The following is a true story. The events occurred between May 8 and May 9, 2010. I have changed the names to protect privacy.
I met a woman in the hospital in February. She was tall and thin with long blonde hair, dyed. Her nails were manicured and her eyebrows were painted on. I had her pegged for about 45 but she was in fact 50. Her name was Alice, and she was an alcoholic, who had been admitted about two weeks earlier for her behavior. She got to know me and was a sweet woman who could not have children, and had lost several to miscarriage. When Alice left she had a job waiting for her in Pocomoke and a place to live with a social agency.
On Mother’s Day weekend I brought my jewelry and signs to the cheap flea market in Salisbury. Early Saturday morning I spotted Alice walking across the lot. I got her attention and she waved and smiled and hugged me and asked me how I was and said she was so glad to see me. She looked nice; her hair was short now, and she wore a flower patterned pant and top set, very well designed. On closer inspection I could see the fabric was a little worn and dingy. I asked how she was and she told me she was homeless, had lost her house about a month ago, and was headed up to Delmar to see a friend. We hung around for a while playing with Smudge (my pit bull), talking a little about what happened after we had each departed the hospital, and exchanging numbers. She smelled like alcohol, that unidentified cheap liquor odor that comes close to beer. It’s the alcohol a drunk sweats out.
Around noon, just as I was packing up, Alice called. Her words as I remember were “He’s not gonna help me, he ain’t givin me help with anything. I’m a diabetic, I got to get out of here, I’m about to fall out.” I told her without hesitation that I would be there in 15 minutes. I got held up as I was leaving the parking lot, and she called again sounding real desperate as I was coming up the highway. I picked her up at the carwash by Walmart.
She said she would buy me lunch with her Independence card (food stamps). I marveled that it was possible; she said yeah, we could go to the Royal Farms or Wawa. I was amazed, I thought for sure it would keep people healthier and make sense for cost-effectiveness to only be able to use them in a grocery or big “mart” or something like that, but then again, anyone homeless or perhaps living in a motel probably doesn’t have anything to prepare or cook with.
I decided that I had been thinking about sushi for too long to pass it up now so I suggested I buy lunch. They sell Chinese food, too. She at first refused, then relented, then I asked about medication and her diabetes. She had insulin at the drug store; she just needed to pick it up. She had a prescription too, for antibiotics. She had an infection, and had been to the ER just the other day.
“Where are you going to go?”
“I have no place to stay.”
“I don’t mind taking you to my house, but I am 11 miles outside the nearest town.”
“Oh I don’t mind that one bit.”
I didn’t say anything. She wanted a beer now, too. I had decided to get takeout, what with Smudge in the car, and I had beer at home.
“No, I mean can we stop now, for the ride.”
“Oh sure. Do you need to get your medication?”
“Yes, they’re right here at the Apple. But I don’t have the co pay. It’s reasonable, 2 something.”
“Ok, no big deal. I can handle that.”
I ordered our lunch first. We pulled into the next parking lot and waited online in the busy pharmacy. Her needles, pills, and insulin cost almost 40 dollars. I hesitated for a moment then forked it over. I couldn’t look at her if I refused. We hit the beer store, and I wanted to stay in the car, because I had forgotten for a moment that she had no cash. I still wanted to stay in the car, so I handed her the money.
We were back at Hunan Palace, then finally on the road home. I reminded her that I lived in the middle of nowhere, she said it was fine. She made a joke about becoming my indentured servant. I did briefly think about what household chores she could take off my hands. We can go grocery shopping with my independence card, she assured me. Ok.
Alice was impressed by my little house. We were bypassing it for the general store up the road, because she needed cigarettes. I handed her a few dollars at Lucky’s.
