What would you do if your husband brought a woman home?

 

This is an excerpt from my second book The Stranger In My Recliner, an intimate look at the mental health and homeless crisis[2015.] It is the true story of Sophie a homeless woman my husband brought home one night.

When Sophie walked through my front door that night I could not believe my eyes. She was a frail, filthy, and hunched over, eighty- year –old woman. I wondered if she had bugs. I’m OCD[obsessive compulsive disorder] like that. I told her to sit on the sofa, while the whole time in my mind I was making it all better for me by imagining myself throwing that big red sofa away and buying a nice new, clean one. Maybe an ‘L’ shaped, brown microfiber one, this time.

I made her a hot cup of tea. After noticing she had no teeth and wondering what in the world could have happened to them, I made her a scrambled egg. While she ate her eggs and talked with John about people they might mutually know, I went upstairs and prepared her a warm bubble bath. I gave her my favorite silk pajamas, clean underwear, a warm fluffy pair of socks and a thick robe. The pajamas were a gift from my kids. They gave them to me when I was in the hospital for treatment of a bad allergic reaction to a vitamin supplement made from shellfish. I was certain they would understand why I had to give them to Sophie.

While she was in the bathroom having her bath, I made up the big red sofa with our softest six-hundred thread count guest sheets, our best pillows and a warm cotton blanket. I wanted her to feel safe, warm and comfortable. Whatever the reason for her plight, no one should be sleeping on the ground in this crazy weather. John thanked me for allowing him to bring Sophie into our home. He gave me a hug and promised me everything would be okay. He sensed my growing discomfort so he hugged me again. I love that he has the ability to sense my feelings.

I wanted to ask her a thousand questions. Do you have a family, where you ever married? Do you have children? How did you get yourself into this situation? Are you still drinking? That was the big one. That would be bad. I decided not to ask too many questions that night. I did ask her where the woods were located, the ones she had been sleeping in and she told me they were alongside McDade Boulevard.  McDade Boulevard is the main thorough fare connecting a dozen or so small towns in Delaware County, leading to Philadelphia. She also told us that night she had been attacked and robbed several times.

4016095-elderly-woman-with-worry-in-her-eyes-and-demeanor

Talk about a soft target and for what a few coins at the most. I felt so sorry for her and such anger for those unknown scumbags that would hurt her. I wanted to know more but decided I would ask her another time. I thought she must be physically as well as mentally exhausted. I thought she might be embarrassed too. I would be horrified if I found myself with nowhere to go and I had to wear a stranger’s underwear, their clothes and sleep on their sofa.  I would also be scared to death if I had no choice but to trust in the sincerity and saneness of strangers. I did not want to think about that stuff anymore.

She seemed to trust in John completely. With me, she was completely unsure. She most likely sensed my fear and disapproval. I had the feeling there was so much more to her story. How could there not be more. How do you get to be eighty-years-old and not have met at least one person that loved or at least cared enough about you to take you in from the cold. What possibly could have happened to her, what sin or crime did she commit that would force her to have no choice in the world but to trust complete strangers over family or friends? Wondering about those possible sins and crimes scared me to my core.

My husband on the other hand is the least judgmental person I know. He is trusting to a frustrating fault. I admired his compassion and knew in my heart keeping her safe and warm on this cold, wet night was the right thing to do no matter how she came to be in this situation. Even if it was wrong of me, I could not help wondering why I had to be the one to do that particular right thing on that particular night.

We made sure she had everything she could possibly ever need during the night. I poured a glass of ice water and placed it on the end table beside the red sofa. I put a few magazines on the coffee table. We asked if she would like to watch some TV. She said she would like that. I found an old- movie on AMC, Duel in the Sun and I was thrilled to see her eyes light up. “I love Joe Cotten” she said smiling, “He is my favorite actor.” I had no idea who, Joe Cotten was but I did notice Gregory Peck and Lionel Barrymore where in the film. I sort of wished I wasn’t so tired. I wouldn’t have minded watching it with her if John would have stayed up to watch it too. Instead John and I went to bed. I imagined it must have been a long time since she was able to watch and enjoy a good movie. It felt good to do that for her.

Joe Cotten

Turning the latch on my bedroom door knob ever so slowly, so she wouldn’t hear the click, I locked our bedroom door and tip toed over to our bed. Yes I admit it I was scared. I had visions of this crazy lady stabbing us in our sleep, robbing us or having her homeless gaggle of friends coming into our house to party through the night. I shuddered at the thought of the endless horrific things they could do to us. I tossed and turned all night. I tried to imagine how anyone could let an eighty -year –old woman become homeless and then reverted to what could she have possibly done to find herself in this situation.

The truth is I wanted her and the sting of the slap in the face reality of her situation to go away. I felt guilty that I felt that way.

