Friday, January 22, 2010

My Surreal Tale

According to the comments you all so kindly left on my previous post it looks as if we all agree, Anderson Cooper is a brave man. And the more I hear about him, it sounds as if that occurrence with the boy in Haiti wasn’t an isolated display of his heroic character.

After a lengthy conversation with a friend yesterday, I started thinking, what, (if not downright heroic, but certainly helpful act), have I ever performed for a complete stranger?

A peculiar incident came to mind. One afternoon I was driving my three-year old daughter and thirteen-year old son to Target, my son had just gotten out of school for the day. We pulled off the 57 Freeway in Orange County to get gas. My daughter was in her car seat and my son was sitting alongside, doing his best to keep her amused. I climbed out to pump the gas.

A pretty dark girl stood at the pump in front of me, next to a moped. A young boy (I’d venture to guess he was around six or seven) was standing next to her, wearing a backpack that looked way too heavy for his tiny shoulders. Well, her card wouldn’t work in the machine, and she told the boy they were out of money and she didn’t know what she was going to do. Just then a man walked over from the other side of the pump and offered to buy her some gas. “I couldn’t,” she said.

“Hey,” he said, “I’ve been in a jam before, Let me buy you some gas.”

I was pleased to see that there were still gentlemen in this world. I went about my business, but soon heard the girl call out, “Get your hands off me, you dirty bastard!”

I looked up to see the guy pawing at her, right there at the gas pump. Seemed he wanted a little something/something before he shelled out a few measly bucks! I hurried over and screamed at him, saying, “Let go of her—now!”

He launched a few choice words in my direction before kicking the moped over, which nearly struck the little boy. In a rage, he stomped it a few times before hopping in his oversized-brand-new-shiny-pick-up-truck and taking off like a bat outa hell.

I helped the girl right the moped, but it was obviously damaged. “I can’t ride it this way!” She cried. “Why me? Why is everything bad happening to me lately?”

The little boy threw his arms around her slender hips, and said, “Oh, Mama.”

She looked too young to be his mother. I’d mistakingly pegged them as brother and sister. “Look,” I said, watching my son hop out of my mini-van. “We can load the moped in the back of my van. And I'll drive you home.”

My son said, “Mom, I used the mobile phone to call 911, I gave them that man’s license plate number, they’re on they’re way over.”

“Damn it! No!” The girl cried. “You called the cops?”

The design firm I was working for at the time had seen fit to give me a mobile phone to use in emergency situations, (they were super-expensive to operate back then, and I might add the size of brick), but I hadn’t even given the phone a second thought, as the thing baffled me anyway. But my son had been clear-headed enough to use it, (bragging moment, he’s a micro-biologist now), and when confronted with the girl’s displeasure his hopeful face crumpled. “My son did the right thing,” I told her, “That maniac will have to pay for damaging your bike, and besides, he can’t run around accosting girls.”

“I don’t have a license,” she said. “They’re gonna bust me!”

I put my hand on her shoulder, she was so distraught the little boy was whimpering. “Calm down. They won’t ask to see your license.”

I told my son to go sit with his sister. A motorcycle cop drove up, dismounted, and asked what happened. The girl told her story. He looked at me then, asking, “And just who are you?” I told him that I'd been pumping gas nearby and witnessed how the guy manhandled her, and how he kicked the moped over and stomped on it.

“So, you’re telling me, he offered to buy her gas, and then he made advances?”

“Yes,” I said, adding, “And when she pushed him away he freaked out.”

“You two want me to believe that he did all that, right here at the gas pump? In front of everybody?”

Everybody?” I said, “Not everybody. Nobody else was here, except us.”

“Who called 911?”

I pointed to the van. “My son did.”

He walked over to the van and peered inside. Then he walked over to the moped and looked at it. “Have you been drinking?” He asked the girl.

Were we on Candid Camera? I thought. Surely this couldn’t be happening? “Look,” I said, feeling more than a little out of sorts with the slow-witted husky cop by then, “Give her a break, she’s with her little boy in the middle of the day, all she needed was some gasoline.”

“Be quiet," he warned. I shut up.

The jerk leaned over the girl, and asked, “Were you propositioning that man?”

I just had to interfere. I flipped out, saying, “Pleeaassee! Are you insane! I told you, I was standing here the whole time. I told you exactly what I saw. That’s all that happened!”

So his partner pulled up, they went off and had a little pow-wow, and the girl turned to me and whispered, “Great. I’m going to jail.”

“You aren’t going to jail,” I muttered. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“You wait. You’ll see.”

The cops strolled over and asked for the girl's license (I'd been wrong on that count) and she told them she'd forgotten it at home. I told the mean cop that I was going to load her moped in my van and drive her home. We had three hungry children to think about. I gave them both a piece of my mind, telling them that they should be off chasing the pervert, not harassing the girl. So, they took her information down, they took my information down, and off they went. They didn’t even offer to help load the moped. The experience was quite surreal.

We got in the car. I told her I was pulling into the McDonalds across the street because I had promised my kids a snack. I ordered three Happy meals and the kids ate while I drove her home. “So,” I said, “We’ll see if they catch that guy, and he’ll have to pay to have your moped fixed. I hope he goes to jail.”

