I Drove Away and Left Her There Sobbing

Maybe it was the article I read. The one about how mensuration is a nightmare for homeless women. It recommended keeping an old purse filled with pads and tampons in your car to give to a homeless woman should you see one. Or maybe it was the fact that someone I love and respect very much had recently mentioned a myth so many people believe. She told me she doesn’t give money to beggars because some of them make 60K a year. I gently told her that was impossible, an urban legend.

Either way, something got to me.

I’d ignored countless homeless people on that corner. The overweight woman with the spacey eyes, old men with gray stubble, some holding signs declaring their veteran status. There was the old lady I accidentally made eye contact with and had to scramble to find some money as she approached my car when she mistook my gaze as an invitation. I even ignored the family with the little girl, all while drinking my Starbucks and staring straight ahead at the red-light.

But last week as I drove to pick my son up from school, I saw her. She was standing on that corner.

I passed her and stopped at the red-light. I thought about the purse idea. I thought about how street life would be particularly difficult for women. It occurred to me that it would be damn near impossible to live on the street, begging for money, and not end up prostituting yourself. I thought about her standing there. I felt certain there was a slim chance she’d made it to this point in her life without experiencing the horror of sexual violence. Statistically, it’s nearly impossible. I wondered if she’d have to sacrifice her body today. Would she have to use the only thing she has left as a form of currency? Would she have to spend a few minutes allowing her mind to travel elsewhere, pretending what was happening wasn’t really happening?

I wondered.

There was no one in the right-hand turn lane. When the light turned green I took a sharp right instead of going straight. I drove back around, searching for my wallet as I did. Inside I had a one, a five, and a twenty. I pulled up to the stop sign and looked in the review mirror to make sure I wasn’t blocking traffic. No one was behind me.

I rolled the window down and stretched my arm out, holding the money towards her. I kind of wiggled it around a bit, immediately regretting the gesture, like I was offering food to a dog. She approached tentatively and started to reach out her hand.

Then she looked down and saw that it was a twenty-dollar bill. She pursed her mouth in distrust, her face crumpled and she asked, “Are you serious?”

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Then her eyes met mine, and she could see I wasn’t playing some cruel joke on her. The dam broke wide open. Her head shaking back and forth as if to say, “No no no.” The quickness with which she started sobbing pulled hard at my heart. She choked out, “Are you sure? Really?” with tears streaming down her cheeks. The desperation in her voice is something that cannot be captured in writing.

My eyes burned. “Yep” was all I could manage while nodding my head emphatically.

She snatched the money quickly and thanked me, then hurried back to the curb.

I drove off and saw her in my rearview mirror, still sobbing.

I was wishing it had been $100.

I was wishing I had said more to her. I wish I had told her, “The world still needs you. You’re not worthless.”

After I picked up Oz I told him what I did. Then I had to explain to him why some people are homeless, because this is an impossible concept to a four-year-old.

“But Mom,” he said, “we have to go back and get that lady. We have to bring her home so she can take a bath and sleep in a bed.”

“Buddy, I know. I wish we could do that but she’s still a stranger. You can’t just bring a stranger into your home.”

“But she won’t be dangerous Mom. She’s not dangerous, she just needs our help.”

So then I explained to him what mental illness is and why it is that some people just can’t function normally.

“Well, I know how we fix that too,” he said, “We go get the homeless people and we feed them and let them take a bath and then we bring them to the doctor. And the doctor can give them medicine to fix their brain.”

“I know buddy. I’d love to do that, but unfortunately it’s not that simple.”

“Yes it is Mom.” he replied annoyed, as if I just didn’t get it.

We drove on home. The barren branches of the trees stood out against the winter sky. I was high on the kind of joy that only comes from helping others.

Then I felt dirty in my privilege.

I felt like the rich lady patting herself on the back for attending a charity ball. My kids chatting away, strapped into their expensive car seats, being driven to their big warm house to watch cable TV and eat balanced meals. Headed to a home where they are loved and wanted.

I thought about that woman. I thought about her mother. I thought about the day she was born. I have always done this when I see someone who has hit rock bottom. I picture them as a newborn. I imagine that someone felt joy about their existence.

Then I thought about my own daughter. I thought about how sometimes life can spin so utterly out of control. I imagined my daughter homeless and then I shook my head to remove this image thinking, “No, never never never. That could never happen.”

I know so many people will read this and say the usual refrain, “But she’s probably just going to spend it on drugs or alcohol.”

I bet she is, and I don’t care.

I don’t want to play moral police when it comes to helping beggars. A person, literally begging, stripped of all dignity and pride.

In that moment when I saw her I just wanted to give her one day.

