Homeless at the post office

You must have seen her. She’s almost always there.

Every time I go into the post office, she is standing there, with that big smile. Rosy cheeks roughened by weather. Small, gray, bundled up in layers, summer or fall.

She thanks me and accepts the bill I give her and tucks it away in the purse around her neck. If I remember to look back as I leave the parking lot, she waves goodbye, always smiling.

The last time when I stopped, instead of just pressing a bill into her hand, and a chocolate bar that happened to be in my purse, I asked her. “What’s your name?”

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“Julie,” she said. “What’s yours?”

I told her and then she said, “Why do you always look so beautiful?”

I answered her question with a question: “Why do you always have that beautiful smile?”

“I smile to keep from crying,” Julie said, and now I saw that her eyes were rimmed in red.

Almost as shy as she was, I turned to my car and as I backed out of the space, she was still smiling.

She may not possess much, but Julie still had one more thing to give. As we locked glances, she waved. And then she blew me a kiss.

“Next time,” I thought, “I’ll stop longer.” So many questions in my mind. So many things I want to ask her.

“Are you from Downey? What happened to you? What would make it better? Where will you sleep tonight?”

We all have had those little moments, of the terror of recognition, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Life for one person can change so fast.

When I went back this week, I was ready to ask her permission, to ask my questions. But the place where she always stood was empty. No one in the space.

Next time, if she is there, I’ll ask if she minds sharing her story with me. Because now I care.