In the library bathroom today, the smell hit me even before the door was fully open. At the sink, a homeless woman was brushing her teeth. I slid past her, avoiding her gaze, V in tow.
While in the stall, V counted squares of tile on the floor, all while I murmured, That’s great, and, Okay, yes, but please don’t touch the floor.
We exited and saw that the woman had left her toothbrush on the counter. It seemed lonely in its bright white and green plastic against the grimy bathroom counter.
The door handle was residually wet as I pushed on it with my hand.
In the corner near the door, half-hidden under the stairwell, was the woman, obscured behind blonde frizzy hair that trembled as she turned away from me.
“Hi–” I said.
“Just get away from me!” she seethed.
“Oh,” I said, stammering since I hadn’t been expecting that, “but I just–”
“You and your fucking kid and so many other people are chasing me everywhere!”
“I’m not chasing you, I just wanted to say–”
She held her hand up and kept her face turned from me. “Yes, you are. You and your kid and everyone else. Just get away from me, I already had to stop because you came in!”
I shook my head. “I just wanted to say that your toothbrush is on the counter,” I finally managed.
“Of course it is! It’s there because you barged in on me, chasing me like everyone else! I’m already crying, now just get away from me!”
At the same time, V happened to be walking out the front door, toward the parking lot, and that’s already ended badly for me once.
“I’m not chasing you–”
“Get the fuck out of here,” she said, meeting my eyes at last. Nostrils flaring. Fight or flight mode fully engaged.
The risk of continuing to argue with this woman, to help her, was not worth losing my kid to a car driving too fast. So I left.
I thought about her the whole way home. My hand seemed the carry the dampness she’d left on the door handle.
She had been young. Late thirties? My age. Maybe, with a bath and blow dry, even pretty. Eyes flaring hatefully cold against me. What had turned her so against other people, that one couldn’t even let her know she’d left her toothbrush on the counter?
Other people, surely.
But what else? Drugs? Tragedy?
I couldn’t imagine.
I felt simultaneously angry for her rebuffing my help (which wasn’t really help, in the end), and also guilty for the things I call my “problems” — not enough money to live in a big house, or to shower my loved ones with extravagant Christmas presents, not enough time to luxuriously write in a coffee shop, my daughter needing me as constantly as she does.
Not really problems, after all.