There was an older black woman who lived off Prospect, and every year around the holidays she would holler at me. She called me “Blondie.” She had a large bowl of neck bones and taters with amazing tiny peppers. The peppers weren’t hot, just spicy enough for flavor.
She’d always tell me, “Now, honey, you can keep that bowl, but don’t you be leaving it out just anywhere. If you can make it back this way, just leave it on the steps. If not, then at least find it a home in a trashcan. You eat all of that, honey, ’cause you ain’t nothing but skin and bones, a walking skeleton. I say now, go on now and eat all of that, and God bless you.”
Those neck bones and taters were amazing. Year after year, she never forgot me. Once she even walked down the street about two blocks from her house because she said one of her boys had seen me out there. She always reminded me to eat every bit because I was just skin and bones. She always offered me a warm smile. She always made a point to touch my hand and look me in the eyes when she spoke to me.
One year she put $5 in my hand and kissed my cheek. Another year she tossed me a pair of gloves and an old jacket and cautioned me not to catch a cold. She even told me I had a lovely smile. I never knew her name, and she never asked mine, but I did feel human each time I heard her voice. I wasn’t invisible to her.
In the wee hours of many nights, doubtful thoughts would drift through my mind, tormenting me for a while. Would someone eventually find me? Did anyone even know I was alive? Would someone look for me if I were dead?
Everyone else who offered me food or other such necessities had strings attached—I could have it if I provided sexual services for them. After all, I was a prostitute, and my purpose in life was for their pleasure.
My neck bone and tater patroness, however, never forgot me and never asked for anything from me. When she saw me, she simply acknowledged my humanity. I always felt that, for some reason, she loved me just as I was. Somehow, this woman, if only once or twice a year, gave me just enough hope and genuine compassionate care to keep me going. Her gentle concern ignited small embers of hope and made me question if there might be more to my life, after all.
From time to time I would wonder: Did she watch for me so she could speak to me or bring me food? Was she the one person in her home, with her family, who truly knew I existed? Did she ever wonder about me? Did she wonder if I were cold or hungry or alive or dead? It seemed like she thought of me. Maybe I did exist. Maybe she alone had the ability to see my invisibility.
“Love your neighbor, all of ’em.” -Christine Clarity McDonald