Shelter from the Storm

Reaching out to Annette Montero Before the Tragedy

I knew the homeless woman crushed by a garbage truck Aug. 26 in an alley downtown. 

“Anne” was how she introduced herself to me. I let her come into my home a week before she died and take a shower. I found her a safe-ish place to sleep behind my house. I didn’t know she would die a week later. 

The day I met Anne, she was holding a metal hubcap up to the sun while sitting at the intersection by my house, at 12th and Jefferson. She smiled a trippy, happy grin at me, so I walked up and said, “Hi.” 

Anne had narrow blue eyes and a tan face deepened with smile wrinkles. She was tiny and cute with her grey hair. I asked what she was doing. She pointed to the telephone wires above, mentioning she was catching their signal. I said I was going to the store and asked if she wanted anything. Her eyes lit up. 

“Could you buy me a Coke?” She dropped the hubcap midsentence and began digging furiously in her back pocket. She ferreted out a flattened, blackened piece of paper that may have been a dollar once. 

I declined her dollar and instead moseyed on down to the corner store, grabbed a drink for her (regular Coke, plus size metal can, ice cold) and a drink for me. I delivered her Coke, and we talked a bit more before I went home. 

Around 9:30 pm, I came down to check on her before I slept. She was working frantically under the street light on something. As I came closer, I saw she was fastidiously arranging small cutout cardboard pieces onto a larger piece of cardboard, using the light from the street lamp.

“What is it?” I asked. 

“This is the economy,” she said without hesitation. I suppressed a giggle. I looked into her bin. It was an enormous collection of meticulously cleaned food wrappers and containers. 

“Anne,” I said gently, “would you like to come to my house and get a shower?”

“Is someone having a baby?” She jerked up and grinned at me in the light of the street lamp. 

“No, like a bathing shower,” I said. 

I suggested she take her important stuff with her, and I’d hold onto it while she showered. Her sleeping bag blew feathers into the air like a bubble machine. 

Days later, I read Pastor Dan Bryant’s Facebook description of the woman’s leaky sleeping bag, as she’d visited First Christian Church the day before she died. 

Anne must be short for Annette, I think. I make the connection. No one else has a bag that impressive. It was like a fucking snowstorm of feathers in my hallway. 

She took her cowboy boots off in the bathroom as I showed her the towels. Anne’s ankles were black with grime. She smelled strongly of sheep. Later, we teamed up in the dark and carried her bin together from the corner all the way back to my backyard. I wanted to protect her. It wasn’t safe for her out on the corner, exposed to any man who walks by. She was so small and so friendly. Vulnerable. 

In the morning, I went to check on her. She’d moved into the alley behind our house. In her sleep, she had both arms lifted straight in the air, one of them propped up with a paint stick. When I woke her, she immediately told me someone called the police about her in our yard. 

I started to ask if she wanted a ride to Community Supported Shelters, but she shushed me. She pulled out a quarter and balanced it on the end of the paint stick. She slowly oriented the stick with the quarter around herself, and I see she was, again, checking for a signal. 

Detecting secret signals is a sign of schizophrenia. I couldn’t get her to talk with me. I was running late. I walked home, telling myself she’ll be OK. I told myself she’s been doing this a while and, like a wild animal returning to the forest, she knew her natural way around the streets. 

I was wrong. I trusted the wilds of downtown Eugene to take care of her. They didn’t. 

I was so sad when I realized the alley victim on the front page of The Register-Guard was actually my friend who took a shower at my place. I reached out to Anne because I am Anne. Compassion is still important, every day, every hour. 

Be compassionate. I might be on my feet today, but the streets are always a few paychecks away. I reached out to Anne because we all need to be seen as human. We need someone to buy us a Coke on a hot day. We all, at some point, have needed shelter from the storm. We are all Anne.