KQED, the Bay Area public radio station yesterday broadcast a little piece I did on a woman found in the garbage last summer: Human Garbage.
Here’s the full text:
Last summer, a dead body trundled up a conveyor belt into the sorting loft of the Sunnyvale garbage station. How she arrived, nobody knows. Somehow, she made it onto the line, traveling through the station at the same slow, stuttery pace as the egg shells and the paper towels, the kitty litter and the candy wrappers.
Imagine it. A trailer suspended high above the station floor. A pervasive stink of rot. Clanking machinery. Garbage runs between two rows of people in hard hats, safety glasses, and rubber gloves. They pull out anything salvageable from the endless stream of trash. Pizza boxes. Coffee grinds. Sodden newspapers. Chicken bones. Kelley Daniel.
She had lived on the streets for years, sleeping on buses at night. She was 50 years old.
The local paper suggested she might have fallen asleep in a dumpster, but that’s hardly an explanation. Between falling asleep in a dumpster and ending up dead on the garbage line there lies a horror so complete it sets your hair on end.
A flurry of news appeared in the papers, of course. An op-ed suggested we care more for garbage than people. The police looked for clues. A brother was found, a devout Christian who posted a website and an online photo album. A husband showed up. Then, everything settled back down.
But I can’t get her out of my head. It’s not her pathetic end that gets me, but the pictures in that album. There she was, at 11, straight out of Leave it to Beaver, gawky, and still apparently whole. And then again at 19 or so, a flower child in full bloom, gloriously ridiculous with teased-out hair and bell-bottoms. But instead of love and laughter, there’s nothing in her face but injury, a pinched expression, a sidelong way of holding herself in reserve. Yet another young woman who didn’t make it out of childhood in one piece.
If that’s the case, her tragedy didn’t happen last year. And she’s not at all unique.
With a perspective, I am Marijke Rijsberman