She draws my attention, as does anyone who looks to be heading my way when I am in a vehicle. I am on the phone, with an earpiece, and am clearly talking. It may seem I am talking to myself, as I have long hair, but I am defitintely visibly moving my lips.
She is young, and worn looking, with no makeup, her hair scraped back into the hoods of two ratty hoodies. And she is now close to my window, looking directly at me, hands upturned, talking. A lot. She seems apologetic, but not of a mind to stop or leave. I am still having my own conversation. My window is rolled up, and it is pouring rain. I can’t hear a thing she’s saying.
I make eye contact and point at my earpiece and she nods. But she stays. The poor girl is getting soaked. I finally roll the window down. She tells me she realizes she had been talking to a closed window and sees my earpiece now and is sorry, but…and I ask her simply, Do you need help? And she lets out a breath, and says YES. And then her words ramp up and time goes by and I see this is going to go on for a while and then I do have to stop her and say I know it’s raining and I don’t want to be rude but I am still on the phone and this is really important, but so are you, and if you are out here when I am done I will talk to you. I just have to go. She tells me where to find her but returns anyway before I can finish and tries not to eyeball me but acts like she means to sit on the curb in the rain and she looks like a dog someone left in the yard and I can’t stand it.
She barely takes a breath. She is desperate. She says so. She tells me her full name, all three of them, and in one steady stream tells me everything she can before I can stop her or slow her down. That she knows what it looks like, that she hasn’t had a shower for three days because her pipes broke; that she knows what it looks like with her wearing the spangled jeans with the brand name I don’t recognize because I don’t spend that kind of money on jeans, that they are the last pair of pants and they can’t do laundry now or shower either and that’s why she looks like this, dirty; that she would pawn them if she could and will even give them to me if I want them if only I could spare any money at all; that she is not a druggy and is twenty six and only had the house for the pipes to break and the jeans she now is embarrassed by because she worked hard and had money but has lost everything; that DHS has ruined her and her small daughter’s life because when she needed help the most and couldn’t care for her at home they would not help them together but only place the girl with strangers and her somewhere else and now her girl lives with a trusted friend instead; that her husband has gone to the foodcourt at the mall to get her water because she is so thirsty she can’t bear it and he would die if he saw her ask for money and right now they need gas money so they can get to the top of Whatever Street to meet her old business partner to restart things again and he will be giving her money and she knows it and she will start her marketing business again but just now they don’t know how they will get the gas money and she is prepared to ask every single person if she has to because now her life depends on it and if she can look a stranger in the eye and tell the truth then by God she knows she is still okay and then she tells me her full name all three parts and tells me three more times and tells me I can still find her online and the state of Washington had to give her money because she was wronged by the state as a child but she refused it and no one refuses that kind of money if they just wanted money they’d take it regardless if it was from the state that wronged them.
And she says her little girl is named Lillian and her face contorts and she cries.
The phone call I am on is still live and he can hear Rebecca and he is silent. A moment ago I had finally had the courage to have the conversation I have put off for too long; papers must be filed. Threads left hanging must be cut. It’s the end of the beginning of the end, and the beginning of the end of it. We will be divorced. It is a painful conversation. The end of a life, together. I know I have chosen this, but as I’ve said all along, none of what brought it was my choice. The end was just the fall out. I cannot fix this, there is only going, and going on. I have aleady done both. But there are steps to attend to make it right; as right as a thing like this can be.
The irony, the timing of Rebecca arriving, stuns me. We are both listening now, to Rebecca. Breathing quietly, waiting for her to stop. She won’t. We both somehow join in this quiet listening of her torrential words; the man with few words who couldn’t stand too many of mine, listening to the girl that won’t stop talking. We silently share our concern, and I finally cut in.
I am gentle. I ask Rebecca if she is manic right now. She tries to talk so much she doesn’t answer me until I ask her again. She says Yes, because….
I ask her if she needs medicine and she tells me that every single doctor that’s seen her wants her to take it but she doesn’t want to, that God made her this way, and DHS has ruined the things she was trying to fix herself.
I ask her if she understands my question, if she needs help with her manic state, if I can help her in any way besides money. That I have five dollars I will give her either way, and that I am not judging her jeans. I hurry up and give her the five dollars I don’t really have and don’t wonder exactly where it is going, so she won’t think I am holding it for the right answers from her. I care, but don’t care about her answers. She just keeps staring into my eyes and talking and she is so young. I can’t help wondering if she needs the contact more than the money. I decide I don’t know, and that I don’t know if she is truthful or not. I know some of it is, but it makes me tired to try and figure it out and who the hell am I anyway? The story was almost worth the five dollars.
She repeats all three of her names again and tells me to look for her online and that I will know she is telling me the truth and that people are judging her because she looks this way but she is not a druggy and she will look anyone in the eye and tell them so because she has pride still.
And she looks at me some more and tells me, I’m not what I look like.
I give her a real smile and say, Honey, neither am I.
As she walks away I ask her again if there is anything else I can do for her. And she says I already did. I looked her in the eye. And off she goes. She’s almost out of hearing range when I call her name and she turns quick to see me. I say, Rebecca, I will pray for you. And she asks me to pray for her daughter Lillian instead. So, I will pray for both of you. And then she bounds off down the lot. Before I lose sight of her I see her raise her fist in the air and hear a yelp of joy, but it is AMEN that I hear.
I sit back in the leather with the broken seat heater and let the tears roll down my face. The phone call has ended for now, and I wonder what is happening to me that I concern myself with the dubious stories of beggars and hustlers and the homeless, every day, when I can’t take care of myself. I am overwhelmed with sadness, and gratitude. Shaking. I know I have no idea who Rebecca really is, and only roll the words around in my head that we said: I am not what I look like/Neither am I/You looked me in the eye.
Yes, I did. I was not looking for the lie. I was looking for the person. She looked me in the eye, too.
And then I go to work and wonder why I feel crazy all day, like I’m in the wrong place, wrong person, wrong clothes. I think about a man who pointed out my boots once, another lifetime ago, when two of us panhandled on the Hollywood streets. They were too expensive. The man never knew that months later I would have no shoes at all and my feet would bleed in winter. I know why she apologized for the pants.
She has a story. I don’t know what it is, really. I don’t know how much is true, or what she left out. It didn’t matter. I just looked in her eyes. That part stays with me, and I am strangely shaken and moved. I don’t want to explain, because I don’t know how. It has something to do with everything, and yet it doesn’t seem to mean anything in particular. There are just the words that stay in my head, hours later on a rainy day. The day that I began the end of an ending. I am not what I look like…Neither am I…You looked me in the eye.