Walk Down Misery Street

LIZA: THE SWEET LADY THAT COULD

 

We shared an office together.

Her parents had come from Sicily many years ago, and Liza was born in America. She was olive-skinned, with thick black hair like crow’s wings, large dark-brown eyes, and sensual lips that she painted with bright lipstick. Her makeup, though also bright, was well matched. Liza’s manner of dress emulated a fashionable socialite, though she never achieved that level, as there was also something vulgar about her.

She had a booming voice and loud laughter. Even at sixty-three years old, she could still get away with dressing sexy, appearing in a low-cut dress that showcased her breasts.

Liza had a hot temper and it was extremely difficult for her to sit for a long time in one spot and stay quiet. She was always being carried away somewhere, and she was overwhelmed by the thirst for activity. The thirst for conversation. The thirst for revelation.

I had only worked at the clinic for just a week and already knew a lot about Liza. I had gotten this knowledge directly from her. If I didn’t know something, it was only because we didn’t have much free time to talk. Moreover, Francesca the director frowned upon personal conversations between coworkers. Francesca had a strange habit of walking through the corridors and peeking through the little window in the doors to see how the treatment was going. She lost her composure when a counselor was sitting in his office alone without a patient. How can the billing department make a claim to Medicaid? Hey, counselor: No sitting alone—grab any patient and get him into the office!

This is what I learned about Liza. When her parents arrived in New York, they opened a small pizzeria, working there night and day to feed their children and provide them with a decent education. Her parents saved money for their children to go to college. Liza started using drugs when she was fifteen and barely graduated from high school. On more than one occasion, her parents had to post bail and pay a lawyer to get her out of jail. I don’t recall if she told me the exact number of times she had been arrested or how long she had been imprisoned, but it was definitely more than once. According to Liza, the last time she was arrested was two years earlier, right in the clinic where she worked. They took her out of the office in handcuffs and brought her straight to the police station. That arrest was on prior charges: there was a warrant for her arrest and the police caught up with her many years later.

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