A Humbling Experience

I’m not sure why I’m compelled to share a real-life experience I had this evening with my peeps on the interwebs. Maybe it’s because I’m an emotional wreck after coming off the “Hot Ticket New Release” high, but tonight I have been reminded how very fortunate I am. Sometimes I think we need a reminder. Or maybe I’m the only one who gets wrapped up in myself and forget that the real world can be a very ugly and harsh place.

I was too lazy to cook tonight, so decided I wanted a burger from Chili’s. So the kid (he’s almost 20–I still think of him as a kid) and I head down Seawall Blvd in the driving rain to the restaurant for a mother/son dinner. The place is dead. There are maybe four tables with souls brave (or stupid) enough to go out in the pouring rain. When it rains in Galveston, it RAINS in Galveston.

So in addition to the few people in booths, there’s this one guy sitting at the bar. I notice him because we are sitting in the booth right next to the bar and he has a huge puddle under his stool that has collected from the drippings off his leather jacket. He’s wearing a beanie, has a tattoo of a Japanese kanji on his neck, and is drinking water after water. I also notice him because he seems nervous. He keeps fidgeting. Looking over his shoulder. As if he doesn’t belong there or he’s waiting for someone. Maybe he got stood up by his date. Maybe he’s about to rob the place. I’m an author. I make up shit in my head about people all the time. Don’t act weird around me. You will end up in a book. Or at least in a fantasy about you robbing a Chili’s in Galveston.

So while waiting for our meal I’m prattling on and on about my books to my son. And will this one be a best seller? I don’t think it’s doing quite as well as Double Time. And when will I be able to afford that beach house I’ve always wanted? And I’m sharing all my plans about my future books. And how I think I should handle my next series. And all the backlash I’m still getting for the Sinners’ books being released out of order. And what I said in a blog post I wrote earlier. And how I answered this question on a facebook chat. And oh aren’t I clever? And blah-dy blah-dy blah. My son looks like a zombie at this point. Yeah, I was talking about myself way too much, but my son is very quiet and he answers sentences in mono-syllables. Do you have one of these kids? So I fill in all the conversation and he basically listens. Or does math in his head. Something.

Food arrives and the wet guy at the bar comes up to our table and asks if we can give him and his dog a ride to the East end of the Island. His car broke down and it started raining on him while he was walking to Chili’s for some food. My son, trusting Midwesterner that he is, immediately agrees. But looks at me and says, but I don’t have the keys.

I’m immediately imagining this guy pulling a gun on us, forcing us to the ATM machine to give him all our money, killing us, dumping us into the ocean, and stealing our car. The overactive imagination of an author is a burden sometimes. Plus, people have GUNS in Texas (concealed guns) and that’s okey dokey with everyone. Except me. I don’t have a gun. And I had forgotten my cellphone at home. So if I’m lying bleeding to death under the pleasure pier, I can’t call for help.

So I ask Wet-guy if he has a way to get his car fixed. That nervousness about him increases. He won’t look me in the eye. My son is about as perceptive as a goldfish. I honestly don’t think he noticed how the guy was acting. Wet-guy wasn’t a big guy. He’s pencil thin and he was young. Maybe 21 or 22. He tells me that his brother is supposed to help him financially with getting the car fixed but he hadn’t heard back from him and he wasn’t going to worry about getting it towed until the next day. I can tell he’s lying about something. He will NOT look me in the eye. I taught students for over ten years. I know what someone looks like when they lie. Then he tells  me the car starts but it dies whenever he tries to drive it, but the heater works if he has to sleep in it. I’m thinking, hmm, strange. So the nice person in me, who can’t say ‘no’ even though I really do think this guy is a car-jacking maniac, tells him to let me finish my meal. I did not commit to driving him to the dark, deserted east end of the Island, but I didn’t turn him down.

Because I start thinking, wonder if he’s telling the truth. He’s desperate enough to ask a complete stranger for a ride. What if this was my kid? I’d want someone to help him out if his car broke down and he was stranded. So I finished my meal and tell this guy to get his dog and meet us at the car.

