She was holding a pillow and waiting at the bus stop. I guessed she was maybe fifteen?
It turns out she was eighteen, but only just. She’d left home a few weeks ago – soon after her last birthday when her mother got mad and tried her hurt her. “My mamma said it’s not child abuse when you’re eighteen” she said. And so she moved to Austin.
She was on her way home from dialysis when I saw her. I rolled down the window and asked her if she needed a ride? And like no good teenage-girl ever should, she smiled wide and jumped right in.
Who is your neighbor?
Three times a week – every week – K takes the public bus home from dialysis. She shows me the hard plastic port wedged under the skin in her tiny arm and tells me about the kidney transplant she had when she was eight. “It didn’t work” she says looking straight ahead. “When I got home from the hospital I didn’t get the medicine I needed, so now I need another one.”
She gets herself up well before dawn to be in the dialysis chair by 6:30am. At ten she is released from the machine to make her way back to the bus-stop. Each bus fare costs $2. She really hopes she can find a job that will allow her to work around her treatment, and one that won’t ask for any form of ID, as she doesn’t have any.
Who is lying in the road?
A week after our first meeting, I will pick K up at a Burger King on the sketchy side of town. She’ll be watching from the corner window, sipping on the small orange Fanta the store manager offered her while she waited for me to come.
“I’m sorry.” she’ll say as I hug her. “I had to get off because a man on the bus wouldn’t leave me alone. I didn’t have $2 and so I started to walk home, but I got so tired.”
She had walked four miles along the interstate in the wrong direction.
Who is your daughter?
Dialysis makes her weak. She hopes there’s something to eat back at the apartment, but doubts it. This is a problem, because she also has Lupus. It’s crucial for anyone with Lupus to have excellent nutrition, plenty of rest, and as little stress as possible. I know this. She just always knows that she’s hungry and tired.
Who is your sister?
Wendy’s restaurant is her happy place. This does not require much investigative work as she chirps: “There’s a Wendy’s!” each time we pass one by.
She patiently scrapes all the lettuce and tomatoes from her burger onto the orange tray. She can’t remember ever eating a vegetable, and the one time she tried fruit (strawberries) she threw up violently. She has vowed never to eat another fruit as long as she lives. “They make me so SICK!” she says. She carefully wraps up half the burger and all her fries to take home.
She doesn’t know her dad, and her two older step-brothers have been in and out of jail. When she was diagnosed with Lupus at age seven, her live-in aunt earmarked K’s monthly Medicaid check for things other than medical care; things like entertaining lots of different men.
Even if only half of this is true, it’s still heartbreaking.
When K turned eighteen she realized she now had legal control of her Medicaid assistance. She informed her mother and aunt that she would use the money to get consistent and proper medical treatment. They informed her she was no longer welcome in their home. They informed her by choking her.
Who is your child?
“Can I pray with you?” I said the first time I dropped her off at her apartment.
Oh God, what do I say?
“Heavenly Father. Thank you for letting me meet K today. You are so good to let us know each other. Thank you for introducing me to someone you love so much; someone who is precious and valuable and beautiful to you. Thank you for Wendy’s! And for the chance to meet a new friend and neighbor. Be with K until we meet again. Protect her tired body and anxious heart. Be very near to her in the coming days, because I know that you love her with an everlasting love. Amen.”
“Love them as yourself. For you also were slaves and foreigners. You were strangers and aliens. For I am the LORD your God who rescued you from bondage.” – God speaking to his people in the well-loved and oft-quoted book of Levicticus –
Peace to you, until we meet again.
PS. This is part one of a two or three-part story. Stay tuned…