Emphysema makes Nancy Peck speak in a husky, sotto voce.
“And I've never smoked, either,” she whispers, not exactly bitterly, but not exactly resigned to her fate, either. Her primary worry, when CityBeat caught up to her, was the whereabouts of her new boyfriend, who had left an hour ago for “the store.” She waited for him, sitting on the sidewalk outside Civic Center Plaza on Third Avenue.
Peck, 54, hasn't slept indoors for a year and a half, not since she drove to San Diego from Salt Lake City to attend the funeral of her then-boyfriend. She spent her last dollars on fuel, hotel rooms and food. Without gas money, she couldn't get back to Utah and, eventually, she says, the city towed her car because it was parked in one place for too long.
At some point in her past, Peck left her two children—then 13 and 17—with her mother. It's hard to get her to talk about the details, largely because she's distracted amid her boyfriend's absence. She mentions something about her mother, who she thinks is 81 now, being furious when Peck didn't come back to pick up the teenagers. She's tried to call her mother, but the phone number for the Florida house no longer works.
She says she was a practicing nurse back in Utah, specializing in homecare until 2005, when she was hit by a motorcycle. Walking with a cane and unable to work, she relied on her boyfriend's disability checks to pay for necessities. What savings they had was consumed by his funeral and her travel to San Diego.
Peck's body reveals the degradations that come with life on the street: A healing bruise is visible on her arm, and one eye has a burst capillary showing bright red in the sunlight. Her hair is died yellow, but she is a dirty blond in the literal sense.
Peck worries about her mother, her abandoned children and where she's going to sleep at night, but mostly, at the moment, she's worried about her man.
“He doesn't have his meds. Who knows where he went,” she said, peering intently up Third Avenue, nervous.