“Oh man, where's the person that should be attached to that cart?” my somewhat heart-sunk voice echoing through the warm cavity of my newish model Toyota Camry. I was on my way home from a long work day full of tasting wines, both good and bad, as well as helping all the customers that come in looking for our suggestions for this or that. I had turned on the street I always do, a long slightly industrial road that chugs along with commuter traffic but come around 8:00 PM, pretty vacant and quiet. I flicked my turn signal and directed my car into the right hand lane, as mindless an activity as I do all day and that was when I saw it.
A banged up silver shopping cart loaded with tied off Target bags, stuffed with what was left of someone’s life. The ticking of the blinker in the car urging that I turn, turn right and head home, the dingy plastic bags, double tied plastic handles, a crusty golden blanket that was exactly like the one I had on my bed when I was little, the plushy kind with the satin across the top. The one I would snuggle under when mom was too angry or lost to want me in her room. The one that felt achingly soft against my young skin, the satin bit placed between my pointer and middle fingers, and irresistible sensation I wouldn’t be able to replicate until I was old enough to truly understand sensuality.
Living in urban cities my whole life seeing a cart like that is far from rare. Hell I see them a couple of times a day some days but, to see them unattended, without a disheveled human of varying color and gender attached to it, holding on to what is left of their life, for dear life, well that is truly rare and seeing it there on my drive home…heart breaking. I made my turn, my tummy sinking as I craned my neck to take one more look back, hoping to see someone appear out of seemingly nowhere, wrap their tragically grimy fingers around the front of their home and continue on…didn’t happen. The image of the left behind cart stayed with me for the rest of the night. I wondered what could have happened to the poor soul that tied off all those bags, collected all those scraps of wood, slept beneath that golden blanket. Several scenarios ran through my head, none of them pleasant which bugged me at first but, well none of it is terribly nice to think about, even if there had been a sad soul moving that loaded cart along. That kind of loneliness and helplessness always makes me sigh, like those bone rattling deep ones, and think, “There but the grace of….”
“So, what should I do for my 25th birthday this year?” a coworker asking me a question. Not all that shocking and I was honored to be included in the idea crunching conversation. Even took me a few seconds to realize the face that was forming those words and asking, a coworker but also my son. My Jeremy. 25?! Holy shit.
“Mom. Mom, can you wake up? I have to talk to you.” My voice young, shaking, raspy from crying in the bathroom for an hour before I had the nerve, or the surrender is more like it, to come and face my fiddler. My mother shifted from her spot on the couch, her broad arms bare and long nightdress twisted between her thick folds and gamey with her scent. She looked slightly afraid when she saw my face; stained and terrified, green eyes nearly closed from the puffy. “What is it Sam?” this time her voice shaking a little but hers still affirming her position and letting me know that she was a tad irked that I woke her. She had no idea.
I broke into hysterical sobbing, begging and trying like hell to make some sort of case for myself. I shoved a packet of adoption papers in her lap, the wide bands of cheap carpet digging into my bare knees as I grabbed her hands and tried to make her forgive me. I was pregnant. Seven months pregnant, long ago departed from the boy that helped me get that way, shaking like I was icing over, as alone as I had ever been in the world. I had kept it a secret this long but was forced into telling her that night when I lost control of my bladder. I didn’t know what was happening to me and was all too aware of the fate I had been promised for as long as I could remember, “If you ever get fucking pregnant I will throw you out. Period.” I told her that I had found a family that wanted to take the baby, that it would be no burden to her and, “We can, please Mom, please, go back to the way things were?” she got up from the couch, didn’t say a word, tossed the papers on the coffee table, went to her room and closed the door. Not one word. My heart split wide open, fear making me consider for one second folding myself over the railing of our balcony…just to make the screaming in my head, the banging from the inside out, stop long enough for me to take a deep breath, feel it hum and fucking hear it leave the pit that was my despair. I heard the screaming that night even louder than I had for the months before, this time it was my own mouth curled and the rawest form of fear I’ve ever known exploding from within. My voice anguished and every bit of hope I had escaping on a wave of deserted and terrified yelps.
One week later I would be rushed to the ER, after my mother finished her dinner of course, bent over in a kind of pain I was sure was a punishment of godly proportions. “There’s no amniotic fluid and the umbilical sack has closed in on the baby, he is in severe distress, his heart has stopped beating” a young beautiful face with eyes so warm and comforting I wanted nothing more than to fall into them…have her take me home. My body was in so much pain, I was vomiting and crying, everything was falling apart around me and here were these warm brown eyes, talking to me. Telling me what was going to happen and what I needed to do. The night I lost control of my bladder, that was the night my water broke, the night Jeremy announced himself to my family and the night he began fighting to save, well to save both our lives. It would take him a month to grow strong enough to be released from the hospital, took less than two visits for him to work his sweet magic on the hard hearted lady that was as confused and afraid as her pregnant teenage daughter. Jeremy slipped into the pieces of the heart I had broken. He filled it with absolute love and healed us all. We all brought Jeremy home, 25 years ago come July and I can’t help but think, “There but for the grace….”
