Being the holidays and a little chilly here in Louisiana, I thought of a lady and daughter who flittered through my life once. I was wondering how they were.
See, when we lived in Pittsburgh, we lived in the city, right on the border of one of the nicest and one of the nastiest neighborhoods. You know how city living can be. Well, across the street from our house was a condominium building. Their owners rented some of the condominiums out as apartments, so a few had some questionable tenants. One being a heroine dealer whose stint there involved his two-year-old falling out of the third story window and breaking only his arm, and my car being stolen twice by the same druggie!
Anyway, that’s another story. This story is about the tenant who took residence in that same apartment when the drug dealer got busted and no longer lived there.
I had seen this lady come and go many times with her daughter for a few months. We exchanged cordial hellos and small talk as we passed on the street. I assumed she was just another resident in that building. Then, one day all that changed.
We had purchased a house and were preparing to move. In our preparations, we were going through our stuff and putting stuff out on the sidewalk for the garbage. I had old clothing, old mops, brooms, old magazines, and cleaning supplies bottles that were practically empty. I left to take a load of stuff to the new house and returned to find the new neighbor and her daughter rummaging through my pile of stuff on the sidewalk. They had the nasty old broom and mop, many of my magazines and the dish soap bottle with a half inch of solution left in it. I also noticed her daughter was wearing my old track jacket. I was slightly taken aback that my neighbor was going through my garbage but shrugged and went inside. A little while later, I carried an old double bed mattress and box spring out to the curb as well. It was really old and broken down. We had just bought a new one. About an hour later, another neighbor knocked on my door. He asked if we were throwing out the mattress set or if we just had it out there to move it. I told him it was for the garbage. He then told me about the lady across the street.
She had moved there from South Carolina and was part of a domestic violence rescue program. A church in Pittsburgh had sponsored this woman and moved her and her daughter (who was about ten) to this apartment. She was fleeing her abusive husband and left in the middle of night with nothing. The church got her a job at Hospice. They provided transportation to and from work. He asked if he could give her the mattress set. I, of course, said yes. He asked if I could help him carry it up to her apartment. (He had lost his leg and had a prosthetic and climbing three floors of stairs and carrying a mattress was a big challenge. Even with my help.)
When we got to the top of the stairs, to her apartment, I noticed the welcome sign hanging there was one I had thrown out. I got sad. They weren’t home but the door was wide open. I was confused by that until I went in. There was nothing in the apartment but a rug on the bedroom floor and a couple articles of clothing hanging in the door less closet. The apartment was one big bedroom and a kitchen/living area. No furniture anywhere. They were sleeping on a rug! I saw my old magazines in a neat pile by the rug. We set up the bed in the middle of the rug. I inquired if this was for real to the my neighbor. He said yes. It was the end of October and very cold and he said they had no heat. She couldn’t afford to pay for it. He said he was going to try to help her pay for it himself but he was on disability so his income was very limited. He told me he had been giving her money for groceries. I almost cried right there. I went straight home and dug through everything trying to find the sheet set that fit that mattress. I found an old sleeping bag and some old blankets to give them. I went through all my clothing and gave them everything I no longer wanted or needed—including coats. I went through all my belongings and put together a few boxes of stuff for them—stuff to make their apt feel more like a home and food from my pantry. I left it in their apartment for them and left.
I never saw them again but think of them often, especially when it is cold. I will never forget that. It was the closest I’ve ever came to personally knowing someone in such a dire situation. Here this woman was living across the street for several months like this and I had no idea. She was brave and proud. She always seemed to have a smile and kind word to me. She was working at Hospice helping others and she was the one who needed help. I was so sad that I couldn’t help more.
I hope things have gotten better for her and her daughter and I hope she knows that I think of them often.