Lunch with Joyce This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 23, 2009
Today I was at the mall waiting for friends, when a lady wearing a knit hat and a sweater came up to me and, shivering, said, “I’m homeless. Would you mind buying me some food?”

In that split second, everything I’d learned since kindergarten flashed through my mind. Don’t talk to strangers … Be a good citizen … People will take ­advantage of you … Treat others as you wish to be treated … The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return … I guess love won the debate. “Sure,” I said. “What would you like?”

She thought and then said, “I’d like to get Chinese food.” We headed upstairs. On the way she told me about when she was a teenager. She remembers taking pictures for the yearbook with her best friend. She was in the band and played basketball. She got good grades and was a good student.

She ordered soup, an egg roll, white rice, and pepper chicken. I would normally think that was a lot, but she had probably barely eaten in the last few days. I got my usual – lo mein and General Tso’s chicken.

As we ate, we got to know each other. She asked if I played any instruments. I replied that I played the violin, cello, and guitar. She told me she played the flute, piano, guitar, and violin. In the middle of our meal, I realized something. And she thought of it at exactly the same time.

“So, what’s your name?” she asked.

“I’m Claire,” I said, startled at our exact same thought. “What’s yours?”

“Joyce,” she said with a smile.

We continued talking, and she asked my favorite subjects in school and if I wanted to go to college. “Hopefully,” I replied. “I’m interested in nursing.”

“I went to college for nursing,” she said.

I was taken aback. How could we have so much in common? Was she pretending so I’d feel sympathy for her? But her eyes were genuine as she said this.

Meanwhile I was eating my lo mein, picking around the cabbage and the other vegetables. Joyce said, “If you don’t like it you can take it back.” I told her that I liked it, but was not fond of the vegetables. She broke into a big grin. “You don’t like vegetables, huh? Neither did I. But now I do.” I immediately felt guilty. How could I be picking at my food across from someone who barely gets to eat at all?

I tried my best to finish, but she seemed to sense my guilt and said, “You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want it.” How could she know what I was feeling? I told her the dish was my favorite, but I just eat slowly.

She replied, “I used to like lo mein, but pepper chicken was my dad’s favorite, so I get that now.” Noticing that she used the word “was,” I assumed her dad had passed away. I found it sweet that she gave up her favorite in order to honor her dad.

She asked why I was at the mall.

“I’m waiting for friends. We’re going to see ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,’” I replied, stumbling over the words a bit.

“‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,’” she echoed in awe. “What’s that about?” I realized that she didn’t see commercials for movies.

I explained the basic plot and she chuckled. “A man who is born 80 years old and ages backwards! That sounds interesting.”

She got up to get a to-go box. “Would you like one?” she asked, but I refused. I realized that this food would probably last her for a few days, and I was glad she had ordered a lot.

“Would you like these?” I asked, gesturing at the food I had left untouched. “Oh, no, thank you,” she said. “This is enough.” I got up to throw my tray away, feeling guilty about wasting so much.

“I need to meet my friends now,” I explained. “It was so nice to meet you, Joyce.”

“You too, Claire,” she replied with a smile. “Thank you.”

I headed to the theater, and she went back downstairs. It sounds like a perfect coincidence, but I can’t help but think that some force compelled us to meet. I kept puzzling, Why is Joyce homeless? It seems so unfair. She shouldn’t need people to buy her dinner. She was a nurse. She got good grades. She took pictures for her yearbook. She was the person I hope to be in the future. What went wrong? How could such a good life be rewarded with horrible luck?

