Saturday, November 19, 2005

"My name is Diane," she said

She was sitting on the sidewalk as I walked past with one of my dogs that foggy, chilly night. We'd arrived back at the store around 11 at night, and now it was nearing midnight. The dogs greeted us as if we had been gone for years, as if they had been cruelly neglected. No matter that our daughter had kept the store open, given them treats, filled the water bowl.
But now, the woman on the sidewalk brought even eager Champ to a halt. "My name is Diane". Her voice was vague, quiet. She was wearing a thin shirt, a knit cap under which her blondish hair straggled out. Her face was lined and worn. I said hello, told her my name, told her I had the bookstore down the street, and continued my walk.
About two in the morning my partner came to me, saying "we need some food for a woman. You want to choose a coat? I think she could use a sleeping bag."
The emergency peanut butter and jelly came out, the wholewheat bread. I found a carton of yogurt, a plastic spoon, some fruit. And a warm coat.
My halo is slipping, I told my tired partner, handing him the gear and the food and leaving him to deal with the early morning crisis. Yes, I should have gone myself, and sat beside her, and heard whatever tale of woe she had to tell me. But I was tired. I hadn't slept much the night before, or the night before that, and just longed to curl up on my mat and become oblivious to this world, in which, let me assure you, every day there are people in crisis and people who are desperate and people with no one to hear their stories or hold their hand or let them sit awhile in a quiet place.
Diane was gone the next morning. She'd said, P. reported, that she was en route to San Francisco. She asked for money for gas, though she had no car. I hope she's okay. I'm sorry I didn't hear whatever story she had to tell. P. says she had a number of stories, all pretty contradictory.
Meanwhile, we were considering the question of the vandalism that had happened while we were gone for the day. Our free table outside, on which we place books and food and warm clothes, free for the taking, was gone. The sign we lean near the door, bearing a wonderful multicolored cat, inherited from another bookstore I once managed, owned by my eldest son's now dead father, had disappeared as well. Some of the trees had had branches ripped and left broken.
P. thought it might be political--we are outspoken, and sometimes someone gets mad at that. I thought no--it looked like desperation and drugs.
We pruned the hurt trees; they will be fine.
I found the sign across the street in the bushes.
Early in the morning the phone rang. "Hi, is this the bookstore in (name of town)?" Yes, I said. "Well, I'm really sorry. I think I might have hurt your table."
I asked him what had happened. Had he had a hard day? Indeed he had, and he told me his story. Desperation. Cold. His pack and all his treasures stolen. Some alcohol. Perhaps some drugs. He felt such rage, and such need, and he came to this place--and we are so often here, we can be trusted--and we weren't here.
He said he was so sorry, he'd pay for the table, what could he do? I asked where the table might be, and later checked, but no, it's gone.
I asked him to stop by and see me the next time he's in town, and maybe we can talk a bit more. We traded names. He said he thought his life was spinning out of control. I listened some more.
I hope when he does show up I will be able to sit with him, and give him the time he needs, and maybe the names of people he can trust as well.
It's only a table, after all. And for him it might be a life.


Blogger Dr O2 said...

strange story! it is all kind of you to do as you have done & in all honesty perhaps I wouldn have been as sensitive as you have been. I don' know, I sometimes wonder life too short for being an ear & that problems are endless & one must jus keep going until the end... then agn I find myself in the situation of acting as giving my sympathy & ... well done.

3:08 AM, November 21, 2005  

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