She always said, “Don’t walk out five minutes before the miracle happens.” Harriett (not her real name) was morbidly obese, probably around 300, 350, and she drove a yellow Pinto station wagon she’d bought for $200 from a friend in her AA meeting group. Her husband, after they had divorced, had been executed for a capital crime. But Harriett loved Jesus and had built her life around him, convinced that even though she lived in public housing and her washer kept overflowing and her car listed along State Route 1632 in Morrow, Georgia, she was bound for glory and nothing could get her down.
Don’t walk out…
She had told me this sitting in Riverwoods, a private hospital behind what is now Southern Regional Medical Center and which caters to those about to walk out early. I had lapsed quickly into a manic state, March 1995, not ten days after being released from that same hospital, after the minivan that she and I were passengers in, and driven by an AA friend, backed into a metal stanchion in a McDonald’s parking lot. For some reason, that jarring, though it did little damage to the car’s fender, pushed me over the edge. So much so that five minutes later I thought I saw my parents’ deceased cat, Pippin, sitting on a car hood in front of a house. It was an altogether different breed as it turned out, which I learned only after stepping out of the minivan door to inspect it more closely while saying, with a straight face, “One small step for man…”, and believing I was entering a new universe that had different air quality and chemical composition.
Harriett and I sat in an examination room at Riverwoods and she spoke to me about God. She told me what it was like to have God’s arms wrapped around you. To hear his voice. To know his love. I looked at her, wrapped in excess flesh, and saw a splendid soul peering back. While I’m sure she had a cross word for her enemies – for none of us are without sin, I’m to understand – I for one never heard her say anything harsh about anyone.
I often hear this remark of hers – “Don’t walk out…” – reverberating in my mind during hard times like late last week, when I had the first bout of depression since this new doc increased one of my medications, allowing me six weeks of depression-free living, a first since moving back to the city in December of last year. Before mid-July, every two weeks or so I’d feel like my mind was walking out, even if my body and soul were staying put.
Harriett laughed well, and when she did, she revealed corroding teeth, all of them present, but yellowed, usually caked in food particles. Her gums extended down, it seemed, so you saw more pink than enamel. Or maybe it was that her lips curled back more than most people’s.