"Oh my God! How could anyone let themselves get that low?" The questions and comments bombarded Gloria as she pushed her shopping cart through the streets of downtown, headed for the nearest shelter still seven blocks away.
"I'll never make it at this rate," Gloria thought to herself each time her cart would get stuck in a crack on the near crumbling sidewalk. She jerked the cart and cursed under her breath the last time she asked a passerby for the time.
She knew she was too late and opted for cover from the night's chill in the abandoned building just around the next corner.
Gloria was a woman down on her luck. She once had a wonderful career, a family and a wonderful home, but the loss of her husband and children that fateful Christmas Eve left her in a depression no one could rescue her from. Her family tried to no avail. Her parents were aged and neither she nor her husband had any siblings.
She was on her way home from a business trip when they died in a horrific car accident. As she rode in the taxi, the driver had the radio on the traffic report. She heard about a fatal accident, which closed the interstate. The cab driver followed the detours, exited the freeway and followed the directions Gloria gave him to get her to her destination.
"Happy holidays miss," the driver said as he retrieved her bags from the trunk and waited for her to get inside safely. It was late, and darkness filled the interior of the condo, but concern wasn't an issue as she turned her key and opened the door. The thought of her husband putting the kids to bed early so they could have some quiet time together before the rush Christmas morning to open gifts was a welcomed one.
Gloria walked into the den and set her luggage down. It was then she realized that wasn't the case. On the counter that divided the kitchen from the den she found a note that read, "Hi honey, took the kids to see Santa one last time. Stopping for pizza and will be home around seven. Love Alan." It was well after seven o'clock when she arrived and then the concerns set in.
She called his cell, but got the voicemail and left a message. "I'm worried about you. Call me when you get this," she said and ended the call.
The moment that call ended another came in. "Alan?" she answered.
The silence on the other end worried her. "Alan is that you?" she said, concern laced her voice now.
"Is this Mrs. Patterson?" a male voice startled her.
"Yes it is. Who's this?"
"This is officer Stillwater from the Michigan State Police. I'm sorry to inform you there has been an accident."
Gloria's heart sank as she listened to the officer tell her what to do next. That one single phone call sent her life plunging into darkness and depression. A semi- truck broadsided her husband's vehicle as he pulled out of the restaurant parking lot, killing all passengers instantly. Images of her husband Alan and her children, six-year old Alicia and eight-year old Alan, Jr. mangled in the minivan flooded her mind. The pain was unbearable.
Gloria's fall wasn't sudden, but within the two years since the death of her family she'd gone from an advertising executive to a homeless woman on the streets of this major city. Once living in a luxury condo to sleeping in a shelter if she arrived on time, and if she didn't, sleeping beneath a sheet of cardboard she'd salvaged from a department store garbage receptacle.
She couldn't see herself in any other light. She'd lost all touch of her previous existence as a glamorous wife and doting mother. Her chestnut hair, once vibrant and shimmering even in subdued light is now grimy and matted. Her green eyes that once sparkled warmly when she laughed are now cold, lifeless.
She now stands hunched over her cart; her once full lips - the color of fresh strawberries - are cracked and dried from the harsh elements of her life outdoors. Her clothes and shoes worn and ragged as if she just pulled them from the dumpster. This is Gloria's life now - a despicable sight in the eyes of some, but a human being suffering, in the eyes of others.
Within the days that followed the news concerning the accident, Gloria lost the will to survive in the life she once knew with her family. With the support of her parents and in-laws as well as the members of her church, she managed to get through the funeral. In the weeks that followed, friends and co-workers visited Gloria, but eventually she refused to answer the door.
She had stopped eating, surviving on coffee and crackers, just enough to get by. She couldn't force herself to get out of bed in the morning and eventually lost her job. Without a job the money she and her husband had saved was spent quickly just paying what few bills she managed to pay. She soon found herself bankrupt and the mortgage company foreclosed on her condo.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but if you had children living with you there would be more I could do for you," the agent said in an insincere tone as he handed her the eviction papers.
At this point Gloria was in such a deep depression, the thought of fighting to keep her home and file for bankruptcy never entered her mind. Her only words to the agent that stood before her were, "You bastard! If I had my children here with me I wouldn't be in this situation. I would give anything to have them back with me, but they are dead and my husband, their father died with them two years ago."
When those words rolled off Gloria's lips she fell to the floor, doing the only thing she'd been able to do in the past two years, sob. She cried for hours and then it was as if she knew she had no other choice as she pulled herself up, walked to her room and grabbed her duffle bag from the closet. She tossed in some clothes and undergarments.
She walked to her dresser and grabbed the photo of her family and placed it in between her clothing to keep it safe. She grabbed a few personal items from the bathroom and before she walked out of the front door she placed her keys on the counter. In a daze, she left everything else behind and just began walking.
"Oh dear, the city should do more to help people like that," a passer by whispered to her husband as they walked to the theater. "It's the day before Thanksgiving, no one should have to live like that," the woman continued, but didn't do anything to help the homeless lady.
"This is better than nothing, I guess," Gloria sighed as she huddled beneath her cardboard and searched her pockets for crumbs of food.
Gloria never begged for handouts, she couldn't bring herself to that, but if someone offered her food she would accept it graciously. After she had eaten the last bit of food found in her pockets, she would settle into a somewhat comfortable slump and in her nightly prayers ask God to keep her safe one more night and tell her family she loved them. After a while she'd doze off to sleep.
The need to protect what little she had accumulated over the years forced Gloria to sleep light as she guarded her possessions.
Tonight, cardboard protected her from the blustery, late November wind and below freezing temperature, but not the rodents that invaded her shopping cart. Gloria was awakened to sounds of scratching and chewing right beside her head. "Get out of there you bastards!" she shouted and swatted at the side of her cart to scare off the pesky rodents.
Sleep didn't come easy for Gloria. This would be the fourth Thanksgiving she'd spend without her family. Her dreams were filled with happier times, times spent with her family; birthdays, vacations, holidays; all just painful memories for her now.
As she finally settled in the corner, she belatedly allowed sleep to claim her as heavy eyelids resolved one more day of life. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and she hoped she'd at least be able to get a shower and a warm meal at the shelter.
Gloria awoke to the sun shining in through the broken windows above her and the cheerful sounds of the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade on the next block. She yawned and stretched then slowly rose to her feet. She gathered up her cardboard and placed it neatly in her cart.
The sunlight that shone through the windows was pleasant. Gloria stood there for a moment and drank in the warmth as she prepared herself for yet another blistery day outside in the elements. She took one last look around then headed back out to the street. As she rounded the corner on her way to the shelter, she encountered Belle, another woman who was also on her way to the shelter.
Belle didn't have near the upbringing that Gloria had of fancy schools and a master's degree in advertising, but she always tried to better herself. She married when she was young and became a stay at home mom to her 6 children, while her husband worked to support the family. She'd been on the street for 6 years, and those who knew her said she was a genuine person who made friends quickly.
Her husband and daughter were shot in a carjacking attempt gone badly and four of her sons were killed in the war. Her one surviving son wasn't much help to her. He chose a life of drugs and crime and walked out on her many years ago. Without the support of her husband Belle had no other choice but to try and survive on the streets.
After being evicted for non-payment of rent over a six-month duration, Belle no longer had a roof over her head. She attempted several times to get a job but without an address, or an education past high school hope for her was dismal. Who would hire a woman of her age and lack of formal education; not to mention pay enough so she could to support herself?
.... There is more of this story ...