewelry store over there. She hails an older man crossing the street, who greets her back. He’s another one. I was so dirty and nasty and filthy; dirty clothes, dirty hair, dirty nails. He lifted me up. Because of him, I told myself, I’m gonna make him proud! I went into a program. Got back respect for myself. And I keep fightin’!

Not an hour later, she lights up when a man and two women, one dressed in nurses’ scrubs, stop to greet her. See these people here? This woman here, she saved me, God bless her! She helped me when I was still covered in dirt. The three work at a nearby Kaiser facility, they explain. ‘It’s a pleasure to know her,’ the man says and they continue on their way.

I’ve been here on this Street for years, I know many people. So many. These are my real friends, they never let me go hungry. Before, I didn’t have that, but now I know where I can go. This is my family, right here! Yeah! She hails a man from across the street, ‘I’m having a big day, baby!’ She calls out. The man smiles, she turns back and says, ‘His wife owns Café Rogue, also good people!’

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