Thursday, February 5, 2009

Laura, Under a Bridge

When my girlfriend picked me up at the Park & Ride as we carpooled to Denver to volunteer at the National Western Stock Show, I noticed another woman in her car. Kay came running around to my car door to explain. On a calculated whim, she had picked up this gal who was hitchhiking and wanted to know if I was okay with taking her to Denver. “If not, she’s prepared to get out here. But, we’ve been talking and I think she’s okay,” Kay said “and it is just so damned cold out.” I looked over and saw a round faced Indian woman wearing a heavy coat and carrying a big back pack. Memories of my own hitchhiking days flashed quickly across my inner screen and I said “Well, it looks like you made it this far. I’m good with it.”

I tried to get into the back seat. If safety became an issue, I would rather have this woman sitting in front of me, than behind. But she was already taking possession of the back seat saying, “No, no, you set up front with your friend. I’m okay back here.”

We talked on the trip down. Her name was Laura. She lives under a bridge near downtown Denver with her boyfriend and others. She told us she has two daughters in Arizona whom she hasn’t seen or heard from in along time. “My daughters have my address but I don’t have theirs. I can’t go visit them or nothing.” She sounded tired, mad and sad.

“How do they keep in touch if you don’t have an address?” asked Kay.

"Well, the mission in the downtown area, they let us use their address. We can go there.”

I turned in my seat and asked her how she got so far north of Denver. Her face was clean but kind of puffy and she had a black eye. I recognized the smell of someone who has been drinking so long that the stench of stale alcohol was seeping out her pores. She smiled at me and I smiled back.

“I’m an alcoholic. I will admit that, but I’m not a drug-ey. This guy drove by and offered me a ride, and I was cold so I got in his car. We was driving around and we bought some whiskey and we was drinking that and smoking some pot and stuff. Next thing I know I look around and I know that I’m not in Denver anymore. He says he has a house in Loveland and we’re going there. At his house we drank some more and other people were there and there were drugs and stuff. And then, all of a sudden the cops came busting in and arresting everybody. And I am telling them that I don’t even know these people, I just want to go home to Denver. This guy, he tells them that what I am saying is true, that he just picked me up in Denver and he don’t even know who I am. They took me to a shelter to spend the night and they were gonna put me on a bus or something, but I had to get out of there. My boyfriend is gonna be worried. I just want to get home.”

That was the fastest forty minute trip to Denver that I have ever made. She told us how she panhandles for a living. Sometimes she makes street art with another friend and they sell those. Frank talk, no excuses. We told her that we were heading down because we had signed up to volunteer on this day. She told us that she likes horses and grew up with them on the reservation. As we approach our destination and get to an intersection where we would turn away from downtown, Laura thanked us warmly, collected her stuff and bustled out of the car.

Kay and I found our parking lot and headed into a warm building filled with cowboys and horses. We were both glad that she had picked up Laura; it was a peak into another human being’s reality. Both Kay and her husband have been laid off recently and money has been tight in my house for the last several years. Life feels very challenging for us. Many years ago I was consumed with fear at the thought of being “a bag lady”. Really, we’re talking therapy. I was scared to death.

And here she is. Laura, who lives under a bridge forty minutes from my house; who collects things other people throw away, makes art of it and sells them to buy whiskey and food. I suppose she headed off to her bridge to find her boyfriend. I hope that he is happy to see her and he believes her story. I forgot to ask her how she got her black eye.

* annette

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