Sometimes, The Teresa Jusino Experience is more sobering than I’d like it to be.
Earlier today, I tweeted from a Starbucks where I’d stopped in for a small coffee and some air conditioning:
What I gave her was my Hello Kitty Notebook Of Awesome in which I write all my notes for everything I’m working on. She had it for a while and was scribbling away furiously. For a while. It got to the point where I was thinking, Is she writing a novel?! When she finally handed me back my notebook, she was on the verge of tears, and when I opened the book, this is part of what she wrote (identity-revealing info other than her first name crossed out in blue by me):
Now, here’s the thing. I’ve been flat broke out here in L.A. myself. But today was the day I happened to have one of my freelance gigs come through with a direct deposit, so I had some cash for the first time in weeks. I was planning on going shopping myself. I really didn’t have the money to spare…
…and at the same time, I had the money to spare, you know? I know what it’s like to be down and out, but I’m lucky enough to have friends, and lucky enough to have never ever been hit. If you would’ve seen this girl’s face, you wouldn’t have been able to say no to her either.
So I agreed to get her some basic groceries, and some money added on her Metro TAP card, and we left the Starbucks together. She broke down in tears when we were outside, and my stomach was in knots. I didn’t know what else to do, so I hugged her, and I told her that she didn’t have to be embarrassed for asking for help – that all I’ve been doing since I got to L.A. has been asking for help, it seems – and that I feel like there was a reason why she sat next to me at that Starbucks. We went to Ralph’s, I gave her a dollar amount limit, and she bought some basic necessary items that’ll tide her over for the week until she starts getting her assistance.
We chatted as she shopped, and she told me about the job interviews she has next week, about what she needs to do to be able to get her son back, and she was very conscientious about staying within my predetermined spending limit, forgoing the things she wanted for the cheaper brands out of respect. I let her buy the brand name meat, though, because the cheaper stuff looked skeezy. We even laughed about stuff as she told me about her son, about home, and about how fucking expensive groceries are. After the supermarket, she thanked me profusely, and we walked to the nearby subway station so I could put some money on her card, after which I gave her another big hug and walked away. I don’t know what’ll happen to her long term, but I know that she at least has enough transportation money to get her back to her safe place, and enough food for a week’s worth of meals until she gets her assistance and (hopefully) a job.
Might she have been totally conning me? It’s possible. But the way I see it, if she was conning me that hardcore to get groceries out of me, then she really needed the gorram groceries, and at that point, it really doesn’t matter what the story is, does it?
I’m writing about this, not because I expect some big to-do about it, but because it kinda shook me up, and I wanted to record it. This is The Teresa Jusino Experience, after all. And part of that Experience is stuff like this; the random ways in which the Universe chooses to teach me things. And part of the reason for this blog is to share those things I’ve learned with you, in the hopes that it might help someone. So, here’s what I took away from this:
** I’m Wealthy In the Ways That Are Important: Objectively, I had no business buying this girl anything. I’m barely hanging on by a thread financially myself. But it took a lot of courage for her to ask help of a stranger like that. And I related to the pride she displayed in not wanting to ask out loud, to want to write it down, because she didn’t want to be seen asking for something like that in public. Under different circumstances, she could’ve been me, but I’m not burdened with those circumstances. I still have enough money to get by for the time being, and I am fortunate enough to be blessed with good people – including good, new people whom I’ve only gotten to know in the past year and yet treat me as if they’ve known me forever - who’ve never let me fall too far. With wealth like that in my life, how can I not help someone who isn’t so fortunate as to have friends?
** When The Universe Talks, Listen: Like I said, I believe there’s a reason why this girl sat next to me at a Starbucks on the very day when my pay came through. Not only did she reinforce the idea that I’m lucky to have what I have, but she also reminded me that we can always help. No matter how down and out we are, no matter how shitty our lives may seem, one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given is the ability to help other people. It’s like a superpower we all have. There’s always something you can do. Had I not had money, I might have looked up the nearest Church and walked with her to a food pantry, or otherwise figured something else out, because what she needed – in addition to groceries – was the knowledge that someone cared. When I first hugged her, she seemed taken aback. She wasn’t expecting it, but when we hugged as I was leaving her, she initiated it, and she had a big smile on her face, because for one moment someone cared about her and so much of the time that’s all anyone really needs. And caring is something everyone can do.
So, yeah. That’s that. I wish Whitney well, and I hope she gets her son back soon. If you all have a minute, keep her in your thoughts and prayers tonight. And don’t forget how lucky you are to have what you have, and that there’s this superpower called Kindness that’s inside all of us, and that you shouldn’t let it atrophy.
**EDITED @ 8:46PM – If you’d like to help women like Whitney, here’s the link to the shelter she mentions in her note: New Image Emergency Shelter. Donate, or volunteer if you’re in the L.A. area!**