Thursday, April 25, 2013

You Never Know What the Day Holds

It was a rough morning. Kids are tired, possibly on the verge of caving in to a cold. I won't complain about it, because it is pretty standard in my life by Thursday.

When I said to EL, "Good morning, Lovely!", she rolled over and yelled, "Alone! Leave Me ALONE!!" I can't help it; this always makes me smile. At a week over 3 years old, her voice is so tiny, but carries so much power.

I know all this is likely a secret sign that we are too busy, even though I try to keep our weeks mellow.

Five-year-old Amp was fiercely searching the home for her favorite water bottle which she takes to school each day. Our leave time, 7:30, had passed. At 7:32, I ran outside to the car to look for her water bottle.

I saw a woman sitting on my porch with a suitcase. Assuming she was looking for my upstairs neighbor, I asked her if she was waiting for someone.

"I'm not safe. I'm just creeped out. I'm not safe. I don't know. I just need to clear my head. I'm not safe."

She is a calm woman, well-spoken, clean with fresh make-up on. I ask if I can call someone for her. She says no. I ask if she lives in the neighborhood. She keeps saying the same sentences: "I'm not safe. I'm a good person. I just want to be happy. I need a room. I need somewhere to clear my head. I just want to sit somewhere. I don't want to go to a shelter. They are creepy. Everywhere I go I am creeped out. I don't have a job."

As a woman who knows the struggles of a home that suddenly becomes unsafe, I had a lot of empathy. As a woman who has volunteered most of her life with women's issues, I wanted to help. But the reality is that my morning clock is still ticking. I still have to get my daughters to school and I still have to get to work. Hey, on time would be nice, too.

I dropped off Amp at school and parked the car. EL was still screaming, and had been the whole time. I went home. She was still there playing on her cell phone.

I wrote down some numbers on a piece of paper: the neighborhood community center, a center for battered women, a community help line, the district police, and a few other organizations I had volunteered with. I even wrote down the address of the closest library if she just wanted I wished her well, told her there were many people who wanted to help. She just had to call. They could all do a better job of helping this woman than I could.

She asked if I would buy her breakfast before I left. I said I couldn't. I felt guilty I didn't run back inside and, at the very least, grab a banana for her, but I was already going to be late for work. And I definitely didn't want to leave my cranky 3-year-old in the car, or get her in and out of her car seat again.

I called my mom  and my neighbors. I went to my social media circles. The advice was helpful - detailing more organizations who might help, and also words of caution. I wanted to take this woman in my car, bring her to a safe doorstep, but her picture of need may not have been the whole truth.

I was shaking inside. I know what it feels like to have your immediate physical safety threatened. I had my daughters in the car, so I didn't feel I could give her a ride. We fought long and hard for our safe, happy, healthy, home and I am sensitive to protecting every element of that safety.

She may not have looked homeless or battered, but I know first-hand that abuse has many different looks to it. Maybe the abuse was over a long period of time and this was the morning she took her stand. I flashed back to the night I packed a backpack of clothes and diapers, woke my children and left my house. If I didn't have close family and friends, where would I go? I'm pretty sure a random porch wouldn't be the answer, but I didn't have time to question how and why she ended up where she did.

Wait a minute, I did ask her those things, but they were without answer.

I called the police. Was she missing? Was someone looking for her? Was a batterer looking for her? Was she mentally ill? Off her meds? A grifter looking for a free meal? A con artist casing my house?

The answers were unknown, and still are. I went to work, rattled, unsure if I had done enough, the right thing, the safe thing.

An officer called me an hour later, said she was still there, had a cup of coffee, and said she had left her boyfriend's house after an altercation. The officer gave me her name and address. She lives 7 blocks away. She told the officer she was waiting for a ride from a friend.

That was a little different than the story I got, which also had my mind wandering. But maybe the friend was a shelter on their way or a desperate family member looking for her. maybe not. I couldn't help but wonder if I was a helpful neighbor, or a suckered victim-in-progress. If it was the latter, hopefully the police presence squashed any criminal plans that were brewing. If it was the former, hopefully she is able to find herself some safety, too. I may never know the full story.

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