Too Far to a Service Station
Girl (detail from a painting by M. R. Robinson)
They fade into the background of our lives. Each, someone’s lost child, even the old men with their beer breath and ragged chins, even the zombie crews who defecate on sidewalks, in alley ways, and behind the driftwood on the beach. “So do we just keep ignoring this problem that won’t go away?”
I stepped out of Anglin’s today and almost didn’t notice her but she stopped me–not the man in front or the couple behind–but me.
Clutching a leather rope tied to the ratty collar of a silky Australian Shepherd and carrying a heavy backpack with a blanket roll, her thin body moved with the easy swing of someone used to carrying weight but she didn’t look older than 16 even with her silver nose ring. “Please, is there a gas station soon?” She gestured South, ahead of her down Broadway, a street that unsuccessfully tries to pretend it isn’t Hwy 101 for the 2 miles through Eureka.
She looked at me with dark eyes through a fringe of tangled hair. “No, not for quite a ways–at least a half a mile,” I smiled, “Back that way, North, is your closest Service station,” and turned to get into my car. She arched her neck away so I wouldn’t see the tears escape down the ladders of her lashes. I slid into my car–two ships passing.
My head as heavy as my heart, my neck bent like grass in the rain. With my head against the steering wheel, I watched from the corner of my eye as she sank against the wall of a building, huddled away from the sidewalk. Not understanding her sadness but needing to do something, her dog put his paws on her shoulders and lapped up the drops spilling from her eyes. Gently she pushed him away and made him settle down.
I came to stand beside her. I didn’t want to get sucked into this morass but I came to stand beside her. “Are you..” but by the time I finished with “okay?” I had sunk down in the dirt between the buildings, the vortex of her wet eyes had pulled me into her world.
At first, she waved me away, trying to hide her tears, but when I touched her arm, she told me, “I’m going to be okay. I’m just upset ’cause this guy I knew, he just hung himself, hung himself, and he was all.. and I saw him. He was just dead and why? I mean like everybody knew him. He just hung himself, why?” Her words tangled with her sobs, muffling them and the traffic noise and the snuffling of her dog straining to burrow his nose into her neck made all but the gist of her story disappear between her heart and mine.
I knelt there through the rain of her tears. No, there was nothing I could do, she said. She’d be all right. Below the ragged skirt she wore, The dog pressed his shiny silver coat against her brown legs streaked with grayish grime. When her tears slowed a little, I slipped back to the car to peel a ten and a five from my wallet and tuck them into her hand. “Call your Mom,” I said little knowing if her mom might be the one she needed to run from. “Tell her you’re okay.”
She said she’d be alright so I left her to drive South. I needed to get gas. From the Chevron. On Broadway.
Dedicated to all the homeless, sad, crazy people that we as a society and as individuals don’t know how to deal with. Thanks to Richard Marks who gave me the courage to tell a tale I’m not very proud of.