I had not planned life to turn out the way it had. When I was a senior in high school many years ago my thoughts had always been of making money, lots of money, and being able to live the good life of the filthy rich. Now, at age 47 I was manager of a grocery store in a run down part of the city. Not only was I not the owner, but also the title of manager was really only a cursory one. I didn’t really manage anything. I just took all the abuse from the owner and his wife if anything went wrong. But really they were good employers, and I didn’t have a problem with them most of the time.
What happened to me you might ask? Well, when I was 35 I had a nervous breakdown. It had started when I was 33. By the time I eventually had the actual breakdown my wife had left me, taking our 2 children with her. I had been diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia when I started having the first difficulties, and I was placed on medication. The medication seemed to work, but it left me feeling lethargic and lazy. So, I went through a period of time where I would quit taking the meds, and finally my wife could take my mood swings no longer. She ran to her parents, and my kids went with her. Fortunately, before I hit rock bottom and ended up living on the streets, I managed to get myself back on the meds, and I realized that it would be better for me if I kept taking them. And I had done just that for the past 12 years.
But, because of my past mental health problem I was no longer a prime candidate for promotion within the ranks of the large grocery chain I had been working for. Eventually an excuse was found that was good enough to terminate my position, and I ended up looking for work. The only position I was able to find was the one I still had, working as manager for an independent grocer who owned 5 stores. His family members ran the more prosperous stores, and I was stuck in this one, in the worst part of town.
However, my life really wasn’t all that bad. I had a good staff, and I got a lot of support. The owner and his family allowed me to donate a lot of the unsold date expired food to some of the transients in the area. A couple of these transients were pretty colorful individuals. One was Dapper Dan, a gentleman in his late 40’s or early 50’s who always dressed in a suit and tie. Admittedly you would not have wanted to stand downwind of him, but from a distance he had the air of a prosperous man. Rockin’ Robin was a chatterbox, always talking a mile a minute, and he always whistled the tune to that old 60’s song. I recognized a bit of myself in these 2 men, and I suspected that they too could turn their lives around if only they could get back on some medication. The third character was Bag Lady Annie – or Annie Bagley as she was called in the neighborhood.
I don’t know who had started calling her that, but the name had stuck. Annie had been around as long as I had. She never looked you in the face, but always lowered her head when she talked to you in her whispered birdlike voice. I don’t know if she did that because she was ashamed of the thick glasses that she wore, or if she was just afraid to look anyone in the eyes.
Every time I looked at Annie I tried to see her eyes behind the thick lenses, but the lenses made her eyes so small and tiny that I couldn’t even see what color they were. I often wondered how bad her vision was, and I also, God strike me down for this thought, sometimes wished that Annie would break her glasses so I could see how impossible it would be for her to function without them. I knew from the thickness of the lenses, and the minification of her eyes behind the lenses that this would be one blind soul without these glasses. And, when you looked at her glasses you could see how yellowed, and ancient the plastic looked, so you knew that it was only a matter of time before they broke.
Annie wasn’t any cleaner than any of the other hanger ons, nor was she any dirtier. Some days I couldn’t get too close to her because of her smell, but other days she appeared to be reasonably clean, as if she had spent the night in a shelter, and had bathed. It seemed that Annie had more than one change of clothing, because she often wore different outfits. But, even in the heat of the summer she wore an old tattered brown greatcoat, which I just knew stank to high heaven. It also hid her figure – if she had any. I tried to make sure that Anne got a little bit of food every day, as I also did for the others. Lots of times Annie would take her loaf of soon to be stale bread, and pushing her worldly belongings in the old worn out grocery cart, she would go across the street to the park, and throw pieces of bread to the birds and the squirrels as she sat on the park bench. She always talked to the animals in a low singsong voice. I though that it was touching that she shared her food with the critters.
Over the years I studied Annie’s glasses any chance I could get. By now, in mid 2005 they looked to be at least 20 years old, and the formerly clear plastic was so yellowed they appeared ready to crumble into the plastic powder they were molded from. One afternoon Annie came to the back door of the store, and I happened to be outside talking with one of the cashier’s who was taking a smoke break. I gave Annie some food, and she mumbled a thank you and headed towards the park. I often suspected that Annie could, like Rockin Robin and Dapper Dan, probably be helped if she were to take some of the same medication that I was taking, and every once in a while I got to thinking about how I could slip her a few pills on a regular, daily basis, but I could never figure out a way to do this. I had even gone so far as to talk to my doctor to see what if any side effects there were to the medication I was taking, and from what he told me I thought that even if it was not the correct pill for Annie, at least it wouldn’t do her any harm. In my mind it was a real shame that she was living on the streets, although I knew that unless she wanted to change her lifestyle there really was nothing that I could do to help her. But, I was prepared.
We heard the cries of anguish from the park even inside the store. As a passer by told us when we all rushed outside to see what the cause of the caterwauling was, two boys were throwing a football around. One boy had thrown the ball to the other, who had fumbled it.
