She comes by the church from time to time. We’ve probably met half a dozen times since early last summer. Sometimes she says she just wants to talk, and although the subject sometimes turns to a financial need, those needs have always been modest.
It’s hard to say how old she is. I can see that life has worn her harder than it has worn me. I may be a little older, certainly not any younger, but she looks fifty, and if she didn’t have a toddler, I would believe how she looks instead of the story of her life.
Although I’m none too sure I can believe the story of her life, either.
There are five children, four from an early marriage and one much more recent addition to the family. Over the past year she lost custody of all five of them. The baby is with his father. The teenagers, other than one who is 18 and just now out on her own, are in foster care, not together. Their father has a criminal record (selling heroin, or so I’m told), and she has been in trouble with the law herself recently. She tells me she took a bottle of cranberry juice from the grocery store.
I don’t know if I can believe anything she tells me, but her stories weigh heavily on me. I listen, ask questions to clarify, and ultimately give her the $6 she requests (the co-pay for two of her numerous medications).
Last time she went to the drug store, she collapsed, and they called the ambulance, and she went to the ER.
There are medical problems, and there is depression, and there has been abuse, and I wonder, where did it start? And how can it possibly stop? You can imagine the rest: one child in one kind of trouble, another child in a different sort, the oldest holding things together and offering to be responsible for her 9th grade brother. The father has returned to the picture after 13 years and tells the mother that "if she is nice," he will "let" her see the children.
The father does not have custody, and given what she tells me, that’s unlikely.
She no longer has her top front teeth, and when she talks, she sounds a bit off, precisely because they are missing. The judge who took her children thought she was drunk because of the way she talks.
And maybe she was, I just don’t know.
She tells me that she decorated her apartment for Valentine’s Day; that she will lose her things in storage, that her diamond is in the pawn shop and will be lost, too. I remember that when she left her last place, she told me she left everything behind, so I wonder what is in storage and how she could have managed to hang on to the decorations she says are from last year?
I do not know what is true. I only know that I can pray for her, and give her the six one dollar bills, and come home sadly.