And then they walk through the doors at ECAD, where they are greeted by Crisco, Sprinkles, Honey, Blip, and Shiloh. Big, goofy, animated, bounding dogs. All of a sudden these people who talk at you, not with you, these suffering recluses, are whispering in Honey's ear as they brush her long golden hair. They are laughing trying to get a toothbrush into Shiloh's mouth. They are a part of something bigger than themselves and their problems, and for just a few seconds, minutes, or hours, they manage to forget the outside world and feel safe among their two- and four-legged comrades. One of the younger veterans told me, "This place is like my church. It's the only place I can let my guard down and feel safe."
So no, these are not 'my people', but I kind of like them. I'm getting used to not cowering when they talk at me. I'm getting used to talking back when they greet me with a "Good morning, gorgeous", reminding them that while they have "seen it all", I am not a "hey there, gorgeous" kind of girl. And every day I am more and more impressed by their individual lives, their individual stories, and their individual strength to fight for the help they need and to walk through those doors vulnerable and with their guard down. I'd say I've come a long way in these first two weeks of cultural immersion, but I still have a long way to go.