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Monday, May 21, 2012

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?


There’s a woman downtown, a fixture, you might say.  At hand in the bone-cracking cold of the winter, present for the oppressively heavy heat of summer, she sits.   Her thin body wrapped in layers of faded men’s clothing in all weather, she is an unmoving island in a sea of human turbulence.

Surrounded by plastic garbage bags packed to a stretching, near bursting level, she has built a wall of them.

There she is now, chain-smoking.  She chews on her lips, talks to herself, lights the new one with the dying cherry of the old, to be sucked into her lungs and exhaled, seemingly through her weathered, lined face.  Her eyes a faint, watery blue, she looks at nothing, looks at no one.

She does not make eye contact.  She does not hold a sign.

I watch from the bus stop as a young woman in a pretty summer dress buys a hot dog (All Beef Vienna Sausages!) from a street vendor, approaches the older woman with it.  She holds it out, says something I can’t hear.  Take it, I imagine her saying, I bought this for you.  The woman shakes her head no.  She doesn’t want it.  The young woman, money from the hot dog purchase still in her hand, offers her the change instead.   Please.  Take it.

The older woman turns away, shakes her head vigorously.  No.  She doesn’t take anything from anyone.

Doesn’t need to.

The young woman walks away, slowly, the hot dog and the change still in her hands. 

She had wanted to help.

And the old woman with the garbage bags full of her belongings lights another cigarette.

50 comments:

Daisy said...

Oh Wow, Pearl! What a strong image. I could put myself in both places.

Shelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
savannah said...

sometimes, all a person wants is just regular conversation and acknowledgment of their humanity. then, if a sandwich is offered, equal to equal, the answer might be yes. you captured a moment very well, sugar! xoxoxo

Shelly said...

Sometimes we never know what unseen experiences a person pulls behind them. The woman in your story is exactly that kind of person I want to know and spend hours talking with, but they are always so well ensconced in their hard little shells of armor that it's a rare feat.

R. Jacob said...

there is always a haunting story behind the story.

Pearl said...

I see that woman every day for almost 10 years now, and every day I wonder when -- and why -- she took to the streets.

Leenie said...

"All is lost, there's no place for beginning
All that's left is an unhappy ending."

Been a while since I've thought of Jimmy Ruffin.

Thanks for the reminder of our own blessings and the need to look around and notice the sadness and confusion.

Hannah Denski said...

I bet you sat there itching to know her story... I know I am! :)

Eva Gallant said...

Wow! Ten years is a long time to be on the street. I would be curious to know her story as well.

Joyful Things said...

Mental stability is a fragile state most of us take it for granted. One day my extremely strong vibrant friend heard helicopters landing on her roof and insisted her doctor artificially inseminated her. If she had not had family and friends around her she too would be on the streets tucked away in her plastic bag fort.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

There's a lesson there (well, maybe more than one). We often want to "help" but maybe we should find out first if help is wanted and/or needed. Appearances can be deceiving.

jabblog said...

What a kind, well-intentioned young woman. It's hard to have help spurned.

bill lisleman said...

I believe we all get a unique view of the world. Parts of our views overlap with others. I suspect this lady's view doesn't overlap much with anyone. Do you wonder if she has noticed you for 10 years?

CarrieBoo said...

First off: I just caught up on your dope work-van story... wow! That is a crazy, funny experience.

And from that, to this -- You are an incredibly talented writer. I bow down.

It's beyond me how someone survives ten years like that. So hard to know what to do for the best sometimes, but you have to try, in your own way.

Lisa Golden said...

This piece definitely illustrates your writing range. No limits. Your talent with words is so strong and clear.

Ms Sparrow said...

It reminded me of last spring when I was sitting on my patio in the early morning with the cats lounging beside me. A doe came walking slowly by within 15 feet. We all froze. Then, my big gray Sunny started walking toward her. He reached up and touched noses with her then, curiosity resolved, came back to the patio. Two different worlds came together for an instant. That seems to be what happened during that brief exchange between the woman offering the hotdog and the bag lady who lives in a different world altogether.

fishducky said...

Whether your posts are hilarious (usually) or moving (today) you write beautifully!!!!!!!!!

mapstew said...

:¬)

xxx

Laraine Eddington said...

If I were there, I would have eaten the hot dog. I really love free hot dogs.

Twisted Scottish Bastard said...

I sometimes wonder how many people live on the edges.
The edge of society.
The edge of starvation.
The edge of dispair.

The edge of sanity

NotesFromAbroad said...

I have seen that here .. once I gave a woman some things from the bag of bakery goodies that I had just bought, she took it, looked at it and threw it on the ground.
Now I am wary of offering food to the homeless.
I feel bad for the young woman who may not be so open with her generosity next time and for the old woman that this is where she is at the end of her time.
It is all really sad.

Danielle L Zecher said...

Wow! I stopped by your blog from a link on thefeatherednest, and I'm very glad I did. :-)

Susan in the Boonies said...

So sad. I don't know. I don't even know what becomes of the broken hearted of my best friends, sometimes.
I reach out. I offer my own "hot dog offering", hoping that it will be of some comfort. But sometimes? What I'm offering? Just isn't what's needed. And I'm danged if I can figure out exactly what they DO need.

Can you tell I'm hurting for my friend?

jenny_o said...

I wonder how she has survived for so long if she seems to be rejecting handouts of any kind. I wonder where she goes at night.

Your writing is strong no matter what the subject, Pearl. I am so glad you share it with us.

