MUSINGS OF A SUBURBAN BAG LADY
"Hold on right there, son. What have you got inside that bag?"
"My hand." The young man speaks so softly the police officer can barely hear him. He lowers his head, his curls swinging forward in two shoulder-length curtains that conceal his blushing face. Focusing his eyes upon the midnight shadows lacing his bare feet, he makes no attempt to slide his right hand from the paper bag.
"You will remove your hand right now and hand that bag over."
At the officer’s stern command, the youth reluctantly complies. His exposed hand is swathed in bandages, which cover the results of his absent-minded stroll through a closed sliding glass door. His face flushing still redder, he relinquishes his crumpled paper sack. The officer peeks inside. Finding it empty of the gun he’d imagined being toted, he apologizes as he lets the young man go….
* * * * * * *
Striding along my own street in bright sunlight, I smile at the memory of this story. My mental image of the empty bag dissolves as I glance down at my own bag. Mine is anything but empty. It’s bulging to the brim with used clothing, thrust at me by well-intentioned neighbors and strangers. Stray shoes and sweaters ooze from rips in its white plastic, spilling over into the wagon I use to transport my three-year-old along the street. Little Emma grins as she clutches the bag within her chubby arms. I do not. My heart begins thudding, for I see the patrol car slowing as it heads in my direction. Not again, I think as it pulls up alongside us.
"Need any help, ma’am?" This officer’s gaze at me looks more concerned than stern.
"No, thank you. I’m fine."
"We saw you walking over on Greenbrook Street last week. That’s more than three miles away from here. Where are you headed right now?"
"Uh…to the Lakeview Senior Center, right up there on Main Street. We volunteer there every Wednesday and Friday."
"Do you want a ride?"
"No, thank you. I need to be there at nine-thirty. A ride would get me there much too early."
His eyes now narrow at me with suspicion, then flick worriedly at my small daughter. "Ma’am, you sure you’ve got a place to live? You’re not homeless or anything?"
"Oh, no. It’s just that I don’t drive, you see…." I end up reciting for him my address. A real one. Satisfied at last, he lets me go—but not before asking me my husband’s occupation.
"He’s a computer programmer."
* * * * * * *
I smile as the memory returns. He is also the gentle genius who, some nineteen years before, wandered alone down moon-drenched streets with a paper bag pulled over his hand. He carried no gun; he was only unwilling to let people see the way he’d hurt himself. He grew up to program computers in an air-conditioned office, and to marry the woman neighbors have dubbed the "Suburban Bag Lady." All because she carries no driver’s license…or sense of clothing fashion within her differently-whorled brain.
We’ve both been often stopped along the streets by cops. Yet it’s not only the police who are at times too quick to draw false conclusions about us…or about anyone who may look or act a little different. We’re thankful for those friends who are willing to peek deeper into the bags we carry, and to find out what really is inside.