While we’re waiting for him to collect his dog and I’m considering bailing on him with the squeal of my PT Cruiser’s tires, I ask my son if he thinks this guy is capable of mugging us. I’m kind of worried about this situation. Don’t pick up hitchhikers and all that jazz.

You don’t trust anyone, do you, Mom? my son says.

Not especially. A single woman doesn’t have that liberty. It will be fine, I tell myself. 99.999999% of people are good. What’s the chance that I found one of the 0.0000001% who aren’t good tonight? And how desperate is this guy. Good people do bad things when they are desperate.

So now we’re driving in the car. Small cute, well-behaved dog and wet-guy are in the backseat. He starts talking to my son–who apparently does talk, just not to me. The wet-guy introduces himself as John.

Do you live in Galveston? my son asks.

Yeah, just a couple months. I’ve been living in my car.

Great, now I have a homeless wet guy in my car with his cute little dog and his to-go cup of water for said dog. And I’m driving him to the dark end of the island. The uncivilized end of the island. Where homeless kids who live in their broken down cars hide from the police. He keeps talking about the officer who patrols the high-end condos on that end of the Island.

John comments, That cop always has his blue lights on. I wonder what those condos are like on the inside. Real expensive. I’d like to stay in a place like that someday.

My son comments that we’ve never stayed in a really nice hotel.

Maybe, I think, but we don’t live in our car, either.

I’m not scared of John at all at this point. I’m crushed as I listen to him share his life story with my son.

Why did you come to Galveston? my son asks. Your parents from here?

No, they bailed on me when I was a little kid. I just like it here. They brought me here once when I was young. I’ve always wanted to come back.

Okay, seriously, my heart is aching for this kid. You can hear it in his voice. How lonely he is. How hurt. But he has his little dog. And his broken down car that he lives in. And yeah, I know how easy it is for an abandoned kid to end up homeless.

And my son tells him how boring the Midwest is. And they discuss vegetables, farming and gardening. Don’t like vegetables. You should eat them anyway. Just back and forth “guy talk” about nothing. Everyone is avoiding the white elephant in the car. This kid is all alone in a strange place and living in his fucking car. And my heart is like a melted ball of butter in my chest. So we get to the place where John wants to be dropped off near his car, which he has hidden behind a hill so that cop won’t bother him, and we let him out and I say I hope things work out for you. And my son says, Good luck, man. And I do a U-turn and head back to the civilized end of the island. Where I live. In a house with a bunch of excess stuff I don’t really need.

So now, as I’m driving away, the guilt hits me. Should I have given him money? Gotten his car fixed for him? Does he have a job? Does he need help finding a job? Does he need a mom, because I’ve got the adoption papers right here, goddammit. He’s around my son’s age. Right? I can still adopt him. I don’t care if he’s over 18. That boy needs a mom.

And my son looks at me and he says, Are you crying?

Am I? I don’t know. Damn, I feel like I should have helped him more. I could have given him some money or something.

Mom, are you bipolar? my son says. Five minutes ago, you thought he was going to mug us.

Not bipolar. I just had my point of view altered. This reminds me how fortunate we are. That could have been us, baby. We could have been living in a car. Instead, we lived on credit cards for ten years.

If I hadn’t had a family to support me after my divorce, I would have been homeless. Just like that kid. Like John.

And my son says, That is why I’m going to mooch off you for as long as possible. (My kid has a great of humor. LOL!) I would have been living in my Bronco if I’d stayed in Nebraska.

Um, no, not happening. I’ve got you. I always will.

I was definitely humbled by those few short minutes with a stranger I met in Chili’s. And it reminded of how much I have and how lucky I am to have made something out of myself, because I started with less than nothing. That could have been me. Would some stranger have given me a ride in the rain? Would I have been as grateful for a ride as John was?

And damn, he reminded me of Jace.

Good luck in the cruel, cold world, kiddo. Maybe we’ll meet again some day.