Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Mon 1/23/2006 12:08 AM
Random Thought: It Happened On The Way....

2:45 a. m. Can't sleep. Nothing is working. Slight headache. So, I may as share what's been on my heart and mind these last couple of days. All weekend I couldn't stop thinking about a certain young lady I met. Even the NFL playoffs and my beloved UNC's squeaky victory over FSU weren't much of a distraction. It happened Saturday morning. I still can't believe what happened. It was one of those "in the strangest places" moments. I went out late in the early morning. It was about 5:30 a.m. It was warm, foggy, overcast, and gray. My walk started out gloriously. I got myself up to power walking the first mile of my five mile route. I was about to discover, however, how even more mysteriously glorious that walk was going to become.

As I was briskly moving down Oak Street., a pickup truck stopped next to me. I heard a stammering "Excuse me." I stopped and turned. Leaning out of the truck's cab was a non-traditional young lady. Her face was taut and her eyes were swollen and red. Tears were running down her cheeks. I could see her holding the steering wheel for dear life, so tightly her knuckles were a brilliant white.

"You know about this here school?"

"I'm a teacher here."

"Could you tell me where Powell Hall is?" I gave her directions. "Pray for me," she said, "I trying to better my life." She turned her head to look forward. The car didn't move. After a second or two of silence, she banged the steering wheel with a "Damn, I don't know what I'm doing here. I've been cryin' my eyes out since I left my home knowin' I'm gonna fail this thing. Maybe I would be best if I just turned this damn thing around and go back to my home and keep on waitressin' for the rest of lousy life. What's my daughter gonna think of me wantin' to quit."

"Why don't you pull over," I suggested calmly.

She looked at me, nodded, turned the steering wheel to her right, slowly crossed two lanes, hopped the curb, and sat there staring straight ahead with her truck half on the curb and half on the street. I slowly crossed the street's four lanes. Before I could say a word, she turned her head towards me and offered me a tearful "I'm sorry. It's just I'm so tired of bein' a loser." Over the next five minutes I learned her life story: abused as a child, pregnant in high school, kicked out of the house by her "high-and mighty" parents, abandoned by her "dumb-ass boyfriend," dropped out of high school, got into a series of bad relationships, got her GED ten years later after four tries, fought a serious sickness, now trying to get in VSU to become a nurse "to help others like the angel who nursed me back from death's door."

"Sorry, for pukin' my guts up on you. I don't know what got over me tellin' you all this stuff, you being a stranger and all. I hope you don't mind. You just looked like someone who could listen. You don't know of such things with all your learning and all them letters trailin' behind your name."

"Oh, I don't know about that." I then proceeded to tell her my story: growing up the ignored second son, feeling unloved, a weaken self-esteem, little belief and faith in myself, less self-confidence, overwhelming sense of failure in spite of degrees and scholarly renown, an epiphany at the age of fifty, and a consequent long and continuing inner journey of change and self-discovery.

"Who would have thought. Why you tellin' me all about yourself?"

"Because anything else I might say would sound like just nice sounding but empty words. You know, that 'rah, rah' stuff."

"Oh, I know all about that 'rah, rah' stuff." You know lots of people have given me that---my preacher, my boss, a friend or two--but, you're right, it all seemed unreal and like they didn't really understand. It was just words to them and me. They just used high soundin' words they felt was expected of them to say. They never felt them. They never showed me that you can use those words. But, you showed me what you've been through and that changing can be done. Maybe if you done got passed your stuff and got to where you are, I can too."

"No maybe about it."

"But," as she was talking to herself, "what if I don't pass this here test?"

"What did you do when you failed the tests for the GED the first time?"

"I worked some more and took it again. I wasn't let nothin' stopping me. It was the beginning of the way to get me and especially my daughter out from being stuck and on the right road. I seen what happens to others if they stay where they was."

"So? You going to let this stop you?"

"No. Guess not. I gotta stay on that road. I guess if I don't do well I'll just have take it again until I do."

'You know, you said you were a loser. Let me tell you something. I don't see a loser. A loser wouldn't have gotten a GED. A loser wouldn't be caring about her daughter. A loser wouldn't be here in this truck heading to take a test to get into the university to become a nurse to help others."

"I thank you for that, but do you really think I have it in me to change my ways?"

"You already have started changing your ways."

"I have?"

"Sure. You didn't just stand around feeling sorry about yourself all these years. You didn't just wish about 'some day;' you started making that 'some day' a today. You got a job, became good at it, took care of your daughter, got your GED, got away from bad relationships. You're still not satisfied with having done all that. You know there is more and you want it. Now you're reaching for a college education to become a professional. If deep down if you didn't believe in yourself, if you didn't have the determination to change your life, if you didn't think it was important for both your and your daughter's sake, you wouldn't be here. Lady, you're a winner in my book and you have an inner strength you still don't see."

"Then, why have I wasted so much of my life?'

"Maybe it wasn't wasted. Maybe you just had to warm up for this time. Maybe you had to go through what you went through for this to mean something, to really mean something. Now it's your time. Take it."

"But, it's so hard. And, I'm so scared."

"Was getting a GED hard?"

"While raisin' a youngin' and workin'? You don't know the half of it. I was scared out of my wits after I messed up the first time. More so after the second and third time."

"But, you didn't let anything stop you. You a good waitress?"

"Best there is," she proudly replied with the first smile I saw. "And, my regulars think highly of me."

"Were you 'best there is' when you first began waitressing?"

"Honey," she giggled, "I couldn't balance a cup of coffee on a tray without spilling half of it and mixed up more orders than you can count. I was scared I'd be kicked out the door those first days. And, would have if my boss wasn't an understanding man. It was hard at first, but I kept......" She stopped, thought for a minute, smiled slightly. "I think I'm seeing your point."

We talked some more. I don't know how long I was standing by her truck, but it wasn't a short while. Good thing there was no traffic at that time of a Saturday morning.

"I want to thank you for taking all this time from your exercise to help me. Why'd you do it? You don't know me from Adam."

"I told you. I'm a teacher. Let me know how things turn out and if I can help you around here in any way after you get admitted."

"I don't have anything to write down your name."

"Just ask around about the professor who power walks early in the morning. You'll find me."

"Will you know who I am? You got nothin' to write my name down."

"Just say you're the young lady in the red truck. I'll know. Now go relax and kick some butt."

"I will."

With that, she turned the ignition and drove off with a slight screech of the tires. Feeling like I had just lived the first scenes of EDUCATING RITA, while I stood there stunned, saying to myself, "What the hell just happened?"

I spent the rest of my walk and a good part of this weekend trying to answer that question. I'm not sure I have a handle on it yet.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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