My eyes welled up lying down with Willie as she fell asleep. How could I forget? How could I ever forget?
I came downstairs to make a call to the Starbucks on the corner of ‘this and that’.
“Hello, yes, hiiiiiiii…ummm, well, I’m sure this will seem like a strange question, but…well, you know that homeless lady that hangs out in front….” silence….”Ya know? The kinda overweight woman? She is always out front?”…silence…”like, every day?”
“Yes” the gal says in a soft stoic voice.
“Well, I’m sorta making like a ‘welfare check’ on her…it’s just…I haven’t seen her for a couple days…and she’s sorta my friend…and she told me the other day her heart was ‘angry’…well it hurt, ya know, and I’m just hoping someone has seen her”.
“Oh, o.k.-yes, I’m pretty sure I saw her. Hold on, let me go ask…….yes-she was here yesterday”.
“Ah! Great! Thank you, thank you so much. You see, I’m going to ask around to see if there is some sort of medical assistance I can get her - nothing that will disrupt your business or anything…it’s just that she is so sweet and has such a beautiful soul…and…”. Crickets. Chirp. “…well, anyway, I really appreciate your time and your help…”
“Sure, have a good night”.
Have a good night.
Have a goooooooood night.
Yes, I suppose I will. I’m warm and safe and soon to be cuddling my little love child as these storms are sure to wake her.
But what about Pat?
Pat is a woman I have had my eye on for about 2 years now. She always sits alone with her black suitcase and two or three plastic bags which seem to hold the day’s necessities. She keeps them pretty under wraps, but every now and then I would see a little snack surface from the bottom of one and then she’d roll and wrap the bag up really quick like she was figuratively and literally ‘packing it away’. She is deceptively large but seems to carry half of her weight in her ankles…her always exposed, red, completely chafed water-logged ankles. It is impossible not to notice or even get stuck in a stare with them. They would be the elephant in the room - if there were a room.
I started saying hi to her early on. That’s very easy because you can say hi and keep walking to your car. Your warm, dry car that often has a juice and granola bar of some sort in it. I started making a point to see her last winter. I’d make small talk about the weather and then dip my toe in here and there to impose a question as to if she’s keeping warm or if she needs another blanket…or anything.
But it was imperative to me that she not feel that I saw her as a homeless bag lady. I created this imagery in my head that if I really made myself see her and her soul and her adult humanness, that she might think I did not know she was a homeless person who carried bags…or talked to voices in her head. Well the voices are not heard in her head…she actually hears them all…and sadly, she also actually knows they are not real, but not until her responses exit her mouth.
I digress. Often.
So I decided that in order to have her trust me, I would look into her eyes during conversation. This may sound very easy. I pride myself on saying hi to strangers on EVERY STREET no matter WHERE I am and often when I am with company. Ask Michael. He says I just loooooooove to make him squirm. :)….but this was very different. Because, you see, Pat has the most beauuuuuutiful eyes. Piercing and kind. They remind me so much of my late Mother in law, I almost believed…well, you get it. Very Irish, very gentle while verrrrrrry knowing.
I went to visit her one day as if I were ‘in the neighborhood’ and dug around the car and found one of those apple banana squish pouches of Willie’s that she has sort of retired and skipped across the street with purpose and plopped down presenting the pouch. I had avoided offering her food or drink because I really really really did not want her to think I saw her as someone who was in need. Just another lady of LaGrange. ahem. But now I was somehow ready to skew the lines.
“Do you think you’d like something like this my daughter used to love them they are organic and really yummy but now she seems to be over them and if you like them I can bring you more…” I was not so smooth. It’s hard to act cool when you just aren’t.
“Oh, yes, I see…but what about your daughter?” Pat asked so sincerely.
“Oh, like I said, you know these kids today they are such picky eaters and they change their minds so fast and now I’m stuck with all of these squishy things and if you like ‘em boy that would be great. I have so many I don’t know what to do with them”.
You know who WAS cool and IS cool? Pat.
After that initial awkward skewing of the lines, it just became nice. I mean, I am truly comforted in her company…but only because she also gives me the impression that she truly enjoys mine. She doesn’t say much unless you ask her a question. So I made it a point to ask her questions. And here is what I know.
She is 70. “No way!!!! You seriously could pass for 49”
“Yes, yes- I get that all the time - when I wear my hat you can’t see my gray roots just my dark hair in the ponytail…”
She is not only Irish but American Indian . I told Pat that “I’m American Indian, Scotch Irish, Spanish, French and German…are you Indian? I see something in your cheekbones” …”Yes? No wonder we get along so well”.
