She's young and attractive, has a bright, darling toddler. Although she had lived at the shelter at least a month, I'd never seen her smile.
Until Christmas week, she didn't talk to me, even looked away sometimes when I showed up on group night. She didn't sit at my table when I had dinner. Didn't even seem to interact with the other women that much. Her laconic speech and frequent scowl seemed to form a prickly wall around her.
This week, the dining room was empty. People were out shopping, visiting, taking care of holiday tasks.
As usual, I nuked my TV dinner, then sat down and listened to the unusual quiet.
A minute later, she burst in, smiling! I smiled back, said nothing. She hesitated, set her child on the floor,then visibly decided to tell me why she was happy. "This makes my day," she said, waving an envelope, still smiling. "I had a terrible day but this completely makes up for it."
"How can you tell?" I asked.
"Because it's from my best friend and I know she sent me money for Christmas. Now I can buy toys. Even if we have to stay here on Christmas, it will be a good day."
"That's great," I said. And I meant it.
Arriving at the shelter in every kind of pain means suddenly having to deal with noise, other cultures and languages, kids being kids, many rules, and limited personal space.
Some woman protect themselves by pulling back until they get used to having more freedom, making everyday decisions for themselves, and feeling safe enough to trust someone.
This young woman seemed to keep herself together by protecting her space with a frown, speaking more from necessity than social interaction, and not reaching out to others' children, at least when I was there.
Then her best friend showed her she was not forgotten and still loved and she felt safe enough to reach out to me.
I feel blessed I was around when she did, glad that I was the only one in the room when she exploded with joy.
I cherish small miracles and this made my day.