Debbie called me the next day (8/18) and asked if I could help her get her groceries in the afternoon. I was swamped that day in job hunting but told her I would be able to help the next morning. Our phone conversation was choppy and at one point after I interrupted her, she asked in an angry tone if I had a problem. She even went on to exclaim that I was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I ignored her jabs and we agreed to meet the next morning at 9:30 sharp for the groceries trip. After our tense conversation, I was anxious about meeting her but still felt like I wanted to help. I told my roommate about our phone exchange and she suggested that I wait outside her apartment without going in. I liked her idea. I needed to draw my boundaries if I was going to befriend and try to help this woman.
I arrived at Debbie's apartment the next morning at 9:30 am and called her to let me in the front as we had agreed. She didn't pick up the phone so I followed someone in and signed in at the front desk. I nervously knocked at her door anticipating what kind of response I would receive from her this time. She opened the door in her nightgown and explained that she had lost her keys and needed to look for them. She invited me in, but this time I refused saying that I preferred to wait in the hall and have her come out when she was ready to go. She then spent about ten minutes looking for her keys and came back out to announce to me that she found them but now needed to change her clothes. Another ten minutes went by. She came back out again to say she needed to comb her hair. Another ten minutes. I heard the manager shout at me from down the hall to ask if Debbie had let me in. I responded that she had invited me but that I wanted to wait in the hall. The manager gave me a knowing look. Finally, Debbie opened the door and was ready to go. Before we left, she spent at least a minute making sure she had locked the door properly. She handed me her reusable grocery bag.
As we walked out the front of her apartment complex, she was very quiet while I filled the gap by commenting on the weather. We turned out of the complex and made it halfway down the block to the intersection when all of sudden, she grabbed the grocery bag off of my shoulder and said in an angry tone, "I changed my mind!" She asked if I wanted to come inside and talk with her. I said no and pressed her to explain why she had changed her mind. She shouted back, "These ni**ers won't leave me alone!" I looked across the street and saw a Latino family on the front porch. They had not said anything to her nor do I think they heard her shouting. She walked away angrily and I followed after her asking if she wanted me to walk her back. She said no thank you at first and when I repeated myself she shouted back, "I said leave me alone!"
I stood there not know what to do. Should I follow her to make sure she got back OK? After standing awkwardly in the middle of the sidewalk for a minute, I decided against it and walked the other way. I was disturbed by her comment. How could someone living in D.C. aka: chocolate city be racist? I remembered our earlier conversations in which she had vented her frustrations with a 'colored woman.' And when I called her, she had asked me if I was the small, dark girl who had helped her the other day. This is, of course, is an accurate description of me. Was she uncomfortable with me helping her though because of my skin color? After I got over being offended by her comment, I realized that she must have a lot of issues and started feeling bad for her again. Did she have family to depend on? Should I give her the phone number for the senior social services center I found online? After talking to my Mom about it, I concluded that there was nothing more I could do to help her. In relating the story to one of my friends yesterday evening, she said that most people wouldn't have gone that far to help this woman. I disagreed with her. I think most people would have tried to help if they had seen her apartment and realized she was all alone. The truth of the matter is though that you can't find help if you are not willing to receive it. It's sad but true. All I can do is keep her in my prayers.