“She came to our front door Tuesday morning, dressed in dirty rags, holding a little aluminum paint can in her arms.
From the second she stepped inside our shelter, she mystified us. Whatever she did, wherever she went, the paint can never left her hands.
When Kathy sat in the crisis shelter, the can sat in her arms. She took the can with her to the cafeteria that first morning she ate, and to bed with her that first night she slept.
When she stepped into the shower, the can was only a few feet away. When the tiny homeless girl dressed, the can rested alongside her feet.
"I’m sorry, this is mine," she told our counselors, whenever we asked her about it. "This can belongs to me."
"Do you want to tell me what’s in it, Kathy," I’d ask her? "Um, not today," she said, "not today."
When Kathy was sad, or angry or hurt--which happened a lot--she took her paint can to a quiet dorm room on the 3rd floor. Many times on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, I’d pass by her room, and watch her rock gently back and forth, the can in her arms. Sometimes she’d talk to the paint can in low whispers.
I’ve been around troubled kids all my life, (over 43,000 homeless kids will come to our shelters this year!). I’m used to seeing them carry stuffed animals (some of the roughest, toughest kids at Covenant House have a stuffed animal). Every kid has something-needs something - to hold.
But a paint can? I could feel alarm bells ringing in my head.
Early this morning, I decided to "accidentally" run into her again. "Would you like to join me for breakfast?" I said. "That would be great," she said.
For a few minutes we sat in a corner of our cafeteria, talking quietly over the din of 150 ravenous homeless kids. Then I took a deep breath, and plunged into it....
"Kathy, that’s a really nice can. What’s in it?" For a long time, Kathy didn’t answer. She rocked back and forth, her hair swaying across her shoulders. Then she looked over at me, tears in her eyes.
"It’s my mother," she said.
"Oh," I said. "What do you mean, it’s your mother?" I asked.
"It’s my mother’s ashes," she said. "I went and got them from the funeral home. See, I even asked them to put a label right here on the side. It has her name on it."
Kathy held the can up before my eyes. A little label on the side chronicled all that remained of her mother: date of birth, date of death, name. That was it. Then Kathy pulled the can close, and hugged it.
"I never ...
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