BY HAYLEY MORGAN
To embrace and experience a new city is a difficult task. It is lovely to visit but to become enmeshed into a community is an entirely different thing. I won’t pretend I know El Paso intimately, despite the deep love I’ve developed since arriving here. But, how was I going to immerse myself when I am restricted in the ways I can socially interact with the city and people around me?
And in the early days, it was particularly easy to grow isolated and disenchanted living in this city that I felt I couldn’t possibly know. At least, not without the connection to those who lived here. Due to COVID protections, every day I would go into work and see very few of my other coworkers. Once a week, I would log onto a Zoom meeting where I was able to see the other people in the program I was working on at the Opportunity Center for the Homeless (the OC). But there was little space on my work laptop for a deeper connection than giggling over each other’s technical difficulties.
It feels ironic that my tie to El Paso didn’t come until I was at my most alone. In December, I made the conscious decision to stay in El Paso for the holidays while my housemates travelled home to be with their families. Concerned with the rising COVID numbers and the health risk it posed to vulnerable members of my family, staying in El Paso was the right decision for me. That didn’t mean it was a welcomed decision. And for what it’s worth, I genuinely believed that I would be okay on my own for two and a half weeks, but I severely underestimated the amount of energy and joy I get from being around other people. But while at the OC during this time, signs of life came to my floor and people began to fill the offices around me.
While I have grown remarkably close with many of my coworkers, there is one woman, Paola, who has brought me so much joy, support, and comfort. I had been working with Paola since the beginning of my time at the OC, but she had been primarily working out of a different shelter space. Around the holiday break, she was called to the OC to work out of our offices. Within a brief amount of time, I could barely recall the days before she had arrived down the hall from me. Now, all I could remember were the desperate tries to go even one day without an event causing one of us to break down in uncontrollable laughter. Eventually, we invested in whiteboards to try to visualize this count. If I ever went a week without a “breakdown” she promised she would buy me a pizza, but I fear it never occurred. On lunchbreaks, we would venture to different corners of El Paso where she would show me what she considered to be the best dishes that El Paso had to offer. And before I left for my eventual visit home later in the spring, she gave me a present to give to my mother on her behalf. She sent me forth with a delicately crafted basket and a sentiment to deliver: “To Hayley’s real mother, from her El Paso mother.” Upon seeing it, my mother teared up and thanked her for keeping a watchful eye over me.
I couldn’t imagine the Opportunity Center without her until I had to. In a hushed whisper behind a closed door, she confessed to me that she was looking at other opportunities outside of the shelter. With my heart thoroughly crushed, I told her that I simply wouldn’t let her leave. Of course, I know I couldn’t force a grown woman to forsake her own contentment and life path for the sake of a friendship with a temporary volunteer, but this was a reality I was unwilling to accept. And even until a couple days ago, I was mournful of this relationship. It wasn’t until I entered our Spring Retreat space and a workshop with our anti-racism and anti-oppression facilitators from Undo Bias that I began to see what she had been saying all along. James, one of the founders of Undo Bias, was discussing a tendency of white people to see relationships as temporary, whereas Black and Brown communities tend towards an understanding of connections as forever. That your existences are tied, no matter how briefly. Paola had been trying to tell me just that; that she would always be my Texas mom and that just because our time as coworkers had come to an end, it didn’t mean the larger relationship outside of the Opportunity Center had to cease.
This week, I will once again find myself alone in El Paso, while my housemates are away. And for weeks, I was deeply concerned about what another week alone would do to me, but I don’t harbor that anxiety any longer. The circumstances are different. For one, this will not be accompanied with the deeply depressing thought of spending the holidays away from family and it will not be as long as it was before. But I know that I have other people that connect me to El Paso than merely the people that I live with. I have more and I love more.
Hayley Morgan (she/her) is from Massachusetts and graduated from Saint Anselm College where she studied politics and history. One of her favorite parts of college was being able to work for ABC during the New Hampshire Democratic Primary Debates and being able to meet many of the candidates. She is particularly passionate about voting rights, social justice, and Tudor history. She is thrilled to be a Loretto Volunteer and looks forward to working at the Opportunity Center in El Paso, TX. In her free time, she loves to write, listen to Broadway cast albums, and listening to podcasts about famous historical women.
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