I don’t know what made me turn right instead of left out of the parking lot. I was driving slow, listening to the Eagles and smoking a Camel Wide with the windows down and my shirt off. It was hot out today and the sun was bright, I stopped at the stop sign down the street and flipped my turn signal to head to McDonald’s. At that exact instant a little boy, probably 9 or 10, fell off his bike and bailed onto the street. He started crying and his bike was fucked up, I flicked my cigarette, put on my shirt and got out of the car.
“Hey buddy, are you ok?” His knee and elbows were bleeding pretty badly so I reached into my glove box and grabbed some napkins. He was still crying.
“You ok bud?” The chain was off his bike the handlebars were twisted, I put the napkin to his knee, he winced.
“What’s your name?”
“Benny,” he said through his tears.
“Your bike is pretty bad, Benny, where do you live, I don't think you can ride it home?” He told me he lived only a few blocks away, I knew the street, so I asked him if I could take him home.
“What about my bike?” I got him in the front seat and put his bike in the trunk, hanging out the open hatch.
I pulled up to his house a minute later and he told me to stop. He opened the door and ran in through the front porch; I grabbed his bike out of the trunk and walked up. I could hear him settling down and the soft voice of a woman comforting him in the background. I knocked on the door and she came to the porch. She had to be in her mid forties, long blond hair and something in her eyes that said to me that she was not ok.
“Is this your boy, I saw him fall off his bike and just figured he needed a hand?”
“Thank you so much,” type doesn’t do her gratitude justice, “You are a very sweet boy.”
She came out onto the porch and lit up a cigarette, I could hear the kid in the background turning on an Xbox. Amazing how quickly kids forget their pain…if only that characteristic lasted into adulthood. She said her name was Jennifer, I told her mine, and she wasn’t wearing a ring (why do I notice that?). She thanked me again and I started to walk down the steps, I stopped in my tracks, why I will never know, and turned asking, “Do you have an extra smoke Jennifer?”
I sat there for a minute and had a conversation with a total stranger which, even though it is not more than 40 minutes old, will be burned into my brain forever.
“You have a thousand mile stare, P.”
“What do you mean?”
“You stare like what you are looking at is a thousand miles away, like something is wrong with you.”
I thought that she was incredibly forward. “How could you possibly know that,” I asked, almost a little put off by her frankness.
“I can see it in your eyes.”
I heard Benny call her in the background and she told me she had to go make sure he was ok. She leaned in and gave me a hug asking me if he got any blood on my seats. I said no, I was lying. Then she said something to me which completely floored me.
“It isn’t always as hard as it is right this moment. You are a good person, just keep your chin up and know that you aren’t alone. You can do it, I believe in you” I dropped my jaw and felt my knees buckle. The way she said it made it seem like she was some kind of guardian angel, like she knew the bad thoughts in my head and wanted them out and I just plain didn’t know what to say back. I started down the steps. She thanked me again but I didn’t respond I just threw up my hand in a wave over my shoulder, tears streaming down my face. Who was this woman and how the hell did she just hit me so hard? What just happened and how did she know? What just happened?
I drove back to work, no longer hungry and sat there in the parking lot…thinking. What just happened? Everything seemed so vivid, so clear but at the same time it made no sense. She was a kindred spirit, I could see it in her eyes when she opened the door but why had those few words taken the air out of my chest.
What just happened?