A new homeless woman has been hanging around the Boulevard lately. Dressed in dark blue institutional pants and a white t-shirt, she carries a large black plastic trash bag jammed with unknown contents. As she wanders the area, she is usually screaming. While most of those who rant on the Boulevard yell at no one in particular, this newcomer targets people with her verbal tirades.
As I headed down to the Metro platform today I had my game face on — that resting bitch face effective in warding off the creepers and would be threats.
As I approached the turnstiles I spotted the woman. As usual, she was in the middle of an incoherent rant. I gave her a wide berth as she screamed in my direction. I avoided eye contact but kept her in my peripheral sight as I made my way down the escalator to the train platform.
Below a child cried, which seemed to draw her down behind me. She fixated on the child’s cries and began bellowing about child abuse as she descended the escalator.
My heart breaks for her every time I see her:
How is this the country that I live in? The city that I live in, that allows such a desperate and mentally disturbed human being to live on the street?
As she howled about child abuse, I wondered if the sounds of the crying child touched on some painful memory.
As I reached the bottom of the escalator the child was now quiet and nowhere to be seen. Alert to her coming down behind me I instinctively turned right. I judged the platform in this direction as out of her sight and attention.
As I settled onto the bench I rested my heavy laptop bag on my knees to take the pressure off of my shoulders. There was no one around and for a moment I enjoyed some peace while I waited for the train. Then suddenly she came around the corner screaming in my direction.
I stood up and pretended to look at the monitor displaying train arrival times. But my real motivation was to be on my feet and ready to run if needed. She headed my way continuing to scream. Maintaining her in my periphery I circled behind a large concrete pillar which I hoped would make me out-of-sight and out-of-mind.
She slid down the pillar, sat on the floor and continued to wail. At least it was no longer aimed at me. I considered slipping past her to get to a more populated area with more accessible exits. But as prey instinctively knows to freeze while weighing whether to flee or fight, I stayed where I was — out-of-sight to avoid attracting her attention.
All was going well until a woman with two young girls, about five and seven, approached to take a seat on the bench. They made it safely past her, but the presence of the children aroused another outburst.
The woman got up and began pacing the platform again screaming about child abuse. The mother calmly braided her youngest daughter’s hair while I stood nearby trying to appear as casual as possible. I pretended to look for the train as I nonchalantly pivoted as she circled so she would never have my back. She never came within striking distance of myself or the family, but I was on edge. I prayed that when the train came she would not get on.
The train arrived and my prayers were answered; she stayed behind while the family and I piled on.
It was then that the little girl asked her mother, “What was wrong with that lady? Why was she yelling?”
Stroking her hair, the mother softly replied, “Sometimes people are very sick and yell unkind things. But they can’t help it. We need to be careful around sick people. But we should never hate them because it’s not their fault.”
Throughout my vigilance and strategic maneuvering, my heart broke for the woman. With the little girl’s question, my heart shattered all over again as reality intruded on this child’s innocence.
But the cracks of the heartbreak were filled by the mother’s compassion. At her words, I turned my head as if I were looking out the window. But really, it was to hide the tears that would betray my resting bitch face.
And the train pulled out of the station.