Joan and I left St. Louis with our new bachelor’s degrees from a couple of Midwestern colleges, mine in English, hers in history, and headed to Boston. She had a brand-new 1970 Volkswagon, a graduation present from her parents. She’d been planning this move for months. I simply hopped in her car as she headed north, having broken up with my college boyfriend.

I was traveling light. In addition to my new Singer portable sewing machine, my graduation gift, I probably had a fork. Joan was more prepared, with household items, an expensive camera and some other valuables.

We got jobs right away: Joan in the Closet Shop at Jordan Marsh, me as a secretary in an old insurance agency on Water Street. I was planning on getting a teaching job as soon as I could. Her plan was to get into business. I made $95 a week and she made $90 but always had money left over at the end of the week – I never did. Perhaps her financial acuity was one of the many reasons my family figured if I was with Joan I’d be OK.

One day walking home from the subway to our apartment on Beacon Street I saw two young men. They were about my age and looked sick. One of them was having a hard time walking. His leg was bandaged. I immediately rushed to his aid. I asked them both if they were hungry. They appeared to me to be poorly nourished. “Come by our apartment tomorrow,” I said. “My roommate will be at work but I will be home and can give you some sandwiches and you can rest.” (They also appeared to be exhausted.)

I had a job interview the next day at a local school district and needed to leave late morning. As I was getting ready to go, the two men showed up at my door. I fixed them a couple of sandwiches and I said, “I have to go to a job interview but you can stay here and rest for awhile. My roommate won’t be home until after work late this afternoon.”

And I left.

Imagine Joan’s surprise when she got back to our apartment and everything of value she had was gone. Her camera, I especially remember, was gone. My sewing machine was gone.

A few days later I saw the two men on the subway. Their eyes were blank. They still looked unhealthy to me. With my sadder-but-wiser eyes, they actually looked pretty scary. I chose not to ask them what they did with my portable Singer. Or Joan’s camera.

Joan and I stayed roommates, even after I invited these thieves in who stole her things. We had, after all, known each other since eighth grade and perhaps my misguided charity came as no surprise to her. I’m grateful for that. Forty-nine years later we’re still friends. She lives in New Hampshire. We meet in Portland three or four times a year for milder adventures. These days we favor trying out hand creams at the Maine Mall.

I haven’t picked up any down-on-their-luck strangers and invited them home since this experience. I learned the hard way that helping strangers, while honorable, should not be practiced at the expense of my own safety or the loss of the belongings of my oldest and dearest friend.

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