“Katt we’re capturing stories about North C Street, is there a story you would like to share?”
She adjusted her cross-legged position & took a long drag of her cigarette, “No, I mean where do you even begin? Too many stories. Too many years. Too much.”
“Well, what about your favorite part about Maryhouse? Would you like to share that?”
“Oh man. Okay. Well, I like drinking coffee here. I drink way too much coffee every morning & I get all shaky & you & Shannon give me granola bars & always make sure I eat breakfast to get rid of my shakes. Every day. Always asking me if I have had breakfast.”
She lifted her hands to show me if they were shaking, as she knows I ask her every day how she’s feeling. “See, no shakes today. Only four cups so far!”
“Well we just want to make sure you’re okay & you get enough to eat.”
“I know, I know. You guys really take care of me here here. I really love you guys a lot.”
She sat for a moment, looked up, smiled from ear to ear, “And I know you love me too because you always give me coffee & feed me breakfast.”
We sat for a moment as she sipped her coffee.
“And, any time I say I love you, you always say it back. Because that’s what you do when you love someone.”
She’s right. She is so loved.
I heard our front door swing open and I heard her voice before I even saw who it was. I smiled and said aloud to my coworkers, “Sue!”
I walked out of the office into the lobby to Sue standing in the doorway, wearing her long blue coat, her blonde hair combed to perfection, all while grinning from ear to ear. Sue was one of the first intakes I completed upon starting at Maryhouse and her genuine nature and kind heart were difficult to forget.
“Kansas! Oh, girl! Would you just look at me? How good do I look? This is what twenty pounds down looks like! Don’t I look good?”
Sue wrapped her arms around my neck and held on for a while. She kissed my forehead, pushed me back with her hands steady on my shoulders while looking at me through her crooked, gold framed reading glasses.
“You look great, Sue! Are you taking care of yourself though?”
With a mischievous grin she responded, “Absolutely! It’s called the homelessness diet. You just walk miles and miles to get to every appointment & you eat one meal a day. It does the body good; kind of like Wheaties!” Sue laughed hysterically as one hand remained on my shoulder as she doubled over in laughter.
“Sue!” I responded with laughter, “Only you could find humor in all of this!”
“Yep, it’s how we all survive around here. I’m still breathing right? And guess what?” She promptly put both hands on her hips, “Now, I even look good doing it!”
Sometimes, even the most difficult moments in this work call for a good laugh. Sue is our reminder of that.
“Good morning, how are you?”
“I’m blessed. Very blessed.”
More often than not this is the response from our women as they enter our back patio gate every morning. They are often pushing squeaky carts with shaky wheels, overflowing baby strollers filled with all that they own, or tattered and torn suitcases that have seen better days.
One by one I wish them good morning, trying my best to remember each and every guest’s name, looking them in the eye as they beam with excitement when they are called.
“Good morning, Kathleen. It’s good to see you.”
“Hey now, it’s always good to be seen!”
At this back gate every morning I am met with genuine smiles, with optimism that another day has come and strength that seems so effortless. But these women are coming in after long, cold, sleepless nights. It is not often that they have a night of sleep where they do not get woken up and asked to move by police officers or property owners. Or, a night in which they feel safe enough to even fall asleep at all for fear that may be physically or sexually assaulted.
Nevertheless, these women come in every morning, day after day, feeling blessed. Feeling gratitude for being seen for who they are despite experiencing nights many of us know nothing of. They are mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters and nieces, and homelessness does not define them.