The parking lot at Target. He has no legs below the knees. His upper body is well-developed. He has a large handlebar mustache. Tattoos.
A young girl helps him out of a truck. She is eighteen at the most. Maybe nineteen.
She lifts him from the driver’s seat into a wheelchair. She is a tall girl, strapping, broad shoulders. Jeans and boots.
I can see them across the parking lot.
And even though it’s none of my business, I offer to help the girl. She too busy holding him in her arms to answer.
So he answers for her. “Thanks, boss, but my daughter’s got it. She does it all the time.”
He’s not fooling. She is stronger than a new box of Borax.
I watch her place him into his wheelchair, then buckle him in. He kisses her cheek. And away they roll into Target.
I see them in the store, too. He wheels through the aisles, laughing with the girl. There’s a look fathers give daughters. And there’s a look daughters give fathers. I can spot a daddy’s-girl ten miles away.
They must be Christmas shopping because every few words, he says, “You think Mama will like that one?”
They are in the technology section. He’s parked before a TV that’s large enough to require a movie ticket to look at. She’s standing beside him. She towers over him by at least three feet.
The screen plays “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
And I love this movie.
In fact, I’ve seen it so many times I could quote the dialogue with my hands tied behind my back and eyes closed—hanging upside down. Backwards. In the dark.
The scene they’re watching:
George Bailey is a boy, working the soda counter in the drugstore. Young Mary is at the bar.
Mary leans forward to say to George, “Is THIS the ear you can’t hear on?”
George doesn’t answer.
So Mary whispers into his deaf ear: “George Bailey, I’ll love you ‘til the day I die.”
If that doesn’t light your fire your wood is wet.
Later, I see them in the checkout aisle. I wonder if they notice I’ve been following them around the store for so long I’ve forgotten why I’m even here?
And in the parking lot, his daughter places him behind his steering wheel again. She bear-hugs him, then straps him in.
She kisses his head. Throws the wheelchair in back. The truck roars to life and they’re gone. Alabama plates. Enormous TV-shaped box in the bed of the truck.
And I’ve been thinking about him all day.
I don’t know who he is, or how his story goes. I don’t know what sort of pain he’s gone through. And I don’t know how he can remain cheerful in the face of hard times. I don’t know how much he suffers, where he lives, or who he calls for help.
I do, however, know a few things.
I know he likes “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I know that life doesn’t have to be pretty to be beautiful.
And I know that on Christmas morning, he will wake to a daughter who is strong.
Strong enough to lift him up.