Capturing life in words…
The sun shone brilliantly, off-setting the grumpy mood of my two adolescent children arguing with one another as we headed towards the car.
“I want to sit in the front! You rode shot-gun last time,” spat my daughter, sleep-deprived due to a slumber party the previous evening.
“Lisbeth, I am sick of your PMSy attitude, which obviously caused a hormonal memory issue because you sat in front last time. Remember when we drove to volunteer?” Josiah ran his hand through his hair, a sign of agitation.
“Mommmmm! Will you tell this beast, it is my turn,” my newly moody daughter implored. I slid my glasses on, wishing the moods of my children would transition like my lenses. Before adolescence Josiah and Lisbeth were inseparable and pleasant– always looking out for the other. Lisbeth would randomly plant kisses on Josiah’s cheek and he didn’t rub them off. In the toy aisle, they would help each other find “the perfect toy” with allowance earned from picking up toys to the song, “Clean up, Clean up, everybody everywhere” … and they helped each other.
I was tired. Not in the mood to oversee the sibling version of Judge Judy unfold in my front lawn. As they, talking at the same time, of course, began to present their case I held up my hand palm out. Absorbed in trying to speak louder than each other, it took them a minute to note my non-verbal cue to cease and desist.
A wise mother knows when silence occurs you have to act swiftly. “I do believe there is some town law indicating all animals are to be transported in the back seat, so I am going to banish you both to the back seat, AND,” I emphasized, as eye-rolling with sighs dramatic enough to earn an Oscar, “And,” I repeated, I am putting Andrew in the front seat,” I said with playful grin.
“Andrew?” they chimed in unison.
“Yes, Andrew Jackson, ” I took the twenty out and smacked it on the passenger seat. I sat down, with a happy smile. Proud of myself for thinking on my feet after being kept awake by giggling girls the night before.
I needed to get a little gas, just enough to get them to their father’s for a visit. So I started to leave, with only my driver’s license in my back pocket and Andrew Jackson next to me in the passenger seat, but a nagging feeling told me to grab my debit or credit card. I ignored it, and when the feeling became almost urgent, I turned around to go get the debit card.
Protests in stereo- one on each side of the backseat- began, as I expected. “What are you doing.! Mom, we are already late to Dad’s house?”
Squinting into the sun, I made a legal u-turn. “I need my debit or a credit card… just in case,” I muttered barely loud enough for them to hear. Not knowing what the “just in case” could be, I hoped they didn’t press the issue. I didn’t have a valid reason. Yet, the reason of my “knower” or sixth sense would not be ignored today. I have driven dozens of times with just my license and a bit of cash, but the nagging feeling was insistent. I learned after deciding “out of the blue” to visit Mom and find her in the last hour of life, not to ignore these nudges.
A few teenage sighs and comments about, “Mom’s already having senior moments,” later and I was at our house. I quickly entered via the garage door, promised the dogs I’d be back soon, and I grabbed the debit card. For some reason, this oppressive, nagging, worry immediately abated. Hmm. Weird. Okay. Just keep on rolling.
I grabbed an iPod off the kitchen table to give Josiah something to distract him from his sister. Mentally I noted she had her mini-iPad (thank you uncle Jimmy), so I could re-direct her away from Josiah.
I slid into my seat, began backing out as I buckled my seat belt. The complaints began right away– a more convoluted form of tattle telling. Do they ever out-grow this?! I tossed my iPod to Josiah and asked Lisbeth what radio station she wanted. Soon the car was quiet except for the Ooo-la-la of the teeny bopper voices on the radio. I knew I was getting old because they all sound the same. Jay had told me the singers now have their voice ran through a program which corrects any tone errors. Hell, no wonder they all sound the same. Since learning this tidbit, I call all the young groups IBM (if male) and Apple (if female).