We sat in the living room to eat. She tried sushi and didn’t like it. I watched some cartoons and she passed out. She woke needing beer again. Then we watched Zodiac. She bathed, and thanked me over and over for what I was doing for her. She offered to do my hair, but I declined. On my phone were text messages asking her to call the friend she had left earlier. He seemed genuinely concerned. Her conversation had turned creepy. She was telling me how to deal with loss, my husband and the open wound of my last relationship. I heard the disorganized rambling grow incoherent as she moved closer and closer to me and grew uncomfortable. I shut her down after and hour or so and she was a little indignant. I used the silence between us to get bedding and a pillow. I put on some music for her. It was about that time that she grabbed at her abdomen and started moaning. I lied her down on the couch and covered her with a blanket. She began to convulse, brokenly insisting she was not in pain and refusing to let me call 911.
I had to give her an insulin shot. After recovering from the sugar fit she began raving, incomprehensible, irrational. I sat up with her for hours. She needed to eat again. I made her sandwiches, she mangled them. She asked for soup, I heated a can, and while I was cleaning up she dumped half a canister of black pepper on top, on the floor, on herself. I had to pour the soup down the sink, she couldn’t eat that.
At some point I was able to go to bed. I woke up smelling breakfast. She had made scrambled eggs with the entire dozen and a half a stick of butter, and the rest of the loaf of rye bread. I was upset, and not hungry. I wanted to get to the flea market early to get a decent spot and set up. Alice was disappointed that I wasn’t going to eat, and I thanked her but had to go, even as she told me “whoa, you need to slow down here.” She needed cigarettes. I took care of it, showed her how to use the DVD player and the stereo, but still had to tune it for her, to a country station.
I had a great Mother’s day. I sold some pieces to a friend, saw Bob’s family there; they wanted me to see his youngest grandchild. I met up with LT, and we had coffee together. I drove him to his brother’s house, then on to Randy, his wife, and their baby boy. We spent two hours with them. Then I took LT to his mother’s house. His sister and brother in law came over. We had a nice afternoon with good people. I dropped off LT and drove home. I had told Alice that I would be back by 3. It was now 5:30. I heard the stereo, nothing else. Inside, my couch cushions were strewn all over the floor with the bed sheet and blanket. I called her name but she didn’t answer. She was in my bed, wrapped in my blanket. She did answer eventually. On the floor was my bottle of vodka that had been in the wine rack. I would find my Bacardi empty as well.
What followed was an emotional exchange between Alice and I. I told her she had to stop drinking. I begged her to take care of herself. She cried and ranted about being targeted, about a court case, that she tried to get help but “they” made her and kept her this way. I was on the internet and discovered she was right about alcohol withdrawal being fatal. My mistake. I told her I cared about her welfare, that I didn’t care what “they” were doing, that she was a lovely person who didn’t deserve to die from mixing diabetes, alcohol, and street life. I could not take care of her. I begged her go to the hospital. She refused; she would never get in an ambulance. I could not call the cops on her. She was adamant that there would be no vehicles with lights on top or she would take off.
After hours of talking, crying, calling counselors and treatment centers looking for inpatient medical detox and rehab, she either could or would not go anywhere. A few of my calls went unanswered, or rudely put off. “You do know this is a Sunday?”
I packed a tote with her meds and flip-flops, some paper towels, a glucose test kit. I gave her a flannel, socks and sneakers. She was already wearing a pair of my sweats and a t-shirt. Her outfit from yesterday was in my trash. I asked her why, and Alice said “I’ll make another one.”
I drove her to Salisbury. On the way we called the friend she had left yesterday. There was no answer. She was talking to herself, to someone who wasn’t there, about what they had done and what she had to do. She was terrified, confused. She had a storage unit somewhere on the highway, but she wanted to be dropped off downtown. She said her brother lived under a bridge. I asked her to come with me to the hospital. She refused. She didn’t trust them. Alice got out of my car one block from the library. I watched her walk towards the river in the dark.
I put Alice out of my house and on the street like a trash bag. The tears burned my eyes. In the morning, her friend called, wanting to know what had happened to her. He was genuinely concerned. I told him I was sorry. He said his name was. Then he asked if there was anyone I knew who wanted to go to Niagara Falls with him next month. And he asked me to send him a picture of myself.
Does anybody care about anything?