Number 23

Last night at The Open Door, a woman mimed sealing an envelope. The woman next to her silently nodded her understanding, resealed another envelope, and passed it on. Three more women earnestly handled this invisible object, and when asked later, each was sure she had been rolling a joint. Hilarity broke the silence.

Also at The Open Door, a young woman wore a splint on her arm. She had been assaulted, she said, her hand twisted at such an extreme angle that the ligaments and tendons tore completely. Doctors had to reattach her hand.

The sounds of Al Green played on a CD player later in the evening, and other women, sitting and standing, swayed to his smooth rhythms. Just a few feet away, in the hall, a teenager threatened to call the cops on her mother, who had just been playing air guitar in a pantomime. She broke my phone, the daughter cried. She spent the rent money on beer. I can't do this anymore.

Last night marked the 23rd time I led theatre games with the women. I began volunteering last August; later this week, I'll become an official staff member. I'll be with the women on weekends, handling late-shift intake, the pre-bedtime routines, and all the surprises that make each day there unique. (When I asked for time off around my bench press competition, the executive director said, "Bench press? I guess God is really preparing you for this job!" I was afraid to ask for further clarification.)

Theatre games will be on hold until I get my bearings, and until they find someone to handle the door for that hour. I announced all this to the women at the end of yesterday evening and was met with kindness. They thanked me for "making them think," as one woman put it. And they threatened to kidnap me so I'd stay past the weekends.

"One word," said Jessie, who's been with me since the beginning. "Welcome."


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