It’s Christmas morning, I’ve just picked up a rack of ribs from Luckey’s, and I am on my way home from the dog park. As I slow at San Pablo to avoid the left turning traffic, I note someone (an older man?) with their thumb out at the bus stop. It’s Christmas, I hit my flashers and pull over to offer them a ride. Before the door opens I note that it is a woman, hood and sunglasses, still a woman. Holy shit, she has no face. Just a sunken hole around her single facial opening, a two inch hole where her nose should be.
I am shushing the dogs, turning down the stereo, and merging into traffic so it is half a mile before I ask, “where are you going?” Her voice is soft, I have to strain to hear, but it is a pretty lilting voice that answers, “To the hospital.”
We make small talk, the weather, the holiday, me never looking at her. I so want to look, to see just how she is making these vocalizations, but I am unsure of myself. What if I steel a glance but am unable to contain my horror? No, better just to make small talk and stare ahead. She turns to greet the dogs, I steady myself for the fusillade of barking that is sure to come, instead I hear their tales beating cadence on the back seat.
I pull into Alta Bates and up to the emergency entrance. She expresses gratitude as she opens the door…”thank you”…”the buses aren’t running”…”I had no money for a taxi”…”it was too far to walk”…
Shamed, I sit gripping the steering wheel, staring straight ahead. I wish her well and have the car rolling as soon as the door is shut. Out of the parking lot and down the street to Ashby where I sit waiting for the green light. My mind is swirling, I feel unable to keep up; as the light turns green I find myself pulling a u-turn and driving back to the hospital. Not sure what I am doing, I hit the flashers and leave the car blocking the emergency entrance. Still unsure what I am doing, I only knew it was wrong to treat someone like that…maybe the holiday opened my heart a bit. I saw her sitting in the waiting room, a hospital clipboard clasped to her chest. I walked across to her, steeled myself and looked directly into her face; “hey, uh, I wanted to make sure you make it home safe”, I say, as I pull my wallet to give her a twenty for the taxi. As she stood to thank me, the puckered scarred mess with the gaping hole that should have been her face disappeared and all I saw was a scared and timid woman caught in an ugly ugly world. I gave her as much of a hug as I felt her frail body could stand and told her “Merry Christmas”. Before I let her go she replied, almost to low to hear, “merry christmas and god bless you.”
Somehow I was back out to Ashby waiting for the light…realizing…that….
I am already blessed, I just need a little help remembering sometimes.