Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Isolation in the big city

On Tuesday afternoon, I went out to run some errands after a productive day of job searching and work.  I completed my normal routine of buying a couple bags worth of groceries and then made by way to the bus stop to head home.  I rested my bags on the bench to wait and sat down when I saw an older woman approach the stop with two grocery bags.  I got up so that she could sit down and soon thereafter she asked me if I could help her with her bags onto the bus.  Of course I obliged and sat next to her toward the front of the bus.  She told me she needed to get off in three stops and asked if I could help her with her bags.  I said no problem and helped her off the bus leaving my own grocery bags behind.  Only once we were exiting the bus she asked if I could walk her all the way home.  Oh great, I thought.  So, I run back on the bus and grab my bags in order to help her.  A lady who got off the bus with us offered to walk the woman home after she found out it wasn't my normal stop, but the old woman wanted to stick with me for some reason.  I sympathized for her and wanted to help anyway as she clearly needed someone to hold her grocery bags.  There is no way I could have left her then.  I asked her for her name and she told me her name was Debbie*.

As I walked with her the few blocks down to her apartment, we made small talk about what I was doing in the city, who was supporting my lifestyle with no job (haha) and the fact that I lived in a group home.  Immediately after I told her I lived in a group home, she asked if it was a psychiatric home.  I laughed it off.  Once we reached her apartment, Debbie invited me to come in and I was surprised to find a small, dimly lit, un-decorated room with limited furniture and a bed pushed up against the wall.  I set her grocery bags down by her small kitchenette.  She thanked me and told me I was one of the nicest people she had met.  I asked her if she had friends or family in the area that normally helped her grocery shop.  I couldn't fully understand a lot of what she said as her speech was slurred but she proceeded to tell me she had a brother-in-law who lived out of state.  She said that people had trouble understanding her because she needed to have surgery on her teeth.  As I was on my way out the door, she asked if I wanted her phone number and invited me back inside so no one would hear.  I typed her number into my phone and then she asked for my name and number.  As I left I heard her bolt the door behind me and say "call me sometime soon" from behind it.  This tugged at my heart as I knew she probably did not have many visitors.  After I got home that evening I thought about how many older people like Debbie must be living on their own in D.C. with little support from friends or family.  The interaction made me step outside of my own little bubble and think of the struggles that people like Debbie must face everyday.

The next morning (Wednesday, 8/17) I called Debbie to check on her and once I said my name, she asked if I was the girl who had helped her with her groceries.  I said yes and she proceeded to say that she was not in a good mood and needed help with Medicaid.  Through her slurred speech, I could hear her cussing.  I told her I sympathized with her situation as I didn't know what else to say.  I then offered to help her with groceries the next time she needed it.  After she confirmed with me that she had my phone number, she said she would call me if she needed me to help her.

My conscious felt better knowing that I had at least tried to help Debbie.  Still, how many Debbies are out there in this city without a good support system to fall back on?  Who is obligated to help these individuals?  Is it their responsibility to seek out community?  I can't imagine the loneliness someone must feel living by themselves at that age.  No one knows exactly how they will be in their old age as it's something you just can't predict.  I hope that I am in good spirits and health in my old age but if I'm not, I hope I have loved ones to fall back on. 

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