By Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor
After months of living in her car, Jaimeson could feel her mind giving way to the idea of ending things.
Every minute of every day was a battle—and though she was always a fighter, she had no fight left. Nowhere to go. No one to talk to. Nothing to live for.
Calmly and carefully, Jaimeson planned her suicide. She picked the day and the means, then began to put her thoughts on paper. Most importantly, she wanted her family to know she loved them and that she had found peace in her decision.
They Saved Each Other
“Once I’m gone, it’ll be easier for everyone,”
Jaimeson recited to herself as the day drew nearer. Her car was breaking down and so was she. But less than 48 hours from what would have been her final goodbye, her fate changed with an unexpected hello.
Across the parking lot, Jaimeson saw a tiny kitten under an abandoned shed. Always an animal lover, she got out of her car and walked to see if the kitten was okay. “The mom went looking for food but hasn’t come back,” workers told her as they prepared to tear down the shed. “There are two kittens, brother and sister. If someone doesn’t catch them, they might not survive.”
Jaimeson picked up the female kitten and carried it back to her car.
“She was matted, covered in fleas—and I was a hot mess, myself,” Jaimeson said. “But she looked at me like I was perfect, and I looked at her the same.”
That night, the kitten slept curled under Jaimeson’s chin. The next morning, Jaimeson named the kitten Bella, Italian for beautiful.
The Invisible Homeless
San Diego consistently has one of the highest homeless populations in the U.S., exacerbated to crisis levels during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, even with the visibly alarming number of homeless people downtown, many more of the unsheltered go unseen. They’re “swept” off the streets each morning and traversing the sprawling city in search of a peaceful place to sleep—beneath an overpass, in a ravine, or, like Jaimeson, in a designated safe parking lot—each night.
The feeling of being all but erased from society led Jaimeson to pile the weight of her trauma on her shoulders. She thought it would be selfish to bring others, especially her loved ones, into her struggles. Eerily unemotionally, she saw her troubled life and approaching demise simply as the results of the decisions she made. Jaimeson pulled away from friends because none of them knew her real story. She disconnected from her father and brother because she didn’t want to burden them. While each traumatic event in her past took a piece of her strength, the indescribable heartache of a broken relationship with her mother hurt Jaimeson the most—perhaps why she bonded with a kitten that needed a mother as well.
Making a Special Exception
Jaimeson knows it may sound silly to some, but Bella gave her a purpose to live when she was otherwise preparing to die. “I had lost the will to fight for myself,” Jaimeson said. “Finding and caring for a kitten—that’s a reason other than myself.”
Jaimeson and Bella became inseparable. But with her car barely making it to and from the safe parking lot and shelters turning her away whether due to the pandemic or her pet, Jaimeson was now on another brink—this time facing homelessness on the street. One organization recommended she try calling Rachel’s Women’s Center, operated by Catholic Charities, with a day shelter and separate night shelter in downtown San Diego.
“I know it’s crazy and I can’t even take care of myself, but I have this kitten I can’t live without,” Jaimeson said, to the tune of a familiar pause typically followed by an apology. Only this time, the response was different. Rachel’s takes a low-barrier approach to accepting homeless women into its shelters.
“Okay, that’s your emotional support kitten,” said Kelley, a participant turned staff member at Rachel’s. “Come by tomorrow.”
When Jaimeson arrived with Bella on her shoulder, Kelley welcomed her—and Bella—at the door. That evening, Claudia brought Jaimeson—and Bella—across the street to the night shelter.
Through Homelessness, To Housing
At Rachel’s, homeless women can access not only shelter and necessities, but also support and resources to rebuild their lives. Still, it can be a startling and even overwhelming environment for a new participant to walk into. For Jaimeson, Bella’s presence provided a warm and friendly ice breaker with the other women in the shelter, and a loyal and reliable companion by her side. With each friend Jaimeson made during her stay at Rachel’s, Bella gained an aunty.
After moving into her own pet-friendly apartment with the help of Catholic Charities, Jaimeson reflects on how far she has come from the dark place where her mind once went. Jaimeson’s turnaround started with being cuddled and loved by a kitten but hinged on being seen and accepted as a person.
“Rachel’s is a safe place for women from all walks of life who are in need of a little help,” Jaimeson said. “I’ll never forget all the people there who gave me and Bella both a second chance at life.”