I didn’t expect to rewrite this article a few hours before posting it. I had already spent a good chunk of the weekend writing and rewriting my piece, but then Monday happened, and, all of a sudden what I had written was not the thing that mattered anymore.
Monday mornings are hard, they just are. My son was in full-blown two-year-old mode, pulling sharp things out of drawers, crying one minute and screaming like a banshee the next. Not interested in walking to the park, or in playing. Was hungry, then wasn’t. Wanted this cup, not that one.
I was losing it. Mainly, at myself. I have one child, one. I should be able to handle this without any trouble.
In an attempt to be productive, something to make me feel less like a complete failure, I tried to pull the hamper out of the closet to do laundry, totally missing that he had put his little finger in the crease above the hinge.
There were even more tears.
I gave him a popsicle. We watched a song on my phone. And then when the crying stopped, I put him in the car. I didn’t care where we ended up as long as it was out of this house.
I tell you all this because as I was sitting at the light waiting for it to turn green, with my teeth unbrushed and my boy covered in orange sticky residue, I noticed a giant sign taped to the concrete leg of the bridge, a cardboard eulogy for a homeless woman murdered in her tent here last week. I read each word, taking in her name, and the lonely, pissed-off plea that the world cared nothing for her, until she became a headline.
It’s no great secret that there are dozens of worlds between the ripped tents under the Magnolia Bridge and the cute bungalows and expansive tudors on top of Magnolia. The gap is huge. But, the moment I saw the lettering, I knew who had written it. There’s a young woman who holds a sign with that same beautiful handwriting. I had bought her something at Starbucks once, but that’s it. I didn’t know her name. We’d barely spoken.
I should bring some flowers, I thought, continuing down the road.
And then there she was—a few blocks down from the bridge—standing with her sign at the entrance to the grocery store, looking tired and cold and just as pissed off as her sign on the bridge.
Tell her she has talent, a voice said. Get out of your car, walk to her. Stand next to her. Don’t worry about the flowers.
I wish I could say that I went, but I didn’t. I was embarrassed; I felt out-of-sorts. I didn’t want to be weird. Instead, I went into the store and bought a few groceries. When I came back outside, she was still there.
Go now, the voice said.
Just a second, I thought. I need to put my groceries away and the cart, too.
I was stalling.
When everything was loaded, I snaked through the aisles of the parking lot with my toddler on my hip, but she was gone; the corner was empty.
We got back into the car and started heading towards the bridge to go home, and then grace—that miraculous arrival of a second chance—showed up, and there she was.
I pulled to the side of the road, and called out, “Excuse me.”
She looked up.
“I bought you an apple,” I said lamely, handing her the fruit and a few dollars.
“Umm..did you write that big sign up there on the bridge?”
She looked surprised, but nodded.
“It is really beautiful; you have a lot of talent. I hope you know that. The letters are really gorgeous. I can tell you’re an artist.”
It was such a small offering, a tiny whisper, but I meant every word. I looked her in the eye, wanting her to know, I see you.
She looked back at me like I was a little crazy, and maybe I am, but then something flashed in her eyes that I can’t quite name, and it looked like she might cry.
I told her my name, and she gave me hers.
A car honked behind me.
When we got home, I brought Benjamin in and we sat together on the couch, watching the rain hit the front window.
“Were you sad this morning?” I asked.
“Yes, I sad,” his little voice said.
“Were you sad because you wanted to play with Dad, but he had to go to work?”
“Yes, Dad work. Sad.” And then he kissed me on my lips, which he almost never does, and I bawled like a baby.
May we all embrace the unexpected—the awkward, uncomfortable, broken moments—that shake us out of our own heads, and remind us to look at the people right in front of us.
CLAIRE CAREY DEERING believes less is more, in writing and in life.