Under my desk, a thick red panic button patiently awaits danger.
In the back corner of our Skid Row office, to the right past the conference room, and down a hallway, I sit in my windowless office entering case notes into my computer.
In another tab, I am typing an email to my boyfriend, thumb and forefinger ctrl+tab ready should anyone come by. I haven’t spoken to my ex in years, I write. I don’t know why he wrote on my Myspace page. I love you, I miss you, I think only of you.
I had wanted to go abroad, get more life experience. Peace Corps or JET or … something. Instead, after college, I stayed in Los Angeles. I stayed with him.
One of my clients (let's call him Davis) steps around the corner.
Davis enters my office and sits in my guest chair, like usual. Bloodshot droopy eyes gaze over at me and I snap out of my daydream. Davis has a wide sleepy grin on his face and he fidgets with the pen on my sign-in sheet as he starts talking loudly, then laughing. Fidgeting more. Gesturing. I can’t follow what he’s saying. About a minute in, I realize what’s wrong.
He is drunk. Really drunk.
The red panic button flashes in my mind.
I usher Davis out of my office and down the hallway, smile pasted on, joking with him so he doesn’t get angry that I’m kicking him out. I escort him out of the building, making sure our security guard sees me as I pass.
After Davis leaves, I slump into the client chair in a more seasoned colleagues’ office.
What should I do now? I ask, shaking slightly from adrenaline, acutely aware of how much worse the situation could have been.
You did the right thing, she reassures me. Next time he comes in, tell him he needs to go to AA meetings before he can come back and access our services.
I am 22 years old and I need to tell a grown man that he has to go to Alcoholics Anonymous? What the fuck qualifies me to give someone this kind of ultimatum?
Sure, Davis will go to AA for the required number of meetings I assign him, bring me his verification sheet, and we’ll go back to having regular check-in meetings. Nothing is going to change.
The system is designed for people like Davis to fail. They get caught selling weed, and on bad advice plead guilty and accept a felony charge in order to get a shorter sentence. In return, they now have to check “yes” to a felony conviction on any future job application, making getting a job nearly impossible.
And I’m trying to give him employment advice?
What am I doing in this job? Am I really helping anyone?
I feel lost.
Eventually, with help from my sister and a few close friends, I claw my way out of that relationship, quit the job, and leave Los Angeles. I can’t see myself ever living there again.
Ten years, four cities, and a master’s degree later, and I am back in LA. This time with purpose.
I lay awkwardly yet happily entangled in a hammock with my current boyfriend, on our deck overlooking the sun-drenched San Gabriel Mountains. A light stream of highway noise, chattering birds, and barking dogs play in the background.
Ten years ago I floated through life. I knew I deserved a trusting, supportive relationship, but I didn’t know how to escape my abusive one. I knew I wanted to help people but I didn’t know how.
I work from home in our sunny second bedroom. My job entails reading interviews from women in sub-Saharan Africa about how using a vaginal ring for HIV prevention fits into their lives (or not). Their personal accounts inform current and future studies — we are always working to improve the system.
I can’t stop staring across the street at a blooming Jacaranda, its flashy lavender leaves contrasting against the bright greens of the twenty-odd other species of trees surrounding it.
I don’t remember Los Angeles being this beautiful. Maybe it never was. Or maybe I was just too lost to see it.
Ariana Katz is a behavioral and social scientist by day, aspiring creative writer and avid fiction reader by night. She has a Master of Public Health in Health Behavior and currently works as a project coordinator and qualitative research analyst on HIV prevention projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Originally from the Bay Area, she is currently spending her free time learning to appreciate all that LA has to offer.
Choosing just one charitable organization is hard! There are so many amazing causes out there. Due to the current political climate, however, Ariana urges you to donate to Planned Parenthood. Access to free or low-cost, high-quality, sexual and reproductive healthcare is more crucial now than ever before and Planned Parenthood does just that. Visit plannedparenthood.org.