Part of my employment includes helping people that have special needs or circumstances find a job; no easy task in my state right now for those who have everything going for them, let alone for some of the people that I work with.
I believe most of them are the grown versions of the children that I sometimes think don't have a chance in the world; I often find myself trying to craft them a resume while picturing their childhoods. (It's a dangerous combination when you work in the world of billable hours with an employer that wants me to bill every minute, when I feel as though there aren't enough hours in the day to give to them. It can weigh heavily upon you at times--trying to balance your checkbook and keeping your job with your conscience.)
There is one woman in particular that I cannot quit thinking about. She is 55 years old, stick straight, long brown hair, gray strands entwining themselves within what was once the type of hair that turned heads. Her face is lined; heavily. I thought with absolute certainty that she was at least a decade older when I first met her and shook her tiny hand.
During our first meeting, I took in her personal data and compiled my reports, marked her off my list, and then moved onto my next client. I met with her the following week and she caught me off guard when she sat down. "I haven't had hope for anything in a long time. I could hardly sleep I was so excited to get here today".
I'm not head-hunting a corporate position for this woman, I'm trying to find her something that pays minimum wage and will allow her to keep her rent-controlled apartment. And I was her hope? I was the reason she was excited to get out of bed in the morning? I turned off the rest of my brain and willed myself to focus upon her, and her only.
She hadn't always looked so old and worn. She brought me a photo of her in her youth. I think she carries it with her; a symbol, a reminder that once, she was young. She was smiling broadly at the camera, a hand on a very swollen belly, one of her eyes squinting against the sun in front of her.
"My husband took that picture, a few weeks before the twins were born". I looked to her ring finger. A thin gold band remained. "Is your husband still with you"? I asked.
She paused. "No. He kissed my belly two days after he took this, then headed back to Vietnam. I got a phone call thirteen days after they were born, telling me he was gone. He never did see them".
She smiled at me then, a small, sad turn upward of her lips, her eyebrows raised just a tad, and the lines in her face creased with greater intensity, and suddenly, I could see them--how the lines had gotten there. This woman, all these years, caught between a smile and a sob, missing a man she still aches for today, her eyes thinking they caught the back of his head in a crowd several times over the years, new little lines forming from each double-take.
The next week, I picked her up and drove her to an interview. She told me how she'd gone to Veteran's Services for Widows and asked them to help her with her heat bill, an eleven month old baby hoisted on each of her bony hips. She told me how they explained they couldn't help her, for furnaces were considered a luxury, not a necessity. They recommended a shelter for her, then told her they'd need to call the police if she didn't leave after she demanded they either let her talk to someone else or bring her husband back. "They acted like I really thought they could bring him back; like I didn't know he was gone. I knew he was gone; I was trying to make a point," she said. One more line upon her face.
I watched her walk through the doors for her interview; her steps in the new shoes we'd just purchased hesitant and unsure. She paused to look back at me before she opened the door, that small, sad smile gazing upon me. I gave her my brightest grin and then went into the bathroom to try to gain my composure.
I didn't think that she'd get the job, but the employer had agreed to at least give her an interview--she hadn't even had one of those in over ten years. I stared at myself in the mirror under the florescent lights, taking in the garish effect, and all I could think about was that picture of her, so young, so full of hope and promise, so excited about her tomorrows. "Can't do anything about it so get. it. together." I threatened the woman standing before me. "Now".
"How did it go"? I asked as I rose to meet her.
"I don't think it went very good," she whispered, her squinted eyes focusing not upon me, but upon an imaginary spot on the floor. A spot, perhaps, that led to some parallel place where life had happened very differently for her, a spot, perhaps, where instead of the lines upon her face being created from sorrow, they were created instead from smiling too much.
We drove to her home in near silence. I placed my hand over hers when we stopped in her drive. "It will get better, I promise. The first interview is always the hardest".
She nodded slowly and said, "I actually believe you. I can't believe that I do, but I believe that you really want to help me". She tilted her head as she waved goodbye after she shut my car door, the sun catching her just so; not so that I could see the girl from the photo, but so that I could see each line upon that once beautiful face.
When I got home, I kissed the Queens sweet, unadorned cheeks and foreheads, and when I prayed that night, I didn't ask that their faces remain always so, but instead that the lines upon their faces come from an over-abundance of sun and smiles.
And I prayed for her; my client, as I sobbed for the girl in the photo. The girl who had no idea what the future held for her; no idea what marks time would leave upon her soul and face, who had no idea that the only kiss that her husband would ever give to his children would be through her straining stomach, the girl whose face showed only a faint hint of lines as she squinted in the sun that day.