We’ve all seen her around Westport: the woman with the limp. We see her on the Post Road; at the Y; in the library. Some of us wonder if she’s homeless; others of us can’t imagine that anyone here does not have a home.
Some of us think about her after our eyes lock for a few seconds. Others of us try to forget.
An “06880” reader thinks about her — and more. He’s spoken with her a few times; now he writes eloquently about her. Here’s what he says:
Her name is Tina. She has long, graying blonde hair in a neat bun on the top of her head. “It keeps me warm at night,” she says. “I don’t need a hat.”
Her eyes are brown, flirting with too many questions but clear and precise at the conveyance of a $20 bill. She wears 5 layers of clothing in the cold, and shows off her leather coat insulated by rabbit fur.
“It’s new, too. Nobody else has owned it,” she remarks proudly. “I bought it when I had money.”
She wears sandals with several socks. “The boot place down there,” she points aimlessly in the direction of Main Street, “promised me some boots when it snows.”
Tina has no money, no address, no driver’s license and no home. “I had an apartment last winter but I don’t trust any of the landlords in this town,” she confides.
Where does she live? “Oh, I can’t tell you that,” she says in an upbeat mood. “That is where I keep all my stuff.” Malone Refuse workers have found her sleeping in their dumpsters.
When you first meet this 50-something lady, she is shy and removed. She continues to walk past you, head to the ground, limping on her right leg. When you mention money, her mood changes and she talks a blue line.
“I used to live in Hawaii, then California and well . . . all over, you might say.” She is coherent, with no smell of alcohol on her breath. Tina says she grew up here, and was a member of the Staples Class of ’71. The yearbook does not substantiate her claim.
“I went to the old Staples,” she says, “when it was down by the water.” The dates are wrong. You don’t correct her.
Her luck turned bad when her brother and mother died, according to her story. One tries not to judge, but her saga is full of contradictions. At our second meeting, a long coat and fur hat I found in the basement are rejected.
“If I walk into Oscar’s in that hat, they’ll throw me out and that coat has a satin lining. No way, brother!” We talk more.
What about the shelter? “I have a cat. They won’t allow me to stay there with my cat.” There is no evidence of a pet, but that is her story.
“I’m afraid of when the snow comes,” she smiles. “I don’t mind the cold. It’s the snow that gets you.”
You mean like dying? “Yeah. That’s crossed my mind,” she says. A rasp accompanies her chuckle.
A call to Town Hall reveals true compassion. “We know about her,” says coordinator Terry Giegengack. “But we really can’t go into the particulars for privacy reasons.”
There is a place for her to stay. “Tina doesn’t want any part of the indoors. They’re called ‘campers’,” Terry explains. “They like their lifestyle. They don’t like to be confined.”
When Tina is told that the Town of Westport has a place for her to live, she replies: “What, in a insane asylum?” I assure her it is not. “Then I should check it out. Next week maybe.”
When the topic of homeless Tina is brought up at a dinner party where lobster is served the following night, the reaction is mixed. Two seem uncomfortable with the topic. One asks: “What’s wrong with her?” I have no answer. Interest fades.
An elderly woman comments, “it’s sad that in Westport we have this problem.” My first reaction is that homelessness is only a “problem” for those without a home, but I stuff another bite of lobster down without comment.
Tracy says there are only “4 or 5” people like Tina, who have no place to live in this town. She uses the word “campers” again, like they’ve lost their RV.
I see Tina a 3rd time — sneaking out of the YMCA. “You know sometimes, they let me take a shower there,” she says proudly.
It was cold last night — in the 20s. I keep the conversation moving as, for some strange reason, I feel uncomfortable around this woman.
“I do okay. The wind died down. I’m okay.” It’s supposed to snow tonight, I say.
“Oh, my, then, I need to get over to Town Hall, shouldn’t I?” she remembers.
I hand her a $20 bill. “Thank you, I’m starving. I’m going to Oscar’s to get something to eat.”
But she walks the opposite way.