It’s summer in the desert. Hot, hot, hot! So when I looked outside and saw a girl sitting on the sidewalk crying, I knew I had to do something. She was in the shade of my ash tree, but even so, when the mercury reaches 113, it’s hot, even in the shade.
I grabbed a bottle of cold water from the ‘fridge and scurried outside. She wasn’t crying so much as howling. Not a girl, either, but a young woman perhaps in her 20s. She was dressed fashionably — after the fashion of young people anyway — in a tank top and jeans that were artfully torn. I proffered the water and she glugged it down.
“How can I help you?” I asked. “Can I call someone for you?” When she looked up at me, I saw she was pretty, but dirty with grime embedded in her neck. It had been there awhile. Her face was marred by a broken tooth. The long brown hair was carefully streaked and the cut obviously expensive. Even in her state of unwashedness, it still swung gracefully when she moved.
She cried some more and squirmed on the sidewalk. “Here,” I said, “let me turn the hose on and cool the sidewalk down.” As the cool water poured out, she put her feet in the water — they were red around the edges black with grime.
“My feet hurt!” she yelled.
“Well, no wonder,” I said. “You’re not wearing shoes and the pavement is hot. Where are your shoes?” She looked at me like she didn’t understand. No question I was way out of my league.
I squatted down next to her, “What’s your name?”
“Where do you live, Misty? Do you have friends around here?” She babbled something about her sister and a friend who lived somewhere but she didn’t know where.
“I’m going to get the phone,” I said, “and let’s call someone for you.” She got up and started to walk around, so I went over to turn off the hose. The next thing I realized, she had gone in my house.
“Misty,” I said when I got in the house, “what are you doing?” She had picked up a shopping bag that had snacks left over from Vacation Bible School last week. Blank stare. “Are you hungry?” I asked, taking the bag from her. She shook her head. “Here,” I said, “let’s go sit on the patio.” Thankfully, the patio is well shaded and with the trees and grass, the heat was tolerable.
I had the phone and asked who I could call for her. She mumbled a phone number and I called it — got the screech of a fax machine. “That’s not right,” I said and she rattled off another number. “Who is that?” “My mother.” The phone rang and rang and finally there was a click and silence. I called several numbers that she gave me — her sister, her grandma — no answer at any of them. All the time she was walking around, sitting on the grass, sitting, then lying, on the concrete and knocking over several flower pots, moving restlessly from the chair to the swing, moving, moving.
Finally I bowed to the inevitable and dialed the police non-emergency number. I was on hold for nearly 10 minutes when she started howling again. I had been praying while I was on hold and now was trying to talk to her at the same time.
“Misty, are you in pain? Can I get you something?” She looked at me with dull eyes. “Heroin.” Uh, no, gee, I’m fresh out of heroin. “I use heroin,” she said almost apologetically. I offered Tylenol. She shook her head and reeled off a list of things. The only one I recognized was Xantac. “No,” I told her. “I don’t have any of those.”
She began to tell me her problems — she’d lost her baby, she had kidney stones, she hadn’t eaten in two days … This went on until I finally connected with the police dispatcher 15 minutes later.
It took the police another 20 minutes to arrive and I was afraid she’d freak at the sight of a uniform, but she was docile and followed him back to the front of the house. “You can go inside now, ma’am,” he said. I spotted the pink tank top Misty had been wearing and scooped it up and handed it to her. She took it without a word. She was now wearing a yellow one — had she been wearing two tank tops? I hadn’t noticed.
What I had noticed when she was prowling around the patio was that something in the pink tank top crinkled — a little baggie perhaps? Whatever it was was gone now.
I went thankfully back inside and watched as the officer and then the paramedics talked to her. A few minutes later I heard doors slamming and looked outside again. The cops were still there — a second car had arrived — but the ambulance was gone and so was she.
I thought about it some more. I should have asked her, “Misty, what’s so great about heroin? Here you are dirty, disoriented, sick and lost. Is this fun? is this your idea of a good time because I’m missing something here.”
I sat there mulling it over and Lop Ear, who had been on the patio with us, jumped into my lap and head-butted me. I told him it was a too early for kitty-cat dinner time, but what the heck. It was a good day to kick over the traces and do something crazy.
“Tuna for everyone!” I yelled and within seconds I was surrounded by four cats waving their tails and meowing. “And I think I’ll have a glass of wine,” I told them as I dished out the tuna.
Lop Ear gave me that big grin he bestows on me from time to time. “Wine, mom, that’s good. You deserve it.” Yeah, I do. It was time to settle back in the big chair with my feet up. It was also time to give thanks for all I have; a snug little home, friends who care, a life with purpose and stability. A lot!
Truly, I am thankful.