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  • Dr. Ted Klontz

My Little Lady In Red

Updated: May 7

My Little Lady in RedRead by Ted Klontz

I was sitting in McDonald’s in Las Vegas very, very, very early on a recent Friday morning, munching on my “Big Breakfast,” deeply into the audio book I was listening to, yet again. (Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, if you’re wondering what book.)


I felt someone tapping on my left shoulder.  I looked up and saw next to me a small, very elderly, probably homeless woman. She was bent over, stooped and dressed in an extraordinarily long, bulky, red winter coat, with multiple scarves covering her head and neck. Every item of clothing was in some state of disrepair and disarray. She proceeded to ask me very kindly if I would be willing to buy her a cup of coffee. I said, “Sure.”


I reached into my pocket intending to give her some cash and realized I wasn’t carrying any. Only a credit card. I said, “Come with me,” stood up and moved towards the counter, as she shuffled along beside me. She was obviously in some pain, as I saw her wince with each step. I looked down and noticed her flip-flops were mismatched and feet badly swollen.


On the way, I asked if she wouldn’t also like something to eat. She looked up at me and said, “You would buy me something to eat?”  “Of course.”


I noticed her eyes moisten just a bit as she looked up at me. When we arrived at the counter, the clerk looked at her, then me, and I waved the credit card to assure server that she wasn’t going to get stiffed.


The woman beside me, politely asked for a large coffee with six creams and six packets of honey and some food. The clerk rang up the order and turned to go fill the order. 


Then things exploded. The lady in red became belligerent. Yelling. Threatening. Demanding. Verbally abusive. It seemed she was acting out the role of everyone’s worst nightmare of a boss, or a customer. 


Yelling at me about the food I had been eating. How could I?  Didn’t I know that food would kill me? Cursing at the clerk about her hands not being clean. She picked up some artificial sweetener and started lecturing us all on how poisonous it was.




Everyone was now a part of this drama. I kept reminding her that we had heard her and that no one was reaching for the artificial sweetener.  That the clerk put on clean gloves before she touched the food and coffee she had ordered.


I tapped my card to pay for the food, got the receipt and waited as the clerk filled the order. As my lady in red reached for the cup and the bag, I noticed how terribly swollen her little hands were. Telling the wordless story of unknown and certainly untreated health issues. I have learned since that there is a term for what I was experiencing as I looked at her feet and hands. Health professionals call it “End stage poverty.”   


I was terribly saddened. I imagined the decades of abuse and neglect she had experienced. Lord only knows the blows, the losses and the despair she has experienced. I imagined her as a little girl whose dreams had turned into this nightmare called life that she couldn’t wake up from.


I asked her if she’d like to join me at my table.  She vehemently shook her head as she screamed, “NO!!!, NO!!! NO!!!”  She took her food and went to another table.


I finished my breakfast and as I was leaving, I stopped by the table where she was sitting now with her head resting on her chest. She was so far sunken into the chair that she looked more like a bundle of clothing than a person. Barely visible.


I spoke to her; she raised her head. I thanked her for being my teacher this morning. And I asked her what her name was. She looked up at me with a blank stare and simply put her head down again.   Completely covering herself this time with one of several scarves she was wearing. 


What did she teach me? That sometimes a person gets to the point where they have to ask for help. (I’m not sure I would EVER have the courage to ask someone for help like she did me, especially a stranger.) 


That sometimes the only way to protect oneself - to survive is to “get big,” 


And though “our way of life” is good for so many, there are people for who “our way of life” consumes them.  And when we notice them, we tend to blame them, instead of being reminded of our complicity. 


One final lesson. I wish I would have asked her for her name right away. Not as an afterthought. 


As I walk away, I turn back, now she is slumped down in her chair sleeping. 


Security approaches her and forces her to stand up and move “on.”  Can’t have her ilk in the casino. 


The last thing I hear is her screaming “LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!  DON’T TOUCH ME!!!!”

And they don’t. My guess is that people in her life haven’t always honored that.


As I’m watching all of this one of the two security men approaches me and asks if I’m the one who bought her food. I said “yes.”  He said, “Please don’t do that again, you aren’t helping, you’re making things worse.”


I just shake my head and walk away, wondering, “Worse for who?”


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