She said, “Yooou’re lucky,” in an accent thicker than the lines on her face.
In late June I left my doctor’s office to walk one long block down to Taco Bell where Chris was going to pick me up. The most direct path took me through the parking lot, down a flight of stairs, to a concrete sidewalk which led to the main sidewalk along the road. Right where this side path intersected with the sidewalk there was also a cross walk that ran across the road to the entrance of a multi-tiered retirement community. A woman was making her way slowly across the road with her walker. She was close to the sidewalk, as was I, when we made eye contact.
She said, “Yooou’re lucky.” She was from Brooklyn, New York. She didn’t have to tell me that—although later she would.
“Pardon?” I replied.
“You’re lucky!” she fired back. “You can walk!”
She had me there. “Yes, I am. I’m lucky. I can walk.”
Now, I’m quite frequently socially awkward. I have my moments of feigning normality, but I also have some humdinger moments of complete social ineptitude. This was a weird start!! It would have been in keeping with my character for me to kind of wave and say, “Well, have a good day!” and hurry on to Taco Bell.
But sometimes you know. I knew this was weird in a “stop and pay attention because this is a MOMENT” kind of thing.
I stopped and waited while she got to the sidewalk. “I’m Alaska,” I said. “You’re headed to Weis?” Yes, she was, and she had some things to say. Most of them involved the F word, and they were all in an Italian-from-Brooklyn accent. I’m guessing she was in her mid-80s, but she was smart as a whip and feistier than a Greek Goddess who’s been done wrong. We’ll call her Eva. Eva means life.
“My children say Ya have to walk, Ma. You can’t just sit still. The don’t F’n know what they’re talking about! They don’t have to F’n do it!”
“It’s their job to harass you so you don’t freeze up,” I said.
“F that.” She replied matter-of-factly.
I won’t lie. I was in love.
She told me about her children. They were F’n brilliant. One was a psychiatrist. The other a professor in the hard sciences. She said her daughter came home at some step along her educational path and said “We need to talk, Ma.” Eva told her “F that. We all have our problems.” I told her I have my own Psychiatrist and it’s worked out pretty well. “Good.” She said like it had been her idea that I should go. “If you need it, you should go.” She paused. “Don’t stop. Bad things can happen if you stop.” I reassured her that I knew that rule well.
She had questions for me. “What do you do?” I told her I had just defended my dissertation and we were moving so I could take a position at BYU. “You’re a Mormon?” “Yep.” She cocked her head at me. “Good. People need something to believe in. Just don’t go being a F’n jerk about it.” I reassured her that was not my M.O.
Eva was generous, funny, smart, and had the vocabulary of an inebriated sailor.
We talked about my boys, too. She decided she liked them. We covered such a short stretch of ground through the parking lot, pausing a bit at a corner of the sidewalk where she would leave the walk and head across the parking lot. But as far as sharing with each other—we covered a lot of ground. I prepared to go.
“I should go now.”
“You think I F’n care?”
I startled, then laughed out loud, “No, I guess not!” It seemed the funniest thing because of course these kinds of pleasantries are meant to mask the fact that strangers are trained to not care in order to make parting a smooth thing. It is hard to say goodbye to a new person full of possibility.
Her entire demeanor changed. “Come here,” and I did. I would have done anything for Eva in that moment. “I love you,” she said, and gave me a big hug. Very strong for someone so small. “I love you, too, Eva.” I said, smiling. Totally meant it. She took off at top Terapin speed across the parking lot. I turned and walked toward F’n Taco Bell.
God apparently will send Angels who use the F word to substitute for any manner of adjectives. The message that day was delivered first and last. “You’re lucky.” And “You think I care? Come here. I love you.”
I didn’t see her again before the move, so the chances of seeing her again are slim, but she’s unforgettable.