If she’s an alcoholic or a junkie, I bought her one day without the shakes. A day where maybe she could afford to get right and get a full belly.

That’s enough for me.

I saw her and my heart hurt. I refuse to harden my heart towards someone else’s baby girl.

Maybe my boy was right. It really is that simple.

Today You are Two, I’m Not Sorry You Got My A$$

Dear Buggy,

Today you are two. I could regale you with stories of how perfect your birth was. It was. I could wax poetic on what an incredible joy you’ve been since you took your first breath. But the truth is that in the grand scheme of your life this birthday is arbitrary. You won’t remember it. I contemplated not throwing you a party. It’s a lot of work and you don’t yet know you’re supposed to have one. I remember my first birthday party (as I have a freaky good memory) and then my fifth. I don’t remember my second. I’m not even sure if I’ve ever seen pictures of my second birthday party. You see, you won’t remember your second birthday.

But I will.

Two is the beginning of the end. At two you are still a baby. At two you’re in a diaper. You still sleep in a crib. At two you’re still at my breast from time to time, popping off to speak in broken sentences. “I ride horsey!” you exclaim over and over at bedtime after your first pony ride at a pumpkin farm. “Bonk head?” you inquire when someone seems injured. “Kisses!” you giggle as you play the game of grabbing my arm on the changing table to kiss my hand over and over.

You my dear are a wonder, and still my baby.

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Next year you will be three. Three year olds speak in full sentences, use the potty, sleep in big kid beds and generally, are total assholes.

So there will be a party. We will celebrate you, my girl, because you deserve to be celebrated. Over the last year we have watched as your personality has slowly emerged. As of today I have already come to some conclusions about who you are:

You love deeply and are deeply possessive of your people. In fact, deeply seems to be your adverb. On a recent visit to meet family you latched onto my cousins as if you already knew them. You threw yourself into their laps. You lifted your shirt to feel the skin of your belly pressed against the skin of my cousin’s bare leg. You adored intensely; you couldn’t get close enough. As you maintained deep eye contact with my cousin he remarked “She’s looking into my soul.” You are a soulful child for lack of a better word.

I would tell you that you get this from me, but you get it from your Daddy too. We know how to “shoot the shit” with the best of them, but your father and I grow weary with the surface. We like to dive in, some may find us abrasive, crass, blunt, but we like to get to the heart of things. This is the reason we fell in love.

It is the reason you exist.

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I’m sorry to break it to you my dear, but at times the world isn’t going to feel real enough for you. You’re going to want to dive deep but often the waters will be too shallow. We will be here for you with warmth and laughter, because that’s another thing you do best. As your Grandmother said of you, “Baby girl knows how to clown!” You are damn funny already and we couldn’t be more proud. You come from a very long line of wise asses, stand-up comics and storytellers on all sides of this crazy family. You love to sing and dance, our little performer. You are the only baby I’ve ever met who tricks their Mama by pretending to wake up. I hear you on the monitor and enter your room only to find you still laying down, stifling laughter while you squeeze your eyes shut and tell me, “I seeping. Shut off light.”

This year I’ve slowly come to the realization that you have my body. Perhaps it is just because I have the body shape of a toddler. Perhaps you still have hope to grow long and lean like your Daddy, but I see the way you love food. You love it the way I do. I see your little legs and ankles and I see mine. One day you might hate your body for not being what you see on TV and in magazines. You might look at me walking down the beach and feel anger the way I felt toward my own mother when I was a teenager. You might hate me for passing on these “bad” genetics. But honey they aren’t just mine. They are your Grandmother’s. They are my Nana’s. But you want to know something about my body? It made you. It attracted your handsome Daddy. It grew you, and birthed you, and fed you. It cuddles you. One day the warmth of your body will be home to some little child (should you so choose). You look like me baby, and I’m not sorry about that.

Today you are still my baby. I will wake you and turn on the light against your request. I will lift you from your crib and you will point and demand “Bankie, bankie” for your blanket. You will snuggle your little head into me and smell my neck while sucking your thumb, your blanket balled into your chubby fist. I will read to you in the rocking chair still in your room. I will change your diaper and feed you breakfast in your highchair. Tonight we will make a special dinner and sing you “Happy Birthday.” You’ll practice blowing out a candle on a cupcake in preparation for your party this weekend. I will try to stop and soak it in. Soon the winter will come, the days will pass and we’ll find ourselves here again. There will be other cakes with more candles. There will be other parties and different friends. But this my darling will be your last birthday as a baby, and you won’t remember it.

But I will. I always will.

Forever and ever, I love you. Happy Birthday Buggy.

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