She’s pretty. And young. But her face looks like she’s lived a hard life.
She was homeless for a year. Nearly four hundred days of skid-row poverty.
One summer day, she stood at a stoplight, holding a cardboard sign. It was hot. She was dehydrated. Hungry.
“Ain’t never begged before,” the girl said. “Holding a sign’ll make you feel stupid, man.”
Cars passed. No donations. A policeman finally told her to move along. Before she got far, a Cadillac pulled beside her and opened its door.
The old lady inside asked her, “You on drugs, honey?”
“No ma’am, not no more,” the girl said.
“Look me in the eye,” the old woman said. “Tell me the truth.”
And it was true. The girl had quit using, four hundred days earlier. In fact, that’s why she was homeless.
Not long before, she’d been a good student from a broken home. But after high school, she moved in with a man of corrupt habits. When she quit using his goods, he kicked her out.
She had no car. No home. No friends. She stole a tarp from someone’s pickup truck. She made camp behind a strip mall. She ate from a dumpster, and slept on a bed of plastic bags.
Until the woman in a Cadillac.
The old woman was a strong one. Solid, with cropped hair. She fixed up a spare room, gave the girl clothes, fresh sheets, feminine-smelling soaps.
“She fed me,” said the girl. “Treated me like her kid. Kinda scared me at first, didn’t know if she was some weirdo.”
The old woman was no weirdo. She cooked suppers, complete with frilly placemats and iced teas.
They ate with napkins in laps. They did dishes together. They talked late into the night about meaningful things.
The old woman told her about her late husband. About never having children. About her career as a nurse.
The girl told her about a busted-up family life, a runaway father, and how she’d always ended up with the wrong boy.
They became roommates. The old woman found the girl a job, she taught her to balance a checkbook, how to cook, how to backyard garden.
The young girl’s life shot off like a bottlerocket. She saved money to buy a car. She enrolled in community college.
One morning, the girl woke early. It was the beginning to an average day. She cooked breakfast for them both.
She knocked on the woman’s bedroom door. No answer.
“I just felt something was wrong,” she said.
Something was. The old woman’s body lay slumped on the floor, in a nightgown. She was cold.
Well, that was four years ago.
Since then, our girl has come a long way. She recently got a new sleeve-tattoo—one with poem lyrics on it. She is decidedly proud of her sobriety.
She has money saved. And when she’s finished with her bachelor’s degree, she plans on traveling for a few months.
“You know,” the girl said. “All I needed was a chance. That’s why I wanted to tell you about Miss Linda, see. She gave me a chance.”
She sure did.
Rest in peace, Miss Linda.