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“Sonja” A Chapter from “Occupied: The Time we Shared”


All I knew, when I arrived at the park that morning, and carefully made my way through the small swaths of walkable space, as you could never be too certain that your eye might not miss something, and your foot crunch into the hand of a sleeping occupier, which suddenly, no matter what your contribution in the movement was, made you automatically suspect, for reasons that went far beyond a sore hand, and toward the Comfort section of the encampment, was that Sparrow, who had been our point person, leader, of sorts, despite all of the horizontal hyperbole, had quit Comfort. She had been shoved into the ground and threatened by another occupier, Josh, a kind of sweet, scattered wacky kid, yet, endearing, for all that, who, even still, to this day, I have a hard time imagining doing something so violent. The trans street urchins, a term I use lovingly, and with nothing but love, were still wiping the sleep out of their eyes while begging Sparrow not to leave. She had become a type of street mother for them, and one particularly young Puerto Rican trans named Ivan, was taking the news worst of all. He turned to me with an existentially lost look, that was all the more unsettling, because of the cold that accompanied that look, and shuffled into my arms, saying, as he placed his head on my shoulder for a brief moment, “What are we going to do, Sparrow is our mother, for real, we need her, she takes care of us? She’s everyones mother.” “It’ll be alright Ivan,” I said, though I had no conviction for those words, and yet, it was the easiest thing to say. He pulled away, wiping his tears with his sleeve, before collapsing his whole body into the swivel chair that sat behind an ironing board, which served as a front desk and barrier of sorts, to seal in the work station, dropping his arms in defeat, dangling like disowned objects, head down, and staring blankly into one of the colored bins of donated clothes that had since degenerated into mismatched chaos, after being painstakingly coordinated and sorted the following day, by myself and a couple of part time volunteers. Sparrow, with her bag slung across her shoulder, moved a bin out of it’s blockade to step out of Comfort and onto the walkway, lined precariously with sleeping bodies and tents, “I’m out, you can find someone else to do this shit, I ain’t risking my ass no more”. “Please Momma, no” Ivan begged, “I’m sorry baby, I gotta go”, Sparrow replied, and in almost the same instance, she had already disappeared behind a patch of blue tarp and piled junk, presence gone, and a stillness and ‘what now’ type of feeling sitting in the air for a moment.

Despite the heaviness of this whole situation, now being felt most acutely by the street kids, who stood in a sort of aftershock, at loss, it wasn’t going to stop the flood of occupiers approaching Comfort, who all needed a variety of items, tampons, toothbrushes, clean underwear, deodorant, gloves etc., and given hesitation with a reply, would start to look for them themselves, which would very quickly turn our work station into a free for all, of foraging and unneeded take aways. So I set to work, in a manic pace, getting 10 things at once for 10 different people, and having at least 5 of those things not being good enough, for example, not liking the particular color of a pair of clean womans underwear, or a complaint about an otherwise clean and fresh white t-shirt having a small but innocuous stain on it somewhere. One other person may have been helping me, and I can’t remember who, but almost the whole team just sat there coming to grips with Sparrow’s departure, and some, I’m sure, pretending they were coming to grips, really just unwilling to do everything that was needed, morning being a type of rush hour for comfort, high stress and high expenditure of energy.

I was helping a woman named Sonja, trying to find her a pair of matching gloves, which was the biggest problem 90% of the time, bins full of mismatched choices, all left hands, or one match of thin fabric and the other thick, child’s mitten or fingerless. “Do you guys need help back here since Sparrows gone?” Sonja asked me, “Yes, actually, I could really use some help, if you can.” “Oh sure, I know what every one needs here, and I also know a lot of people ain’t been getting the shit they’re supposed to be getting, and I know those motherfuckers up at SIS ain’t letting us have what we need either, things need to change or there’s gonna be a confrontation, one girl is sick to death, she almost died last night, and they still won’t give her a sleeping bag because they say there are none, but I’ve seen who gets the fucking sleeping bags around here.” “Well”, I said, “you seem like the best person to fight for that stuff, I mean you know what people need and what they’re not getting, so why don’t you be our new point person, take Sparrows place?” “Oh, seriously? I’d love too, but do we need to vote on it?” She asked, with her eyes bugging wide. I turned to the rest of the comfort team, four or five sleepy non working crew, and asked “Proposal to appoint Sonja head of Comfort?” Everyone gave nonchalant upward twinkles, which was a direct democracy symbol for yes. “Alright”, I said, “your in charge now.” “Alright” she starts in, “who wants to run a list up to SIS for me, I’m gonna write down all the shit that we’ve been denied and need, before tonight, so there ain’t no trouble.” Ivan volunteered, “I need to use the bathroom, so I’ll go” he said. Somehow, I knew there was going to be trouble, regardless.


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