Yesterday I met Eve.
She stood before the judge with her hands cuffed behind her back. Her manicured fingers fidgeted behind her back as she explained the hardship of her situation. She shifted in her platform sandals. Her shoulders relaxed and she breathed a heavy sigh when the judge ordered her probation be dropped and moved on to the next case. I remembered being relieved for her as the bailiff removed her from the courtroom, and then moving on to my own anxiety and irritation over my traffic violation, and the fine that likely followed. In a few short minutes my name was called and I was allowed to plead my own case before this kindly judge, who reduced my fine greatly and sent me on my way with a friendly smile. Thanks, Judge.
On my way out the door, I saw the same woman sitting on the curb, looking off into the distance and fidgeting. We exchanged smiles, and I put my bitch-face back on as I walked past.
"Miss? I'm sorry. You don't happen to have a cigarette, do you?"
I turned and really looked at her. She was very pretty, and seemed so small and young and alone.
"Yeah, there's a pack in my truck, if you want to follow me."
We stood in the parking lot, smoking and talking about our reasons for being in court. She'd been picked up on a very old probation violation, and had just spent two weeks behind bars. She'd since been told she'd been evicted, and now she and her little daughter had nowhere to go. She had no family in America. She didn't know where she'd sleep tonight if her boyfriend refused to take them in. She was a domestic abuse survivor. She was alone and afraid.
A young man came out of the building and crossed toward us, got into in his giant truck, and circled the parking lot, American flag waving on one side, Confederate flag waving on the other. She and I watched him drive past, and tried to ignore him as he rumbled out of the parking lot in his giant compensation piece. When he circled the block again, we got into my truck, and I told her we could sit here and wait for her ride for as long as it took.
We talked about our babies. About our ex husbands and our parents. We talked about circumstances and serendipity. We talked about love. We talked about music.
She just turned 25. Her father in Africa has three wives. She has seventeen brothers and sisters. The last time her husband strangled her, her two-year-old daughter went to the kitchen for a knife to rescue her. She loves to write and she loves to read.
In high school, she beat the shit out of the racist little boy who used to throw things at her on the bus, and called her "African booty-scratcher." She has a premature baby, and she believes in being outgoing and generous and friendly, because that's how she wants to be treated.
We shared our woes and our successes. We shared our mental handicaps. She listened to me drone on about my own past, my own relationships, my own strange collection of situations and circumstances. She passed no judgement, no matter how sordid the tale, or how uncomfortable the story. She listened, she responded, she smiled, she reassured.
An hour into our conversation, we finally exchanged first names, and laughed over the fact that we'd been bonding so deeply, without even knowing each other's names.
By now, court was over, and the parking lot had emptied. As the judge pulled away in his little white car, we expressed gratitude for his sweetness and kindness toward us both.
"I'm so glad I talked to you," she said, surveying the emptiness of the parking lot and the sun hanging low in the sky. "I think I would have freaked out, sitting here alone. Waiting for some serial killer to stuff me in their trunk or toss me in the river. Thank you."
We expressed our happiness multiple times, over the universe being kind enough to bring us together.
She borrowed my phone to call her boyfriend, and I listened as she defended herself against his accusations, grew quiet, and gave in. "I have to keep the peace. I hate it. He's wrong. But I have to play nice."
Her ride arrived, and she breathed a long sigh of relief. Two men got out of the car to greet her, and everyone smiled. She had a mountain of unfathomable garbage to deal with, but at least now that she had a ride home, she could get started.
We both opened our arms, and fell into each other with no hesitation. She whispered thanks into my ear. We hugged and hugged and hugged. I assured her that everything was going to be ok. That somehow, everything is always ok. I thanked her and squeezed her and she kissed my face. "I feel like you're an angel."
One last wave as I pulled away, and she and her friends disappeared in my rear view.
Spending that time with her, and talking so intimately with her was a soothing, therapeutic experience. My own impending episode, my own crying and paranoia and fear that had built up during the day and threatened to rob me of the next few days of my life, had wilted and cowered beneath the light of this fellow traveler. Eve's struggles, her openness and her willingness to love and bond with a stranger, had prevented my own darkness from swallowing me up for days. I hope that I was able to have a similar impact on her.
We were soul-mates for two hours, and I will think about her always.
Be so gentle with one another. We need each other.