I joined the service corps to “know myself” is the sense of
to thine own self be true,
and it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man
Runnin’ through the 6 with my woes
Countin’ money, you know how it goes
Pray the real live forever, man
Pray the fakes get exposed.
Upon moving to Houston, I invested most of my time and physical energy into “self-care.” Here are three examples. I learned how to budget (in Google sheets) and tithe (setting aside part of my grocery money for others). I joined the Parish Choir (at Christ Church Cathedral). I found safe spaces downtown with my METRO pass (the Tellepsen YMCA for exercise and the Julia Ideson Library for reading).
In August I waited, then petitioned, for placement at a service site. After two free weeks I interviewed with my supervisors, Shaoli and Salimah. I was hired onto the case management team at a refugee social service office.
Leading up to November, I challenged myself to study for the GRE mathematics subject test. Every Saturday through September and October, I dragged myself to UH for practice questions (on limits & series, differentiation & integration, and groups & rings). In the middle of October, I shaved my head in anxiety. At work, Shaoli joked that I got caught up with the Hare Krishnas. But yes, after I sat for the text, I was free—running outside and cartwheeling across the lawn.
As cooler weather crept in, my service work fleshed out. Salimah needed her old clients archived and fresh clients updated in the new SQL database. Shaoli needed her clients to be arranged with medical appointments, transportation, interpretation and pre-authorized health coverage. I biked (and bused) to work earlier in the morning (red light blooming over me) and stayed later at night. I chewed on the play of words “for myself, unto others; for others, unto myself.”
Waiting for the bus at the transit center, nestled against the curving circuit of the freeway exchange, I felt that I was turning inside out. At this time, I was mainly serving clients by scheduling their medical appointments and by accompanying them as they learned to catch a bus. I also applied for health care benefits and rental assistance, while instructing clients what I was doing, how they could do the same for themselves, and encouraging them to do so as soon as they built up enough English proficiency.
Administratively, I helped transition our case files out of Microsoft Office and into a standardized database. I also parsed the storage room to shred old case files and bring our archives up to grant compliance. (As I learned about a person on paper, they appeared in the office to ask for help: rental assistance, translation, et cetera.)
Since I joined the service corps I have left Texas twice, for Thanksgiving and Christmas. During Thanksgiving I stayed in my old room, but it was too familiar: steeped in lukewarm nostalgia, apparently unchanging, almost menacing. Over Christmas, I slept in my family’s computer room. The uncomfortable pull-out couch reminded me of my bed Houston: it was small, a little lumpy, and I stumbled into things when I walked around at night.
I’m back in Houston, again pushed out into its metropolitan flatland, again stranded to pedal back and forth to work on my bike, while the un-neutered cats lounge about on their roof-tops and houses of the Near Northside settle into the bayou, all of which is slow-flowing to the ocean.
As a consequence, I have a clear picture of what I want to do for Shaoli and Salimah. I’m aware that I’m going to spill out of the other end of the service corps before I know it (as if I’m calling blind down a corridor and, by its null echo, I can hear that the other side is gaping open).
It’s January and I have about 6 months left. Now or never, right?
-Colton, YMCA International Services in Houston