EM Illustrator said...

I enjoyed reading this, you write so well!
Have a lovely day!

Shea Goff said...

Quite the visual there, Pearl. I don't need to tell you that's some excellent writing.

And I don't know. Maybe that woman didn't want even the nicest of young ladies suggesting what she may need. In my experience receiving help is much more difficult than giving it.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

When I see these people I often wonder who were they in their better days and how did they get from there to here. It is always a mystery, there is always a story.

L-Kat said...

Wow. This is a great story that makes me want to know more of the story. Thanks for sharing.

Macy said...

Sometimes karma's a long time coming...

Suldog said...

She passed up a free all-beef frankfurter? Obviously insane.

No, seriously, this was a good piece of stuff.

(Like that's a surprise. You're one of the most consistently entertaining stops on my blog rounds.)

Due to my checkered past, I spent a lot of time hanging on street corners, squatting down with some of these folks who don't have a better bedroom than a grate or a doorway. Everybody has a different story, whether real or fanciful, and most of the time they get the most "nourishment" from just having someone treat them like human beings. It was nice of the person to offer; nothing wrong with that. But conversation first might have made acceptance of charity easier. Of course, I don't know if they had some history, anyway...

Indigo Roth said...

That's me in ten tears time.

Gigi said...

Very powerful piece! I know that this one will stay with me. And I'll always wonder.

Carole M. said...

congratulations Pearl on you being published; enjoyed today's post

Lo said...

What a great piece of writing.

By the way, I nominated you for the Kreative Blogger Award. Check my latest blog.
Love,Lo

Raymond Alexander Kukkee said...

Well done, Pearl. We never know what is in the hearts and minds of other people--even those we 'insist' we know well.
A person in the street is really a complete unknown. The woman could be a millionaire, perhaps she got sick eating one of those offerings before, or perhaps she just was not hungry.

This is not only a powerful story, there is a great lesson to be observed. Thanks, Pearl. ":)

esbboston said...

She might have accepted a gift of cigarettes, or possibly a very nice lighter.

Belle said...

I once said to my shrink, "Without my family I would probably be a bag lady." He agreed with me. When you have a mental illness you need family to help you, pills and therapy. Without these things you are hooped. Great story and writing, Pearl.

ThreeOldKeys said...

a potter throws identical pots from the same clay, and fires them at the same time in the same kiln. the heat hardens each one into something useful and beautiful. except for the few that crack.

i don't recall where i once read something like this. i just remember the jolt of truth. and i immediately knew i couldn't read the whole book, so i returned it to the library.

The Elephant's Child said...

Heartbreaking stuff. Does she talk to anyone? Or is she permanently alone?
I like that the woman tried to reach out to her, and hope that she continues to reach out to people.

Pat Tillett said...

Wow! That is one of the best bits of writing that I've seen in a while. REALLY good Pearl!
---------
The lady had everything she needed. Geez, if she can afford to chain smoke these days, then she has more money than I do...

Crack You Whip said...

Wow, so heartbreaking, but you told it so well I felt like I was there...

dogimo said...

I was about to say that if I had been there, I'd have eaten the hot dog. But no. No I wouldn't have. Because Laraine would have beaten me to it!

I wonder irrelevant things. I think: "maybe she's vegan?" Or I think how expensive chain-smoking is as a habit, and wonder whether she is one of those people you sometimes hear about who after they die, it's discovered that they had dozens of thousands of dollars or more squirreled away. But then I say to myself #1 "I bet those instances are over-reported," and #2, would it help?

I don't know to help.

Pearl, writing a piece like this helps. Maybe not material aid to the specific person, but it gets people wracking their brains and wishing there were solutions. Keeping that attitude in practice is vital for those times in life when occasionally, there are.

Tempo said...

Nicely written Pearl, it paints a clear picture in the mind.

NellieVaughn said...

I had a relative who chose to let life get to him. My uncle chose to leave job, family, and home behind. Once in a great while, I would see him walking down the streets, barefoot and talking to someone only he could see. He was not schizophrenic. If the mood struck him, he would acknowledge my presence. My uncle was an artist, a sensitive and tortured soul. He said he got tired of hurting, and when he spoke to what people believed were figments of his imagination, he was actually reciting poems to God. Anyway, that's what he said. He passed away a few years ago.

the walking man said...

I can see that happening...some folks just want to be free. If they are hungry or thirsty they will beg it up then. But by offering it the old lady took it for pity and maybe she didn't want any pity eh?

Linda Stansbury said...

Strong image. You say a great deal with very few words...

Chantel said...

I'm comforted every time there is a "young lady" with an open heart found. For the one that stops, hundreds pass--but that one, that one proves that the best of our humanity still lives on.

Sometimes just knowing someone cared enough to offer kindness...can change your world.

Hilary said...

A wonderful piece of writing here. I could see her .. plain as day.

Diane said...

Your story touched me deeply . . . again. My family has served in the homeless community for several years and the one thing we have learned is that no story is the same. No two people are alike. All carry wounds, whether physical, emotional or mental. And all need something. The important thing is to find out, first, what they most need. It's not an easy thing to assess. It certainly takes patience and the willingness to get to know them. The young woman made an effort. That is significant. And rare. And even though her action was spurned, it was noted. By the person she was trying to help, though that person didn't outwardly show it, and by those who witnessed it. And maybe, just maybe, they will learn from her example. Thank you for your lesson today, Pearl. And for your ability to recreate so vividly!

Alex said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSY-SBY8mew