‘Listen to survivors’ and the fetishisation of experience

I am a “survivor” who had traumatic experiences during my time as a survival sex worker who was also trafficked on more than one occasion by multiple pimps (aka “pimples”). Even so, it is crystal clear that the “Nordic Model” increase of criminalization (and the corresponding unwillingness to allow for the possibility that there might be a proportion of sex workers who are NOT trafficked, along with shutting out THEIR voices in legislation over their bodies and human rights from the debates on this topic) – well I can just walk a few blocks to my old track, talk to any of the women who ARE trafficked, and I can give you MANY clear examples of how the “End Demand” legislation has made their lives A LOT worse, a lot more DANGEROUS, a lot more HARMFUL to what little wellbeing they have left. Trafficking is a form of domestic violence, as trafficking is carried out among the adult women I have seen, which is the majority of sex work that takes place where it is visible. FORCING domestic violence victims to get “help” (as the diversion programs for prostitutes in my state is called) has NEVER helped any domestic violence victim! If legislators REALLY want to help adult trafficking victims and, at the same time, not INCREASE victimization and decimate the basic human rights of non-trafficked CONSENSUAL sex workers, they have to INCLUDE voices of ALL SEX WORKERS, not just cherry-picked survivor stories, but also survivor stories like mine (yes I was a sex trafficking victim, but I still support decriminalization and legalization of consensual sex work), and the stories of the larger percentage of sex workers, who are NOT TRAFFICKED.

genders, bodies, politics

The debate over Amnesty International’s draft policy supporting the decriminalisation of sex work has been heated. Although the organisation developed the policy following extensive research with sex workers and consultation with key stakeholders, it has been accused of wanting to protect the rights of ‘pimps’ and ‘Johns’ to buy or profit from the sale of sex. The position of those supporting Amnesty’s draft policy is clear – the vast majority of sex workers globally oppose criminalisation (including the ‘Nordic Model’ of criminalising clients), because it jeopardises their incomes, creates health vulnerabilities and puts them at risk of violence. As the community most directly affected by sex work law and policy, it is argued, their voices should matter most.

Although this may seem uncontroversial, it has been claimed that this injunction to listen to sex workers is an identity politics which fetishises personal experience and is an insufficient basis on which…

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P.S. – You are Loved!

P.S. You Are Loved Project Tag Cloud in the shape of a heart

P.S. You Are Loved Project Tag Cloud

This took me a few days to write, but it’s finally done.  If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out the P.S. You Are Loved Project on Facebook – veve.me/PSYouAreLoved (and forward the link to anyone you think might be interested in helping counter messages of hate to trans*folk that are coming out and getting hate mail)?


Dear Friend,

I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for you to receive all those messages of hate, after finally having the courage to reveal yourself as you have known yourself to be for so long.  I doubt I ever will.

I, myself, have struggled since childhood with the knowledge that the sex and gender I was assigned at birth don’t fit with the sense of who I am, internally.  But because neither of the binary options available to me in societal roles of sex and gender fit my own private identity, because even if there were an option that fit me that I could outwardly transition into, I still wouldn’t come even close to fitting anyone else’s idea of a societal norm, I’ve chosen to simply accept the cis-assigned roles allowed me by the normie majority’s sense of acceptable “morality.”  I still don’t “fit in,” but at least this way I don’t stick out *quite* so much.

I’m not telling you all this to try to draw attention to myself – I’m mainly hoping to convey a sense of empathy for the difficulty of your position.  I know a little about feeling like my outside doesn’t match my inside identity.  I know about being a target for hate.  I’ve been beaten up badly more times than I can count, and I’ve lived with daily verbal violence, bullying, and severe public humiliation on a daily basis from my so-called “peers” for years before I managed to escape to the city and the more accepting communities here.  I know, and hopefully you do too, that no matter how “different” we may seem to be to bigoted individuals, there is no excuse for hateful words and actions.  No attribute or aspect of our expressions of identity caused either of us to deserve that kind of treatment.

The thing is, the more that I see hate in the world, towards myself or towards others, the more that I realize that hateful actions say nothing about the target and everything about the hateful person’s fears, insecurities, and guilty anger towards themselves.  It isn’t really *us* that they hate, even though we are the ones they direct it at (because they can’t face who they are and how they feel inside).

