I walk home from work every night after I get off work. That’s what I told Niekia tonight as I walked her to her car. I didn’t want to let her to get mugged walking out to the car. As she lit a cig, she asked me where I parked.
“I walk home,” I said.
My comment was followed by silence and one of those looks women give.
“I only live a quarter mile from here,” I told her.
“Don’t ever walk home again,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to walk home after what happened to me. Late after a shift, I was walking home at 1:00 in the morning with all my tips from the day and I got mugged…” and she ended the story short with, “That’s why I carry the pepper spray.”
She’d been waiting for that cigarette all shift. I empathized about how hard it is to quit. We walked up to the third floor of the Green Hills’ Mall parking garage. She wouldn’t let me walk home, so I got in the car and rode home.
On the quarter-mile drive down the street to my apartment, she told me about how she got mugged and beat up real bad by some “big guy”. That was the same story of when she was walking home at 1:00 in the morning. It must have been terrible from what I gathered. Because she kept repeating, “You should never walk this late at night.” She was probably right, maybe right. It didn’t really matter in the moment. I said, “Okay.”
She also told me about her three boys, Charlie, Nathaniel, and Caleb—10, 6, and 3—and how her legal husband is only a husband on paper. They are legally married. She told me how he pays her only $60 a week for child support. That money only covers about half of her $133 childcare.
She took her boys to Gatlinburg last year. She spent all her tax return and the four of them—she and her three boys—had the time of their lives in the worst tourist attraction Tennessee has to offer. They rented a cabin with a jacuzzi, just her and her boys. She videotaped the entire weekend. She was more than nostalgic about what sounded like a terriblely boring trip to me.
She went on. “I promised them I would take them to Chattannoga this year—I want to see the aquarium….” Then, she dropped me off to go back to her three boys.
Thanks Niekia (if that’s how you spell your name), you taught me a beautiful lesson tonight. I’m not even sure how to articulate it, but it was beautiful.