The ball bounced out of his hand, and it hit Annie square in the face, knocking her glasses to the asphalt, where as I had suspected might happen, the plastic shattered into many small pieces, leaving only the thick plastic lenses undamaged. The anguished wails were those of Annie, who wasn’t injured, but was now unable to see a thing.
My heart went out to this lady. My life had been all messed up, but at least I had managed to get back on track, and because of my experiences I felt very sorry for anyone who was in distress. I walked over to Annie, who was still sitting on the park bench, crying and talking to herself. She had either picked the lenses up off the ground before they were stepped on, or more likely one of the two boys had done that for her.
“Come on Annie. Lets go and see if we can get your lenses put into a new frame.” I found myself saying.
“I don’t have any money.” Annie replied in a soft voice that I could barely hear.
“I know that. But you also can’t see to go anywhere, or do anything. I can’t leave you like this. I will pay for new frames, for you, and we will work something out later.” I told her.
I had put a long enough day in at the grocery store. My assistant manager had just arrived, so I explained to her that I would be leaving a bit early for the day. Then I walked Annie down the street to an optical store that was in the next block. A lady optometrist owned the optical store, and I knew they advertised that they did one-hour glasses on occasion to compete with the large chains. So, I thought that it was possible that they had a machine that could refit the old lenses into another frame.
No explanation was needed for the reason of my visit. The ladies at the doctor’s office had seen Annie around on the street for a number of years now, and the fact that I came in guiding Anne was enough for the receptionist to realize that Annie’s glasses had finally broken. I wondered if over the years the optician’s had placed any bets on how long this might have taken before this happened.
I must admit that Marsha, one of the young lady opticians was very nice and helpful. Even though Annie was pretty ripe today, once Marsha found out that I was willing to pay for a new frame, she went out of her way to see if she could find a frame that the lenses could be sized into. Any chain optical store wouldn’t have even considered doing this. Once we found a frame, and the young optician began shaping the lenses, I was also very surprised when the optometrist asked Annie if she would like to have her eyes examined at no charge. I suspected that she was doing this because everyone, herself included, was curious as to how bad Annie’s eyesight was.
Annie grudgingly accepted the offer, and she left the smelly old coat in the waiting room while she went in to the optometrist’s office. When she emerged a little later, the optometrist led her over to a seat beside me, and advised me that Annie required a sizable increase in her glasses prescription over her old lenses. I asked what Annie’s prescription was now, and the lady told me that it was –18.50 x –75 x 90 and –18.25 x – 1.00 x 90.
“Is that pretty bad?’ I asked, really not knowing.
“That is a very strong prescription. I don’t think that she has been seeing very well for quite a few years. Her old prescription is only around –15D,” replied the doctor.
“I suppose she should have new lenses then as well as new frames.” I said.
Annie mumbled that she had no money. When I told her that I would pay for the new lenses as well, she protested violently. But, I told the doctor to go ahead and order new lenses for the new frame that the optician had just finished putting Annie’s old lenses into. My bill was a lot less than I thought it would be. They had put Annie’s old lenses into the new frame for free, and they had only charged me $99.00 for the frame, and the new lenses.
Annie was agitated. She was happy to be able to see again, although I realized that she wasn’t seeing very well.
“You have to come back here to get your new lenses next Tuesday.” I told Annie.
“Can’t pay. No money. Don’t need your charity.” Annie said over and over.
“Annie, don’t be so stubborn. I have already paid the money for your new lenses, so it won’t do you any good to not have them put into your glasses. You might as well be able to see everything.’ I said in reply to her repetition.
Then Annie started to cry, tears rolling down her cheeks behind her thick lenses. I had never seen Annie without her greatcoat until that afternoon in the doctor’s office, and I realized that she didn’t have all that bad a figure. She was a little hippy, but not seriously overweight, and she had a pretty well endowed chest. And, her waist hadn’t yet begun to thicken out like a lot of middle-aged women did. Sure her hair had a lot of gray in it, and it was a bit ratty looking, but I was starting to think that if I could get her to take some of my medication for a few days, she might come around. But that smelly old greatcoat had to go.
“Annie, you have to get rid of that coat. It looks terrible, and it doesn’t smell very nice. Let’s go over to the thrift store, and I will buy you another one.” I said.
That was the wrong thing to say. That seemed to upset her even more. Then she realized that her cart with all of her possessions in it was left behind in the park, so she just walked off and left me standing there without a word of thanks. Oh well, I didn’t expect anything out of this, although a thank you would have been appreciated.
This all happened on a Wednesday. I was surprised when I received a phone call late Friday afternoon from Marsha, the optician. The lenses for Annie’s glasses had come in from the lab earlier that afternoon, and they had already sized them to fit Annie’s new frame. So, all I had to do was locate Annie, and bring her in for her new lenses. The store was going to be open late that evening, and until noon the following day. However, locating Annie at this time could be a tall order.
I had been ready to leave work when I received the call from Marsha. As I walked out the front entrance, wondering how in the world I would locate Annie, I saw Dapper Dan walking down the street.
