“Name’s Sharise.” She pronounces it with a hard ‘ch” sound. “I’m here because my man was killed during a robbery attempt. He was the cop who caught the squeal.” Her eyes fill with tears, but she steadies herself. “Motherfucker fired on him ‘fore he even had a chance to draw his piece. Been seven months now, but might as well been yesterday.” The woman to her left squeezes her hand, garnering a venomous look from the Latina who had spoken earlier. I am confused. Sharise had talked about the community earlier, so I assumed she was gay. Perhaps bi. I, of all people, should not be making snap judgments about anyone’s sexual orientation.
“Tudd.” A white woman in her late thirties with short hair and a stout neck barks out her name. She is sitting on Sharise’s immediate right. “Dad wanted a son to carry his name, Todd. Got five girls instead. I was the last one.” She pauses her gray eyes going cold. “Was raped on the way home from work. Teacher. Elementary school. Three months ago. Had to give up teaching for now.” The anguish on her face is excruciating to watch. “That’s all.”
“Jennifer,” the Latina with the wild hair, but prim lips spits out her name. She is in her early twenties, but acts like she’s three decades older. “Like Jennifer Lopez, only not such a whore.” I shift my eyes and see the cross around her neck. “I am here because, well, my father, uh, touched me until I left for college. I didn’t even talk about it the first year I was at State. When I did, the counselor recommended this group to me.” She pauses before adding, “I have to repeat that I’m uncomfortable with lesbians. It’s a sin.” There is a collective groan in the room.
“Yeah, well we’re fucking uncomfortable with right-wing bigots like you!” Ashley sneers. Even though she is not next in line, she goes, anyway. “Fuck, I’m Ashley. Like, my school counselor practically ordered me to get some help, or he threatened to throw me out of school. I don’t need this bullshit, though. Three more months and I’m out of here.” Counselor? School? She must still be in high school.
“Ashley, don’t forget to tell Rayne why you’re here,” Carol interjects gently.
“Like, fuck. So my mother fucking died a couple months ago. So fucking what? The bitch hated me, anyway.” Despite her tough words, tears gather in her eyes. She lets out a stream of curses so creative, I look at her in admiration. Everyone turns to look at the Latina sitting next to Jennifer as she is the next in line, but she stares resolutely at the floor.
“Rosie?” Carol says softly. “Please introduce yourself.”
“My name is Rosie,” she says with great difficulty. “My son, he is dead. Shot. Gangbangers think he down with Surenos. They down with Nortenos. They no bother to talk—just shoot.” She is a thirty-something year old woman already beaten down by life. “Ten months ago, this happens. I think about him every day. My sister, she works here. Tells me to come. She makes me.” She stops, her face wet with tears. She sobs noiselessly as if she’s used to holding it in. “My baby, he is only twelve. No reason they must shoot him.” I vaguely remember reading about the case; it happened not far from where I lived. There is a moment of silence before the black woman next to her speaks.