5/14/07

Watching A Rose Bloom In Reverse

Her small body was almost lost against the backdrop of the shopping center. And despite wearing a black hooded sweatshirt that was in sharp contrast to the tan of the stucco buildings, she was as close to being invisible as one could possibly be. She was slight, sitting there on the bench. Next to her mounded cart. She almost appeared to be folding in on herself. Like watching a rose bloom in reverse. She appeared to be trying to make herself even smaller than she already is.
But I saw her.
And I couldn't take my eyes off of her.
I looked this way and that. To my left. To my right. To see if anyone else noticed her as I drove my car. Guiding it to a parking space as quickly as I could without harming any number of shoppers. Shoppers who washed up in this shopping center. Just like she did somehow. Just like I did.
I am frantic to find something inside this child-ized vehicle. Anything that she might be able to make use of.
Nothing.
Not even pack of crackers.
After I focus my gaze straight ahead, disappointed that my kids are too old for me to lug around the 5 million snack-laden bags anymore. I look up and I see a Five Below store. I exhale and say to myself It's better than nothing. I'll find something in there.
I scan the snacks that, to a 5 year old, are heaven. But to an adult can barely constitute food.
I find some snack size fig newtons. A box of Ritz crackers. I grab some slim jims. A cold Ginger Ale. Two bottles of water. And a pack of eclipse gum. It checks out at a mere $8.19. That hardly seems like it's enough.
I fish in the bag for the gum. I slip it in my back pocket and I make my way.

I make my way out of the store. Toward her.
I am shaking. I feel so scared. What if I offend her? What if I can't find the right words to say?
As I approach, I'm quite certain that I am the only person that has seen her. People walk by. And they don't see her, this tiny little lady sitting on a bench. I'm wondering if she is a ghost. A ghost of all those I may have walked by before in a different, self-involved life. I have a flash of when I was in Santa Monica some eight years ago. I walked in for breakfast at a McDonald's and was astounded at the number of displaced souls. And beyond taking note of how uncomfortable I felt, I did nothing.
Still I walk on. Despite being so nervous, so sad, that I feel sick. But what is a little case of the jitters compared with being invisible?

I walk up to her. I look her straight in the eye. I smile. A lame, nervous smile. But I smile. I say I have a few things for you. If that is OK.
Oh, sure. That would be fine. She says.
There are a couple bottles of water, a soda, some crackers, figs, slim jims. I know it's not much.
I reach out and rub her small arm as I talk to her. As I look down, while she inspects the treats, I see around her neck a gold chain. A gold chain with three "rings" on it. Each with a different birthstone. Is she a mom? Is she a grandmom? Surely, she is at least one of these things.
She looks in the bag. She smiles a brilliant smile. And her eyes are full of light. She thanks me.
I tell her Happy Mother's Day.

She smiles and says Happy Mother's Day to me.
I smile at her and look her in the eye. Trying to find some way to make this right. And there are no words. No bags of snacks that I come at her with that will do that. As I open my mouth to speak, all that comes out is Take care of yourself, OK?
She agrees to this lame, pedestrian advice.
And I walk away.
When I walk away, I feel like something isn't right. I feel like I've left something behind that was left in my care. I feel like I've left my mother, my grandmother, or my child there. No matter how many steps I take away from her, I can't shake this feeling that I shouldn't be walking away. The distance between her and I has done nothing to stop my heart from breaking. From feeling her small shoulder under my hand, seeing the eyes full of life and light. Her necklace.

I walk away and beat myself up inside for not sitting down next to her. For not spending a minute and ask her her name. To tell her mine. To ask if she has any place to stay tonight.
I wonder how she managed to make it to that shopping center. How long it's been since she has eaten. How hot she must be sitting in that blazing sun in those thick, heavy clothes. How loaded with belongings her cart is. How can someone so little push that heavy cart?

How no one else seemed to care.
How they could walk into Old Navy and DSW like she wasn't even there?

7 ripples in the pond:

Factor 10 said...

I'm glad you stopped. I always want to offer rides to people walking in the rain. This was beautifully written, and very thought provoking.

deb said...

I'm glad you stopped too. It's sad that more people don't stop.

thailandchani said...

People become desensitized. Thank you for not being one of them.


Peace,

~Chani

jen said...

oh honey. you saw her. you talked to her. sometimes that is everything.

she matters to you. and in desperation sometimes it's just that that keeps hope alive.

Mary-LUE said...

It is so tough, to know what to do, how much to do, etc. I don't know if you should have done more, but I know you did more than most... and that's something.

Oh, The Joys said...

Thank you for stopping, Tabba.

themikestand said...

This is touching, Tabba. Really.

Would you consider submitting this to Indie Bloggers? I think it would be great if you'd share it with us over there.

-Mike, the IB Content Hunter guy