Monday, November 24, 2008

Life In the Creek - Part 2: Margaret.

Margaret by Sunland Don, father of Winnie, Chloe and Abby.

Margaret is the oldest - by that, I mean longest - resident of the creek. I would venture close to 30 years now according to long-time Creekhikers. Margaret would not speak to me for years so a lot of what I know is second-hand.

It is believed she has a Berkley education and that heroin took over her brain. I have no reason to doubt this. OnceMargaret finally started talking to me, I am quite impressed when she is lucid. She can spatter her conversation with "five-dollar words" like the snootiest of the snooty. I've heard her use the words apogee, perigee and juxtaposition all correctly in a sentence. The average human cannot do that and certainly not the average homeless person.

But Margaret is not lucid very often and yet, I see so little signs of drug use around her many camps.

Another Margaret rumor is that she comes from a wealthy family. Apparently they've tried to "rescue" her and institutionalize her and every time, she runs away to her creek. (It is far more hers than anyone else's!) I can't say as I blame her. It's beautiful there.

Margaret ignores most dogs... she freezes in her tracks. I have to wonder if that is the result of living with coyotes. And she rarely speaks to any but the oldest of Creekhikers. I used to hike with a wonderful man named Ron - he has leg problems and his dog died so we no longer hike together. Ron always gave Margaret money - usually a twenty. And if he hadn't seen her in a while, he'd give her much more. Once Margaret figured out I was friends with Ron, suddenly, she started talking to me and acknowledging Mabel - not petting, simply nodding her way.

Once, right after Ron stopped hiking, Margaret caught me moving fast on the shortcut trail, looked me straight in the eye and said, "People never give me any...."

Her pause made me nervous...Oh God, she's gonna ask me for money!

And then she finished it: "...time."

I stopped in my tracks. "How are you Margaret?"

"Not good. My skin, it burns."

It's true. Her face is so weathered and aged from the sun. I asked, "Do you have any sunscreen?"


I brought her some the next day and she thanked me and put it on.

Some exchanges with her are totally nonsensical and still others appear to have some deeper meaning. Once, after the coyotes had stood on the levy appearing to stalk Mabel and I at sundown, I was freaked and racing for the car when I ran into her. I told her my tale in a very excited voice and she listened with great concern. Then I asked her if she was afraid of the coyotes. Her answer: "No. They've always been very good to me."

Margaret keeps a regular schedule. She goes into town early in the morning and again in the evening. I see her coming home with drinks from the Jack N the Box or 7-Eleven. And bags full of junk food.

She goes to Starbucks and buys huge Venti coffees (instead of the far tastier and cheaper 7-Eleven coffee). Once I was in there with the BFF and Margaret was sitting outside drinking a coffee. I said hello before going in and sitting down. Margaret came in and ordered a refill and I felt sorry for her because people were standing back and I could feel them judging her. After placing her order, she walked past us on her way to the restroom. We acknowledged each other as she passed and then, her odor walked by on it's own two feet! Even though I've been close to her physically, I've never known her to smell bad except that day. It was nauseating and everyone was fanning their noses. The table next to us looked up to see what caused it and I couldn't resist. I pointed at my best friend across the table and said, "She did it!" (My BFF has an equally wicked sense of humor. She laughed.)

This past year, Margaret has taken to carrying that teddy bear everywhere. I often think she could carry more food if she'd leave her bear at home but he's always with her. I've seen her hold him like a baby, cradled in her arms. I've seen her hold him high in the air and admire him. I've heard her telling him secrets.

Margaret is the only homeless person with no shelter. She usually sleeps under a bush or tree and she never takes her garbage to town. Last year, during the creek cleanup sponsored annually by a local politician, they cleaned up her camp on a Saturday. On Sunday, trash night in town, Margaret dug through the trash cans of the residents nearest the creek and re-decorated.

There is no happy ending here. One of my greatest fears is finding her all alone and dead in a place we both love.


Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to her. It's good that there are a few people looking out for her when they can.

Linda@VS said...

How sad. Especially the comment that "people never give me any time." I'm sure that's true, and I'm also sure that she appreciates your acknowledgment of her.