Friday, October 1, 2010


 Last weekend, we went to the Library. I wanted some books to read now that I am home bound, and I always love looking through cookbooks. I took out a book of illustrations of wildflowers, along with my other books, as paintings of flowers are something I love to look at, and I occasionally like to paint in watercolor, and often find inspiration in these books. The girls went to the children's library with David, and picked out some books for themselves. The baby did not scream. It was a nice visit.
Yet, I could not shake what I had seen upon entering the library. On the benches, lined up against the building, just as you walk in, was a family. There was a mother, or maybe she was a young grandmother, but definitely, the mother figure. There were three small children. Two boys, and a little girl. When I first spotted them, I thought they were waiting for a bus. They had luggage with them. Small suitcases, with long handles, and wheels. The mother also had one of those metal carts that you see people using in the city, getting groceries, or hauling laundry. The cart looked filled with clothes. David looked at me, and said, concerned, "Is that a homeless family?" "Oh my God, I think it is". I felt sick to my stomach, and guilty for just walking by them, dismissing them. I thought, no...they are just waiting for someone. Maybe a ride, or a cab. Please God, don't let them be homeless.
I kept thinking about them, as I looked at cookbook after cookbook. I kept trying really hard to feel terrible for them, and feel concerned, but I was scared more than empathetic. The image of a family, possibly homeless, left a haunting, sickening image in my mind. Just 24 hours earlier, we had applied for our federal loan, trying to save our own home. Trying to keep a roof over our girls heads. What was so different about that woman, and her family, and mine? Why were they sitting on a bench, waiting. What happened? Where were family members, able to help? Did they have anyone that could help? Probably not. It shook me. The whole thing shook me.
I remember leaving a restaurant, when I lived in NYC. I had just gone our with some friends. We had drinks, and spent way too much money on pasta. I asked for a doggie bag, which is actually tacky to do, in the city, when you are 25.  I lived on 78th Street. Between York Ave. and the river. There was a park on my block, and a public school. The school was old. One of those beautiful, detailed school buildings you see in New York, with grand entry ways, that have large stone carved portico's. In these entryways, was a community after dark. Homeless men would sleep, covered from head to toe in blankets, and sheltered from the street by plywood. I walked by the steps where they lived every night on my way home to my apartment, in my expensive high heels, designer bag, and full belly. I placed the doggie bag on the steps, and  continued walking. I would go home, and get in my warm bed, and burrow beneath my down blanket, and feel good about myself, and my good deed. What an ass I was. An ass.
My father was here the other day, and he told me about a homeless family living in their car in East Hampton. They are a married couple, with a two year old. I was shocked. My parents live in East Hampton. East Hampton, N.Y. One of the most expensive, zip codes, in the USA. And there was a family, living in their car? I could not understand this. My dad said that homeless shelters out there do not take children. They would have to place their child in foster care, in order to get off of the street. What a choice. I guess I would do the same. I can't imagine. I don't want to imagine. 
When we left the library that day, I had just paid a fine for some over due books. It was less than $3.00. I broke a five dollar bill. That was all the money we had on us. I looked at David when we were leaving, and said we should give the change to the woman, and children, still seated on the benches. He refused. He said that we did not know if they were indeed homeless, and we could risk really insulting them, and he was not comfortable doing that.
I have been thinking about that family since that day. I have been thinking about where they went to, and if they are OK. The more I think about all of it, I am feeling just like I did in the cookbook section of the library. And just like I did under my down comforter, in my apartment. And just like I did, as I sipped vanilla coffee at my kitchen table, as my father told me about a homeless family living in their car. Sadness, and horror, yes. But guilty. I feel guilty. I feel like when you hear the news of a child who dies. Immediately, you hug your own kids, and thank God it is not your baby. When news reaches you of a sick friend, you are thankful for your health. When you pass a horrific accident on the highway, do you not grab your loved one's hands and thank God that it is not you? Is it not human nature to just think of everything in relation to yourself? Did it make that homeless man happy that he got to eat my leftovers?  Probably not. I think it made him angry. I think he probably thought I was a spoiled brat. Why didn't I just buy one less pair of shoes, and give him the money? If I really gave a shit, wouldn't I have done that?  What would $2.00 and change have done for that woman at the library, and her three kids? Nothing. My good thoughts for the homeless family? Nothing. It makes me feel better. Me. Not them.
I am still an ass. Even now, when I want everyone else to consider my family, and our problems, I am still an ass.

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