So it was like walking into a dream world when I opened the door to the County Services office this week to ask for help. How strange to be on the other side.
Clutching my collapsible folder of documents and my cough drops, I slowly opened the door and saw easily 50 people in line ahead of me and TV screens with random numbers. Armed security guards and metal detectors greeted us – the beggers.
“Empty your pockets and place your items on the belt.”
The ding of a bell, a random shout from the mysterious back room and an oddly gentle lady robot voice informing everyone who’s number was next and what window to go to. The many noises around me became a dull roar as I scanned the room looking for clues as to what in the hell I should do next.
I looked around at the faces of those waiting. Some were smiling, some were napping and some were chasing little ones around. I took a few seconds to thank the baby unicorns that my kids were in school and I sent out some mercy prayers for the exasperated mamas struggling to entertain toddlers in a stark grey open room with nothing interesting in it but for a soda machine. Most had the lack of spark you would expect. Most had that look you get when you want to fade into the wallpaper – or more accurately the cold tiled walls.
The man who sat next to me was wearing an extra-large flannel tied around his waist the way you tie a wrap-around skirt. He was very thin and so the large shirt wrapped his waist twice. He was properly covered. I smiled at him but he seemed afraid of me so I stopped. My heart ached for him.
I had started messaging my mom for some kind of comfort when the robot lady called my number – “Now serving N-180 at window 7” – as though my ice cream order was now ready.
I sat down at window 7 and my tears started to fall. I hadn’t even said a word yet. I was overcome and realized that this next few hours would be brutal. I knew there was no stopping the waves of tears that would just keep coming and dammit, I couldn’t leave. This had to be done.
It hit me in that moment that I was now on the other side of the desk. Face to face. Sitting in front of a caseworker with the weight of the world behind my eyes asking for her help.
She smiled at me, handed me a box of tissues and softly said, “We are here to help. That’s what we do. Let’s get you started and see if we can help you smile today.”
To be continued….