Turning into the gas station, I preempted the typical requests for junk food, “We are late. No snacks. You can eat all the sugar and chips you want at your father’s.” More eye-rolling. My gawd, was I like this as a teen?! As I turned towards the pump, ready to slide my debit card, I caught Lisbeth out of corner of my eye. She missed in attempt to kick Josiah with the side of her Nike. I paused: To referee or not referee? Nah, let natural consequences occur. Soon she was whining, “He just slapped my leg! Mooooommmmmm!”
I got in the car, rolled the windows up, put the window lock on. My glare spoke volumes. Silence ensued — before I even shut the doors.
Returning to the pump- in blessed silence- the pump’s communication window flashing on “Do you want a car wash?’. I declined with a simple push of a button and chose to stay outside and enjoy the wind on my face, the sun still feeling warm. I found myself smiling despite the quickly increasing digitalized numbers on the pump. (The charges moved swiftly. The number of gallons, ah, not so much.)
The caressing warm breeze was like a kiss from God. Even gas prices could not negate something so peaceful. The phrase: “A moment of peace in a busy day, is good for the soul” passed through my mind.
My mini-escape from reality interrupted by a nervous, “Ma’am, ummm, sorry, b-b-but, ummm,” he sighed raggedly. Young, I’d say just a few years older than Josiah and a clean-cut young man, with dark hair and eyes. He was sweating heavily for a 62 degree day along his hair line, and his palms too, I discovered as he nervously reached to shake my hand.
His dark eyes troubled, and fighting tears. “Ummm, I went to get my girlfriend, and well, I had to get her, she was so upset… and well, I screwed up really bad… I didn’t have… umm, but she was in a bad way…I just need a couple of dollars.”
Behind him was an SUV about a decade old. Inside a teen girl looking doggedly ahead as she chewed her thumbnail.
Feeling maternal, “What grievous sin have you committed? Did you rob the gas station?” I smiled. The compassionate side of me hated to see a young man so distressed, my hope was humor would alleviate some of his anxiety, as I knew tears from a boy his age would make him feel worse.
A nervous laugh held his tears in check, “No, I well, we are out of gas… and if you could give a dollar or two, I figure within the hour I’ll have enough to get her home. And drive back myself. To my home.”
I remember being 17. A hero who runs out of gas, certainly would be very upsetting for a high schooler. Yet, if it were my daughter who needed “rescuing,” from whatever choice she made, I hoped a clean-cut hero would deliver her safely home.
Giving Josiah and Lisbeth a non-verbal, “just one minute,” signal I walked to the teen’s rusty, but clean SUV. His girlfriend slid down in her seat, trying to conceal she was wiping her nose on her shirt.
As I swiped my card a second time, but at the pump his SUV was parked, I asked him were she lived and he lived. The young man was clearly stunned. With eyes wide, and a tone transparent with incredulousness, he answered. Knowing both areas, I knew six bucks would definitely get him there, so I pumped twelve bucks.
Looking at his young face– smile of gratitude, tears of shame, relief in his posture and nervously shuffling weight from foot to the other, I felt the urge to re-frame this incident as a positive for him.
“If the worst thing you do in life is run out of gas trying to help someone you care about, I promise you will be okay,” I said slowly, and loud enough for only his ears. Immediately, he opened his arms, like my older son, now on his own, used to do when he needed a hug. I hugged him, mommy-style, as his shaky voice whispered, “Thank you. God bless you.”
As we pulled apart, he offered to get the money and mail it to me. Shaking my head, I tilted my head and asked, “Do you know what paying it forward means?” He looked back blankly.
Well, some day, when you are 30, 40, or 50-something, some young person will need your help– you just pay it forward.” Instantly his face went from shame to vibrant anticipation.
“Yes, yes! I will pay it forward!” And then he started pumping my hand. Again. “Yes, I will pay it forward to someone else!”
As I walked back to my sedan, I felt happy. Peaceful.
And when the SUV passed me to exit, two young faces were smiling and waving at me. The girl was sweet looking. Her eyes were very swollen. She had been crying for awhile– and not over an empty gas tank, for certain. She smiled and mouthed “Thank you” and he waved exuberantly behind her tear-stained face. I held a hand out in a wave.