The couple sat down at the table next to me, frantically looking through disheveled bags and dirty clothes. “We need that list to eat”. His voice was intimidating. She apologized, afraid. “We’ve sold or thrown away a lot the past couple days. It must have been lost…”. Her voice trailed off and her eyes looked away. Anger, fear, and insecurity wash over me, second hand, like rainwater overflowing from a gutter. She felt useless, he blamed her to avoid realizing his own weakness. To admit weakness would be to question his masculinity, to question his status and his power. He couldn’t do that. She bears the scars of his insecurity instead.
In glances I assess the couple. Recently homeless. Probably abusive. It showed in the fear, in the desperation.
“How will we eat?” “How will we survive?”. Fear, anger, and desperation leads them to catastrophic thinking. They begin to argue, if they weren’t already. She attempts to placate him by admitting she’s worthless- as if a human being could be worthless. She believes it nonetheless. Terror is in her eyes. I stop glancing, push in my headphones, and try not to start shaking with her terror.
I open my fortune cookie. “Keep your plans secret for now.” What kind of fortune is that. I get up, with a plate of food still left. I’ve lost my appetite. I slide my plate towards them and immediately leave, afraid to look back. Their fear, their rage, their need haunts me as I walk out the door.
I feel afraid. Did they realize I was leaving my plate for them? Why do I try to hide any attempt to help people? What am I afraid of?
I feel useless, wondering why I didn’t buy them a full meal. Why I didn’t find a better solution. My actions don’t help. Half a plate of food for a starving couple is nothing. Hopelessness- but not theirs. They had that on me, no matter how naive hope may be in their situation. Maybe it will help them. I didn’t. I tell myself one day we’ll find a way. As a species, we can save everyone, we can find a better way. I don’t know if I believe it. I question what it says about us when the rest of the world is more broken than I am- and what that says about my lack of hope. There has to be a better way.