By Lisa Sharon Harper
I stepped up to the automatic sliding doors, but they didn’t open. I knocked. The guard recognized me, waved, and the South Bronx-based special care facility opened arms of welcome. My half-sister lives there–for the past four years, actually. Before that, “Lynne” alternated between backstreet allies and Rikers Island prison cells.
Lynne used to ride me on the back of her bike down New Jersey Avenue in the heart of her neighborhood in East New York. Whizzzing around the corner on banana-seat bikes, pink streamers whirled in the wind. I was eight. She was fourteen. We owned the road.
Back then Lynne was super smart, kind, and strong. She taught me how to cut and shuffle my first deck of cards, then tutored me in the science of winning my first card game–I-de-clare-war! I loved her. I looked up to her.
When my parents divorced I lost contact with Lynne and my other half-sister (Lynne’s sister), “Danielle”. Twenty-nine years later Danielle and I reunited though tears and hugs and I asked about Lynne.
“Oh,” she said, “Lynne lives in a special care facility now. She has Schizophrenia. She was homeless for a while when she went off her meds. We didn’t know where she was. She almost froze to death a couple of times – she lost toes and teeth. Eventually, she became addicted to drugs. She finally checked her self in to this facility and it’s the longest she’s ever been in one place since her first break-down.”
Everytime I visit Lynne I feel the same lump in my throat as I did the very first time I saw her again, a year and a half ago.
On this One Day I walk past the nurses’ station and greet her neighbors who line the hallway in their wheel chairs like old-timers sitting on front stoops waiting for something to interrupt the drone of lives lived encased between four walls.
I usually find Lynne in the smoking room or the TV room, but on this One Day she stands in the hall way just outside of her room–waiting for me. She is lovely.
“Do you like it?” she asks me, motioning with her shaky hands to the dress that fits her perfectly. “The nurses gave it to me.”
We go downstairs to the multi-purpose room and wait for fellow residents to arrive. Lynne’s roommate, “Gloria”, goes around to every resident in the center and tells them – demands, actually – that they come down and watch “the show.”
“Lynne’s sister is going to perform spoken-word poetry,” Gloria announces with the fervor of an agent working on commission. “Don’t miss it!”
On this One Day my sister sits slumped in her wheel chair; drugged to oblivion, tired, but there. Residents wheel in and out as I share one poem after another. Lynne’s neighbors clap and cry and talk back to the characters in the poems. And Lynne sits slumped, head nodding… eyes closed… until…
“I See It In Your Eyes”
by Lisa Sharon Harper
I see it in your eyes
Your eyes dance
Of my soul
They well up
They spill out
At the most inopportune times
Talking…with a stranger
I think of you and
Lynne looks up through her drugged haze
No matter how near or far
Across mountains and plains
Bays and bayous
Bridges and giant stone monuments called cities
I turn to face Lynne directly. She presses through the haze. We lock eyes.
… our story.
I leave after a Q and A time with the neighbors and a short chance to say “Good-bye, for now” to Lynne. I walk back through the sliding doors into the world of buses and subways and “Hey babies” and “Yo, pretty mama’s” … and I am grateful.
My work with NY Faith & Justice gives me the chance to confront systemic injustice every day. But on this One Day – for one solitary moment – God made things right for two long-lost sisters. After the separation, the pain, the poverty, the sickness, the trauma, and the loneliness, Lynne knew … and I knew… we are not alone.