Thursday, August 16, 2007
You see the torn and dirty clothes that hang about my body, yellow eyes and rotted teeth. You smell the stench of sweat-soaked (days old) clothes; the odor of the garbage I rummage through to find my food. You cannot feel my hopelessness and despair, or understand my vices, and you will never hear, as I do, children's desperate cries as they wretchedly withstand another night without food. You don't think you are me. I am nobody.
Do you think that I don't hear your remarks about me? Do you think I don't see your nose turn up in disgust as you walk past me? As the sounds of my own lonely march echo through my ears, do you think that I can't feel the bugs crawling in my hair?
You consider me below you. A useless, repulsive cancer of society. My cracked, darkened skin and unkempt hair are the antithesis of those pictured in your tabloids, and rightfully so. What maddened psychopath could ever want to photograph this?
The sound of sirens at night and a crack dealer's hushed whispers are my lullaby. The grime covering my hands and the grease covering my jacket are my feeble protection against those who would harm me. I feel the shame that comes with my disgrace as vividly as the aching of my feet at the end of a day's journey to nowhere.
The garbage can is a treasure to me. There I find stale, discarded bread, spoiled and curdled milk, and fat left over from a coveted prime-rib steak… but prime-rib steak is for people: fat is for beggars. This meal will be all I eat today.
You look at me as if I am sub-human. Yet, I was you. When I was younger, I taught your children about the love of God in Sunday school. Seeing them learn and knowing their excitement brought joy to my heart. I prayed for them constantly and when their hearts were broken, my heart broke with them.
Not long after becoming a Sunday school teacher, I fell in love with my best friend, Anthony. He was such a kind-hearted man, and swept me off my feet. Nothing on this earth could have stopped me from marrying him. I knew we were meant to be together for the rest of our lives.
I gave birth to my first child 2 years after we got married. His name was Alex, and he was my warrior. Alex decided at a young age that he wanted a brother or sister, which Anthony and I had been considering as well, so when Alex was 3, I gave birth to Katie. She was the light in my eyes and the sparkle in my soul.
When Alex got old enough for school, I joined the PTA, and frequently baked cookies for the other parents. They couldn't get enough of my chocolate chip cookies, and I couldn't get enough of the stories they told me about their own adventures in raising children! People once admired me for the hard work and love that I put into my family. I had many fellow parents come up to me, telling me that they didn't understand how I could do it. I always told them that my love got the best of me. In those days, I was a jewel, but to you I am rust.
You never took time to hear my story. You never gave me a second thought. You never thought to ask me my name, and now my name is gone.
If you had asked, I would have told you about the car accident. Everything I knew and loved died that day; broken bodies beyond repair. Anthony, Alex, and Katie were rushed to the emergency room, and I spent every penny I had trying to pay for the medical help they needed. The day they were taken off life support because I could no longer pay the bills was the most sorrow-filled day of my life. I didn't even get to tell them goodbye… I couldn't.
For nine years, I had lived for the joy of my husband and children. I wasn't a working mom; I considered raising my kids the best investment I could make. In one fell swoop, all that made me thrive was taken from me. How could life be so cruel as to take them from me? Why did this have to happen?
I'd lost my strength, my resolve, and my sense of purpose. Without a desire to live and without the resolve to die, I resigned myself to the streets, to become one of the living dead. To you I am another nameless, homeless woman on the streets, an easy face to forget. Yet I can never forget… never will I forget the nightmare that torments me both day and night, and continually brings me back to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth – my only solace: a dim street light and a newspaper to shield myself from the cold.
(This is her story, and the story of so many others like her.)