Stopped at Merl's Diner for breakfast this morning. It is getting to be a habit that I can't really afford. Was eating my breakfast and sipping my orange juice as I read this month's Model Railroader. Clara came walking in and took a seat at my booth. It was good to see her.
"That sleeping bag keeping you warm?" I asked.
"Almost too warm," she replied. "I started sweating last night."
It got down to 42 degrees last night -- the coldest night of this new fall. Perfect football weather for tonight I noted. I carefully looked over Clara and noticed the blue bags of skin under her eyes. She looked so tired and seemed threadbare.
"I emailed that women's shelter in Columbus and they said they have a bed available," I told her.
"I know," Clara said. "But I will give up my freedom to live there. Everyone I know lives here in the Valley and all my family is here."
"It is going to get really cold next month."
"I'll survive," she said unenthusiastically as if she wasn't sure of herself.
I ordered Clara some breakfast and we sat and talked for awhile longer. She told me tales of her childhood growing up in Birmingham, Alabama.
"I was so strange as a child," she told me with a weak smile.
"Me and you are a lot a like except for our gender differences."
Me saying that really perked Clara up and she felt she had finally found someone who understood her.
We finally finished our meals and I paid. As I was walking out the door, Clara turned to me to ask if I would give her a ride to Columbus and the Rescue Mission. And I said I would.
"Only as a last resort," Clara said with a fierce determination as she left me to walk back to the shopping center to drink beer and smoke cigarettes.
I can't say I don't blame her. Those missions are dire places to be -- full of desperate people at the end of their ropes. I wish I had a magic wand I could wave to change Clara's life, but I don't. All I can offer is a car ride to an even more oppressed life than she lives.