“Something kept, or to be kept in memory of the giver”
I love keepsakes. The ones I treasure most are from my three sons and my grandchildren… hand-made cards, drawings, dried-out bits of flowers, weeds, and rocks picked up and brought to me by small hands and big smiles—and all the cards they’ve given me for Mother’s Day or my birthday. They warm my heart. But there’s a worn-looking tube of lipstick on the windowsill in my kitchen window that I keep for the same reason. It warms my heart. I’d spent years working with homeless people and years helping to develop policies and programs to help them, but I’d just begun volunteering at the community breakfast my church serves to homeless and other hungry people. The crowd that morning was quieter than usual, probably because Robert was leaned up against a wall, screaming and cussing everything and everybody, especially women. I’d been warned that he was a mess, but it struck me that nothing he was screaming made sense—just garbled words with lots of cuss words mingled in. One of the volunteers settled things down by bringing him a double “to go” box and he left, mumbling a tangle of words that made no sense at all to me, except for the cuss words, which were very clear, but disjointed.
It was really cold the next Sunday (and I was 99% sure that Robert was sleeping on the streets) so I put a blanket in the trunk of my car and took it to the church. He was sitting on the floor in the hall with his legs straight out in front of him, mumbling. I leaned over and told him that I’d brought a blanket for him and asked him if he wanted me to get it out of the car. He let loose with a string of cuss words, but somewhere in his garbled rant, I heard him say “Buy me some cigarettes!”
“I can do that,” I said, and he stopped dead still. “I mean it,” I said. “I don’t smoke so I don’t have any with me but I’ll bring you some next week.” He still wouldn’t accept the blanket but he stopped cussing us that morning. The next week, I took him a few cigarettes and a cheap lighter. “I’ll bring you some more next week,” I said, and then told him that I still had the blanket if he wanted it. He didn’t even answer. He was so happy to get a few cigarettes and that cheap lighter that I had to chase him down with a “to go” breakfast as he rushed outside to smoke.
I took cigarettes to him for a few weeks, slightly increasing the number every week until I’d worked up to a pack. Then I told him that I had somebody I wanted him to meet who could help him a lot more than I could, that she was really nice, and I’d like for him to let her help him too. He liked her immediately, especially since I’d given her a pack of cigarettes to give him, but also because she was kind and cute and the right color and told him that she could help him if he’d let her. It cost me another pack of cigarettes but he went to see her at the mental health center that week and then I didn’t see him for several weeks. During all the time I’d worked to earn his trust, he’d never talked to me. Just nodded in response to whatever I said. I still don’t know what his diagnosis was but I’ve since learned a lot about autism and that may well have been his problem. Whatever it was, it interfered with his ability to express himself verbally.
A few weeks later he came back to the breakfast, wearing clean clothes and looking much, much better, all of which I attributed to the help he was getting at the mental health center, which apparently included meds and housing. A miracle in my book.
That morning, he just stood quietly in a corner and when the crowd had cleared out, he motioned to me with his forefinger to come over where he was, much like a little boy would. When I walked over, he dug into his pocket, pulled out the tube of lipstick and offered it to me. It wasn’t “my color” and it had already been used and looked like it had been dug out of a trash bin. But I treasure that tube of lipstick and that’s why I keep it in my windowsill.
What’s in yours?