Sometimes when I walk home at night, I see people I love under the lights of surrounding businesses. Around this time of year they are bundled up, cardboard boxes, umbrellas—whatever they can use—surrounding them to offer some amount of protection and privacy. Often, it can feel as though I am walking through a tiny secret village, hidden, tucked away in the dark of night.
This particular night is unseasonably warm so I am able to see faces, and the reality of what lies behind these ramshackle encampments becomes more visible. It’s after hours so neighboring businesses are closed. As I lock up, turn and look, I see spotlights shining on different groups of people up and down Aurora Avenue. As I stare at my surroundings, some of the lights blink. It’s dark out, and for a moment if feels as though each light and the persons underneath are stars in the night sky. I walk north and don’t get far before a group of people I know catches my attention. They are gathered under light. Some greet me, but one whom I know has her eyes closed with a syringe hanging out of her neck as another friend works to assist her in finding a healthy vein. She doesn’t know I am there. I turn away and focus on someone else. I don’t want her to know I see her. I try to hurry along the conversation but out of the corner of my eye, I see her wince, open her eyes and then look at me. I turn to face her. Our eyes meet. She hangs her head and averts her gaze. I bend down at her feet, touch her knee, then her hair and whisper, “I love you.”
She is twenty years old. It has taken her a long time to look me in the eyes. She has been coming in for months, but often scurries directly into the bathroom. She eats quickly and then goes back out to the street. Earlier this night, she ate dinner at the table, next to me, with a group of other women for the first time. We all talked for a long time. She shared that she has been on the streets since she was fifteen after fleeing an abusive home. Our conversation was deep and personal. At times we laughed, some moments brought tears, there were hugs and deep sighs. She shared that she has never had her own bedroom. Never her own space. Never a safe place to call home. She was taken aback by our reaction, our sadness as she shared more of her story. We affirmed her resilience but were also open about our grief around the lack of love and safety she received as a child. Women shared their stories with her, and she listened intently.
Eventually, it was time to go. She hugged many women from the table and thanked them. When she came to me, we hugged for a long time. I felt her rest for a moment on my shoulder. Then, as she looked up and into my eyes, tears streaming down her face, I wiped a tear and said, “This is holy, this is brave.” A sea of women told her she was loved as she opened the door and walked out, out among the sea of lights, the shadowed light of the moon, and the shrill of cars along Aurora Avenue.
Lisa Etter Carlson is grateful to be able to spend her days in her neighborhood at the Aurora Commons and at home with her husband Andy and two kids, Cedar and Kipling. Lisa is Co-founder of the Aurora Commons in Seattle, WA. Prior to that, she Co-founded the Green Bean Coffeehouse (a non-profit cafe). Both of these movements were created and are currently curated by a community of folks that, together, long to midwife spaces where precious human beings from all walks of life can live as though we belong to one another. Lisa has been living with intention toward her neighbors who are unhoused, drug dependent, and involved in street-based sex work for over 15 years now. She is a member of the City of Seattle Adult Survivor Collaborative (ASC) and is a proponent of harm reduction, safe consumption facilities, and loving absurdly.