I have a real hard time dealing with homelessness. But, it’s hardest to deal with when:
– It’s a woman
– It’s raining
– The homeless person tries to connect with me to beg for money
In tonight’s encounter, I’m running around doing errands, spending money I don’t really have, but getting done what I must. I’m also trying to get ready for a comedy show on Sunday night, so I’m trying to get spending money from the bank, gas up my car, and do all the other things that one does to prepare for a fun event with a friend.
So, it’s been pouring off and on all day, and I need to fill the tank. Thinking about the route I’m traveling and the cheapest place to get gas without back tracking between where I was at and home, I decide to hit a local gas station that’s looking a bit seedy.
I do a run around all the pumps, and there’s some boards up by the garage doors, but the shop door is open. All the pumps ONLY sell 87 regular gas, which is fine by me, but still weird.
So, I do the run around the pumps and end up parking farther away from the storefront than I would normally choose, but it looked safe. Foolish me.
As I’m pumping the gas a seemingly homeless woman comes up to me and starts to beg. I give her the hairy eye ball and gruffly tell her, “Not while I’m handling money!” in a firm voice.
As so many of the mentally frail do, she steps back immediately, hurt, and walks away upset because she feels I yelled at her. She stops and says to me, “It’s ok to talk to you on the street! I didn’t do anything wrong!” as she continues to walk away, agitated and upset.
Now, I don’t know this woman from Adam. She’s not one of the regulars that I can recognize on sight. But, she’s upset and I feel like I’ve kicked a kitten.
So, I proceed to fill my gas tank while keeping an eagle eye out. She keeps an eye on me, and approaches a man coming out of the storefront, and he shoos her away, too.
The weather is miserable. She’s mostly clean. But, she’s in sandals and it’s wet and raw out. She’s got a blanket over her shoulders, a hat on her head, and she’s layered up with these ridiculous bare feet in sandals. Sad.
So, now I’m kicking myself for being so paranoid that I scared a sad homeless woman. She could be me. She could be my friend, C, who is now in the board and care home up in the Inland Empire area near the boonies… I’m feeling like shit, when I was just protecting myself. But, I need to make amends.
So, the car is full at 36 dollars, and I pull a $10 bill out of my wallet, heading toward the homeless woman who is now pacing and watching me approach. Clearly, she’s in fear as to why I’m heading toward her after yelling at her.
“Look”, I say. “You should NEVER come near anyone, but especially a woman, when we are filling up our cars and trapped at the pumps. You scared me, and I worry about being mugged. Now that I’m done filling my car, what did you want to ask me?”
Like a bird, she looked at me sideways, trying to smooth her ruffled feathers. “I really just wanted to know if you could spare anything” she says, over the cigarette in her mouth. “I’m sorry I scared you.”
“I’m sorry I upset you, too.” I replied. “I appreciate your backing off when I asked you to leave me be, and I’m happy to share what I have with you in the hopes that it will help you in some small way.”
She smiles like a little kid at Christmas and takes the money. “Can I give you a hug?” she asks, tentatively.
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I need my space and hate to be touched, but this was not about me. This was about letting this woman know that I saw her and saw her humanity in a very difficult situation, so we hugged.
Not to miss an opportunity, she then asks if she can use my phone to call a friend for a ride. I had to smile and let her know that I don’t carry a phone. I’m not sure she believed me, but that’s ok. I wasn’t going to be able to resolve her difficulties, but we’d come to terms so that I wasn’t adding to her burden for that small moment of time.
Frailty. It comes to us all, and I’m thankful that I have a roof over my head on this Wintery, wet, night. I still have $10 for my share of the concert parking tomorrow night, and life goes on. Compromise and sharing a tiny bit of what I have allows me to look at myself in the mirror, even if the money goes for cigarettes and alcohol. With any luck, it will go toward a nice meal and a dry place to sleep tonight, if she can find enough folks to pitch in.
Der Orange Doofus, however, is determined to divert money from our already weakened safety net, and it hurts me that people like this woman don’t have better resources than what she can beg on a rainy evening. There but for the luck of the draw go I.