Last week I wrote about meeting Susan, a street beggar in Portland when I spent four days impersonating a homeless person. But not really. Because I wore nice clothes, was mostly clean, and had money for food.
Last week I ended Part 1 with the promise that I’d return to Susan to ask how she got into this predicament. I planned to buy her an iced tea to break my twenty dollar bill, which would give me smaller options to drop in her donation cup and would demonstrate my generosity.
When I rounded the corner on Exchange Street, Susan smiled and waved, “Hello Molly!”
“I was going to buy you iced tea, but I see you already have some.”
“The Holy Donut is generous with me and lets me have coffee or iced tea with unlimited refills. Do you want some donut? I haven’t touched them.”
Suddenly my ‘large’ twenty-dollar-bill deflated to the size of a postage stamp, and I accepted the donuts with a lump in my throat. How could I refuse? They were lemon glazed.
“Yes,” she laughed, “sitting here has its hazards. I can’t eat all the donuts people give me, and I feel guilty throwing them away. If I sit eating donuts all day, I’ll get fat. If you hang out in a barbershop, eventually you’ll get a haircut.”
I asked her if she’d be comfortable telling me how she came on hard times.
She said, “Simple. I lost my job and couldn’t get another one. I got behind in my rent; Then I sold my car, and eventually got an eviction notice. I couch surfed for a while, but that got old, so I went to the shelter. It was scary because some rough characters stay there. I got on the waiting list for the women’s shelter and liked it better. But like I told you earlier, I would get fed up with the drama, and leave, then go back on the waiting list and do it all over again.”
She said she had hope that her luck would turn and life would eventually get easier for her. I asked her where she found her source of hope, thinking perhaps she had a profound belief in God or some deep spiritual beliefs.
She said, “I lost my only son in 2013 when he died of a heart attack and my brother died that same year. I almost died last summer when I was in the hospital for 43 days. What else can go wrong? Things have to turn around for me.”
I told Susan I write a blog and she gave me permission to tell her story and post the photo of us. She took my card and said she’d leave a comment when she sees this post.
I dropped my twenty-dollar bill in her cup, wishing I could deposit the full amount for Susan’s dentures. She thanked me and made me promise to stop and see her when I’m in town.
As I was leaving, she said, “I almost forgot. One of my friends started a ‘Go Fund Me’ account to raise money for my dentures called, ‘Help Susan Smile Again.’ Maybe you’d like to tell your blog readers about it.” Consider yourself informed.
Despite Susan’s openness, I walked away with more questions than answers.
How many of ‘us’ could become one of ‘them’ with a job loss? Susan seemed well-adjusted; Are there more like her, or did I hit it lucky? Did she know my weakness for donuts would yield a higher donation for her or was she just being nice? Could I ever bring myself to re-gift potato donuts to a stranger? How long before I complain about going to the dentist (Answer to the last question: 4 days.)
What are your questions?