Ran into Sherry again this morning, this time at the Post Office.
I see her now and again, usually outside of St Mary’s Church in Walnut Creek. She is always alone. Often, she wears a green and white ceramic rosary as a necklace. She keeps the three or four stuffed travel bags that are her estate in a rolling cart with a cockeyed front wheel. This morning there was a faded pair of panties drying on the side of the cart, a flag surrended to a recent indignity.
She was waiting this morning for a debit card from Social Security, delivered to the general post office here. She lives entirely on the $890 that was on that card. It wasn’t in today’s mail, the clerk snapped. Maybe it went to Martinez, Sherry asked. Don’t know, replied the clerk, and don’t care said her face. I mailed the packages that brought me on a rare errand to that particular PO, and met Sherry outside.
Sherry could be in her mid 50s, or late 60s depending on the light, she is that weather-beaten. She has the round face and solid, heavy limbs of certain folks in the South Pacific, Samoan or Tongan, but I don’t know her ethnicity. It hasn’t come up in conversation. What did come up is getting your nutrition from $7 dollar MacDonald’s voucher, supplied by a local church. And the irony of living in the foodie culture of upscale Walnut Creek which caused the only MacDonald’s in the city to close, forcing her to make the trip to Concord by BART to redeem them.
We spoke a bit more this time than last, though she is as cautious as a woman living on the streets alone must be to survive. I’d called the St Paul outreach program about her before, but Sherry resisted organized charities. She told me about nights sleeping in the Safeway parking lots, but she’s been restless, she said. Not sleeping much. I asked if she was safe. There was a pause. Sometimes, she said, I go to the shelters. Permanent housing, are you still looking for that, I asked.The waiting lists, she said…and then her voice trailed off. The other day, she said, I just laid down and couldn’t get up anymore.
I felt like a dead leaf that has fallen from the tree, Sherry said.
Pain that raw stops the conversation. Some moments passed. Then Sherry’s face came back from the memory with a sigh. I waited a few more quiet moments, then offered to get her something to eat. A can of root beer, she said, I’d like something sweet. Nothing to eat, I asked. No, no, she demurred, just a root beer. She nodded her head at a pizza place across the street, as if to say, I’ve gotten one there before. But the pizza place hadn’t opened yet, so I hoofed it over a little hill to a 7-11.
The gal at the 7-11 was an emoji of the postal clerk, but after some terse exchanges I emerged with two bottles of root beer and a Big Bite hot dog wrapped in bacon, Sherry’s favorite, in the only paper bag available, which was party sized. The two bottles of root beer and the hot dog in paper carton were not secured in the bag. and caused me some redirected anxiety and a little cursing release. A couple of blocks away from the PO, I slipped two $10 bills folded together into the bag.
Sherry was sitting where I left her, on a stone bench. I put the bag down, said some mostly true things about places I had to be. She reached out, touched my hand and said, thank you. I had taken a few steps when I heard, Wait! I looked back to see her holding in each hand a $10 bill threaded between thumb and fingers, arms out, in a truly odd tableau, as if stopping traffic for a critter in the road, her face tight in an expression of both excitement and anxiety, hope and resignation.
Wait, I heard Sherry say, did you forget your change?