Jason Lawrence Bell
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06-13-20                         AUDIO AVAILABLE SOON

After weeks trapped in her apartment, Toni takes her walking stick and heads out to fresh air and a well-deserved stroll in her local park. She has just experienced 6-weeks of self-isolation due to the pandemic. She is a single 60ish woman who lives with two cats in a triplex that she owns. She has two tenants that are married couples that she seldom sees.

Toni has always been good with business. 30-years of success in retail stores has now led to a comfortable retirement. With the current pandemic, self-distancing was not been easy for Toni. Toni doesn’t have many friends and relatives avoid her. Even though, she would be considered a social person. She loves to talk. Typically, she captures a stranger at a market and mindlessly blabbers the poor person relentlessly. Boundaries mean little to Toni. She will tell her deepest secrets to anyone who will listen. Her hemorrhoids, or constipation, or revealing tattoos are open for discussion. And she never notices the repulsive reactions from her innocence captives.

The most common description of Toni is ‘sharp edges’. She is easily disturbed and quick to hit back. If a listener says anything that Toni interprets as against her, she instantly shifts into defense and her toxic mouth takes over. That’s the normal Toni. But 6 weeks with limited human contact and Toni is clearly not herself.

A walk in the park to Toni sounds ideal and represents a slow re-entry back to society. As she reaches the park she is surprised by the quantity of people. She assumed she would mostly be alone, but the park was nearly full. She wasn’t the only one needing a shot of nature. All the benches and tables were full. No place to sit and sun herself.

At first Toni welcomed seeing people again, but now there are too many of them. Where is a place for her? Toni kept walking and scanning for a place. There was a spot near the trees where she could sit on the grass, but no chairs. She tried sitting on the grass, but her bad hip made that uncomfortable. She was just about to leave when she saw a large Latino family enjoying a table full of food and using five of the park chairs.

Toni wanted one of those park chairs. She stood there staring at the family. She reached for her cell phone and made a call. Then she walked over to the family and announced, ‘I have Immigration Services on the phone. They want you to prove you are US Citizens to me. Show me your papers or the Immigration Services will be here in two minutes to arrest you’. Toni thought the family would be scared off and leave immediately, then she would get her chair. But that’s not what happened.

The Latino mothers immediately approached Toni with camera phones recording. Toni yelled, ‘you don’t scare me. Where’s were papers? Immigration Services demands your papers.’ Others in the park started gathering also filming and they demanded, ‘Where are your papers?’ Toni answered, ‘I am white. Obviously, I’m a citizen. You Mexicans are here illegally and are ruining this great country.’ The crowd was surrounding Toni and she was well out numbered.

Toni began screaming, ‘I’m being attacked. I’m an old woman and your trying to kill me.’ She called 911. But the police were already arriving. Someone in the park already called. When Toni saw the police, she ran over and demanded protection. ‘These are all criminals accosting a helpless elderly woman. You must arrest them at once.’ Toni began crying. The police responded, ‘let us investigate what’s happening here.’ Then they took Toni away from the crowd near the police car.

After they took Toni’s statement and reviewed the camera phones and heard the crowd’s story, they arrested Toni. That evening at her apartment Toni saw the news media and internet explode with her image in the park. Judgement was quick. She was labeled a racist and ugly person. It seemed the world turned against her and she deflated.

Back in her apartment alone and isolated and humiliated. Seeing herself screaming at an innocent family, saddened her to the bone. With the edgy Toni slapped down, what was left for her to regroup? She was lost. Then there was a soft knock on her door.

Toni slowly moved to the door and opened it. There stood an elderly Latino woman with a kind face and friendly eyes. Toni replied, ‘if you’re here to pick at my carcass then your too late. There’s nothing left. I’m finished.’ And started to close the door. The Latino woman said, ‘you don’t look finished to me. You look like someone we desperately need. I’m here to invite you to help us.’

Toni swung the door back open. ‘Join you, what are talking about?’ The woman handed Toni a brochure. ‘We need volunteers for our foster children programs. We help foster kids of all ages to find permanent families or navigate the jobs market when they aging out. Our budget is small so we depend on volunteer’s support. I know you were a good business woman and you could bring amazing insight to our Jobs Programs. Please read the brochure and consider joining us. Thank you. I wish you well.’

Toni’s first thought, ‘no one has wished me well for years.’ Toni thank her and closed the door. The next morning as the Latino woman was beginning to open the jobs center and greeting the volunteers. There was Toni dressed in her business clothes and smiling. ‘If you are willing to take a chance with me, I need to do my best for you.’ And Toni truly did her best.

She fine-tuned the Jobs Program until it was the envy of the City Council and a template for others. She worked tirelessly for foster programs. Then came the news article of Toni’s story. From screaming in the park to nurturing foster children, Toni’s journey was detailed. Toni would only give one quote to add to the story. ‘I finally found a place to give my love.’ Peace