If I had made even one variation in my choices tonight, I would never have met her. I would not have seen her walking past the art studio, bare foot, carrying her white flip flops.
I stopped in to say hello to one of the other art instructors as I picked up oldest, Ernie, from work. A student stopped him from walking out because she had a question about the current piece she was working on. He finally got out, pulled around the front to load his bike onto the rack on the back of our van. Ernie entering the studio, was my cue to wrap up the conversation. We said goodbye and headed out, into the heat, to meet the rest of the family in an air conditioned restaurant.
It was oppressively hot but she was wearing a long sleeved, zippered hoodie and a very short skirt. Her face was pensive, as she kept looking toward the street, around every corner. Her blond hair was pulled back neatly into braid, with dyed streaks of blue.
"Do you see that girl?" I asked Ernie.
"She looks upset."
"Yah, she does."
"Should we stop or something?"
"I don't know. Do you think we should?"
She made eye contact with us as we drove past.
"Ok, I'm just going to turn around and we'll see what happens. What if she thinks we're some crazy stalkers or something?"
She crossed the street in front of us as I came back around. There was no parking, all the curbs were red. Maybe this isn't meant to be. There was an open spot large enough that I could actually pull my van in easily. We made brief eye contact again as she walked past our car.
"Maybe you should talk to her," I told my son.
"Me? I'm a guy."
"But you're closer to her age."
"Mom, just go!"
"This is crazy." I said as I climbed out of the van before she got too far.
"I'll pray," said my son.
She turned around.
"Um..are you ok?"
"No, I'm not really."
I was surprised by how open she seemed to be.
"Can you tell me what city I am in?"
"You're in Long Beach. Where did you come from?"
"I don't know."
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know. I've just been walking."
She went on to share that she had gotten into a fight with her boyfriend and wasn't really interested in trying to walk back to find him. She realized now how not smart it had been to leave with out her purse. She had no idea what she was going to do now besides hope that he eventually would come to find and pick her up. At some point she put her hand out and introduced herself.
"We were at the beach. It was my first time in the Pacific Ocean today."
"Can I get you something? Do you want something to eat?"
"Yes...I haven't eaten..." Her voice trailed off.
"I don't want to make you uncomfortable or anything but if you cross the street right here, I'll pull my car around and we can go to that little coffee house and you can get something to eat or drink." I think I said that more for my own comfort than hers. I had a feeling, she would have taken and done anything I offered...even jumped in my mini-van to go anywhere...
I told her she could get whatever she wanted. There wasn't anything to choose from but a croissant or blueberry muffin. The shop was done making sandwiches for the day. Jessica suggested we could go to the bakery near the studio, but it was already closed.
2 blueberry muffins, a croissant and a large bottle of water. One muffin for now and the rest for later...or whenever. Ernie paid for it. It was hot and stuffy enough in the coffee house that it made outside feel nice and cool. We sat on a narrow wooden bench to talk. She told me it was the first thing she had eaten all day.
She had tattoos of stars on the side of her right knee and up her leg. "Because stars represent innocence, you know like 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star'." The name Landon tattooed along her right forearm. She stood up to show us the tattoo on the back of her neck and upper back. It wasn't finished yet. It was an eagle head with it's body the face of a wolf.
Jessica is 24 and from Texas. Left to Washington as soon as she turned 18, as a military wife. She's been in California a few months, leaving behind an abusive ex-husband. Landon is the name of her son that she gave up for adoption three years ago, when he was five. Her daughter that died the day after being born, was named Daniella. Jessica's mom died on June 4, 2004, two months after Jessica got baptized as a "born again Christian" on April 4, 2004. She has a massage therapist certificate and started her education toward veterinary school and would like to be a marine biologist.
She told me she's a 'dancer' and she's not proud of it...but one day she was walking down the street and a car pulled up..."Look, if you're puling your car over thinking I'm a hooker or something you better keep on driving before I kick your car door in," she told the guy who was driving.
"Hey, ok, I like your style. Have you ever thought of dancing?" he asked.
"Dancing, what do you mean, dancing?"
She learned her pole moves from youtube and even though she doesn't like dancing, she thinks the pole tricks are fun.
Offering to pray with her felt lame. I mostly asked questions and tried to reassure her that there was a plan for her life. She had blemishes all over her legs. The type the little girls with cats get from fleas. She said she didn't have a cat though...that maybe they were from the pole.
"Are you lying about all this? I mean, I don't really mind if you are," I smiled.
"I wish I was," she answered.
I coudn't understand why she was so forthcoming with all this information.
Telling her that her prayers were being heard and she wasn't forgotten or abandoned felt lame. I remembered I had a 20 dollar bill in my wallet...then I forgot to give it to her. Her eyes watered up multiple times during our conversation.
Ernie gave her a strong word of encouragement that ended with, "...after everything it sounds like you've been through, how much more is God going to use you."
"I hope not much because I don't know how much more of this I can take," she responded.
I gave her a hug.
I left her with a church bulletin with the church address on it. "If you can make it to this church, I will be there. There will also be other people that can help you more and direct you toward other resources. There's a program, led by a former 'dancer'...she helps women that don't want to dance any more get out of that life. And we'll have lots of food and snacks...is there anything else you need right now?"
She was hoping her boy friend would find and catch up with her before it got dark. "At least I know there's at least one..." she smiled up at Ernie, "two, good people in the world."
We drove away...to go have our dinner, in a restaurant, at the mall...my tears started flowing.
"We can't save everyone mom."
"Why did I forget to give her the $20 bill!?!"
"You sat with her and had a conversation."
"And gave her a stupid muffin! Do you think she was telling the truth about all that?"
"Does it matter?"
"You're right. I don't even care if she was or not. Why would she share all that so easily?"
"Uh...the Holy Spirit. When are you gonna get it!?!"
So here I am blogging about it. It makes a good story, right? How I did this good deed for some down-on-her-luck young woman. Then I left and went back to my privileged life. She goes back to what? I gave her a muffin or two? I didn't even end up paying for them, my son did.
I sacrificed nothing.
Everything I own, more than I can handle...for what? I'm selling face scrub and dresses that I sew to take a big exotic vacation next year. She's stripping her clothes off to have money for food. And she thinks I'm a good person.
I can be doing a lot more. A LOT.