It was a Saturday morning last Christmastime, about 10:30, when I was driving home from a local music store when I came upon a hitchiker. This was a pretty crappy side of town--you know, that side of every town that looks like a bomb was dropped on it and left to bleed to death. She was skinny, stumbling, and underdressed for the chilly weather.
When she got in my car, I thought for a second that I was looking at a ghost. She told me she was 35, but appeared much older--about 50. She had an open can of Miller in her hand. She began babbling on, thanking me for picking her up and expressing her shock that a woman picked her up rather than a man.
I said, "I couldn't let a sister walk through a horrible neighborhood without a winter coat--how far are you going?"
"To the west side," she replied.
"Oh, that's too far for you to walk. You would be walking all morning."
"I know it! But it's not that cold out." She continued to talk, slurring a little. I tried not to let the smell of her breath bother me as she unloaded. She talked about the boyfriend on whom she just that morning walked out, how she thanked him for giving her kids a Christmas. She has 4 kids, one a 16-month old. The baby doesn't know any better, she told herself, but then again, the baby will grow up and know. She did, she said. Santa didn't come visit her as a child much, either.
I said very little during the entire ride, asking the occasional question to keep her talking.
"I can't take the kids, anyway. Always wanting me, always calling for me. 'Mom! Mom!' They piss me off. Did I tell you I have four? One's just a baby."
"Where's the baby?" I asked.
"With my mom. She stole her from me. Stole, hmph. Actually, I don't blame her. I can't deal with kids. She was right to take her from me." She paused for a second and looked around my car at the rosary beads, cross and pictures of the Good Shephard and Our Lady of Guadalupe hanging from my rear view mirror. "Hey, are you some kind of a Christian or something?"
"Oh." She paused for a few seconds. "Jesus hasn't done much for me. But then again, I can't kick this shit," she said, referring to the beer in her hand. "I can't stop smoking pot, either. Or other things..." she trailed off and looked out the window for a second. "They say you can quit if you really want to quit."
"Yes, and if you work on one thing at a time," I replied, "you're much more successful."
"And there's always rehab," we both said together with a knowing laugh.
I replied, "Yeah, but if you don't have a group of people around you to love you and help you through it, it's even hard to quit through rehab."
"My family thinks I'm a loser," she said to me. "They call me a drunk, a lost cause, they tell me that I'm a waste. They don't love me." She went on to talk about a rehab facility in the area that will allow people to bring their children. As I pulled into the driveway, she looked in my backseat. "Oh, man. Look at all this Christian stuff in this car. Wow. I gotta get outta here." I didn't preach at her. She didn't need to hear it. She already knows. But before she bolted into the house, I took her hand and held it for a minute. I caught her eyes and squeezed her hand before I let go.
I wrote down her address before I left the driveway. I never did catch her name.
I still pray for her.