I don’t which way, the ball just bounces.
I don’t know, maybe the cards just fall.
Or maybe there’s some ancient chain of causes and effects
Got one man walking proud while another man crawls.
“That Could Have Been Me” by Tonio K.
Sam and I were down in Manchester last week for my daughter Becca’s 26th birthday, celebrated with one of her sisters (the other forced to slave away at work), four of her friends and her mom. Because Becca was born on October 26, her favorite number is 26, and she believes being 26 is an omen of a great year. While Becca is smarter than I, and a better writer than I, she is also a bit of a flake. I say that with adoration, but, c’mon, how does a young woman looking at doctoral programs maintain an interest in astrology and numerology? Still, we had a delightful time, if “we” is the human beings involved. Sam sat in the car, and didn’t tell me about his level of delight.
While down south, I happened to have lunch on two consecutive days with women in their mid-30s. Before you go making assumptions, these lunches were not arranged through Buckets of Fish, tediouslunchdates.com or any other romantic/desperation-fueled web sites. I’m friends with Sarah and Bree, and we had lunch. Period.
Except not period. I keep on turning over the two conversations in my head, trying to figure them out. Let me explain.
Sarah is a bright, witty, attractive mother of two while Bree is a bright, witty, attractive mother of one. Each of them is capable of running a business, writing a novel, leading an expedition or getting a great tan. Capable except for the paths the universe has placed them on.
Sarah is in charge of marketing for a nursing home, although I suspect there’s a more au courant term in use. She spends her work days spreading the gospel of extended care, expanding her network of contacts and spreading joy wherever she goes. Seriously. She is a dynamo of positivity, even though our lunchtime conversation was mainly about her brother, who was first diagnosed with schizophrenia 15 years ago and is now involuntarily hospitalized. In talking about him, Sarah’s love and tenderness toward him came off her in waves. While her brother’s illness has clearly caused her a lot of pain, her take on it is almost Shirley-Templish, with a can-do, must-do, will-do spirit that inspires. When Sarah talks about her family, whether her adored father who died with incredibly-early-onset Alzheimer’s, her other brother, a Muslim convert in Florida or her mother, whom she loves but who drives her crazy, it’s clear Sarah has an attitude that will help her get through anything. She’s not good at taking compliments, so she’d hate to hear me say this, but she’s the kind of person I’d want to be stranded on a desert island with—even as we starved to death, she’d continue spotting invisible boats on the horizon. From the outside—and that’s all any of us can know—Sarah’s life is pretty damn good and she’s pretty damn thankful for it.
Bree doesn’t work, can’t work because of just-diagnosed Multiple Sclerosis that had been manifesting itself for the past few years as pain and exhaustion. Bree also suffers from flare-ups where she has no sense of touch on large parts of her body. She’s applied for Social Security Disability, but been denied and is now appealing the decision. While we ate, I congratulated Bree on nine months of sobriety and on two years of clean time from heroin. Bree is homeless rightnow, not the kind of homeless where you’re living down by the tracks with a band of others, but the couch-surfing, staying-with-a-friend, visiting-out-of-town-relatives kind of homeless. The kind where you have no fixed address and don’t know what pillow you’ll be on after the weekend. Bree casually mentioned over lunch that her mother had committed suicide when Bree was two, and that she and her father had just a Facebook friendship. Raised by the state infoster homes, Bree went out on her own at 13, and has made her way since. Given these facts, you might expect Bree to be bitter or rage-filled or defiant. You would be wrong. Bree is as positive about her hand in life as Sarah. She looks back on accomplishments with pride and looks forward to challenges with anticipation. While she doesn’t much like where she is now, she knows things will get better. From the outside—and that’s all any of us can know—Bree’s life is pretty damn bad, but she’s pretty damn thankful for it.
So . . . these two conversations bounce around and off each other in my brain and I try to extract some kind of lesson. Two women whose circumstances could hardly be more different yet who maintain a hope, a belief, a touchstone in progress, in positivity, in possibility. It’s as though the life force coursing through the green fuse that drives flower does the same with these two women, energizing them with the faith that life will get better. Or something like that. They demonstrate a homing instinct toward hope, powered by joy.
Leaving aside my need for lessons, when I left Sarah, I gave her a long hug and we wished each other well. We’ll see each other again in a few weeks. When I left Bree, I gave her a long hug and we wished each other well. I don’t know when we’ll see each other. Then I reached in my pocket and gave Bree my knife, newly sharpened and with a significant blade. No matter how positive she may be, how hopeful that the sun will come out tomorrow, she’s a homeless woman in a city.