"I'm living in an apartment with this guy near -------- .," she tells me after I asked.
"Is it safe?" is my first question.
"No," she says without pausing. "Not really, but it's what I've got for now."
Her voice lowers to whisper and she reminds me of the health condition combo that currently excludes her from staying in any shelter. "It's not their fault," she says with resignation in her voice, "but it's not my fault either. Either way, I can't sleep in the cold so I'm in with him for the winter."
She adds, "we're not having sex or anything like that. He's just a loser."
I nod to assure her that I'm hearing her, wondering what she is editing for my benefit.
"I went to [a shelter] cuz they say I got mail. I thought it was from my Mom, but it's just bills."
I shake my head sadly, but she laughs and repeats the line like a punchline to a great joke, "just bills!"
"She did by me these boots though. My Mom did," she points down and I see that she is wearing North Face Boots. I am relieved. Two fewer frostbitten feet in the ER this winter.
"My family that's how they buy me. Clothes. They buy my love with clothes," she is half joking but her lip trembles.
"No. That's how they protect you from freezing to death out here," I point out. "They do love you." Her face breaks into a smile, although her mouth is still shaking. "Yeah, I know," she answers, and busies herself with the donut wrapper, which needs to be folded up.
She looks good, better than she did when I saw her last. Sober, I think to myself, with a bit of surprise. She has a little bit of makeup on, just foundation and some mascara. She got glasses somewhere and they frame her face well. She's wearing a wool coat, a knit cap and the boots. All, I imagine, gifts from her mother and brother.
On the way home I am struck thinking about her coat and boots. I have really similar boots, just as new as hers, actually. My mother bought them for me for Christmas. Incidentally, my mother also bought my new puffy down coat because she was sick of watching me layer sweatshirts underneath my denim jacket all winter long.
I wonder about her mother, whom I have never met and probably will never meet. I can not begin to imagine how different her situation must be from my own. Her mother sends her checks to the shelter. I take my mother out for lunch on Fridays. And yet...I can't get the image of boots and coats out of my head.
Boots and coats, carefully chosen and paid for. Laid into boxes, or folded into bags. Gifts from women who otherwise might have nothing in common except that they can't stand the thought of their daughters being cold or wet if they have anything to do about it.