Holy things and folk tales favor threes, but I can’t be so tidy by writing about having three fairy godmothers. The third candidate transcends the title, because for me, she acted as neither fairy nor mother: she was more like God, and I met her in the lobby of a car repair shop in Waco, Texas.
A year had passed since I had met the woman in the grocery store. Since then, I’d gotten married and moved an hour away from the school I was attending in order to split the traveling distance with my husband, who was also in graduate school at a university an hour north of where we lived. I told myself that we were decadently poor because we were electing to pursue post-baccalaureate degrees when we were certainly qualified for jobs that would earn us as much money as we make now. We were choosing this. Even though I knew this, that didn’t comfort me when I was cursing and grinding newly hatched roaches that climbed up through the cracks of our kitchen table leaves with my bare fist. If I hadn’t been staying late nights on campus to tutor Japanese businessmen in English just so I’d have enough gas money to make it home, I might not have been able to drop into bed too tired to care about whether or not that something tickling my leg was merely my husband’s long leg hair, or if it were one of the thousands of cucarachas that overran our apartment.
Between us, my husband and I were driving almost a thousand miles a week. To cut costs, we couch surfed in the homes of gracious friends several nights a week through our first year of marriage. We’d pack a couple days’ worth of food, our backpacks for school, and our duffel bags, kiss (or not kiss, depending on how things were going), and say our goodbyes. Despite our efforts to save money, our cars suffered and required more maintenance than we could afford. Only a couple weeks into this schedule, my car broke down while I was at school and I had to stay a couple extra days until I could pick it up from the shop and drive home for the weekend.
As I was thumbing through some women’s magazine in the waiting room of the repair shop, a petite woman walked in with an already-open snack-size bag of Cheetos and a Big Texas Cinnamon Roll in one hand, and a perspiring can of Hawaiian Punch in the other. She selected a seat catty-corner to mine. She set down the punch and Cheetos and tore into the cinnamon roll.
I eyed the snacks, covetous and judgmental, wishing I could taste the sweet, sticky plastic gum of that obnoxious honey bun, or the salty Styrofoam taste of Cheetos—neither item I would ever allow myself to buy.
She caught me.
Seeing more skinny-girl censure than hungerlust in my stares, she said, “You’ve got a cute little figure. I let mine go a long time ago.”
Although I knew I had been judging her junk food, I was truly hungry that day.
“Actually, I was just looking at your food. It looks really good.”
I told her that I commuted a lot and always ran out of food before I could get home because I ate everything I packed and I didn’t want to buy anything. That day, I’d had a brick of ramen, a handful of nuts, and some wrinkled fruit.
“Do you want something?”
Feeling embarrassed, I told her no, and we moved on to talk about Texas heat in July, her concerns for her young daughter, school, and my being a newlywed.
Suddenly, she left the room without excusing herself.
While she was gone, I thought about how her eyes shone a strange celeste, beyond the usual borders of the iris. I couldn’t think of it long, because she returned with another Big Texas bun in her hand.
She held it out to me:
“Take it. Get it away from me.”
If I could have laughed, I would have; but I cried. When I couldn’t stop sobbing, the quiet elderly woman who had been impassively glancing through a stack of Woman’s Day magazines exited the room.
At last I could talk between hiccups and gasps, and I asked her if she’d ever had one of those days that are just so bad that you can’t explain them.
“Well, you just made my day so good that I can’t explain that either.”
“Honey, we all need those days. There’s someone watching out for you.”
She pointed up.
I kept crying and shaking my head in that car care center lobby as I unwrapped the gift and began to eat.
We continued to talk, and she wanted to know if I knew Christ, and if it were personal. I was glad to tell her that I did.
When she believed me, she told me that one day when she was taking a walk, God showed her that His creation was beautiful. She noticed this little purple flower along the sidewalk that was so intricate. She said she’d never thought about how we unknowingly trample ones just like this, never realizing how complex and delicate they are.
“It’s strange, though,” I said. “It’s so much easier to realize when we do that to nature than when we do that to people—and that’s really messed up. It’s much, much harder to forgive.”
Her face changed and she quit talking. I swallowed the last bit of the bun and waited.
After a significant pause, she shared with me that she’d been to prison for 18 years for being an accessory to murder in a gang-related setup.
I didn’t know what to say, and she didn’t wait for me to figure it out, either.
She looked at me directly and told me that I was the daughter of the Living God, and that I might need to spend some more time with Him.
“You,” she said, “are a part of a very peculiar people. Don’t forget that.”
I’m sure I told her I knew that. She told me her name and just when she was giving me her number, the mechanic paged her to let her know that her truck was ready.
We parted, and when I was driving home, I called my husband.
“I saw God today.”
“I said, I saw God.”
“You mean you saw someone who reminded you of God?”
“No. I said I saw God. And she said she’d murdered somebody.”
“Okay. You’re going to have to explain this.”
To Be Continued…