So now that I’ve given you a ton of bullshit background explaining why I think I might understand an iota of what you’ve been through with the deluge of recent hate – which, really, I can’t, no more than anyone can be sure they understand anyone else’s experiences but their own – now that I’ve said all that stuff, what is it I’m really trying to communicate?

I guess what I’m trying to say is just my own projections on your situation – not hurtful in intent, but probably almost as misguided.  In the end, the best I can really expect, I imagine, is to learn my own lessons and hope upon hope that this message to myself will have some value to you (or to anyone else besides myself).

The main lesson I’ve learned in life so far (mainly from a serious suicide attempt and from a long bout with severe hard drug addiction in which I wounded everyone who loved me deeply and drove away even my oldest and closest friends, ending up a homeless crack/meth whore for way too long) is this:

I have a responsibility – to myself, to those who love me (past, present, and future), and to all living beings to live life to the fullest – to do my best to change the world and history for the better, to leave a positive legacy, to to be a force for good in every moment that I can.  I have a duty to live.

No matter what I believe about any divine force or a life before or after this one, the only thing I can be sure is that I am alive now.  My only purpose is to live – *truly* live.  I have a mind designed to learn new things constantly, a consciousness to experience and reflect on events, a “heart” – to feel for myself and others, and a conscience (when I don’t try to silence it with denial or addictive behaviors) to help me find my way and live in harmony with the world around me.

It seems this letter may have degenerated into what is beginning to sound like a bunch of self-righteous navel-gazing, but what I really mean is this:

– I don’t know who you are, but I consider you a friend.

– I haven’t met you, but I admire your courage.

– We may never speak, but I urge you: continue being yourself, continue to seek out the fulfillment of your true will in this life, continue pursuing your purpose for existing.

Your sister in spirit,

V.A. Velatura

(P.S. – you are loved!)

Cardboard sign says "Homeless - Disabled - (& Hungrey! [sic]) - Please, Anything Helps!!"

The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strained

Since I stopped using at the beginning of this year for (I hope!) the last time, I also stopped giving any cash to people begging for money.  I mean, I’ll occasionally give (up to) one dollar and some loose change, but nothing more than that.  I know that (in my area, at least) more than 99% of the people I see begging for money are begging for drug money.  If I am no longer buying illegal drugs, to me that means that I no longer buy those drugs for ANYONE, not even indirectly.

I’ll admit that I have no problem buying a cheap beer for someone who is really dopesick or in alcohol withdrawal… I know from repeated observation of “close friends” (regular using buddies and “patna’s” I teamed up with) just how hellish and life-threatening opiate/alcohol withdrawals can be… and alcohol is legal and socially acceptable (at least for those who are “productive members of society”).  I never have a problem (if I have the means) with giving a person in need food, hydrating beverages, blankets, warm clean clothing, hygiene items, bus tickets, dog food, time spent looking up resources for them, etc.

But if I have any resources other than monetary ones, I don’t give street folk money.  If I give out money, I never give more than two dollars.  Period.  I no longer am willing to accumulate more guilt about helping anyone (including myself) destroy themselves (and everyone around them) by committing suicide by the most painful route possible.

Also, I don’t get involved.  I spend as little time as possible near them, because I know all-too-well the risk I take by getting too friendly, too comfortable, around the people with whom I used to beg and live and get high and commit crimes, day in, day out, year after year.

That being said, I made an exception.  I let myself become moderately involved with a man for the better part of an hour tonight.  On the way home from picking up arthritis supplements for my four elderly cats, I stopped at 7-Eleven to get a soft drink.  I had just lit up a cigarette, and didn’t want to put it out in the soggy excuse for an ashtray out front and waste a perfectly good super-snipe that someone not too proud to smoke someone else’s lit cancer stick, especially a near-whole one (and a Camel at that).

There were two guys out front.  The one farther away was clearly “out there” double-fisting Four-Loko’s (the current-day usually-available corner-store equivalent of Mad Dog 20/20 – 12% alcohol) and seemed likely to misunderstand my intent and either manhandle me uninvited, and/or to turn violent unexpectedly (or, rather, fairly predictably).  The closer one was clearly in severe pain – I couldn’t see his face, but even so his fetal posture and shaking-bordering-on-convulsions broadcasted pure suffering.

