As Michael and I walked away from the ER last night, my thumb bandaged and protected from the elements and stitched, a woman and a young boy ran past us. I don't mean to type cast, but this wasn't the usual mother/son pair that I pass by on a daily basis, in either Oakland or Contra Costa County. She reminded me of the seventies, but a seventies long laid to rest and hopefully forgotten. Her now graying hair was parted in the middle, straight and long. Her eyes were lined with black liner, her teeth had had many party nights of cigarettes and perhaps to few visits to the dentist. She was apple shaped, her jeans too tight, but when she turned to me all I could see was her panic.
Her son shared the panic but not her style--he was swimmer blond, slightly chubby, tan, and with his mother lock step.
"Do you have change for a twenty?" she asked.
"No," both Michael and I said.
"Do you know where I can get some change," she said, and then without waiting for our answer: "My husband is a diabetic."
She didn't need to say any more because before her words left her lips, I thought of my sister and how she used to carry little packets of sugar around with her. I would find them in her pockets, on the bathroom counter, on the floor in every room. When she was diagnosed with the disease, my mother explained how she could have too much insulin, how the sugar would bring her back. If any of you have sen Steel Magnolias and the scene in the beauty parlor where Julia Roberts goes into on of those insulin overloads, that's what I'm talking about. It's not pretty, and it doesn't feel good to the diabetic or the people around him or her.
"Here's two dollars," I said, handing them to the woman. "Buy a Snickers."
She thanked me and she and her son ran off.
Michael looked at me and we had a discussion about the contrary nature of giving a diabetic sugar, but I was thinking about my sister and how that disease ate her alive. I was thinking about how I wished I'd been a nicer person to her, and that if I had the chance to be her sister over again, I would do it better. I would give everyone two dollars if I could bring her back. I would give anything to see those little sugar packets all over the house.
But I had a sore thumb and a trip home to deal with, so I pulled my thoughts back and we headed to the car. As Michael began to pull out of the space, I looked out the window and there was the boy, holding out the change from the two dollars. I opened the window and took it, and he ran off again.
As we drove off, I realized that so much is not clear. The outsides of things don't match the insides at times, and it would have been easy for me (sore and irritated about having to ruin my Labor Day evening in the ER) to ignore the woman with the bad teeth and hairstyle. But there is a little bit of my sister in everyone, and I think I need to remember that I can give help. I might not have been able to be a better sister twenty years ago, but I can be a better person now. I can be like that mother telling her son to give me the change. I can be that son, reaching out to a strange woman with an enormous bandage on her thumb, doing what he can for his father he loves.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org