S2: Episode 36 - Helen

Episode Information

[Intro Music]

Narrator:  Welcome to Hunger and Resilience, narrative histories about the complexity and experiences of hunger. A traveling exhibition and weekly podcast edited and hosted by Michael Nye, supported by the San Antonio Food Bank, Eric Cooper, executive director. We are grateful for the honesty and eloquence of every voice. Episode 36, Helen.

Helen: My life Blood, my energy was totally disrupted by the accident. A big truck comes around the curb and my last thought was, my God, he’s not stopping. And he didn’t. He hit me full force from the rear. And the flash of that second to where I woke in the hospital, my whole life changed. Within six months, I didn’t have a job. I was not physically able to continue making pottery. I didn’t have any money left to pay rent, and I was living in my car. So I pulled into a motel parking lot and spoke to a woman that, uh, they called her the bag lady. And I said, I am sleeping in my car. Where would be a safe place? And that was my first contact, uh, verbally with someone else that was homeless.

I grew up in a farmhouse with lots of family security. My father played the guitar, my grandfather, the violin. When the sun would go down and the work was done, and we were in our backyard and we danced in the grass and twirled around. It was magical. The breeze, the air, the moon, the sweetness of the smells that come from the earth. When you try to sleep at the shelter, it felt like you were in jail. I met so many desperate people, so much pain and agony. There were women with children desperate. There were knives, uh, children beaten, things stolen, just outta control. You did get meals, you could shower. You had to waited in line naked and went in. I realized that here was an agency trying to help, but the demand was beyond what they could handle. While having been successful as a, as an artist and being able to have a home and a family, and then to wind up trying to deal with life moment by moment, finding food, having people look at you like you’re less than human and like you should be carted away and removed. You, you want to shake them and look in their face and say, do you have any idea who I am? And you wanna tell ’em everything. And, but you can’t.


I’ve had many times where I’ve had no food at all. I’ve had times when I’ve gone into the grocery with my purse and stole a bag of baloney. How do you explain that? How do you explain it? Getting up the courage to walk in and do it. Being so hungry, you know, wanting a glass of orange juice, but knowing you can’t get it. It destroys your will. You look in the mirror and you don’t know who you are, you’re a creature people want to look away from like a dog that’s covered with dirt in a ditch. You know, he is there. You heard him whine, but rather than try to do something about it, you hurry away. I would say I’m more desperate now in my existence than I ever have been before today. I slept as long as I could because on waking my mind’s going to travel to the same place thinking I’ve already used my $46 for food stamps this month. I have a half a loaf of bread. And then you dream about eating in a restaurant to pretend that, uh, everything is okay. I am okay. So you, you dream. You hope.

[Outro Music]

Host: Helen’s story is tragic, heartbreaking, desperate. My assistant, Mark Menjivar and I shared her story and connected her with relief and food organizations. Helen talked about her childhood. I grew up on a farm with lots of family and security. My father played the guitar and sang and my grandfather the violin. When the sun would go down and the work was done, we danced in the grass, we twirled around. She said it was magical, the breeze, the air, the moon, the sweetness of the smells that come from the earth. Helen’s story is one of gradual loss due to an injury. She said I was unable to work at all and didn’t have adequate health insurance to pay for my medical expenses. She told me I never in my life never, never, never could imagine being homeless. I was successful. And now I have to deal with life moment by moment. Helen’s last words in her narrative are “you dream and you hope.” Thank you, Helen, for sharing your difficult story, for your courage, your wisdom, and your presence. These stories are about our shared fragility and our shared humanity. I’m Michael Nye. You can go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast for portraits and transcripts. Thank you for your generous listening.