I thought he was dopesick, so I walked over to where he was crouched on the ground, sitting on some of his gear, hunched over his knees, shaking and quietly keening.  He had a cigarette long-ago burnt down to the butt in one hand, and an unlit rollie (hand-rolled tobacco cigarette) in the other hand.  I tried to get his attention. “Hi… Excuse me? … Sir?…” I finally touched his shoulder just firmly enough that he could feel my touch through the thick, dingy, Carhartt-knockoff he was wearing.  I couldn’t see his face, but I could see dirty blonde and gray long dreadlocks (pretty well cared for ones, now that I recall… the dreads were all the same thickness and tightly locked… that takes a fair bit of effort to maintain, especially on the street) hanging down under an oversized, lightly-stained, yellow-tan “crown” (very large rasta-style beret-like knit hat).  After the second touch, he looked up a bit.  He was gritting his teeth and tear tracks had dried in lines down his cheeks.  He was surprisingly clean-shaven, and not one of the locals I knew… I still know most everyone who lives outdoors in my neighborhood.

He didn’t make eye contact directly.  I offered him a cigarette, then noticed he wasn’t smoking the ones he had.  I asked him if he was dopesick, would he like a beer?  He shifted, hunching back over a bit, and said no, he had been passing kidney stones for he-didn’t-know-how-long, and the hospital (which is about 5 blocks away) had kicked him out, saying they couldn’t help him.  I asked him what I could get him.  It was very difficult for him to talk, he mumbled close to a whisper, his line of thought frequently derailing as his words trailed off.  After a bit I was able to hear what he was asking for – cranberry juice.  I went inside, quickly poured a Slurpee for myself (I am fairly expert, after working 7-Eleven graveyards for more than a year in my late teens), grabbed a few pocket packs of ibuprofen, a few to-go servings of honey-roasted peanuts, a 2-pack of pocket Slim-Jim’s with cheese sticks, a roll of Tums… and a double-serving bottle of Ocean Spray.

(Note: when buying food for the homeless, I buy things that are self-contained in pocket-sized single servings and/or resealable, high in protein and fat, relatively low in salt and preservatives when possible, and unlikely to be crushed when heavy things are packed in tightly and/or on top of them.  Generally, tastes among people living on the street trend toward sweet and meaty things, and things that can be chewed easily with missing and broken teeth, or with no teeth at all.  Usually that precludes crispy granola bars with and any hard or unshelled nuts that can’t be swallowed whole.  If buying anything that upsets the stomach, like aspirin, advil, or aleve, I make sure to include either food or a roll of antacids to keep their stomachs from exploding in pain, since their stomach linings are very likely to already be inflamed.)

I brought him the cranberry juice, and gave him the advil.  I suggested that he make sure he eat whenever he took the advil to help with the pain and inflammation… he started crying when he replied he didn’t have any food.  I handed over the honey peanuts, meat sticks, and Tums.  He wasn’t able to acknowledge the resources, or even to stash them so his hands weren’t full, but that wasn’t the purpose.  I just hoped he would be able to pull it together enough to help him reduce the pain a little… I tried asking him if he would let me help him stash some of it in a pocket or a bag for later, but he wasn’t able to answer, or even understand what I was asking, I think.

I wished I could have helped more, but I knew hubby was worrying about me at home, I knew he wasn’t able to accept or use any other help from me, and I knew I had pushed help on him as far as was prudent at that point.  I’m praying for a swift end to the pain, though, and that what little I was able to make available to him doesn’t end up getting stolen or lost while he’s tortured by those horrible crystallized calcium caltrops passing through his ureters.

While I don’t advocate giving street folk money, I do exhort you to pay attention to each individual you meet.  Whether it’s a simple human meeting-of-the-eyes and acknowledgement of a person’s presence in your sphere of influence, a regretful shrug followed with “good luck!” in response to a request for monetary assistance, or whether you are willing to go farther and give a person food or whatever non-tender supplies you can spare, please consider helping another person out regularly in the future.  Being human to someone, even someone heavily addicted to alcohol or hard drugs, helps them feel like life is still worth living, offers a sliver of hope to many, and (for me) reminded me that I was still human, and that I could act like one again eventually… which, hopefully, I do a better job of manifesting both outward and inward toward others and toward myself.