“Dan, wait up.” I called, and I started to walk briskly towards him. “ Annie’s new lenses for her glasses are ready. Do you know where she might be?”
“”Haven’t seen her today. She might be at the mission to get something to eat in a little while.” Dan replied. “If I see her I will tell her you are looking.”
“Much appreciated Dan.” I said as I headed in the direction of the mission.
As I approached the mission I saw Rockin Robin. “ Robin, have you seen Annie anywhere? The new lenses are in for her glasses already.” I told him.
“She was talking to Sister Angelina a little bit ago. They were over that way.” Robin told me.
I headed the way that Robin had pointed. Sure enough, Sister Angelina was talking to someone I couldn’t recognize from the back. This lady had a dress on, and appeared to be more than presentable. Surely it wasn’t Annie.
As I drew closer I saw from the thick glasses that it was indeed Annie. She was dressed in clean clothing, and she even smelled like she had used some perfume.
“Annie,” I called. “Marsha phoned and your new lenses are ready.”
“They wasn’t supposed to be here until Tuesday next.” Annie said questioningly.
“Well, they came in this afternoon, and the man who sizes the lenses did them right away. We can get them tonight if you want.” I told her.
“Don’t matter to me. Been needin new glasses forever, so a little bit longer isn’t no big deal.” Annie said in a clear voice.
Actually Annie had said more words that made sense to me in just a few minutes than she had for the past 12 years. I wondered what had happened to her to bring her out of her paranoia. We left the mission, and walked to the optical store.
Marsha was still there, and when she saw Annie she didn’t comment on Annie’s cleaner appearance, although I noticed her lift her eyebrows in a quizzical little gesture. I just shrugged my shoulders. When Marsha came back and put the glasses with the new, stronger lenses on Annie’s face I could see Annie’s eyes light up, and she looked around to observe her surroundings. It was then I realized that Annie had been looking down all the time, because the ground was likely as far as she could see clearly.
We walked out of the store together. I found that I liked watching Annie, as she turned her head to see her surroundings through the center of the thick new lenses. This was probably the first time in many years that Annie had been able to see this well.
“Did you eat at the mission Annie?” I asked.
“Nope, gonna go back there now and show Sister Angelina my new glasses.” Annie replied.
“Do you want to go to a restaurant and have something to eat with me?” I asked.
Annie stared at me, her eyes minimized behind the thick lenses. “You mean you would go to a restaurant with me, a homeless person?”
“Well, you are looking exceptionally presentable, and very pretty as well, so I can’t see why it would be a problem for me to be seen with you.” I replied.
There was a lot less shuffling, and even a bit of a bounce to Annie’s steps as we walked to the restaurant together. This was no fancy high priced restaurant that we went to; it was just the neighborhood diner. Although Annie was well known to everyone inside, no one made any snide comments as we walked in, and we seated ourselves at a booth. Annie took one of the menus and tried to read it. Then she lowered her glasses a little on the bridge of her nose.
“These don’t work so well for reading.” She commented. “But it sure is nice to be able to see things clearly that are more than a couple of feet away from me again. I really want to thank you for helping me get new glasses.”
“Well, it certainly didn’t break my bank account to be able to do this for you. You really need to thank Doctor Abrahams as well though. She examined your eyes for free, and I know they didn’t charge me full price for your new glasses.”
“I will go in to see her on Monday and thank her.” Annie said.
We ordered our food, and while we waited we chatted a bit. I knew that I didn’t dare say anything that might be construed as prying, but I could no longer hold back.
“Annie, you are so different today.” What has caused this change?” I asked.
“Last night at the mission I told Dan that I had rushed off without even saying thank you to you. Dan told me that you would understand, that you had the same thing as we do, but you always take your pills.” Annie said.
Yes, that is true. I don’t know how Dan knows that, but he is correct. I have paranoid schizophrenia. Is that what you have been diagnosed with Annie?” I asked.
Yes, it is. I have had it since I was in my early 20’s. I took my pills for quite a while, but then I forgot to take them, and I just sort of drifted out onto the street. I have lived on the street now for almost 20 years.” Annie replied.
“So, what is different now? What has changed you?” I asked.
“I took one of my old pills last night, and then I took another one today.” Annie replied. “ And Sister Angelina helped me clean up, and get these clothes from the mission thrift store. I didn’t expect to see you again until next Tuesday, but I wanted to be able to say thank you for your help. And I just felt that I wanted to be presentable again.”
“Well, let me tell you that you are more than presentable. You are a very attractive lady.” I told her.
Annie blushed, but before we could say anything more, our food arrived.
I convinced Annie to come home with me that night. She slept in the spare bedroom for a while. But now when I wake up in the morning I take a pair of very thick glasses from the night table on her side of the bed, and place them gently on her face prior to her opening her eyes. She has been sharing my bed with me for a few months now. My doctor has placed Annie on exactly the same medication that I am on, and she is an entirely different person now. We are planning to be married in a month, and my employer has given us a week on a cruise ship as our wedding present.
There will be no more Annie Bagley.