I walked passed her and she was sleeping. People asked her to wake up and she, irritated, told them to leave her alone. Everyone seemed to know her and her pattern. “She’ll be fine. She’s coming off her high now – crack, cocaine, and alcohol,” said one woman. I couldn’t help myself so I stopped to ask her if she was alright or needed anything. She rolled her eyes at me and told me to go away.
“Well, so much for good will.” I thought to myself and went on about my way. I saw her again the following day but this time she was alert and looked at me. “Can I talk to you?” she asked. I looked around to see who she was talking to. “Me? You want to talk to me?” I asked. “Yeah, they say that you talk to people,” she replied. “Hmmm… I do talk to people. Well, I listen more than I talk, but same difference, though.” I said to myself. And, this is where the story begins. I will call this woman, Mary.
Mary was an uninteresting looking woman; nothing remarkable about her at all. She was kind of a curmudgeon the other day and I must admit that I was still sore about it. After all, I was concerned and just wanted to see if she was alright. So when I found us a warm place to sit, I told her that she seemed more pleasant today than yesterday. She apologized and explained that she wanted to kill herself by overdosing on crack-cocaine but as fate would intervene, she ran out of drugs. So, as always, she slept if off.
“Why would you want to kill yourself? And, Do you still want to kill yourself?” The first half of the question I asked out of curiosity and the second half to assess whether she was a risk to herself. Hey, I am a social worker all day long. She answered the second question first, “No, I don’t want to kill myself anymore. I just get like this sometimes.” Then she answered the first question. “There are times when I don’t want to be here. I mean, look at me, look at my life.”
I didn’t know what to make of her statements. As I sat with her for what seemed like hours, something started happening to me and I was unsure of what it was. During our conversation, I learned that she was really smart and loved school – especially science – school was an escape from her everyday world. She imagined being successful and moving far away from home; that was her goal. From the time she was 5 years old, she was molested and abused and had mental health issues since she was 8 years old. Then she hit me with the unexpected – she had several children, all of whom died before they turned two. Some were still born and another died in a car accident by a driver who was under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
For some reason, I asked her about their birthdays and she looked puzzled until she heard herself tell me the dates: they were all born around the same time – now. Mary cried as if she felt the pain of her children’s death for the first time; a deep wail full of despair and regret filled the air. And, that’s when it happened – I saw her.
At that moment, Mary was not a drug addict or throw away. She was a human being who was a mother, daughter, sister, and scapegoat in terrible pain. Then I looked closer and noticed that she had a wonderful smile and the warmest brown eyes. There was a real person in there. Even now, she still has dreams of being a ‘somebody’ though she knows the hurdles many and high. She could rattle off numbers and had amazing critical thinking skills. What was more impressive was her strength. I don’t know if I could be that strong, like Mary.
As we wrapped up our conversation, I connected her to some resources in her community. After looking at my referrals, she smiled and told me about two more places I had never heard of – go figure. She thanked me for listening and I thanked her for sharing then we parted.
I thought about Mary the rest of the day but that evening, I did something I hadn’t done in a LONG time after a conversation like that – I cried. I could have been Mary – we all could have been her and still can. The only thing that makes us different is one unforeseen decision by our parents, family, community…ourselves. As successful individuals – however you define it – it is important to remember that we are only as successful as our circumstances and our ability to cope with them. Our circumstances can change at any moment and if they do, ask yourself, “How many people will see me?” The answer to which is, “It depends on how many people you have seen.”
Have you seen someone? Do tell…