Poochie and Quiet Storm
I was sitting behind a table in the parking lot of the Day Resource Center. The table was filled with giveaway clothing, and homeless people were filing by, picking out the two items they were allowed. A woman, very quiet, stood in front of me, looking at items, tentatively holding them up to see if they’d fit. She moved to another part of the table and then reappeared. “Do you need some help?” I asked her. She didn’t answer and kept her eyes down.
I noticed how thin she was, how her skin was tan and weathered, signs she had been on the street for a while. She had long brown hair tied back in a ponytail, but strands of it had escaped and blew outward in the cold wind, creating a kind of halo around her head in the floodlights of the parking lot. It was hard to guess her age, but I’d say maybe mid-thirties.
Thinking she didn’t hear me, I leaned forward and repeated, “Do you need help finding your size?” Still, she didn’t look up, but kept her face a mask, then slipped away, silent as a wraith, to the other end of the table where the women’s clothing was concentrated.
A voice to my left told me, “She doesn’t talk. Not ever.” I looked up to see a young man with wonderful looking dreadlocks and an incandescent smile standing at my elbow. He was waiting for the line to move forward so he could pick out his clothing items. “Really?” I said, “Do you know why?” “No. I call her Quiet Storm. There are three of them out here, three women, who never talk.” I looked at the woman, and, as I often do, chilled to think of her vulnerability living on the street.
I remembered seeing this young man before, recalled his upbeat attitude and outgoing personality. “I’m Karen, by the way,” I said, and stuck out my hand to shake his. “I’m Poochie,” he said, “I’ve seen you here before.”
The Sky Is Falling, or Rather, Things are Falling Out of It
“Where’d you get the name ‘Poochie’?” I asked him, as the clothing line was stalled while those ‘shopping’ searched through the piles. He motioned across the parking lot toward the chain link fence that separates the Day Resource Center property from the sidewalk beyond. I peered into the gloom. Some of the children of the volunteers were stooped over a backpack which lay open on the ground, huddled over… I couldn’t see what. “See in my backpack? My dog!”
Then I made out a small shape among the children’s outstretched hands — they were gently petting… a small dog. “Where did you get him?” I asked, “He’s cute, and it looks like he’s made friends here already.” Poochie’s answer was a little, no, let’s say a lot surprising. “He fell into the top of my tent,” he said.
“What?” I said, clearly not getting it. He explained, “Somebody threw him off the bridge, and he landed on my tent, which was just underneath.” “You have got to be kidding,” I was staring at him, stupefied. “Where were you staying, in the I-45 bridge camp?” “That’s right.” “And somebody actually threw that little dog off the bridge, and it landed on your tent?” “Yep.” “Wow,” was all I could think of, then “Wow” again.
I had stood in the homeless encampment under that bridge a number of times. It was a very high bridge, several stories. “Was he injured?” I asked, incredulous. “Nope. I was sleeping one night, and I heard him hit the tent. Another guy in the camp saw him fall. He was fine, a little shaken up.” I shook my head. “Now why would anyone do a thing like that? And what kind of person?” But I knew this was a fairly futile question, and a rhetorical one, because sometimes we human beings treat not only dogs but each other with that kind of callousness and cruelty. “I don’t know,” Poochie answered, “but that’s how I got my name.” “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Poochie. That’s quite a story,” I said, as his turn came to move up in the line and choose his clothing items. “I know you and your little dog will take good care of each other.”