restricted access 2. I Stay to Myself: Avoidance of Social Ties
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59 2 I Stay to Myself Avoidance of Social Ties I’m a house person, I like staying home. . . . I stay to myself; I don’t ask nobody for nothing. —Nicole, 21, North Philadelphia resident Kelly, lonely and grieving the deaths of two close family members, tells me the only person she would ask for help if she needed it is her grandmother , whose health is failing; the prospect of losing her grandmother to illness in the near future compounds her sense of isolation. Her dramatic eye makeup makes her sad eyes look bigger. While isolation clearly worsens the pain of her grief, when I ask Kelly to tell me about her neighbors, she says, “I don’t usually talk to them. I stay to myself. . . . I don’t have no friends. I stay by myself. . . . I can’t trust anybody.”1 When I ask her what it’s like to help others she says, “Right now I need to help myself.” With few people to turn to and few resources of her own, she does not feel as though she has extra resources to give to others. Kelly lives with her mother and her young son; his father was deported to his native Dominican Republic. She has a negative relationship with her mother and she says that her sister, who passed away, was more of a mother to her than her actual mother. She says that her mother thinks “I don’t know nothin’ . . . treating me like something’s wrong with me. . . . She’s not there like a mother’s supposed to be there.” This is why she says she would not ask her mother for help. While clearly Kelly is receiving help in that she lives with her mother, she would benefit from more social connection. When her grandmother passes away, she will be terribly isolated. Unlike most of the other participants in this study who were not KWRU members, she is not attending programs at any social service agencies, which compounds her isolation. She has little companionship apart from her son. 60 | I Stay to Myself Kelly is one of the most isolated of the study participants. But “I stay to myself,” “I’m not an outside person,” and other variants of choosing to isolate oneself and avoid ties with others are common refrains in participant interviews. KWRU member Marie, forty-two, tells me the best thing about the neighborhood where she and her family live in a house rented with a Section 8 voucher, is, “I don’t know nobody. They don’t know nothing about me.” Marie has begun to build ties through KWRU, as the next chapter describes, but like many KWRU participants, she avoids ties in general. The life she describes apart from her involvement in KWRU sounds horrific: Those streets are brutal. . . . I don’t want to go outside. I’m scared. . . . I’d rather just keep life like it is right now. I’m in the house. The doors are shut. . . . So when it’s dark outside I’m always in the house before it gets dark. But if I get caught out there I’m on my way in here. . . . I’ll only do what works for me. So I don’t go, even during the day I don’t go nowhere. I don’t want to know nobody. I don’t want any new people in my life. I don’t want to try anything else new. I don’t want no more new friends. I don’t want anything. Many scholars decry what they see as an increase in social isolation. Robert Putnam argued in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community2 that the latter part of the twentieth century witnessed a decline in formal group membership of various types; the title of his book refers to his observation that people continue to bowl as a leisure activity, but they bowl alone instead of in leagues as in a bygone era. Stacie, an intensely religious participant who mentioned going to God for emotional support, not to friends, for example, is facing eviction . She tells me, These days like people are more so to themselves and in the house, you know what I mean? It’s not like people would come out and have block parties and stuff like that, where I live anyway. . . . It seems like people are just like really to themselves. Stacie is reserved and poised, soft-spoken without being timid. When I ask...


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