Sometimes, Sabo walked in to find her crying, frustrated at not being able to recall the basic facts of her life. Other times, there were moments of clarity: She knew she was an only child. And she thought that she had a son of about middle-school age.
The hospital staff had taken care of her since early October, when she was brought in dehydrated with kidney failure and a possible stroke. She had recently been in a women’s shelter in the District, but her life before that was shrouded in an impenetrable mist.
Normally, in cases in which friends and family cannot be located and a patient is unable to live independently, the hospital refers the patient to a long-term care nursing home. By November, they were ready to find one for Hawkins.
But there was something about this patient that moved Sabo to dig deeper.
“She was the nicest person,” Sabo said. “She was always happy, always so thankful. . . . I was like, okay, we need to put some more work into this. If she goes to a nursing home, it would be so sad. Her family would never know.”
Then one day, Hawkins recalled something else.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I know my mom’s address.” And she recited it, down to the Zip code.
Sabo couldn’t find a working phone number associated with the address. It seemed like a dead end. But just to be sure, hospital employees wrote a letter and sent it there.
A random shooting
For 25 years, Martha Hawkins Poole refused to move out of her home in Richmond, Calif. If she left, how would her daughter find her way home?
Other relatives didn’t like to say what they were thinking: that Pat was no longer alive, that she was never coming back.
Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, Pat had a normal childhood, according to her mother’s cousin, Diane Holmes. After her parents divorced, she lived with her mother within walking distance of aunts, uncles and cousins. She attended a university and got a job. But in 1987, three months after giving birth to a son, she was sitting in her mother’s car when she was struck in the head by a random bullet. A couple of months later, as she was recuperating, she walked out of her mother’s home.
Nine years later, she reappeared with no explanation, settling back in with her mother and son. She seemed fine, Holmes recalled, although “the smile she usually had wasn’t there as much.” Then she walked out again.
She called a year or so later from the East Coast, where her family knew no one. And then, nothing. After a while, even her son, Jovan Wright, stopped asking about her.
“She could have been cremated or buried somewhere, and we’d never know,” Holmes said.