One day last week I gave a panhandler five bucks. Something I almost never do. She was standing at an intersection in a Seattle neighborhood called Greenwood. Kitty Cat and I, having just spent $60 on birthday presents at a nearby toy store, drove past her. I couldn't catch all of what her sign said, something about "being honest" and having "two girls". I didn't care, frankly, what she'd written.
It was her face that got me. She might've been an amazingly good actress, possibly overplaying a little, but her face. Her face was crumpled. Her eyes not downcast, but sad and shocked. If it's possible for a person to look nauseated, she did.
One hand on the wheel, my other started digging through my purse. But we were two lanes away and I still wasn't sure. When our red light changed to green and I drove off, I kept looking at the woman in the rearview mirror.
I swerved right and eased us into a driveway.
"Did we take a wrong turn?" Kitty Cat asked, pronouncing it "tu-uhn."
"No," I said apologetically. "I'm going back to give that woman some money?"
"Because she looks like she needs it."
A lot of people look like they need it. But, her face.
When I reached the woman, I pulled up along the sidewalk, my tire hitting the curb. I was tempted to make a joke about it, but felt so ridiculous in my huge, sturdy car that I could not. Instead I held the five-dollar-bill out the window.
She jogged over to me and took it. "God bless you," she said. And, in that moment, my heart sunk. I felt like I'd been duped, though I can't exactly say why. Her husky smoker's voice? The life-hard-lived lines carved deeply into her cheeks (though those could come from misfortune as easily as decades of partying)? Whatever the reason, I drove home, muttering, "I don't know. I don't know if I did the right thing."
But in the end, it's only five dollars. An americano and a muffin. If there's even a possibility those five dollars bought a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter for two girls and a mom, I'm okay with it.