I’m a cofounder of The Scintilla Project, along with my friends Onyi and Dominique, two whip-smart and artfully snarky women with beautiful hair. This is my response to one of the Day 6 prompts, Write about a chance meeting that has stayed with you ever since. We believe that your stories make you who you are and we’re asking you to share yours. Interested? Sign up at scintillaproject.com and follow us at @ScintillaHQ.
I have been trying to write this post, thinking about times when the content of my character was tested. I fail these tests just about as often as I pass them, and even when I pass I generally squeak through with one of those 72 percents that would have earned me side-eye from my mother. And maybe because they’re murky sorts of things, I don’t feel like writing one of them today, when I’m chilled to the bone from shoveling in a whipping wind. So I chose the chance meeting prompt instead, even though I have very few of those experiences. I do have this one, though. Consider the title a trigger warning.
Last summer, I complained a lot when I showed up at this blog, because I was busy and generally unhappy and sweaty and lonely. I was unfit company in person, too, so that lonely stuff was not just due to Myron already being here in Winnipeg having started his new and scrumptious job. I was envious and resentful of the person who would end up buying my house because it was so lovely, and all sorts of things I’d always wanted to upgrade were only now being done for someone else. (Not Throw Cushions.) I was incensed by the workmen and contractors who blew my schedules. If screaming in frustration would have done any good, I would have screamed, daily, for a good hour or so. Instead, the only results would have been upset neighbors and a sore throat for me.
I carried my black cloud with me one day when I walked to the end of the block, a few feet away from our road’s mailbox. A young woman was about twenty feet away, walking toward me and wiping her eyes. She was carrying a bag of some kind, head aimed at the sidewalk. She got closer. Her tears were obvious, and she looked distraught.
Me, I was braless. I had only left the house to check the damn mail. My hair was a state and my brains were worse. At that moment I told myself that she would probably be embarrassed if I said something to her. Who wants to explain herself to a stranger when she’s in an obvious state of distress? I retrieved my mail and walked quickly back toward home. She had caught up somewhat and was walking behind me, still sobbing audibly.
Well, if she wanted me to ignore her she would have sniffled and shut up.
I turned around and asked if she was all right. “Yeah,” she said, in a desperate, warbly kind of way. Up close I could see that she was probably only around sixteen. “I ran out of gas up on the highway.” There were two highways she could have meant, but both of them meant that she’d been walking a long time. Either way, I had no car to give her a ride anywhere. “I’ve been walking since noon.”
“Oh, sweetie. It’s after two.”
“I know.” She burst into tears again. “And my boyfriend was just being a dick and I drove away and I knew I should have stopped but I didn’t and now I have to get my mom to take me back there.” Her nose started to run. “And it’s my BIRTHDAY.”
Everything in me was telling me to run away. I do not like this kind of stuff from people I do not know well. I can handle reading your blog, no matter if you’re a stranger or a friend, and even you telling me that your nose is running, but this kind of raw emotion from someone barely holding it together is too much for me. I like emotions recollected afterward and placed in orderly sentences, not bleeding fresh and wafting off of strangers. I panicked. And she was standing there, in the intersection with me, in the middle of a very hot day. I looked at her half-dozen ear studs and the buttons pinned to her backpack. One said SMIZE. I could feel time pass.
“Do you want my phone, to call your mom?” I gestured to my house. “I’m not creepy and you can wait outside for her.”
“No,” she said. “I already called her, and she’s waiting for me at home.”
“Is home far?”
She shook her head. “Just on Abbott Street.” She still had another 20 minutes to walk, at least. I wondered for a second about the woman who would let her daughter walk home along the highway in this heat, who wasn’t driving through the neighborhood to look for her.
I gave her a hug. (I am not a hugger; anyone who’s hugged me and felt me stiffen knows this. I try, but I’m not good at it unless I kind of know you. I was also very conscious about that no-bra thing.) But I hugged this girl and she clung to me, and I smelled her sweat and her hair products and traces of cigarette smoke. I said, “One of these days you are going to laugh about him and this whole thing and you are going to be past it. I promise. It doesn’t feel like it now.” She laughed and a snot-bubble burst in her nostril. Oh God. “But you will, and you’ll remember it, and shit birthdays always make good stories.”
I let her go and she laughed and thanked me, and she walked away.
I came home into a blast of air conditioning, picking my shirt off my sweaty skin, and wondered how to tell anyone about this without making myself sound like I’d swooped in with wisdom and hugs at just the right time like the perfect blend of superhero and grandma. When I read things like this written by other people, especially if those other people make a habit of always casting themselves as the smartest/kindest/bestest, I roll my eyes and figure they’re lying. (In addition to being afraid of raw emotion, I’m also just a misanthropic meanie.) So I never did say anything; I didn’t tweet it or blog it like I kind of wanted to. I think I may have told my friends in gChat. But I am not the kind of person who puts herself in the way of chance meetings, and I don’t know what it was that made me ask that girl what was going on instead of walking home. Even today, I think it could have gone so wrong. But I hope she remembers me warmly, that it was a good thing I did, and that I was right about shit birthdays.