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A Day In The Life Of Peggy MAG
It was the happiest time of Margaret Filmore's life. A tall man with dark eyes framed with round, wire-rimmed glasses picked up little, blond Peggy and swung her around. Together the two looked out on the aquamarine Caribbean sea from a magnificent cruise ship. The Princess Margaret was the most elegant, highly acclaimed, majestic ship in her class. To her passengers she boasted fabulous food, exciting entertainment, and luxurious accommodations. Leonard Filmore, the owner of the Princess Margaret, had gone into the cruise business in the late 1930s. While most of the U.S. was trying to pick itself out of the depression, there were a few wealthy families who were prospering. The Filmores were doing tremendously well. In 1949, Leonard had a wife, a beautiful six-year-old daughter, and a business that was bringing in millions. Peggy, though young, could sense her parents' happiness, and that made her happy, too.
"Miss, I'm afraid I have to ask you to leave now. The station is going to be opening up in a few minutes."
Peggy awoke from her pleasant childhood dream with a start. She looked into the man's face from her sprawled position on the floor of Grand Central Station, and nodded.With some trouble, Peggy struggled to her feet, brushed off the newspapers that had been her bed the previous night, and started to push the shopping cart with her belongings toward the women's room. Inside, she took a good look at herself. Peggy looked anything but the forty-seven years she was. Her hair was prematurely grey; there were dark rings under her eyes; and wrinkles creased her forehead, eyes, and chin. She was skinnier than a stray cat, and her clothing was a mismatched disarray of things she had found, taken, or been given at the church. Peggy turned and waited in line for the toilet among twenty other homeless women. Grand Central Station involuntarily housed thousands of homeless New Yorkers from the cold, dangerous streets. Many didn't bother to find toilets, but Peggy still had some pride left. She also never begged; she rooted through garbage cans for food and went to the soup kitchen at the First Episcopalian Church of New York for dinner. Even though Peggy didn't have a home to sleep in, or a job, or enough to eat, she felt that if she could just hold onto what was left of her dignity, she could survive.
Things started to get worse the year Peggy turned twelve. In 1955, no one seemed to want or be able to afford trips on the Princess Margaret. She was getting old and was in need of repair, and Leonard Filmore just wasn't getting back the money he was putting into her. To top it off, Leonard had made some serious financial mistakes that were costing him a great deal. Finally it got so bad that he had to file for bankruptcy and the bank got the Princess.
Leonard was heartbroken. The ship had been his pride and joy, and giving it up did terrible things to him. He started to drink too much and would get furious at the littlest things. His anger was directed toward Mrs. Filmore and Peggy. Mrs. Filmore couldn't stand it anymore and left, never to return. Peggy turned to drugs and the streets of New York. She ran away at fourteen.
Pedestrians walking along the east side of Central Park hardly noticed the shabbily dressed, huddled figure of Peggy. She was used to this and concentrated her efforts on trying to keep warm in the crisp November weather. Winter was inevitably on the way. Today, like most days, she spent the long hours watching the children, joggers, walkers, bikers, and lovers happily going on with their lives. Sometimes, one of the regulars would recognize Peggy and smile, or say good morning, or give her some money, but mostly, everyone ignored her. Today was no different. For the thousandth time, Peggy thought, What's wrong with me? Where did I go wrong? No one cares
It was nearly one o'clock, and her breakfast had consisted of only a drink of water from the station water fountain, and half a banana someone had discarded in the trash. There wasn't much she could do about her hunger, so Peggy pushed her cart over to a secluded bench where she lay down and closed her eyes.
Peggy had led a fairly sheltered childhood. Her father had made sure that she had everything she could want or need. There were servants to wait on her, and Peggy was tutored at home. As a result, Peggy lacked the skills needed to survive and find a job. But, what got Peggy fired from all her jobs time after time was her inability to deal rationally with other people. At twenty-six, she was working nights as a cocktail waitress at a smoky club in downtown Manhattan. Peg's boss finally fired her because she got in a fist fight with a customer whom she felt hadn't given her a big enough tip. After that, Peggy gave up on everything: work, life, and even speaking. It was her way of punishing God and the world for her misfortunes.
Peggy awoke as the sun was setting. Almost everyone was gone from the park; no sensible New Yorker would stay in Central Park after dark for fear of being mugged. It was different for Peggy, though. She had nothing anyone would want to steal, and no one had any reason to kill her , even if they did, it was unlikely that anyone would notice. So, Peggy felt no fear as she walked through the darkened park in the direction of the Episcopalian Church. Every night the church fed dinner to hundreds of homeless and gave them clothing, subway tokens, and other donated necessities.
Dinner was the high point of Peggy's day. It was the one time when she could warm up, eat a healthy dinner, and be treated like a human being. All those years on the streets had stripped Peggy of hope, happiness, and feelings except a little pride, a sense of survival, and a great deal of anger and frustration. The volunteers gave Peggy just enough hope to carry on, to see the next day, to survive.
That November day was no different from many others. After dinner, she would take a subway back to Grand Central where she would spend the night, and in the morning the man would come tell her that she must leave. She would go to the park, then to the church, and then the cycle would begin again. That particular day was just one out of many days, weeks, months, years - a day in the life of Margaret Filmore. n
*** Author's Note ***
Although Peggy was created by my imagination, homelessness is not, although I wish it were. There are millions of homeless in our country, whom we cannot deny. I decided to write this story after I went into Boston on New Year's Eve. While my family was having a wonderful time watching the parade and viewing ice sculptures, I must have seen twenty homeless people. It was bitterly cold out and I thought, what if I didn't have a house to go home to? On the subway heading to a restaurant for dinner, a man shouted "Happy New Year!" to everyone. We all replied, "Happy New Year" and the man smiled. Several hours later on the subway, I noticed the same man talking to himself. My mother explained that he was probably homeless and was just riding around on the subways. This really made me think how lucky I was and darkened an otherwise joyful evening.