Before the ring, I thought of her as a predator.
She is there every day, all day, at the same corner. Her cargo pants are black, saturated with filth. Mats of brown hair ooze from her black stocking cap. She appears to wear at least two heavy shirts: a black hoodie and a flannel button up. Over these she sports a thick, thrift store army jacket. On her back is a pack, stuffed to the brim.
I’ve sat in my car waiting for the light to change, watching her. I’ve seen her take from her pack a bottle of water or an occasional energy bar. She is never without the sign.
She holds it out for all to see, as she walks up and down the grass median. She is young. In her twenties. Thin. If she were to clean up, she might be pretty.
The grass median next to the corner is not the only place I see her. I also see her occasionally at the bus stop, by the dealers, strung out in some strange pose — as if she was going to sit down in a nonexistent chair, but was then was frozen in time. In my city, we call her pose the heroin lean. It is as if when the drugs hit her system, her body demanded she lay down, she get off her feet, she find somewhere, anywhere, to be but standing. Yet as her body screamed danger, her mind powered off. Her synapses stopped firing. The end result was her transformation into an uncomfortably positioned statue. Her muscles crying in agony, but mind lost in a drug fueled fog.
It is her daily persistence at the corner, combined with her routine visits to the bus stop which keep me from rolling down my window and offering her help. What she hungers for I am not willing to satisfy.
But today something was different.
Today there was a fist shaped ring around her eye.
It was purple, black, and yellow. It looked painful and made me want to change my pattern of ignore-and-deny. I longed to put her in my car, to take her three blocks to my house, to let her take a shower, to wash her clothes, to give her a warm place to sleep and a real meal, to help her find work, to give her a chance in life, to show her a world beyond the corner and the bus stop.
The ring changed everything.
The ring changed her from predator to prey, from aggressor to victim.
But my kids were with me.
And I know how firm the grip of heroin is, how small the chances of success are.
And I’m unsure if she would even come.
And it is my home.
So when light changed, I drove on.