I was in a rush a few days ago. A never-ending rush of driving kids, placating kids, getting food, picking up clothes/trash/toys/books/mail-we-haven’t opened. I pulled into a gas station after dropping one of the three kids off at a gymastics class. The other two were in the car.
Mommy, what are we doing?
Mommy, why are you getting out?
Mommy, I’m hunngrryyy….
Ugh. I’m getting gas. Be right back. Play with your toys.
As I got out of the car, a large black man started to approach me from behind. “Ma’am, excuse me?”
I steeled myself. Immediately. I didn’t waver. I steeled myself against this large black man whom I didn’t know at the gas station.
And do you know why I became defensive? I had read that it was common for people to come to gas stations to steal purses from cars. To ask for money. Mostly because the gas stations are located so close to the highway. Who knows if it’s true or not. As such, I had made it a habit to lock my car and grab my purse when I was pumping gas. But my kids were in the car, so my car was open and my purse was in plain sight. I was in a rush.
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
“Uh-huh.” My response was negligible. A verbal non-response.
“I’m trying to propose to my girlfriend, Jasmine, on the phone here,” he held up his face-time phone in view of me, “and she has asked that someone witness my proposal. Will you watch me propose to my girlfriend? I’m going to get on one knee”. He got on one knee on the concrete right next to my gas pump.
“Jasmine, you are the light of my life. I can’t imagine living without you, will you marry me?”
I couldn’t hear her response, but I assumed it was yes by the joy on his face. By that time, my mouth had dropped, I had muttered a congratulations, and my hand had fallen flaccidly off the gas handle. My eyes wandered between the numbers on the gas tank, his face and his phone.
“Thanks, ma’am. I’m getting married!” He walked back off to his van. I watched him walk away from me. He was a driver for a food company. He hopped back into his food truck van and went on his way. I stood there, paralyzed, my eyes drifting back towards the gas tank.
The tank was half filled, but I was filled with a vast void of shame and emptiness inside me. With a little bit of selfish happiness that I got to experience the proposal of Jasmine and the black man at the gas station.
I looked around. Did anybody else see what I just saw? No. No one else was around me.
I got back in the car and sat there for a bit. My eldest daughter asked me, “mommy, what did that man want?”
“Well, honey, it was the most wonderful thing. He was proposing to his girlfriend. Right here at the gas station. And he wanted me to witness it.”
“What was her name?”
“Jasmine, like the PRINCESS?”
“Yes, like the princess.”
I can’t tell you how many times over the past few weeks I’ve thought of those 45 seconds. About my defensive reaction to a large black man approaching me from behind at a gas station. About his simple and joyous request for me to witness his marriage proposal. About my shame, my complete and total emptiness.