I also know that she hasn’t had a drink of alcohol or smoked in 20 years. Doesn’t even drink coffee. “When I was young and brainless, I used to smoke 2 packs of menthol cigarettes a day…I smoked menthol, because I was allergic to regular cigarettes. “ (???)
She is Schizophrenic. She has conversations when there is stress. Not pleasant conversations. The last one I heard was when some dude in a uniform walked up to us. We both feared he was an authority to ‘clean the street’ and that we were both pegged as loiterers…but alas, dude was there to hit on me. no joke…i should be flattered? oh my gosh, this dude would not STOP and was clearly interrupting my Spring sunny visit with my girlfriend, even after I let him down gently with the ‘husband’ word yada yada yada. I could tell Pat was stressed out and she blurted out to an imaginary person, “Oh no, he’s really done it this time!!!! He’s getting the death penalty!!!!”
I calmly turned my head to Pat as she covered it up with, “Oh I was responding to them over there” as she pointed to two random people sitting at a bench eating a smoothie. I nodded as if to say, “of course” and then as the dude laid back into his open marriage/divorce story, I nudged Pat with my elbow and could see her eyes twinkle as she held back her laughter with a muffling smirk.
It is so nice to be completely ‘with’ her and to block out the cookie cutter town and the myriad of Jones’ that come in and out of these overpriced, homogenized ‘boutiques’ and coffee shops. I have noticed that she gets more attention now that I have imposed myself upon her stoop. I like that. I told Michael a while back that “everyone is up Pat’s jock now”…we laugh and I am admittedly arrogantly satisfied that I might give others incentive to rise above their own discomfort and acknowledging or offering her this or that. Unfortunately, I worry that if she gets too much attention, it might scare her away, too…yes I might over-think this stuff, but it is seemingly very delicate…especially because I also now know she has a heart condition-and needs help.
The other day, Willie and I made cookies and I brought some by for Pat after I dropped Willie off at school. Willie has only met Pat a handful of times, but loves her like I do. Her hugs for Pat are packed with more velocity than I am accustomed to witness or receive - and Willie can throw down a hug. But I bring her sparingly, only for awareness and to fine tune her already infinite sense of empathy. Also, arrogantly, I want Willie to change the world with all of my friends’ beautiful children and those of strangers as well.
So. Pat was sleep-sitting. I often see her this way and leave her be. But that day, I sat the plate of cookies down and whispered, “Hi Pat”. She sat up startled and I almost instantly cried, but smiled instead. “I’m sooooo sorry I woke you, honey…I wanted you to know these were for you and that the plate was just some cheap garage sale item you can pitch so you don’t hafta carry it around”. I wanted her to have a real plate, not a paper plate or plastic baggie, right???!
“Oh it’s ok” as she sort of pretended to take a bite. I picked one up to show her they were edible and safe, but she sort of put the one she nibbled from on top of her suitcase acting appreciative, but then slipping in, “my heart…it’s been acting angry.”
“Oh my gosh, Pat-does it hurt?”
‘It does this from time to time and I just sort of try and sleep it away”
“Oh honey…I’m so sorry. Can I get you some water? Water would be really good for you”.
“No, no. It’s ok”
“Ok…but when you feel up for it, it would really be good, Pat”.
“Oh, it just gets angry sometimes.”
I was sort of paralyzed. Like, really, what in the hell could I do? I rubbed her back gently through her tough canvas coat and just said, “I’m so sorry, try to go back to sleep…I’m so sorry I woke you, honey”.
I left her thinking, sugar? cookies? Terrible. How could I leave those with her-Vegan and Organic don’t make a bit of difference when it’s the f-ing sugar that is poison.
Michael thought she might be a ringer candidate for congestive heart failure with the way I described her ankles.
I drove by later and she was gone.
Then again the next day.
Finally last night she had been spotted by the double spy- barista…(God forbid she might help me with fervor-might she lose her night shift for telling me if someone was dead or alive?)
I’ve made some calls and googled to the ends and really have no f-ing clue what to do other than get her to an ER. I couldn’t find any direct google for any emergency- health -attention- for- a -homeless- person…thanks to my sister in law who is a nurse and volunteers with the retired/elderly nuns, (yes-Saintly) she has encouraged this route.
If anyone has any other tip or information in a city that ‘houses’ 140, 000 (plus) homeless people (44,000 of those are children), please feel free to message here. You’d think these resources would be second nature and advertised with their provisions.
Wish me luck, please. I’m scared…for Pat, or for doing anything, really. How is it that I should feel scared to help? That in itself is terrifying.
Let us try to make up for a lack of caring for our earth’s inhabitants and teach our children to…at very least.
For Pat’s sake.