Pride and the Humility of Asking for Help: Clarice’s Bind

Clarice is a 53 year-old, unemployed white woman whose criminal record for an undisclosed offense has kept her from finding meaningful work. I picked her up from an office building in Irvine, California, in the midst of early rush hour one afternoon a couple of weeks back.

When I asked her how her day was going, she said without hesitation, “Not well.”

She was in town from neighboring Huntington Beach, a Southern California coastal city just five miles North of Irvine, for a scheduled office visit with a psychiatrist who might be able to prescribe her some anti-anxiety medication for the angst with which she has been dealing lately–her unemployed status and an impending eviction no small part of this.

As it turned out, her doctor left the building early that day without rescheduling his appointments, nor notifying Clarice. She was pissed, naturally, and despite her typically non-confrontational demeanor as she described it to me, lost her temper with the desk clerks who kept her waiting for over an hour, giggling with each other and engaging in chatty banter, before finally admitting to Clarice that the doc was not in.

“You have every reason to be upset,” I said to her as we came to a busy intersection where, moments after I stopped, two cars bumped each other in a small, non life-threatening fender bender.

“Well,” I said jokingly and without making too much light of a shitty situation, “I guess someone else’s day just got worse.” Clarice laughed.

As we drove, she told me about her two children, both of whom she raised on her own. Her daughter is a twenty-something college graduate who started working recently for a self-storage facility–a fact that frustrates Clarice: “She could be doing something to suit her degree!” Her son, meanwhile, is also a twenty-something, living with his girlfriend and their newborn baby in a San Francisco Bay Area house that the girlfriend’s parents purchased for them. Clarice is proud of her children and she’s proud of her status as grandmother, but feels humiliated by her predicament–a struggle that began with a nervous breakdown a few years back, following a divorce, and which ended up in an arrest for a violation upon which she did not expound. She told me this through tears.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I guess you’re my therapist today.”

Pausing, I responded, “I’m just your friend.”

Nearing her host’s apartment complex in Huntington Beach where, from the balcony, her two Shih Tzus were wagging their tails in eager anticipation of their owner’s arrival, we sorted through Clarice’s anxieties and I asked her rather pointedly, “What’s to stop you from asking to live with one of your children for a while?” After all, she wants to enjoy the experience of being a grandmother, though she does not want to interfere with her in-laws’ interaction with the child. She didn’t have an answer to this. “Sounds like you may be too proud,” I added. She did not disagree.

I dropped off Clarice at the driveway aside the two-story apartment building and offered her a hug on her way out of the driver’s side back passenger door, assuring her, “You’ll find someone who is willing to employ you.”

In the process of hearing myself say that, I couldn’t help but think that I was talking to my own doubts, fears, and insecurities as much as I was to those of my sister Clarice. Such is the nature of these Lyft rides, I’m realizing. I seem to attract individuals who are going through similar-though-different circumstances only to realize after I have left them at their destinations that their struggles are mine, too. For example, I am currently in between jobs and relying on the generosity of family to house me while I look for gainful employment. This has been a challenge to my self-esteem and no small trigger for the anxiety that feel. Clarice mirrored some of that for me, prompting me to renew my faith in the future and to find joy in the present.

 

 

 

 

 

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