I glanced in her direction as I rushed by clutching my wad of cash, on my way to the bank to deposit a large sum of money into my new Argentinian friend’s mysterious offshore bank account, with desperate hopes of the money magically reappearing as a rental car when we arrive in El Calafate in a month.
She looked sad, worried, so I smiled at her, as if my smile could fix her day. She smiled back, a small smile.
I entered the bank, deposited the money, crossed my fingers and left. As I shuffled back to my illegally parked car, the small smile spoke to me.
“Excuse me. Can I ask you a question without offending you?”
I like to think I am unoffendable. I stopped. Challenge accepted.
“Yes, of course.”
“I went to the Salvation Army, but they said they won’t do nothing for me, they don’t handle this sh*t. I was on my way to a job interview and I got so nervous, I pissed myself. All I need to do is clean myself up. I know a lot of people ask for money, for drugs and alcohol and stuff, but I swear to you, I don’t drink, never drank a drop. I just need some pants. I’m just trying to get a job to get me and my daughter off the street.”
I quickly tried to process her word vomit.
My only street cred comes from knowing every single word to Arrested Development’s 1992 hit (at least in my house) “Mr. Wendal” and being an initially-guilty-contributor-turned-avid-reader of the Denver Voice. My friend knows what he’s doing. Catch people leaving the coffee shop with $5 lattes in hand and ask them for a $2 donation in exchange for a newspaper filled with stories of people impacted by poverty. It’s almost impossible not to contribute and still enjoy your coffee as you walk away. One day he handed me the paper and smiled. “That’s okay honey. No donation today. You’re like family.” Badge of honor.
“So…you need money?”
“Or, I mean…yeah, you know…”
I glanced between my illegally parked car and the bank I had just deposited a crap ton of money for a surreal vacation to Patagonia. I didn’t have a lot of time. But I had money.
“Yeah. I have money. Let me run to the ATM.”
She burst into tears. “You will?! Oh my god, thank you, thank you so much. I’m gonna get a cab right now.”
I took out $100 with no clue what to give a woman who had just pissed her pants, in need of piss-free pants.
I handed her $40. “Is this enough? I have no idea what kind of pants we’re talking about.”
Her eyes got wide. Then she side-eyed me. “Where do you work?”
I told her.
She nodded as if it all made sense. “Me and my baby, we were outside of that Starbucks up there and we got to talking to this lady. It was the first real cold night. Remember? And she paid for us to stay in a hotel. And you know what? She worked for that same company you do. You people are made of angels.”
“Yeah, I don’t know about that, but somebody must be looking out for you. Are you sure you’re okay?” I wanted to hug her, but I didn’t.
She said she was, I squeezed her shoulder and wished her luck, hurried off to my illegally parked car, shut the door, and cried.
Cried for her, cried for me, cried for the way things are. Cried because as I was rushing by her with my fist-full of money and musings of an amazing vacation, she sat in urine-soaked pants, wondering if she had screwed up another chance to get her family off the streets. Cried because she had to tell a complete stranger she pissed herself, with her one attempt hanging on me. Cried because I was worried about getting a $20 ticket instead giving her my full attention. Cried because I should have given her $100 but my tiny inside voice wondered how legit her story was. Cried because this is today, this is now, and this is it.
I drove to my friend Lisa’s house after and told her this story. She’s a public school teacher and some might agree she knows what it is to be played and she asked me if I might have been.
Yes. I might have been played.
But I don’t care. I chose to believe her, and I still choose to believe her.
No matter how you look at it, no matter what she used that money for, she needed that $40 more than I did.
Give. Be Thankful.