Thank you for reading.  Sorry I spent so much time navel-gazing instead of writing, or this post would have been much shorter.  I’ll try not to wait so long in between posts.  🙂

–Venus

Featured Photo: An edited picture of the sign I used the last time I went out to “fly a sign” (beg for money standing/sitting in one place holding a sign).  It now resides as part of a large piece of art-in-progress titled, “And No One’s Getting PHAT ‘Cept Mama Cass”.  Image (c) 2014, Venushakti Autumn Velatura. All Rights Reserved.

The “Please Forgive Me” Letter, early 2012

I found this letter among some of my husband’s things a few weeks ago.  It gives insight into how I was feeling just before I went into the detox unit of a local psychiatric hospital back in late January or early February of 2012.  I’m not sure whether or not to be grateful that my husband never throws away any piece of paper he has, ever — the reminder is a hard one, of how needy and desperate I had become.


Dear Hunny Bunny Love Monkey

Somewhere deep inside me is left a shadow of the woman you fell in love with, and she very much still loves you.  But she hasn’t been in control of me for a very long time, and I have no idea how to get back to being her again.  I’m so lost – you’ve known that as well as I have for a long time.  And I have done so many things wrong, and I can’t seem to find the strength to do the right things at all any more.  I feel so empty and worthless that I often think that hurting you and my family more [with suicide] would be kinder than going on being the evil pathetic excuse for a human that I have been.

But figuring out how, and where, and when to end my life makes me realize that as selfish as I am now, killing myself would be the ultimate, absolutely most painful thing I could do to you (and my family), more painful than the stealing, and the lying, and the cheating (breaking the rules & sneaking around).  I just don’t know how to start doing better, working toward making things right, how to stop breaking your heart, stop killing what little tiny bit of love you have left for the wife I used to be for you.

I’ve been killing myself slowly for at least the last 4 years.  Once cocaine came into my life, all my happiness, strength, follow-through, ability to focus, kindness, consideration for you and others, health, centeredness, balance, intelligence, creativity and more… and most of all my love for myself and for the people who were important to me and so much the center of my world then – all of those things have been destroyed, disappearing slowly but steadily, in such a way that I didn’t notice until it was too late & I was too weak against the power of that powdered concentrated psychopathic self-disintegration – like the barrels of oil or blood diamonds to a wealthy right-wing republican – I simply had to keep collecting more and more at everyone’s expense, especially yours & mine.

So I’ve taken risks.  The part of me that does still love you can’t stand to keep stabbing you in the back & so I’ve put myself in danger over & over again, hoping someone or something else will end your & my suffering, so that it won’t be my fault that my death will cause you even worse pain.  In a way, I’m glad I failed to bring about that end, because as much as I can’t bear the thought of the price I’ll pay for my weaknesses and pathetic evils that I can’t stop repeating – the price of losing you for good – I do want you to be happy again, and I know if I went so far as to put you through being a widower it would take you so much longer to be happy again than if I were to just lock myself up & let you get on with your life without me.

Why can’t I just give you as much love as you’ve given me?  Why can’t I just STOP this fucking shit and save our life together, and the house, and our love for each other? Why can’t I be the me I used to be before cocaine & the hippy crack coke nitrous substitute that devastated my brain?  Why can’t I stand on my own anymore?

As much as I have treated you worse than an enemy, I hope you will one day feel that our life together was worth the pain, and that you will stop hurting enough to feel at least a small amount of the love from me that you really do deserve but that I haven’t been able to give you like I should for so long.

Please forgive me, please please please let me try again after I get help like I’ve needed for so long.  I really do love you, Hunny Bunny!


 

A very short while after writing this letter, I went in for detox, horribly sick with bronchitis.  After 9 days, they discharged me, and the day I got out I went right back out to get and do more drugs.  I started going out to my Dad’s place out near the coast to get clean, staying there a month or two at a time, getting 30 and then later 60 days at a time, only to return home and, soon after, to relapse again.  Hubby started locking me out of the house when I refused to go back to my dad’s, and that’s when I started living in the shed, on the lead-up toward the final bottom that I reached when I started to get serious about recovery.

