Compassion fatigue

Yesterday afternoon, I walked out the back door and down the steps into the carport. I rounded the corner toward the house to turn on the hose so I could water the garden. I was startled to see someone sitting on the cement floor just a few feet from the basement door.

She was young. Late teens? Early 20s at most? She was small, kind of pretty, dark hair pulled onto the top of her head, slightly non-white skin. She was dressed in black. T-shirt, shorts, silver belt. Some kind of runners. She sat there smoking.

"I'm sorry, I was looking for cigarette butts," she said.

"We don't smoke," I said. I wasn't angry. I wasn't hostile. But I'm sure my attitude was something along the lines of "you can't stay here." I don't like when people trespass. Who does?

She knew she had to move along. She started to pack up stuff that she had taken out of her bag. She seemed to have settled there a bit.

I asked, "Do you live around here?"

"I'm kind of homeless," she said.

"Oh, I'm sorry." Something stirred, a little.

She kept packing up. I moved toward the tap so as not to be standing over her, allowing her an escape route.

"I like your garden," she said. My perennial garden, somewhat out of hand at the moment.

"Thanks. I'm afraid the weeds have taken over a bit."

"Yeah, I noticed." There was something kind of touching about that. We were just having a conversation.

She had finished packing. I think she said goodbye, or something similar, and headed out past the car and down the lane. I watered the pathetic vegetables (it's been such an awful summer, and the garden still isn't getting enough sun) and went inside. I told Sweetie about the encounter. And I started to cry.

Where was my compassion? A beat behind. Or two. Too late.

The girl was clearly no threat, but she had violated the boundaries of our home. I had instantly gone into protection mode. It wasn't until she was gone that I felt something else. She might have been even younger than I thought. Sweetie said her parents, parent, family, might have thrown her out of the house. I don't know if she was "working." Not long ago, Sweetie had found a used condom in the carport. We're kind of used to finding them in the lane, but this was new. We have no idea if the two incidents were related, but when a girl is on the street, there aren't many things she can do for money.

Why did I not say one more thing while I had the chance, something like, "Is there anything we can do to help you?" She might well have said no, but at least I could have asked. And maybe we could have helped. Of course we can't help everyone. And we know enough about boundaries not to put ourselves at risk. But I could have asked. I should have asked.

I feel as though I failed a test. I can only hope I see her in the 'hood somewhere. I can only hope I get a second chance. Weeping as I write this, feeling bad, wishing I'd done better, none of that is good enough. I'm not going to beat myself up, but I have to do better than I did.

I haven't stopped thinking about that girl. I doubt that I will any time soon.

1 comment:

Anji said...

I think that perhaps even your few kind words helped her. Just an ordinary conversation without judgement

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I walk through town. There are so many homeless men on the streets. We don't see so many women but there are more than there used to be.