You’re a single mother. Your name is Deidra. Your wallet has three bucks in it. You have an old Visa gift card with a balance of twelve dollars left. That’s your story.
Something bad happened to you today. It wasn’t because of anything your did. It happened because you’re in your late-thirties and things like this happen to people in their late-thirties. It’s a fact of life. Teenagers work for cheaper pay than you do. So your employer hired a teenager and cut your hours down to one day per week. 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, but…
You don’t wish this very hard.
So now you’re crying in your car. You wipe your face. Then cry again. You go to pick up your kids. You are waiting for the most important things in your life to exit the free daycare. You’re trying to figure out how you’ll tell them you lost your job.
Meantime, you sort mail while you wait. Power bill. Water bill. Cell phone bill. Cable. Insurance. It never ends.
Daycare lets out. Your kids run toward your car. There are kisses, hugs. You notice how tall your oldest is. Your nine-year-old colored a picture. They learned about elephants today. Elephants, Mom. Elephants.
They talk loud and happy. They have no idea that your life is on the rails. They have no idea that you struggle to feed them.
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. It’s not much, but hey, it’s dinner.
You drive to a pizza buffet. The cheap one where they leave the pizzas out all afternoon until the cheese becomes Club Med for bacteria. It’s only six bucks for your oldest to eat, four bucks for the youngest—not counting the sodas.
The cashier gives you the total. You slide your gift 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 leftover gift cards. You’re young, pretty, healthy. You’re supposed to be living. Instead, you’re a few dimes shy of being on skid row.
After the meal, you leave eighty-four cents as a tip. It’s a pathetic tip, but that’s all the loose change you have in your purse.
Now you’re on your way home. But, wait, it gets better. Your gas gauge is on E. Surprise.
For some reason you’re feeling humiliated by all this. That’s how poverty works. Poorness embarrasses a person until they think so little of themselves they don’t like their reflection. It chips away at the mortar that holds the bricks together.
You pull into a gas station. You’re going to put your last three dollars into your old Ford Contour’s tank. Not a penny more. It’s a Hail Mary pass.
You walk inside to pay cash before you pump. You are sick inside because it occurs to you that you are, for the first time ever, one hundred percent broke.
There’s a man in line behind you. He’s tall. Longish hair. Dirty boots. Smells like the south end of a north-facing goat. He smiles at you.
The man sees you throw three dollars down. There is a sincere look on his face.
He steps forward and says, “I’d like to pay for her gas.”
He places thirty dollars on the counter.
“You don’t have to do that,” you tell the man. But he insists.
He pays your bill. Thirty bucks, you’re thinking, does he expect something out of you? What is this guy’s motive? You head for your car quickly.
He follows. “Wait!” he hollers. “Wait.”
Now you’re a little scared. Some random guy is following you at night, and God knows what he’s got in mind. You’ve seen the ten-o’clock news. You’ve read the newspapers. This guy doesn’t look like he wants to play patty cake.
You jump into your car and lock the doors. You start the engine. Forget the gas.
He raps on the window. “Please,” he says. “Wait.”
After a few minutes, he doesn’t leave. You consider calling the cops. Instead, you roll down your window—against your better judgement. When you do, the man digs into his coat and hands you a little bank envelope.
“It’s all I got,” he says. “Wish it were more, ma’am. I want you to have it.”
He says nothing else, then he walks away. He does not step into an automobile. He does not ride a bicycle. He doesn’t follow a sidewalk. He just walks into the darkness, and he’s gone.
You open the envelope. Inside are hundred-dollar bills. Crisp bills. Four of them.
If you’ve read this far, maybe you’ve gone through life thinking there isn’t anything out there watching over you.
Deidra wants you to know that you’re wrong.