She replied, in a deadpan voice, “Not gonna happen. I gave them fake information. And that’s not my bike. And I’m moving back to Arizona, tomorrow. They treat me like this because I’m Mexican. My folks are in Arizona—they’ll help me. I should have gone home a long time ago. Since I came to California my life’s been one long screwed-up downhill ride.”

“Sorry to hear that,” I said.

“Mama, I don’t wanna leave,” said the boy.

She turned around, glared at him, and snapped, “Shut the fuck up.”

I didn’t appreciate her language or attitude. You could see the shock on my son’s face, and shortly thereafter he handed the boy the Happy Meal toy, as if he thought that might make the kid feel better.

The girl certainly wasn’t the most likable person I’d ever run into, but I sure did feel sorry for her son. And I hoped their lives would improve, if indeed they were returning to Arizona. When I dropped her off, and after we helped her unload the moped, she didn’t thank us. She simply turned away and began to push the moped down a narrow driveway towards a ramshackle house, the boy tagging behind.

I did help her though. I’m pretty sure I did.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.


Cloudia said...

I've worked with the people of the streets.
That girl was so far down that she attracted more down. Your son grew up a little that day. Perhaps that girl (like me) has grown and changed and has thought back with some embarrassment from her new perspective and has thanked "that woman" (you) many times in her heart. Bless you!

Aloha, Friend

Comfort Spiral

lakeviewer said...

Yes, surreal. I've been amazed at the attitude of the policemen. But then, I'm sure that's been their experience with these things too. You were a good soul; and learned a big lesson too.

Joanne said...

Sometimes it's hard to know when to step in, how much to do, when to keep walking. I guess we have to follow our instincts as to what's right and what's wrong. Kudos to you for your efforts.

L.T. Elliot said...

I'm with Cloudia. Maybe today, with time and life down the road, she'll remember what you did for her with gratitude. To be sure, I'm certain her son does. God Bless.

Nancy said...

We can only do what we feel is right in our hearts. The hearts of others are up to them. You put the good energy out there, and it set an example for that little boy, and everyone else involved.

Marguerite said...

A good deed is never wasted. I would have done the same thing. Very interesting story!

arlee bird said...

Indeed a peculiar story. We should always try to help others in need although sometimes the consequences of being a good samaritan cen be quite unexpected.

Jan Morrison said...

Of course you did the right thing. We can't control what others do with the generosity we offer them and really, it is not our business. No strings on the gifts, my father would caution my mother. The cop stuff was very chilling and that the young woman had read them right before they arrived too sad. I applaud you for standing up for what is right - your actions are what created your children to be who they are and probably was a crack in the darkness for the little guy.

sinkuenta said...

As you put it, it is a 'surrealist story' but I am glad there are people who come forward when they are needed. I thank you for the girl!

Fireblossom said...

What others do is up to them, but you and your son were on the side of the angels that day.

Kathryn said...

I'm proud of you (and your son)for stepping up and doing the right things. Hopefully she felt the goodness you both displayed sooner or later. I have a book in which Gethsemane (where Jesus was betrayed by Judas) is described as symbolizing the idea of "love meeting no response, but still remaining love." You and your son did that.

Helen Ginger said...

That makes me want to cry for the girl and especially her son. I think that was so brave of you to stand up to the pervert and to the police.

Straight From Hel

Journaling Woman said...

What a story! You are my hero. And I love love your son. Is he married? I have daughter who has her doctorate now and.... Please don't tell her I asked this. :))

Wow, Elizabeth, you could have walked away at any point. That was a terrible situation.

Kim Wencl said...

of course you helped her! don't ever question that. she was so down and out she couldn't see the forest for the trees - but that doesn't negate the positive energy you and your son gave her and her son.

Alix said...

Wow Elizabeth! That's some story. It almost rivals the famous Brotin Tales.

It went in so many directions! I was feeling so sorry for the young girl and her son, grateful for the guy at the gas pump who offered her assistance, then was furious at him when he forced himself on her, then was proud of you and your quick-thinking son, then was angry and ashamed at the cops and their racial profiling, then was disappointed at the young woman for her lack of gratitude and for being so harsh with her boy.

But you absolutely helped her. Absolutely positively.

The only thing I ever did - which ended up not being much - was go for advanced testing when I came up as a potential bone marrow donor for a two-year old boy who needed a transplant. I understand the donor process is quite painful, but I was willing to do anything I could to help that boy. Turns out I wasn't a suitable match (only 2 out of 6 titers matched). To this day I think about that boy and wonder if he survived.

God bless you for being such a kind hearted person. I love you, Elizabeth.

Jemi Fraser said...

Random acts of kindness are never wasted - even when they don't work out the way they should. Hopefully they found a better life.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Of course you helped them. Imagine the story with you out of the equation. The police's behaviour is an insight into that young woman's world. I see it quite often here- you're poor, because of that everyone from nurses to police think they can treat you as they like. It is awful to watch. You were right to point out their terrible behaviour.

Debbie said...

That is an incredible story. What an experience. I am appalled that they cops immediately tried to blame the girl.
And yes, I think you helped her. Being shown kindness by a stranger goes a long way.

momcat said...

Even if your help is not appreciated by the recipient it makes a difference. We never know how we touch peoples lives but we have to be the person who reaches out and makes a difference.