"So, did they solve anything?"
My grandma was asking. She is always interested in solutions. Got a problem? There's a solution. Notice an effect? Then there's a cause. Point B? Point A. That's how she rolls. In any case, this time, she was referring to the SRO Collaborative. Did they solve anything?
"Who—the Collaborative?" I'll interject again here. I knew who she meant. But I asked anyway because I'm stubborn—I can't help it. She uses too many pronouns.
"Yeah." (She doesn't seem to mind my stubbornness).
"Um . . . yeah?" This was a lie. We didn't solve any problems. Because it doesn't work like that. But she thinks it does. I had to say we solved something. Otherwise, I wasted my time and there's nothing you can do about it, really, and it's all going upscale down there anyway, and why don't they just go to the interior to work on the farms? There's work there!
"How did they solve it?" (This is verbatim, by the way. Look at these pronouns).
"Well, it's little steps." (I can use pronouns too).
"And owned mostly by who?" You have to know her. She means the SROs. The single-room-occupancy hotels. Who are they mostly owned by.
"Do they keep it well?" (By "it" she means all of the SROs that the Sahotas own).
"No, they are terrible. People call them slumlords instead of landlords."
"Oh . . . what else do they own?"
"I don't know. Their own multi-million dollar homes?" (I wasn't trying to be facetious).
"Is The Lion Hotel where Blue Grandma used to live . . . is that Sahota too?"
It is Sahota too.
"So most of it on Powell Street, was it?"
Most of it, yes.
When you walk into Wendy's house (which, incidentally, is on Powell Street), it's immediate homey-ness. It's warm. It's well lit. There are lots of shoes around, a couch with blankets, and you get the sense that they drink a lot of tea. Wendy is the Community Organiser for the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative, the organisation that I had volunteered with in the afternoon and the one about which my grandma was asking. Like my grandma, Wendy is also someone who is interested in solutions. And though we didn't "solve anything" that afternoon, Wendy's interest in solutions is ultimately what brought me—and Sam and Joyce—us, to her home.
When we'd finished working, Sam had to go, so off she went. Wendy, Joyce, and I found ourselves standing as if to leave but without leaving at all. It wasn't awkward. There was no explicit purpose for our standing around, and really, the happenstance of doing so might've been meaningless, but as it happened, it wasn't.
Do you feel like you belong here? is a question I was asked that day. Wendy asked me while we were standing there. To be honest, I don't remember exactly what happened after she asked me that question, but I remember feeling visible and stuck, even trapped. Not by Wendy. But by the question. Should I belong here? Should I feel like I belong here? Wait, where? In the Powell Street area? Or the Downtown Eastside generally? Does it matter which? Why? Is it bad if I don't? Also, "belong"? Eventually, some version of a rather flat, inept little no found its way out of me, and when I looked up, they seemed surprised. (Did I mess up?) They were maybe even shocked. (Oh fuck). But no is what I said. We kept standing there.
It wasn't even a sure-fire no. It was like a thin paper no. Granted, even in hindsight, "no" seems like the truest thing I could have said, but nevertheless, it was thin paper. I felt bad for shocking them with my thin paper no. Like by saying no, I'd said something awful or hurt my friends or disrupted something, maybe even something sacred, when really it was just a thin little paper no. Not like a real "No". I really wasn't sure what I'd said, done.
But nobody was upset with me. I remember feeling visible, available, shy. Bashful? I dunno. Some conflux of feelings that I hadn't felt since childhood, if even then. As in childhood, though, during which time children say things and feel bashful (or some mix of similar feelings) and adults come to their rescue, so too did adults come to my rescue standing there at Wendy's house. Wendy looked at me like a mother looks at things, and she felt gentle and patient. She spoke less. Joyce spoke more. She filled the silence that I couldn't. She asked me questions without really requiring answers (though I could answer if I liked), and her hair was curly and she was taller than me. She orated. I remember clearly only one thing she said, which was don't dispossess yourself.
And I remember that when she said it, I began to feel tears welling up in my eyes, and I remember being okay with their presence, but confused about their arrival. What brought you here, little tears? Are you here to solve things too? If they were, they had company. It turned out that Wendy and Joyce had tears in their eyes too, but no one seemed upset. Also, no one acknowledged that anyone had tears in their eyes for a long time. Joyce just kept orating, I kept listening, Wendy kept witnessing, and we all kept standing there.
The only reason I remember that we stopped standing there was because Joyce started to speak less, and so there was more silence than when she'd been speaking more, and I filled it by saying sorry and wiping away some tears, which was probably pathetic, and I wasn't really sorry, so I'm not sure why I said it, but something needed to be said, and Wendy needed her house back.
When I finally got back to my own house, feeling safe and loved (but raw) and my grandma, bustling away in the kitchen, unquestioningly asked me if they, the SRO Collaborative, had solved anything, I almost just said yes. Like a confident, sure-fire "yes". But I wasn't sure it was true, if we'd really solved anything. And if it was, I didn't know what had been solved.