Dear young woman in the pink parka at the Prudential Mall:
You approached us tonight as we were heading to the subway station. The shelters are full, you’re trying to get 28 dollars together to go stay in the hostel on Hemenway. I’ve heard your story before.
Tonight, though. Tonight it was eleven degrees outside. Tonight you made eye contact with us, and told us, “I’m just trying to be honest, here.” In your pink parka and blue eyeshadow, I could see it in your eyes. You were probably coming off something, but you were lucid.
Eleven degrees. I had to buy an eight-dollar pair of earmuffs just to get down Huntington Avenue without crying. But I was on my way home, and you needed twenty-eight dollars to have someplace to sleep.
We gave you a twenty. You were stunned. I can imagine that most people like us, in nice coats, pass right by without even letting you finish your “Excuse me?” But most people in nice coats don’t know what it’s like to be in that situation. They don’t know what it’s like because they, in their nice coats, can go to a nice bar and have a nice drink (maybe two) and go home to their nice houses or condos. They can stop at one or two, and don’t find themselves burning to feel “better” (which is to say, nothing). They certainly don’t know what it’s like to find themselves doing all manner of desperate, stupid, insane things to feel that way. Or if they DO, they certainly don’t ever imagine themselves in a pink parka asking strangers to help them collect twenty-eight dollars to go stay in a hostel because the shelters are full, it’s eleven degrees outside, and they have no place else to go.
I’m not saying I fully comprehend your situation. I’m saying that I don’t think for a second that I couldn’t EVER comprehend it. I’m in a nice coat, with my eight-dollar earmuffs, because ten years ago I had to stop doing the things I was doing that most certainly could have led me to full comprehension of your situation.
There are people who will tell me that you’ve taken that twenty and shot it in your arm, or up your nose, by now. And maybe you have. But it’s eleven degrees outside. I had a twenty. I did the math.
“Just take care of yourself,” I said. Please don’t let me down.