“Is this Sam?” a voice on the other end of the line I picked up at The Wine Country. “Um, yeah” I replied not even close to recognizing the voice. “Hey, it’s Michael Sullivan, of Beaune Imports and I hear you’re coming to France with me in a couple months” I could hear the smile in his tone, until, “Um, I don’t think so” my flat and tight-lipped response. He then asked if he could talk to Randy and the next thing I know over the PA system I hear, “Sam, can I see you in my office?” took nearly a week for me to make my way to the back of the store that day. Each step sticking to the ground I knew and a trillion miles away from being ready to be planted on the one I didn’t. Finally made it back to Randy’s desk and there he sat, leaning back in his big puffy chair, hands laced behind his head, big grin spread across his sweet and loving face. I knew there would be no amount of arguing with him, although I would try no fewer than 20 times, that would make this not happen…I mean other than me quitting. I was being sent to France. Leaving the country and going on the trip that my beloved boss, my beloved Randy, had been dreaming of sending me on ever since he returned from the same trip. Probably even sooner. He was likely starting to push and pry at Michael while they were there. He knew something I didn’t. He had a faith and belief in me, that I didn’t. He and Michael suspected I would unfold, develop and thrive once standing in the soils, seeing the faces, smelling the air and feeling the life of that place pulse through the body and heart that had been seeking a place to belong. France. France became a part of me on that trip and I’ve yet to recover, nor do I wish to. Randy knew what would fill my bits of broken heart, it was finding a me I could be proud of. He knew and I can’t help but think, “There but for the grace…”
“Just get dressed babe. We can work this all out once we get there” my then boyfriend, now husband, holding my head in his hands after I had dropped to my knees not knowing what to do after getting a call, “You need to get here soon. She collapsed after calling 911 because she couldn’t breathe. They tried to resuscitate her but, well you’d better just get up here as soon as you can”…my mother, gone just a week after I’d seen her for her 55th birthday and just days after a rather heated phone call we shared. I often think of that night on the phone, the rage and sadness. The shattered bits of a woman that while not without regret, gave her everything to being the best mother she could be and now felt the very real getting up silently and closing the bedroom door as her kids began building their own lives. Her voice like a combination of needles and nails on a blackboard. The accusations and self-pity. The crying and the screaming. All I could do was sit at the edge of the bed I shared with the man that would just days later walk me though the longest and scariest night of my life, just sit and let her skewer me. Listen as her pain spilled in my lap and felt the little deserved nips at my soul when she brought up all she had done for me.
I often wonder why I go there rather than the night I last saw her, her birthday party night when she was happy to have all her kids around her at one of her favorite restaurants. No, I go to that last night…the last time I heard her voice. The argument and the accusations. I think it might be because before she hung up, right after she yelled at me, her voice dripping with pain, “You don’t need me!” and I responded with a tone smooth but forceful, “No mom, I don’t, but I want you in my life…isn’t that better? Wouldn’t you rather be chosen than needed?” her gentle sobs letting me know I had finally reached her. She heard me, if she felt me and just how much I actually meant it I’ll never know. I can hope and part of the reason I can…because of her and no matter how bad things were and how crazy she and our life got, she held on to hope. She taught me that. That and genuine love, in all its forms. Can’t help but think, “There but for the grace of…”
Two days. It was two days after seeing that “abandoned” house cart that on my way to work I saw another. Again my heart dropping to the pit of my ever-growing tummy, (fuck) as my eyes fell upon a cart of life left unattended. I actually felt my whole body go stiff and my eyes welled up with tears…until. Turn signal flicked as my car pulled into the left lane, sunken soul and a dreadfully sad face to match as my warm car moved past another lost home full of memories and belongings. The tick-tick-tick not nearly distracting enough to make me not think about what happened, what caused that person to leave everything they had, well all they had left. I lifted my head to check the light and that was when I saw him, way up the street, a thin youngish man, life stained hands pushing another cart ahead before trailing back to pick up the second one. Still a frightfully sad situation but this industrious albeit fractured person, he had more than many. Not as much as he wants or needs, but more than some. I kinda know just how that feels. Can’t help but think, “There but for the grace of….”
I’m looking at a travel itinerary that is stuck to the fridge that contains the foods I cook my family and friends and the wines that I get to taste and share with others…another trip to France, my seventh trip to Europe in 11 years, with an importer again but this time I was asked to come, for my palate, an importer requesting my advice as to what Champagnes she ought to be importing as well as some assistance in Loire and a quick pop over to Burgundy for fun. Me. Not-so-little old me.Unreal...
“So how did you hear about our store?” a question I just had to ask of a charming and astoundingly trusting customer that I saw for the first time today. One that asked me to pick out a mixed case of my beloved Champagnes, a mixed case, rare I assure you. “From your blog Samantha. I’ve been following you for years now and yours is a very different wine blog.” Everything went all spinny after that. I think I managed to choke out how floored and humbled I was as I was swallowing extra hard hoping that would distract me from blubbering like a simpleton and making a total jackass of myself. I stood there shaking and watching my skin erupt into a layer of bumpy flesh as this handsome man told me he was here visiting from Australia and wanted to come by and shop with us, because of this silly blog….just typed that and again with the tears, but least now they are ones of absolute pride and the kind of gratitude that I can feel pulling from the balls of my feet and run through me like a jolt of sheer joy, and pride.
David, meeting you today, seeing your face as I bipped around my department, (in my most horrible baggy jeans and most faded shirt! Ugh, I wish you guys would give a woefully insecure girl a heads up once in a while, let me pinch my cheeks, curl my mop and slap on some glassy lip junk or something. Looked dreadful but this once, well the heart swelling made me not give a shit) grabbing bottles like a kid being set free in Toy R Us, your trust in me through what you read here, well I can’t help but think…Thank You.
To each and every one of the people that took a chance
A leap of faith
Felt something here with me…
If it weren’t for all of you?
Well there but for the grace….
There are no words big enough
I get to be here
Because of You...