Last night, I spied her walking across the street with a bag hanging from each side of her walker as well as one tote bag on the seat. I hesitated offering her a sandwich because she looked more put together than I’d expect a homeless person to look and I wasn’t sure if she really was.
As she reached the corner of Central and 3rd St, right near the Lucky Dill and Ruby’s Cigar Bar, I approached her. Her long blonde hair was swept up into a loose ponytail. Her skin and eyes looked bright. She had a little mascara rubbed off under her lower lid. She wore a blue fleece zip-up jacket with a white shirt under it.
“Would you like a sandwich?” I asked as I held out a pb & j wrapped in a paper towel and held together with a sticky Christmas gift tag which read “To: You, From: Me” in children’s handwriting. My family and friends had just finished making sandwiches at Williams Park and I had one left as I walked back to my car.
“What church are you from?” She asked me.
“I’m not with a church. I was just helping out over there at Williams Park,” I explained.
“Oh, I was just there for dinner. That was good,” she said.
“Would you like the sandwich?”
“Yes, thank you. I’ve been homeless for four days. It’s my first time being homeless,” she told me. “And it’s hell.”
She paused and her blue eyes locked mine.
“My money ran out and I have bone cancer, so here I am.”
My already heavy-heart sank a bit more as she told me this. If I didn’t have family and friends to catch me, I’d have been damn-near homeless a few times. It’s only a few missed paychecks away. In fact, I suppose I have been homeless…it just didn’t look like me sleeping on a park bench. It was me living in an RV with 6 family members. It was me bunking in with friends for a few months. It was me being on the edge of adventure and minimalism and poverty.
“The good thing is, you always have somewhere to eat in St. Pete. Every night of the week there’s something. Monday is Williams Park. Tuesday and Wednesday is the “chicken man.” Then on Thursday it’s three guys on motorcycles who bring burgers. Friday is the “bologna man.” Saturday is the church….the elevator church the homeless call it…over there,” she pointed down the street, past Williams Park.
“There’s a breakfast feast on Saturday morning and another one Saturday night. Sunday another church provides food. There’s no reason to go hungry around here. But let me tell you it’s still hell out here,” she continued.
“The men out here are pigs. They only care about booze, drugs, and sex. I’ve seen women giving oral sex to men right on the sidewalk,” she looked away in disgust.
“Are you Christian?” she asked me.
“Ummm, not really. I don’t subscribe to any one religion. I believe in a lot of things,” I explained.
“Well, when I had money, I’d buy cigarettes and Hershey chocolate bars. The mini ones not the big ones. And cigarettes are expensive. I’d tape a message on it. A Bible verse. And then I’d leave them out.”
She recited a verse about salvation.
“I wonder though….do you think it stuck? Did people follow it?” she asked me.
“Well, I believe when someone is ready to hear a message they will hear it. So, yes, I’m sure someone followed your message,” I said.
“Here I am now. Homeless. But only for a few more days. Friday or Saturday I have another place to go. Maybe Sunday. But I’m getting out of here,” she told me.
“Where will you go next?” I asked.
“Well,” she paused, “I’ve got a place. Yup, by Friday or Saturday I’ll be there.”
“That’s great!” I said.
“You know my doctor said I wouldn’t live to see Christmas.”
“Oh,” I said empathetically.
“Oh, it’s fine with me. I’m ready to go home. My son is already there.”
I processed this and realized that Christmas was Monday. Where would she really be going on Sunday? Oh, Lord….is she going “home” on Friday or Saturday?
“I really need potassium. My bones ache from the cancer.” She rubbed her leg and I nodded.
“You know, the homeless like it here. They don’t want to go to the VA or anywhere else because they’d have to give up drugs and booze. They get their checks. They eat every night. They don’t mind.”
I shook my head slightly.
“What is your name?” I asked her.
“Connie,” she smiled.
“Connie, I’m Sara,” I smiled back.
“Where do you sleep, Connie?”
“Huh, well…” she looked off. “It’s hard. I sit on the bench. I can’t lay on it. And I stay on it until the police officer tells me to move. You know, the homeless here they loathe the cops. And the cops loathe the homeless.”
I nodded again without a word.
“Well, I better keep going. Thanks for the sandwich,” Connie said.
“You’re welcome. Take care.”
I turned to walk to my car, my feet and heart heavy.
Today, I was shopping in Publix downtown on my way home from work. I rounded the corner to head down the aisle for toilet paper and there was Connie pushing her walker.
“Hi, Connie! I met you yesterday, I’m Sara.”
“I remember who you are. Were you wearing that dress yesterday?” she asked.
“No, I wasn’t.” She was in her white shirt and blue fleece.
“How are you today?” I asked.
“Hungry. The chicken man is off until after Christmas.”
“Oh, that stinks. Well, what can I get for you?” I chirped.
“Oh. I wasn’t…” she trailed off, shaking her head and looking down. “I wasn’t trying to imply….”
“Connie, it’s okay! What do you want to eat?” I asked.
“A sandwich. A sub sandwich,” she looked up at me. “I’m so hungry.”
“Well, let’s get one for you,” I walked with her to the long line at the Publix deli.
“I didn’t mean for you….I wasn’t trying to…” she started again.
“I know you didn’t. It’s my pleasure Connie. I’ll tell you what. Can I give you some money to buy the sandwich because I have to go?” I counted out 10 singles and handed them to her.
She smiled and accepted.
“It was good to see you again Connie. God Bless.” I never say “God Bless” but felt that she’d appreciate it somehow, being that she’s a Christian.
I rushed to the check-out line with a tote bag full of fresh produce hoping to make it to yoga in time. My knee-high boots clicked across the parking lot as I strode to my Volvo and hopped in, allowing only some of the reality to sink in.
Yes, Connie, I thought, your message is being received.