Perhaps this is the difficult center now. The span when the drive down doesn’t seem so long, and we know the highway exit names, when we inadvertently make the same stops on the way down, and deliberately on the way back. We do not need to bring any particular agendas to see Alisha, and there are no updates directly related to her case which would bring any particular solace, just the same resounding unfinished finality of the lawyers: don’t call us, we’ll call you. They do not like to lose, sure, and they like good press, of course, but they also do not like to waste their time on menial concerns like the well-being of their clients or the campaign to release her. We could tell her about the horrors and casualties of the continuing war against those who participate in the same vocation she did a few years ago, the one that nearly got her killed and for which the state continues to try to drain her vitality by inches. We can always update her on our lives, or talk about her family. Discussing what the other side of the razor wire and brick, away from the glacial, witless, unfeeling monsters who personify the banality of evil and keep vigil over her every move here is more enjoyable when it is a dream of what we will all do together. So we, my other component part and I, can ride down without concern over how we will pass the hours. That is not the difficult part.
The longest timing nightmare yet, which delays us multiple hours and is frustrating beyond any simple expression, is not really the difficult part either. There is little they can do at this point in service of keeping us from our LeLe which surprises me, though perhaps the guard who watched as I inverted my shoes and who smoothed my pants over my inner thighs actually caught a piece of my gritted teeth in his eye. Maybe he’ll go home wondering what the overdressed white boy was so pissed off about, and experience the dawning realization that he participates directly in an industry which destroys his own people, is in fact fueled by making them into criminals, defining them as such, and throw himself in anguish off the roof of his apartment building. Perhaps unlikely, but I’ll grit my teeth and cast fire out of my eyes directly into his just the same. I don’t think I could take him, so at best he’d have a broken nose, I’d be beat within an inch of my life and meet him again in court. The defense of “resisting institutional racism” coming out of my counsel’s mouth, while satisfying and accurate, is improbable.
So part of the difficulty is Alisha herself: effusive, truly interested in my life the same way I happened to take an interest in hers those months ago, and, for want of a better term because it remains nearly unthinkable to me how she remains so: alive. Our time with her has been shaved to the very quick, it is as much as I can do to hop up and get some palatable food for her and exchange a few laughs before we’re forced back out of the door and to the car.
I am writing this reflection on December 17th, which is at once fitting and at the same truly dispiriting. How many other industries require a day to end violence against them? How many other lines of work require so much skill and emotional labor, harm no one, in fact help many, and face the sort of stigma, censure, harassment, and threat of physical danger as this one? I would actually prefer if my mental inventorying could yield even one, so that I might consider how its lessons would benefit my friends, loved ones, and those more distant with whom I stand in solidarity, sadness, anger, and, ultimately, resolve. But I do not think another such industry exists. So each next embrace with my adopted little sister gets a little longer, and a measure more difficult to detach. I could say I would sit in those small, dirty rooms and eat that rotten food, stare at the painted brick walls and seethe at my captors who will go home to their miserable-but-technically-free lives after ending watch over my expansive-but-confined existence, but LeLe would never allow that even if it were possible. So what exactly grows more difficult, if not the ride down, the red tape and the despicable congeniality or dismissiveness of the COs, the conditions I observe someone I care about trapped in, the unjust and almost surreal reasons they are there…?
It’s the ride home. It is looking in the rearview and not seeing Alisha in the back seat, flipping her hair out of her face and cackling with laughter, raising up her mouth in a playful pout or her eyebrows in a serious “you know I’m not messing around with that” expression of disbelief. It’s when her voice doesn’t echo in my ears anymore as I turn the key and return to all my own troubles and obstacles, minor triumphs and great joys, earnest attempts to make the world into which Alisha will someday be re-delivered even an iota better, and occasional realization that though it will remain in many ways awful, it will certainly benefit from her presence therein. Because right now her most active existence outside is in the thoughts and transmitted words of her friends and family. And I am sick to the back teeth of having to dream about someone as if they’re dead or, closer to the current case, unborn, when I know damn well they’re in a small room, in a place that shouldn’t exist, for reasons that never made sense to begin with. It’s the vacant back seat that gapes back at me for being too much of a coward to break my sister out, or at least too impecunious and lacking the influence to hasten her release. It’s where Alisha isn’t that is the difficult part now, and it gnaws at me.
We stood in small circle tonight, the sex workers and I, in Transmitter Park off Greenpoint Avenue, in Brooklyn, by the water. We wore a lot of black and some red, because we were attending a vigil and a remembrance. As such, we were sad, but it was important to show one another we were strong as well. We told stories of workers we had lost, either to death, the state, the medical industry, or to time. There were three candles in red glass in the middle of our circle, and Manhattan observed us from across the water with its millions of people, and I felt small, as one does and is meant to in the city. I could not help but think about how the water on the other side of the island held Marsha, and how Sylvia had lived along its shore for a dark interval. These people, in this circle, were and are not desperate, and they neither required nor rejected my shared sorrow and genuine care. We heard Alisha’s poem and we held each other, literally and figuratively, because there wasn’t anything else to do. We all held our own candles, and we trembled from the shared weight and the cold, but we did not bow. I stared hard at the candles before we processed away, perhaps because I am frustrated when something seems so dearly to require explanation, even when the explanations are so well-rehearsed and unmysterious, and so it is pointless to explain. I am frustrated by pointlessness, and unwarranted death.
For the moment, though, I’ve had entirely enough of my time without Alisha being free, and, though I know it is no proxy, for all sex workers being free, from incarceration and the cloud of impending potential harm hanging over them. I’m so lucky to have and have had you workers in my life, up close and from afar. I miss you, LeLe.