I work near one of the more affluent shopping districts in Cincinnati – in my budgeted opinion – and while I very rarely entertain the thought of actually spending money there – I usually end up in tears sitting in my car outside of Anthropologie, feeling chubby and poor – I do pass through on my way to the credit union.
Today I’m stopped at a light with ten crisp twenties in my purse intended to pay off Christmas purchases on my credit card, and through the slop of flurries I see a young woman holding a sign outside of the gas station on the corner.
Single mother. Homeless. Hungry.
I so rarely have cash, and my credit card bill is so very due, that considering giving her a twenty is out of the cold-hearted question. But I have to go the bank inside of the grocery store so I think, I’ll buy her some warm soup and bread and fruit. Before I reach the grocery, however, I see another woman with another sign, visibly shivering with her salmon pink fleece pulled up to her nose. I want to buy her lunch, too, and I do, filling sixteen ounce containers with beef vegetable soup and placing them in my basket along with two-for-three sourdough bread loaves, two big fuji apples and navel oranges. I want to tell the gentleman ringing The Salvation Army bell in the lobby of the grocery that he can’t make me feel guilty for having deposited my cash in the bank, but of course, I feel guilty anyway.
My hysteria began when I find that the woman outside of the grocery store has been joined by a gentleman, and I don’t have enough lunch for him because I have to return to the woman a mile away. I apologize and she blesses me all of the same when she takes the bag, and I hope they shared. I hope they liked beef vegetable and I wasn’t sure if they would like apples or oranges or if they really wouldn’t have rather had the twenty.
Around the corner from the first homeless woman I am stopped at yet another light to witness a man unfolding a sign of his own, and him I have to pass. I’ve slipped uncertainly into a place where I can’t even be sure what I’m doing is doing anything at all, and when the first woman thanks me before depositing the plastic sack of hot lunch at her feet and faces the street once more, all I can think is, her soup is going to get cold.
When I return to the parking lot at work and call my husband in tears, I remember going on a picnic with my family when I was a kid and my mom insisting that my dad pull over the car when we passed a father and son begging on the side of a rural street. She gave the boy a bag of Doritos and some of our picnic lunch besides, and she was crying even after we’d driven away. I didn’t understand. At eight, I felt good about what we’d done. At twenty-eight, I know that tomorrow is just another day to be a single mother, homeless, and hungry.