So I was sitting at the intersection of Target and Suburbia this morning at around 8:00am. My kids were strapped into the back, their backpacks sitting on the seat next to me. The 80s station was on, and Dixie’s Midnight Runners were bidding Eileen to “Come on”.
That particular intersection takes it’s time in the morning with cars moving, plodding their way out of their gated communities, through green lights and towards the interstate. So there I sat, amongst the a.m. idling, waiting my turn, mind blank, when I happened to look over at the mini van next to me.
There was nothing much to see at first. A blue mini-van, the standard suburban Tampa mode of transportation, with a woman at the helm and the top of a baby seat strapped in the back, barely visible.
Nothing unusual for the intersection of Target and Suburbia.
Except, this woman? She was crying.
Not hard. Just staring straight ahead, sunglasses on, wiping tears when they came. Her expression was blank. I noticed a cigarette smoldering in her left hand, hung out an open window. Now and then she took a drag, then leaned out the window to blow it out, waving it away from her car. Back to staring. Back to wiping at her face. Back to having no idea she was being watched (although discreetly, behind my own sunglasses – I knew I was intruding on her moment).
It was a quiet cry. Not a sob. Not a quick couple of tears either. These seemed like the kind of tears that couldn’t help but spill over ceaselessly, no matter how stone faced she remained. Down they slid. Wipe. Take a drag. Fan the air. Stare.
My heart stopped and broke for this woman.
And then my mind raced to determine what could bring her to this moment.
It could have been any number of things.
Money. What if her family was struggling. What if her husband was about to be laid off. What if she had just finished balancing her check book and found no hope of any kind of balance. What if she knew there was nothing left. And Christmas ahead. And a Nintendo DS already promised to her son if he was a good boy. And loans and credit lost and unpaid bills and increased percentage rates and collection agencies and this damn mini-van that they never really could afford in the first place but were now stuck with. Could they get out of their home? Move in with her parents? Just for a little while. Could they ever get what they had back?
Or what if it was her marriage. What if after eight years, she woke up and realized she didn’t know her husband any longer. What if she suspected his attention was elsewhere. And his apparent indifference to their marriage meant that he was hardly covering his tracks. And she knew. And she had three children to care for and no idea what to do. Except to ignore and wait and hope it will just go away. And maybe, after enough time had passed, they would both remember why they had married each other in the first place. But until then, she was stuck raising her children and just ignoring.
She could have gotten a call from her doctor too. Her doctor could have told her the results came back positive. And she would need this kind of treatment, and that much recovery, and years of waiting to find out if it was ever going to be ok again. And her insurance was iffy at best. How much would this cost? And she is a mother, she has no time for this. Who was going to breast feed her baby? So she couldn’t bring herself to call anyone and tell them. Not yet. All that it could cost her family, no one needed to know. Not quite yet.
Or what if her mother just died. If that was the case, I should have simply put my car in park, gotten out, opened her door and given her an enormous hug. (And then maybe run back to my car quickly before she fumbled for her cell and dialed 911.)
Or maybe it was just another typical day. Maybe her baby had been up every 2 hours again. And had been waking up every two hours every night of her 9 months of life. Maybe the exhaustion was impossible to bear. But she had to drop her children at school. And pick up groceries. And talk to her son’s teacher about his behavior issues and make sure the air conditioner repairman didn’t rip her off. And deal. Just always deal. While the baby starts crying again. And only children at her feet and no adult home until 9:00pm because he was busting his hump to make sure they had a roof over their heads. It was just another typical day and that alone was enough.
I don’t know what it was. And I won’t ever know. But I understand. And I hope she will find some way out of her pain. Because that’s it. While we make these choices in our lives and take on the weight of the world, we just have to decide which way we are going to go. Forward? Up and out of the pain? Down the path of least resistance? Do we find the right way for our families? But are we making the best choices for us too? We hesitantly move our way through every crossroad. But we have no way of knowing where we will find ourselves someday. No way.
I hope she found her way. I hope with all my soul that she found peace. But I won’t ever know.
At that moment, the lights changed. She turned left into suburbia and I went straight past Target. And she was gone. And my kids were on their way to school. We all carried on with our lives. Another typical day.