I feel lucky to have run into Joyce. She changed my outlook. She is still a wonderful person, despite what the world has done to her. I wish her the best, and can only hope that the force that brought us together will help her find what she deserves in life.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Join the Discussion

This article has 45 comments. Post your own now!

mbk123 said...
Mar. 11, 2015 at 10:50 pm
This article made me so happy
ConstanceContraire said...
Mar. 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm
Wonderful style of writing i really enjoyed reading it :D
praveenbryonadamrocks said...
Oct. 2, 2011 at 1:49 am
Had you meet Joyce after that???
tippytoetapper This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 2, 2011 at 10:14 am
No, I haven't seen her since this was written.
JusticeLiberty said...
Aug. 21, 2011 at 11:57 am
This is so magnificant and so inspiring! Keep writing!
Gryffindor94 said...
Mar. 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm

This is the first story I have read from teen ink and I really like this story

I was tearing up when I read this story. I really hope Joyce all the best

Iluvvampirediaries said...
Jan. 11, 2011 at 5:05 pm
I teared up a bit this piece is magnficent.I'm so happy you won a part in the nagizine. Very nice job!!! :)
haha4579 said...
Jan. 6, 2011 at 7:37 pm
This story was amazing! It touched me too and I wish I could do something to help her out! I loved every bit of it! :)
maximum.ride211 said...
Aug. 9, 2010 at 9:02 pm
that was a great story! it is very terrible what the world thinks is fair, but she sounds like a wonderful person =) i hope she finds a job and home soon
Bebe said...
Aug. 9, 2010 at 5:38 pm
It is not at all unusual to see highly educated victims of destructive disorders like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.  I hope the writer and others will consider volunteering for groups like NAMI--National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. You'll be rewarded once again for  your good work and kind thoughts! 
tippytoetapper This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 9, 2010 at 5:43 pm
She actually did not appear to have any kind of mental disorder or any social problems. She just seemed to have terrible luck, but a spirit that could not be broken.
Bebe replied...
Aug. 9, 2010 at 5:48 pm
You may be correct, of course. I've learned from experience, however, to keep in mind that many who are afflicted, actually don't "look like they have mental problems"--they may seem okay but because of their recurring symptoms--controlled by meds if they are compliant--they've often alienated family and employers and find themselves homeless.
tippytoetapper This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 10, 2010 at 9:19 am
It's true, mental illness is without a doubt the scariest medical condition I could imagine having. It's terrifying to think that a lifetime of doing the right thing and being successful can be jeopardized by a mental illness. If anything my unprofessional diagnosis was wishful thinking in hope that she is healthy and is not burdened with more than I initially heard.
Janett said...
Aug. 9, 2010 at 5:24 pm
This is the first story i read here, & i think it's great! You have such a great potential, thanks for sharing :)
Joyce said...
Aug. 9, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I enjoyed this article very much! I love stories where one incident or one person can change your whole perspective on life and society. It was very thoughtful of you to talk to her and eat with her. 

Nice writing with a simple and sweet dialogue.

Ramona.T. said...
Aug. 9, 2010 at 3:23 pm
this, i have to say, made me tear up a bit. this is so sweet, and i felt the emotions and i was able to visualize this. this was a great essay 5 stars(:♥
ChrissyPeaceHall said...
Aug. 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm
This is the first piece I have read of teeninks in quite awhile. This caught my attention. It was definitely something worth reading and very helpful in...inspiration. I've been working on finding places to volunteer, and this was very motivating.
Griffinwing said...
Aug. 9, 2010 at 11:19 am
Sweetness. It's so refreshing to hear somebody write about a touching, reach out experience for a change!
Caitlyn_ilovesoftball said...
Aug. 9, 2010 at 10:58 am

This was AMAZING!!!

I gave 5 stars after just readig the top half, i know i shouldn't but i just loved it that much, but dang, i wish i knew what happen to joyce.  I hope she will be alright!!

****GREAT JOB!!!!

strawberry_autumn said...
Aug. 9, 2010 at 10:05 am
Lovely piece, very heartfelt and full of emotion, and made me want to know and do more.  Any writer who can elicit an emotional response, a desire to learn more, or the inspiration to help is a successful writer.  Despite the naysayers and their ignorance of how things are changed when submitted for publication, you should be proud of your work.  You have done well. :)
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