So I Never Forget:

Today, I repurposed the garden shed after it had been sitting, filthy, for the last year, after having been my meth/crack crash pad when my husband kicked me out of the house again for using drugs… yet again.  I’d forgotten … Continue reading

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Carrying the Message: How Sharing in a 12-Step Group is Like Writing a Successful Blog Post

Hi, I’m Venus, and I’m a blogging addict.  (Hi, Venus!)

But seriously, a lot of aspects of a successful blog post are similar to a “successful” share at a 12-step meeting.

First, what do I mean by “successful?” I believe that most people blogging want their posts to be read and liked, just like I believe most people sharing at a 12-step meeting want their audience to pay attention an find something valuable in what they have to say.  In 12-step programs, this concept is called, “carrying the message.”  If each person only shared a self-centered, narcissistic view of what was going on in their own lives or an egocentric monologue about the topic of the day, 12-step meetings could not work as they do.  Instead, each sharer (in theory, as they gain more experience in their recovery) is supposed to blend a share from both what is cathartic to say with what will inspire their listeners.

This blending consists of what is called, “experience, strength, and hope.” Say that I’m sharing at a Blogging Anonymous meeting. (Disclaimer: Blogging Anonymous, like 12-step groups for pretty much every type of addiction known to mankind, may indeed exist despite my ignorance of its existence.  I am not a member of that group, therefore I am not breaking anonymity by using this hypothetical statement and thereby breaking any of the Traditions that accompany the 12 Steps of that group.)  Like all the other members at that meeting, it is generally expected that I will, during my share, do all of the following:
a) Share on my experience of events and situations related to the topic chosen for that meeting.
b) Talk about how I dealt or am dealing with those events and situations in a way that demonstrates or increases my strength as a person, focusing on solutions rather than allowing myself to get mired in the problems.
c) Explain what insights and realizations I gained by working through those problems toward the intended (or unintentional/incidental) solution or other resolution of the central events/situations related to the topic at hand.

If this formula was not fulfilled by at least a noticeable portion of people sharing at a meeting, if each person simply vomited forth their complaints, issues, and problems — this is what is called “sharing the mess instead of the message” — then 12-step groups could not sustain themselves.  People would simply not stay at meetings to listen to anyone.  Newcomers who start attending meetings need a reasonable motivation to return for the next meeting, to invest themselves in the group, in order to start turning away from whatever addiction is common to the membership of the group, and to eventually find recovery from said addiction.  That motivation — to stay, listen, pay attention to others’ shares, and absorb each message for use in their own lives — cannot exist in an environment of selfish pseudo-sharing.

Similarly, if a blog consists only of self-centered and/or superficial diary entries that no one else can relate to, then few, if any, would choose to “follow” that blog, return to it to read later entries, recommend it to acquaintances, or comment on the blog’s entries.  These are, I’m fairly certain, some of the main goals many bloggers seek to inspire, in order to gain a regular and expanding audience of followers who enjoy or otherwise get satisfaction from revisiting a blogger’s site again and again, to re-read valuable posts or see what’s new.

When you write a post, read it over before you publish and ask yourself these questions:
– If this post wasn’t about me or my life, would I be interested enough to come back this blog later?
– What about this post relates to many other people’s experiences?
– What can others get out of this post that they haven’t already found somewhere else?
– What information do I present that others can use in their own lives?

It’s alright to write exclusively about your own life, but if it’s all about your own unique life experiences and views of the world, try to include some humor or insights that will inspire others to achieve something better in their own lives.  Add some sort of value: a moral to the story, a point that provokes thoughts for others that will draw their attention and make your post memorable.  Remember to carry the message.

Writing and Blogging For Therapy

Writing and Blogging For Therapy, by Ronovan.

I like this guy’s way of looking at things. If you blog, this is a great post to check out. It’s short and to the point, but thought-provoking.

My blog’s gone crazy…

“…what do I gotta do to get through to you to show you there ain’t nothin’ I can’t take a chainsaw to?”
–Eminem, “My Dad’s Gone Crazy”

I’ve been confused about the timeline of my addiction, because my memories are so hazy.  For some reason, I’ve been trying to figure out when I switched from snorting the horrendously large amounts of ADHD medication I’d been getting prescribed (I legitimately suffer from severe ADHD, but I abused my prescriptions when my student loans ran out after I dropped out of college and no longer had the money for cocaine) to smoking crack.  I’d narrowed it down to some point in 2011-2012, but I think it likely that it happened right after I dropped off the blogosphere (at the time, LiveJournal) in mid-2011.  There is a blank for all of 2012 when I just didn’t write anything, during the time when I was vacillating back and forth between addiction and recovery and had gotten kicked out of the house.  All of 2012, well the times I wasn’t actively seeking help for my addiction, I was out chasing my “bottom” (as in “hitting bottom”) in full force.

