You’re a single mother. Your name is Deidra. Your wallet has three bucks in it. You have an old Visa gift card with twelve dollars left on it.
Something bad happened today.
It wasn’t because of anything you did. It’s because you’re in your late-thirties, and teenagers can do your job cheaper. They cut your hours. Management’s way of firing you.
You reacted. You let your manager have it. You called him an awful name. You wish you could take it back.
You cry in your car. You wipe your face. Then cry again. You wait for your kids to exit the free daycare.
And here you are, sorting mail while you wait. Power bill. Water bill. Cellphone bill. Cable. Insurance. It never ends.
Your kids run toward you. There are kisses, hugs. You notice how tall your oldest is. Your nine-year-old colored a picture.
They talk loud and happy.
You’re thinking about what’s inside your refrigerator for supper. A few slices of bologna, half a liter of Coke, old carrots, two eggs.
You look in your purse. The gift card.
You drive to a pizza buffet. It’s six bucks for your oldest, four bucks for the youngest—not counting soda.
You slide your card and hold your breath.
Life isn’t supposed to be this way. You’re not supposed to skip suppers and feed your kids with gift cards.
You’re young, pretty, healthy. You’re supposed to be happy. Instead, you’re a few dimes shy of homelessness.
After the meal, you leave eighty-four cents for a tip. That’s all the loose change you have—you’re saving your last three dollars.
You drive. Your gas gauge is on E.
You’re humiliated. That’s how poverty works. It embarrasses a person, until they think so little of themselves, they don’t like their reflection.
You pull into a gas station. You’re going to put three dollars into your old Ford Contour. Not a penny more.
You walk inside to pay cash.
There’s a man in line, behind you. He’s tall. Longish hair. Dirty boots.
He sees you throw three dollars down. He steps forward and says, “I’ll pay for her gas.” He places thirty dollars on the counter.
“You don’t have to do that,” you tell the man.
He doesn’t answer. He just smiles. You’re embarrassed. You head for your car.
He follows. “Wait!” he hollers.
Now, you’re scared. Some weirdo is following you, and God knows what he’s got in mind. You’ve seen the ten-o’clock news.
You jump into your car and lock the doors. You start the engine.
He raps on the window. “Please,” he says. “I’m not gonna hurt you.”
After a few minutes, he doesn’t leave. You roll down your window—against your better judgement.
The man hands you an envelope with four hundred-dollar bills in it. Crisp bills. Four.
“It’s all I got,” he says. “Wish it were more.”
He says nothing else and walks away. He does not step into a car. He does not mount a bicycle. He walks into the darkness, and he’s gone.
Maybe you don’t think there is something up there, watching over you.
Deidra wants you to know there is.