by Stephanie Thomas
I saw her standing on the corner. She was bundled up in a heavy coat, hat and gloves. It was a bitterly cold day. I had seen her a couple of times before but I was always too busy to stop and speak to her. This time wasn’t any different except that I decided that speaking to her was more important than getting my chores done on time.
I pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant that was across the street and made my way through the traffic to where she stood. She smiled when she saw me walking toward me.
I introduced myself and asked her about her day. She said she was cold and didn’t feel well.
“I have a lot of health issues,” she said. “My biggest problem is with the arthritis in my knees.”
“You are too young to have arthritis,” I said ,trying make her feel better.
“Thank you but I’m 55 years old.”
“What’s your name?”
“Where do you live Marsha?”
“I stay with friends mostly. I used to put homeless on my sign but people gave me a hard time about it. I try not to wear out my welcome. I stay quiet and to myself. I’ve stayed in hotels but I can’t afford to do that right now.”
She waved at a red SUV that passed us.
“That women gave me this hat and these gloves,” she said appreciatively.
“That was nice of her,” I said. “How do people treat you out here?”
“Some people are nice. Sometimes men give me money and then tell me they’ll give me more if I’ll come home with them. I know what that means. I’m not going to sell myself. I always tell them no. I’ve learned not to trust men. I’ve had problems with them. They start out nice but they always end up abusing me. The last man I was with beat me and made me feel terrible about myself. I wanted to leave him but he hid the car keys and took my phone so I couldn’t get away. One day, when he was sleeping, I found my phone and called my girlfriend to come and get me. That was 5 years ago. I’m still not over him.”
“You have had a rough time. I’m sorry you had to go through that. What about family? Is there anyone here who can help you?”
My parents and my brother passed away. I was close to them. It’s really hard for me at Christmas time. I miss them.”
Marsha doesn’t have a job. She was fired from her last job when there was a discrepancy in the cash drawer. That incident and her age make it unlikely that anyone will be willing to hire her. She isn’t old enough to get social security which means disability insurance is her only option, besides begging. She told me she has applied for disability insurance, but it takes at least 3 years to qualify.
There is a system in place to help people like Marsha. Unfortunately, the red tape is difficult work through, the process can be humiliating, and failure is more common than success. For someone like Marsha, who has been abused and is alone in this world, begging seems easier.