7:18 P.M.—I’m leaving a beer and oyster joint. It’s dark. I’m strolling through a parking lot. It is a soft rain. The blacktop is shiny from streetlights.
I see her sitting on the curb, in the drizzle. She’s dressed in a server’s uniform. She has weathered skin, hard features, but she is younger than she looks.
I know a hardworking woman when I see one.
“You need a ride?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “Nah, I’ll be okay.”
She’s not okay. She’s stranded. I know polite lying when I hear it.
“I don’t mind giving you a lift.”
I sound like my father. He gave rides to anyone who could fog up a mirror.
He once gave a ride to a young hitchhiker—a cocky Hispanic kid covered in tattoos. My father carried him to church for a free supper. He carried him to church every week thereafter, too.
The kid was at my father’s funeral.
The waitress crawls into my truck. It’s raining hard now.
I apologize for my vehicle interior. It’s disgusting. Food wrappers, bottle caps, coffee-stains, dog hair, empty peanut butter jars.
“It’s alright,” she says. “My daddy and brothers are good ole boys, I’m used to filthy trucks.”
A little about her: she got married to a man with a drug problem. His problem got worse. One night, she took her teenage kids and left.
“Hardest thing I ever done,” she says. “Uprooting and leaving. We came here to make a fresh start. I’d do anything for my kids.”
When she speaks, she stares out the window.
“We’re getting by,” she says. “Got me this job, we’re makin’ it.”
A few months ago, her car tags were long expired. She didn’t know it because her life has been a whirlwind. She got pulled over. They impounded her car.
“Can’t seem to get ahead,” she goes on. “Sometimes, it’s like, no matter how much I work…”
Yeah. I know the feeling. In fact, I grew up with that feeling.
You lose your husband. You do without. You rob Peter to pay Paul. You hawk things. You get a job in food service so you can bring home leftovers for supper.
Her ex-husband went to rehab. She kept in touch with him. She prays for him. He’s clean now, and misses his kids.
So, this weekend, she sent them to visit.
“I’ll never trust him,” she says. “But I ain’t gonna punish him, I don’t want my kids to grow up hating him.”
The word saint comes to mind.
I arrive at her destination. Our conversation ends. Her eyes say she’s tired, she doesn’t have energy to keep talking. She needs supper. A smoke. Sleep.
She God-blesses me.
She’s gone before we even trade names.
But it doesn’t matter. I know her. I know how strong she is underneath that tired face. How gentle she is.
Women like her are a gift to a fallen world like ours. A demonstration of the best mankind has to offer. Some folks might not believe that.
But I do.
Because I was raised by one.