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Mary the Bag Lady
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She stands about 5’7” slumped over maybe from back problems or simply from moving all of her belongings around daily. A fixture in our neighborhood always camped out in front of one of the many stores in the area and next to her multiple shopping carts and bags. Some call her a bum others a bag lady I choose to call her Mary after all that is her name or at least the name she goes by. I have seen her around many times in the two plus years we have lived in the area. I had never talked to her just walked by a few times, sometimes when I was walking the neighborhood with my kids, but soon that would change and so would my opinion of her.
She talks to herself (or maybe someone only she can see) a lot and at first I was not sure if she was harmless or not. She makes furtive moves often which at times would unnerve me especially when I was with my children. After a few times I was used to her movements and her discussions, I even began to learn about her from others in the neighborhood. Some of whom stated that she was a part of “Corporate America” until something happened, what happened truly depends on who you ask, but honestly I think only Mary really knows. My interest truly started to peak when I saw her in the neighborhood grocery store in the corner with one of her bags she was hunched over and I wasn’t certain what she was doing but I was interested. I took a closer look only to see that she was working on a crossword puzzle. A crossword puzzle? Not that she couldn’t be smart but it was Sunday’s puzzle and she was almost done with it. I was in awe and watched a bit more. She was amazing continually talking to no one, blurting out sentences and then filling in the crossword puzzle. When she was finished with the puzzle she put it into her bag with all of her other stuff and walked out of the store. It seemed that I was constantly running into her but never able to say anything and not wanting to force conversation. That was until I got my chance.
It was the middle of summer about 75 degrees or more out but Mary was layered all in brown – different shades of Brown. Brown knit cap, brown sweater, brown overcoat and the only true color came from her black boots and her wild black hair that peeked out of her cap. On this day I had dropped the kids off to spend the night at my parents (grandparents are great) and went to the neighborhood restaurant to get my husband and I something to eat. The restaurant was busy that day and instead of the usual 10 minute wait they said it would be 20 – 25 minutes. Oh well I thought as I called my husband and let him know it would be a while. My husband suggested that I get some dessert from the grocery store (who could argue with that?) and a couple of movies. I did just that and still had about 15 minutes left until our order would be ready so I stood outside in the warm sun. I did not realize at first that Mary was a few paces down until I heard her voice. I watched her for what seemed like an hour as she talked to someone that I could not see. After a few minutes we locked eyes so naturally I said hello feeling a bit uncomfortable and unsure of how she would react or what her response would be if she acknowledged me at all. But to my surprise she turned her head away from me and said hello right back.
“How are you doing today?” I asked hesitantly, since she was now not looking at me.
“You have beautiful kids.” She responded quickly as her eyes darted back to me.
“Thank you!” I said surprised.
I was shocked that she mentioned my kids it had been several weeks since we had passed her on our walk. But she went on to tell me about my kids which assured me that she was quite aware of who she was talking to and about.
Our conversation was a bit choppy because she was talking to me but not looking at me directly. She would look ahead, nervously to the side, and up at the sky but hardly ever at me. Her stream of consciousness would come and go but if I waited through her paranoid statements she would continue our conversation without missing a beat. The conversation was truly amazing, she is amazing. I learned that she had children that she is not in contact with her family and that she was not always like this. I also learned that she likes to read and enjoys solving problems. We talked about everything including food (she even gave me a simple recipe), children, relationships and if we are really alone in the universe. I was enthralled in our conversation, in her and could not bring my self to leave. We only talked for about 15 minutes long enough for the owner to physically bring my order to me and enough time for me to learn a lot about Mary. I stood there for a few minutes more until Mary suggested to me that I get home to feed my family before the "people" came to get me.
On the walk home I did not notice how heavy my packages were. I was too busy reliving my experience with Mary, my perceptions of her before our conversation and afterwards. I have no idea how she came to be the person she is I do wonder what happened to her. I can tell that she is an exceptionally smart woman and has a great deal to offer. But it was obvious that there were other elements to her that kept her from being a part of society. I was simply happy to have had the chance to talk to her and since our conversation we have had several more, not as long but long enough for me to appreciate her as more than a street person, bum or bag lady but simply as Mary.