August 29, 2014

Summer Musings: No harm done

"I gave her $40 and said, 'good luck in Florida' and went home."

Once last spring quarter when I was walking back to my apartment from work, this woman tried to get my attention despite my huge, antisocial headphones and generally unhelpful demeanor. She needed money because every bad thing possible had happened to her: Her father died, she was pregnant, she had to get to Florida by tomorrow, her children were hungry, her boyfriend was mean. Maybe about 12 percent of it seemed true at the time. But I have a weird way of thinking, and I thought, “If I don’t give you some money, someone else will. And they might not realize that you’re full of shit.” Somehow, that seemed much worse to me.

So we walked to Walgreens so I could use the ATM, and the whole way she kept on with her sad stories and her feigned desperation. I gave her $40 and said, “Good luck in Florida,” and went home.

Last week I was walking back to my apartment from work and someone called out, “Hey, I like your stretch pants!”

I knew without looking that it was her, that she had not gone to Florida, that she was here, and that she sure as hell was not pregnant.

But I looked anyway, glancing over my shoulder as I kept my pace.

I think, maybe, she recognized me. Maybe not. She seemed a little disquieted. I said, “Thanks,” and kept walking.

I hope that she doesn’t feel guilty, knowing that I know. The truth is that I would have spent the $40 on something equally futile either way. But somehow, I do hope that she knows I remember her. It doesn’t matter to me that she probably didn’t spend the money on food for her kids, if she even has kids. I wish I had let her know that I didn’t believe her then and I don’t believe her now. The stories didn’t matter. She asked for money and she got it, but she didn’t fool anyone. I don't think she should feel guilty about that. I guess that’s why I gave her the money in the first place. She didn’t hurt anyone, even when that might have seemed to her like the only way for her to get what she needed—or wanted, I don’t know.

I guess I thought I was taking some kind of bullet for someone more innocent, who might also wear stretch pants and have had to walk through the park, hear a familiar voice, realize what had happened, and feel a little worse about the way things go.

But I still hope that she does not feel guilty. I hope she knows that I am not that innocent person.

No harm done.

Kayleigh Voss is a third-year in the College majoring in English.