I was walking to an appointment in 87 degree humid weather, in my heels and skirt, trying to figure out where I was going to come up with a gas can, more cash to put gas into it, and how I was going to do it in enough time to get Little A from daycare, 99 miles away.
My employer had let the gas card run out, again. I was encouraged to put in $10 increments of my own money until they found time to put the funds on the card. That proved especially difficult to do when my checks were consistently short with promises of "catching up" the next pay period and I had two Queens at home with a budget that, literally, was balanced to within $8.
I had gambled with fate; my GPS had told me I had .8 miles until my destination. The car quit running at .4 miles. I rolled into an abandoned parking lot (not hard to find where I was working) and proceeded to hoof it.
I took deep breaths to calm the storm brewing inside of me while I apologized for being late. It was his time--my clients--not mine. I was meeting with him to talk about his hopes, his ambitions, his triumphs and failures.
So many times I want to tell my clients, "I've been there, I completely understand, and that's why I'm here, helping you," but none more so than that day. I didn't, of course--it's often a mystery to employers and others what drives me to lengths that I go to in order to help the people that I work with, but I will never, so long as I live and breathe, forget what it was like to be at the absolute bottom, and how desperately I needed a helping hand. That recollection and that gratitude for second chances are some of the things that I am most grateful for in my life.
Our meeting ended and I looked at my watch. I made a call to ask one of my friends to get Little A and I put my clients file in my briefcase, looking out the window where storm clouds were moving in. I called my employer again, to which she suggested again that I add some of my own funds to the card while she "tried to correct the situation".
"I don't have any more funds," I whispered into the phone. "I don't have one.extra.dime." She sighed a sigh of someone who really didn't have time for this. I knew that her sigh meant that I was supposed to respond and tell her I'd figure it out, but instead, I just quietly shut my phone and stood up to head out into the rain, wondering how far Big A's $5 for lunch money that I had in my purse would get me.
I looked the man in the eyes that pulled up along side me and asked me if I needed a ride. His van was battered; his beard was scraggly; his cap was pulled down almost to the point where I couldn't see his eyes, but at that moment, he was what I had.
I sent a text. "Just got into a van with a stranger. The car is here" And I went to snap a photo of the road sign. And that's what the intersection was:
The corner of Mt. Hope and Cedar.
And I felt something inside of me move again; stir; whisper, "Remember me"? And suddenly, in that one moment, I did.
I remembered me.
I turned and conversed with the man beside me. He drove me to the gas station where he paid for the gas that filled his can; then to the car, while he waited to make sure that it started. I felt shamed and then overwhelmed when I tried to hand him the $5 that I had left and he refused to take the money.
My employer called to tell me that there was money on the card again, with a reminder that I needed to "be more resourceful" about my billing so that we could bill more frequently. I heard this often, but this time, I didn't feel the usual frustration rising within me; I was too busy trying to adapt to the sudden feeling of not being weighed down by what I wasn't any longer.
I used my inability to sleep that night to replay the intersections of my life over and over. "It's not too late. It's not too late. It's not too late. The corner of Mt. Hope".
The next day, I turned my planner page to the current month. I tried to take a picture of what it said, but it turned out too dark, it said:
"Be unafraid of life's changing tides. Each new day gives us a chance to sail our ship."
I was standing outside over the weekend, Little A in my arms. I gasped when I looked up at the sky; the stars were so bright--there were millions of them. "What mommy?" Asked Little A. "The stars, baby. Mommy forgot they were there." "That's silly, mommy. You're silly."
I realized I couldn't remember the last time that I looked up.
And finally, today, as I was driving to meet a client on a busy road, I saw an animal darting across the five lanes of traffic. I was in a panic; certain by the time I got there, it would be run over. I came closer, watching it weave its way through the gauntlet, and started to pull into the center lane, my hazards on, when I looked around me.
There was a truck stopped, a man lowered near the ground, his hand outstretched, crouching to eye level, beckoning the frightened creature to him, exactly as I'd have done. There was a semi stopped, his hazards flashing. The lane of traffic next to me had stopped as well, all of us, eyes upon this man, willing the dog to go to him.
As it slowly crept to him, we all smiled, some beeped their horns and waved. I got in my car and sobbed. But it wasn't the type of sobbing I'd been doing since I'd hit rock bottom, had Little A and my life had shifted into a shape that I didn't recognize. It was the type of crying that happens when you see an old friend; when somehow you are so overcome with the good, with all that might be right with the world--with hope-- that you just cannot contain yourself.
I came home that night and wrote out my intentions. My words jumbled themselves as I jotted down wisps of my awakening, my hopes, my plans, my beliefs about all the good that I could do and people that I could help, about the paths of my life finally making sense, and somehow, the valleys in my life were suddenly filled not with my constant thoughts of regret and loss and fear and what could have been, but rather with hope. And belief. And possibility. And for the first time in so very, very long, self worth.
And this is the day, today, when I'm no longer afraid of stepping out over the ledge that I've been balancing on...I'm certain that I can fly.
And it can all be traced back to Mt. Hope. And for once, for absolutely once, I'm know that I went the right way.