I’ve been going back through old 2011 entries, which have been imported into this blog, and I’m now in the process of making those posts public because I don’t need to keep them secret anymore.  I am amazed at how I would make duplicate posts (which I’m deleting to save space and headaches during my own future searches of my material), not realizing that I’d posted the same things just a few days previously, and how I raved like the truly mad woman that I was then.  If you’re interested in seeing how deep madness can take a person, check out this post from me at that time… you probably won’t understand most of it, but I was convinced I was under direct personal attack by a genius meth addict who had told me a few too many of his deep dark secrets.  I quite probably was dealing with malware, and it’s possible that said meth addict did indeed infect my computers with malware also, but the situation was nowhere near as outlandish as I was convinced that it was at that time.  Another one is this one, posted after walking through an “interesting” neighborhood alone at night for the first time in many years.

Psychosis is very real to a person who is caught up in it.  Psychosis has nothing to do with what most people think it does – most people I encounter think psychotic breaks/episodes have something to do with psychopathy like that of serial murderers.  Psychosis just means hallucinations, an imagination run riot with things that it presents to the senses with information that seems just as real as reality (perceived by everyone else) itself.  I know psychosis well.  I never thought I would go chasing my own psychosis down the rabbit hole as far as I did then, and later further still when I got into smoking and shooting shards (crystal meth).

My past brings me great grief, but if I choose to forget what happened, it’s all too easy to start wanting to get loaded again and numb myself into denial of all that I have done wrong, all the people I have wronged, all the deep dark dank cesspools of filth I not only sank into, but regularly reveled to bathe in back then.

P.S. – I’m fairly certain that somewhere in the FBI’s Cybercrimes Division, there’s a “zero file” with my name on it.

Poetry – Crack-Ho’s Cookbook

Note: This poem is written primarily in street slang, so it probably will only confuse you or be irrelevant unless you have an interest in the urban dialect of the pacific northwest. It also speaks of numerous deviant activities, with which I became familiar in recent years. I no longer spend any time hanging out with my former street “friends” but my experiences were liminal and fairly formative in my current inner personality. I don’t dwell on it much lately, this was written during a period at the beginning of the year when I was not clean or sober in the slightest.

If you are a minor, please wait until you have some adult experience before trying to comprehend these concepts. Kids, stay kids as long as you can, some people (like me) never had that option.

Okay, disclaimer done. Read at your own risk.

Crack-Ho’s Cookbook

Ten toes down for that rusty renegade rock-bottom crown
That prehistoric hustle of hips hovering horizontally, they
Numero ocho their way above the ground.
This well-designed dawdle is a marketing ploy, out on the
Bleak blustery razor of the blade,
Saying simultaneously, “Come catch me!”
And yet, “Too pricey for your pocketbook, Loverboy.”

You can only make it here if you
Stay always somewhat out of reach.
It’s unattainable for me to stay in pocket
Me, the potentially top-dollar head doctor
Still intrinsically the same small-town whitey-whitebread reject kluck
Finding over and over that “I got you”
Equates to “I’ll bop you” time and again.

Unlike the other ho’s I was born to the trade
but not to The Blade.  I didn’t trick, didn’t have no licks, cuz
I was the trick, I was the lick.
Not for my Johns but for those damn gorilla pimps
Who take a “No, thank you” personal and so maneuvered
To be my non-consensual gigolos

Here, where a head-game
Is naught but the time of day (where no one wears a watch)

So I branched out to feed my habit
Boosted bottles and such, switched up those toes
For a few fingers – five, to be exact.
Slung a few rocks, but couldn’t stop myself
From lezzing it up for that cold, hard, White B**ch
More than a little, for
More than a little too long
But because I didn’t also fall for the Midnight Lady’s numb embraces
I was constantly inundated by my emptiness.
The street can only be home when you no longer feel your heart.