I met Gerrianne through a picture taken on a camera loaned to someone for a birthday party in the summer of 2015. That fall I looked over a pot of pasta at the Bayshore Mall parking lot Services Faire and asked her if she knew my friend. She didn't say anything, just looked at me until I explained myself.
In February in the Palco Marsh, where she lived, I was with Gerrianne as she talked with two officers who gave conflicting information about what she could keep there. It was where I met Max, her canine protector, and his mother Baby Girl. I went to her camp with the attorneys to talk about the Palco Marsh 11 lawsuit. Asked if she had a choice between money and another camp, she said "a camp," of course.
Gerrianne, like my mother, was the mother of five children. I don't know much about that part of her life but I assume her family did not have a VA home loan, as my parents did at the end of World War II. When she became a single parent, I doubt she had what my mother found, a union job with benefits, including an attorney to do the paperwork to keep the house. I know at some point Gerrianne had training and worked in a care home as a certified nursing assistant. If she needed help making ends meet, I bet she was dealing with a system that saw only welfare cheaters.
I first learned she was a mom as she was preparing to move from the marsh to the Blue Angel Village, shipping containers converted to temporary rooms. She was concerned about whether she, her son, Max and Baby Girl could all live in one small room. But at least there was a kennel available there some of the time. She showed me her pile of things, told me she could only take a few of them with her and wondered what would happen when her time was up at the containers.
I happened to be in King Salmon the day she moved, so went to visit. She had concerns about the trailer, pointing out how it was not much bigger than a tent. I think the person with her suggested she show me around. She showed me the stove and fridge and dishes, and again commented on the size of the trailer, this time compared to her camp near the Palco Marsh.
She stayed at King Salmon, taking the bus to work after her car was towed for an out-of-date registration. When walking the mile to the bus and then home after work became difficult because of her lung problems, she arranged rides, sometimes with me. Then the home care work itself became too difficult. There were a couple times she needed money to fill a gap but she proudly repaid every loan. Her landlord in King Salmon told me she was a good tenant. Her neighbors did what they could and at some point she bailed one of them out of jail. Gerrianne didn't know the person at the time — she just acted because someone she cared about asked her to.
Perhaps my greatest regret is that I didn't have time for the opening day drive-through line at the In-N-Out burger. We went elsewhere, if she was upset she didn't say. She ordered the biggest burger meal on the menu, telling me to get something besides that scrawny little chicken thing and not balking when asked if she would share a couple fries. Some days later we had breakfast together, she ordered some sides instead of a combo plate. The look on her face when two full-size plates were placed before her, one loaded with potatoes and huge biscuits on the other, was great fun. She ate some, was eating some as I left her that evening and some was still there when I came to help transport her things the next morning.
She was struggling mightily to live. She feared long term care; mentioned a co-worker at the care home; what she had seen. Mostly Gerrianne was concerned about Max and Baby Girl; that was as close as she came to talking about death.
She went to a Hospital in Redding, where I believe she grew up. Our last conversation she told me she was doing good, had taken a step on her own and was letting the staff help her. Then I called and she did not answer. I was shocked and a bit angry at first when I received the call telling me she'd died. It took me a couple days to understand and forgive her for asking that no one be notified until after she was gone. She left sleeping peacefully.
The Gerrianne I knew was strong, and understood more than she let on. She was also a bit leery and crafty from living under "street law," then on a very low income, then on social security. In other words she was smart and determined. Gerrianne also found humor in unlikely places; she once told me about some fun times she had while she was on the streets. She could tell you how awful things were in one breath and smile and share her unusual humor in the next. And Gerrianne was honest, though at times maybe she was careful about the information she was willing to share.
Dear Gerrianne, I'm pretty sure you know that Max and Baby Girl are well. I hope you don't mind what I've shared. Rest in peace, I miss you. Farewell.
Torn apart and pushed away, I die a little with each new day.
Trying so hard to make the right choice, I call out for help but none hear my voice.
I fill my body with chemicals on my own accord, Spinning off money I cannot afford.
But that's not the worst part because when I am High, the answers I seek keep on passing me by.
I wish I could free my head from this cloud, So I can think clearly, stand tall and be proud.
In every creature that god ever made, Lies inner beauty no scholar can grade.
The path I am on ends in a pine box Maybe then I won't fiend for more rocks.
Janelle Egger (she/her) is a Fortuna resident and independent activist for civil rights, open government, and a legal place to call home for those without housing.
Gerrianne Schulze's poem "Addiction," appeared in the Sept. 8, 2016 issue of the Journal at www.northcoastjournal.com