She had a familiar and almost friendly face with white untamed hair. The lady wore multiple layers of shirts. We were not related nor did we know the same people. I was pumping gas at a Shell station in Davis, California. She passed close to my Ford F-150 on her way to some destination beyond the bounds of comfort and commerce and community. Inside the truck sat four high achievers. One of the passengers, my future daughter-in-law, would graduate from UCD the next morning with a degree in Psychology.
“You were in Berkeley yesterday,” said the lady. She made direct eye contact like it was an accusation.
Yes, I was,” I replied.
She continued walking down her path, across the empty parking lot. I looked up after closing the gas cap and I could no longer see her.
On the drive to the University area I started wishing I had talked to her, asked her some questions, given her a few dollars. Where did you see me in Berkeley? How did you get to Davis? It’s about an hour and a half drive. How did your life turn out this way? Was it bad decisions or bad luck? Was it someone else’s fault? What was high school like for you? Were you ever married? Do you have any family? How did you recognize me? Are you a homeless stalker? How tight is your grip on reality? Was it the system or a pattern of oppositional behavior? Substance abuse? Were you abused? Or is this the life you chose?
The next time I saw the lady was on a walk down by the water in San Diego, between the yachts and the aircraft carrier. She was sitting outside a seafood restaurant, watching the tourists. Her face was a little weathered and baked brown from the California sun. The eyes were the same, only brighter. It was the same lady. When she saw me she smiled.
“Have a nice walk!”
Like she really cared about the quality of my morning.
I said, “Thank you,” and kept walking.