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It was a few days before Christmas. The season of giving, as we all call it. My mother and I were driving to have lunch at a local bagel shop that we quite enjoy. It was a Sunday, coldest day of the year so far. It was -20 degrees F before wind chill.
There was a man outside the shop and as we pulled into a parking space, he asked us for money. He had a few layers on including a tan jacket without much wind protection. My mother quickly gave him some and nudged me to do the same.
She asked, "Do you have another jacket? It's freezing out here!"
He replied, "No, ma'am. I'm homeless. This is all I have."
She asked him his name and he replied Omar.
My mother shot me a look of sadness and told him we would go get him a jacket. We departed to a local mall to get him a winter jacket. We returned again, jacket and gloves in hand and gave them to him. He thanked us and my mother gave him her phone number in case he needed anything. I thought that was strange but I didn't think anything of it.
She told me to go to the dollar store to get him a toothbrush and toothpaste and I did as I was told. She went back outside and tried to find him again. She brought him into the store (which he was already banned from) and had him eat something and sit inside where it was warm. She told him we were playing a game and he seemed really out of it but I was always taught to not judge others so again, I thought nothing of it.
My father and grandparents soon arrived to eat lunch with us and looked strangely at the man my mother had invited to have lunch with us but much like me, they were also taught to not judge others so we simply sat in silence. He ate and tried to make conversation but didn't have much to talk about except where he came from and why he was homeless. He told the sob story in great detail.
"I used to live in Chicago with my brother and his girlfriend but they kicked me out and so I didn't have anywhere to go. I used what money I had to come here so I could try to get a job."
He left out the parts about getting fired from all the jobs because of drug abuse and shoplifting but we'll get back to that later.
My mother wanted to help him even more so she offered to have him work in her shop at the mall for the day. He told her that he was already banned from there as well but she shrugged and said, "If I'm employing you, they can't take you out."
I went home and didn't hear from my mother until the next day.
She called me right before a choir concert and I can remember that day just like it was yesterday. That was the day my life changed forever.
"Hi! So I was thinking, I'm at dinner with Omar and was wondering if he could stay with us for a while?"
My mind was spinning. Why the hell would she call and ask me that while he was at the table with her? I was the deciding factor between basically life and death for this man. Either he would stay at our house and be able to eat and stay warm or be left in the streets to freeze. My option was made for me before she had even asked. Mind you, he's a tall, 20-year-old African American man and I was a puny, 18-year-old white girl.
Another thought that I had was, "A while. How long is a while? A week, a month, a year?"
My mouth said, "Sure that would be fine."
My mother sounded ecstatic and quickly said her goodbyes to tell him the good news. I sat through the rest of the choir concert with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
My mother asked me if I wanted to go with her and Omar to the Mall of America and at first I didn't want to but then I told myself it could be fun so I agreed. As soon as we got there, she pulled me aside and told me Omar had a history with shoplifting so she said it was my job to watch him and make sure he didn't steal anything. I didn't know tagging along on an outing made me his baby sitter but apparently it did. It was still the holiday season so I was sure there would be swarming security anyways. Apparently my mother's warning of "if you take anything, that's it, you're going home" didn't work. The first store we went in, he took something, shoved it into a bag that he had brought with him, and ripped the security tag off. It wasn't until lunch, when he left it to go to the bathroom, that my mother talked about what we were going to do. My mom had to do a lot of Christmas shopping still so we couldn't leave yet even though that's exactly what I wanted to do.
My mother confronted him about it and he apologized so she smuggled it back into the store. He asked me, "Hey, you forgive me right?"
I told him truthfully, "It's easier to break trust than to build it and all you've done is broken my trust so no, I don't."
He still stole a few pairs of socks from the other stores we had to visit. My mother told me not to talk to him about it.
About a week later, he came back from a friend's house completely stoned. My parents have strict rules about drugs and alcohol. Basically, if you drink before you're of age, you're irresponsible and rebellious and as far as drugs went, none ever unless prescribed.
He came home stoned and smelling of alcohol. My parents talked to him the next morning but he came home a few other times the same way.
One night, while I was getting some food, he came up behind me and grabbed my waist. I jumped and grabbed my bowl of cereal almost spilling it all over the floor. That's when I knew I had to get out.
I drove to my sister's house which thankfully was only about 10 minutes away. I completely broke down about how unsafe I felt there and how I know mom and dad were trying to do something nice but it had been too long. It was past the new year and well into January before I decided to live with my sister. She, her husband, and their son were very helpful through the whole situation. I had made a list of people that I could stay with that lived near me in case I had to move again. I went home once a week to shove more clothes into a bag and if he was there, I would simply not make eye contact or show that I was even there.
After a few days of staying with my sister, I had lunch with my mother where she asked me why I was at my sister's house much. I told her that I didn't want to be at home alone with him but didn't have the courage to tell her what had happened. She was almost angry at me and even said, "I can't believe you would be so heartless to deny someone the opportunities you have."
I lost it. We were both in a restaurant, crying like it was a pity party or some shit like that. I didn't come home but my parents came to my sister's house to I think try to guilt me into coming home. We got a time set to go to my therapist and she was on my parents' side that I should go back home. She thought I was being rebellious because my mother was spending more time with him than she was with me. She didn't understand that I was worried for my basic safety.
I went back home after my parents said they were having him move out but it was still almost a month before they caught him selling drugs at the end of our driveway before finally saying he had to move on.
About a week later, on my way home from school, he was walking down the sidewalk of my neighborhood and tried waving me down. I kept driving and went back to my sister's house. I didn't think just seeing someone could trigger me to cry and shake the way he did. That crying wasn't from some irrational fear of safety, it was well founded.
Months later, I knew he was in prison and I knew he was there for some sexual misconduct charges. It wasn't until my friend Samantha sent me an article headlined "Hugo Man Sentenced to 26 Years for Raping Woman with Disabilities" that I realized how much of a bullet I actually dodged. My dad asked me to send him the article and seemed to feel bad for him. I did not.
My new therapist tells me, "There was an injustice done against you by the people you trusted to protect you and that must be difficult." I was crying of course. I shake every time I think of what could've happened but this is when I realized I'm my own person and can't rely on anyone anymore. I'm two states away now at college and even though this all took place from December 2016-May 2017, I still remember everything and know who to trust when in tough situations. Myself.