I rolled over and flipped my pillow again, hoping to find a small patch of cold on the other side. Instead memories flooded my mind. I had a history with homeless people and it was not always good. I took in a homeless woman with a six-week-old infant, when I was a young, divorced mom.  My kids and I fell in love with the baby. Danielle lived with us whenever her mother was in prison, which was several times over an eight-year-period. The mother emotionally blackmailed and sometimes even terrorized my family for years. A priest told me sometimes we have to make the choice to hurt one to save many others.  I hated the sound of that advice. We did not want to but we sent that little girl to live with her father and her older sister in Minnesota. It wasn’t fair of us to keep her from knowing her family. Our hearts are still broken.

I took in a young man that worked for me when I managed a Pizza Hut Restaurant. He was a homeless drifter, a musician.  I found out he smoked pot in front of my young daughters and their friends. I was horrified, hurt and furious.

Another time, I took in a childhood friend of my sister’s. The woman had two young children and they were living in an abusive situation. Her husband had no idea I existed, so they would be safe and able to get a head start on a new life. It was a struggle for her and her children.  I admired her for finding the strength to leave him and for loving her children so much that she gave up everything to keep them safe. I was thrilled when she moved on, fell in love and remarried a gentle man.

I do not regret helping any of those people but now that I am older and look back, I realize what dangerous situations I put my family, my own children in at times. That woman’s abusive husband could have found her at my house and killed us all. That little girl’s mother was jailed several times for terroristic threats. I shudder when I imagine what could have happened. I do not mean to be over dramatic but you only have to watch the Lifetime Movie Network to know it can, and unfortunately does happen when you least expect it.

I seem to constantly, be asking myself if the fear I developed with age is a good- enough reason to do nothing. Of course the answer is no. It is not a good reason. Eliminating the fear and replacing it with knowledge is a good start. It is always easier to open a door if you have a reasonable expectation of what is waiting for you on the other side of the door.

I flipped my pillow again and rolled onto my side. Why didn’t I leave some cookies, crackers or chips out for, Sophie? I wondered if she was still hungry. There was no chance I was going downstairs to find out. John was sound asleep.

What do you do in those situations where there is no way to know what’s behind that door? You can choose to stay stuck or you can dig deep for the faith and courage to open that door. I would rather have stayed stuck in my safe comfortable world that night, secure in the fact that I had done enough good deeds in this lifetime. John however, on that night needed me to walk through that door with him.

He was grieving the loss of his mother. She passed away six-months prior to him finding Sophie on that sidewalk. John and I met and married shortly before his mother became ill. Kathleen was the first elderly person I ever lived with and the first elderly person I ever provided with hands on care. Honestly, ever since I was a small child I was afraid of older people. We had a few cranky neighbors when I was a kid. The older kids would tell us stories about being, captured by these creepy-old people and kept chained in their smelly basements.

I always adored, my own grandmother except for the times when she was yelling at my poor grandfather. While I was growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, she lived just a few blocks from our house. We saw her every day.  As I got older I would drive her to doctor appointments, clean for her or just sit and visit. Back then she never seemed old to me. Maybe I was too close to notice. When she did become sick, she went down hill and passed away quickly. My grandfather got sick years before and took his own life before he had the chance to grow old.

For the first time in our young marriage, John and I were living alone. We were just getting used to our newly found freedom. We discussed traveling, home renovation projects and retiring at the seashore. We discovered our living room. For two- years, the room was a campground for John’s sisters and nieces who thankfully were there to help care for his mother. That is the way it is supposed to be right? Families are supposed to come together and come up with a workable solution to provide care for their elderly loved ones. It is one of those times in life, that you must put your own needs and feelings aside and work as a unit.

I enjoyed the chaos of so many people coming in and out of the house.  That was what I came from. The situation helped me to be less homesick. When I married John I moved in with him. He lived in another county, on the other side of Philadelphia. I was used to seeing my kids and grandkids every single day. When the house was quiet, I missed them.

What a long night that first night with Sophie turned out to be. As I walked downstairs, in the morning I was hoping it had all been a long dream. No such luck. There she was sitting on the end of the big red sofa.  She was awake and as real as my freezing feet on the cold floor. She was dressed in her own, old-dirty clothes. Those ripped plastic grocery bags that were full of I have no idea what were at her feet. We originally thought they held some sort of groceries but no. They definitely did not hold groceries. She clutched a filthy overstuffed pocketbook with a broken strap to her chest. Her head was down, she was staring at the floor. She looked so fragile. I noticed the pajamas, underwear and those fluffy socks I gave her folded neatly beside her. My first thought was; not believing she put her dirty underwear back on her nice, clean body. I cringed. My second thought was she must have been a beautiful woman. Her hair was pure white not at all that dingy grey most of us are stuck with. It was so long and wavy. Most of the older women that I knew wore their hair short. I wondered if she ever colored it. It was so beautiful this morning compared to the filthy stringy mess it had been last night, before her bath.

I made her a cup of hot tea and some instant apples and cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast. Oatmeal is not one of my favorites but I love the way the flavored ones smell. She seemed thrilled when I handed her a banana. It didn’t seem like the right time to ask where her teeth were. I hoped I never had the opportunity to ask.

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