Sunday, January 4, 2015

One Out of Five Hundred: A Stranger's Smile

Originally Written July/2014

Dear Magagna,
    The following is based on our story, from my POV—which is always epic, inspirational, accurate, and chronologically AMAZING…. Anyway, enough about that…awesomeness. I know things are hard right now—we're both thinking about things—but I'm missing you so bad. If I write about "us" and the memories we've created together, maybe a part of you will always be with me even if we don't work out…. And I can read this story when I'm sad.
    I know you might be thinking, "I've heard parts of this story before." Or "I've lived something a lot like this story."  

    Just read it, would ya! Experience it again while you read it. And through these words, you'll always be with me.

A Stranger's Smile

"Tell me again, why are you working as a security guard?" my mom asked on the other end of the cell phone.
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    My dilapidated van creaked as I sped to work. It was nearly 11pm and I didn't want to be late for my grave shift. "I've told you, something symbolic happened."
    "Symbolic?" When my mom's frustrated, she always repeats everything I say.
    "Yeah. Remember how I've been studying bonsai trees? How they only stay strong if they're full-grown when planted together. If two seedlings of different breeds are planted in the same container, as they grow one will choke the other out."
    "And you’re a bonsai tree," she said—in a monotone. "And you think you...never grew on your own because you got married too young."
    "And I got choked out by the other bonsai. Right!" The van hugged one of the many tight corners that led to work. The headlights skimmed across the dark road as rain bounced on the blacktop.
    "And the bonsai tree has to do with your being a low-paid security guard because…?"
    "Because when the manager offered me the job, she had a bonsai tree on her desk." I could almost feel my mom's aggravation through the phone line. "It was a sign."
    Silence, then, "Gina, you were offered a job paying twice as much downtown."
    "That manager didn't have a bonsai tree on her desk."
    "You've got to stop following these signs, honey. Look at your life. Look what's happened to you. Sometimes you have to go where the pay is." I let the words roll off, just like the plinking rain.     
    "Well, I'm at the plant—and I'm working here for a reason. Who knows why, but maybe it's so I can grow into a bonsai tree that's strong all by myself. Thanks for staying up to talk with me."
    Of course she wouldn't let me off the phone until I'd made it safely into the building and she'd asked me a million questions about safety and the type of coworkers I had. I stifled my amusement—I'd be fine working security, after all, I'd just gotten out of a women's shelter with homeless women, drug addicts, women who were severely abused…. After that, anything seemed easy.
    I hung up, suddenly wondering about the strange events from the previous summer.
    One week I'd been on TV, talking about my bestselling memoir, the next, a tragic event landed me and my children in a women's shelter. It was a nasty place really. I spent half a month in the place, sleeping on the floor while my kids slept on bunk beds—and somehow my kids found the good in things...that was life-changing. 
    And I'd started to actually enjoy staying there despite the hard floor and the scanty amount of blankets. But now I'd landed a job and it was time to get on my feet again.
    The grave shift wasn't the best thing ever, except for the people. Folks kept coming up to the front desk where I sat "guarding." Employees simply couldn't believe I was the new guard. I'm a twig and all, with long bright-red hair and lipstick that makes me look anything but intimidating.
    A few maintenance people stood around talking about the end of the world, hunting, veggie burgers, and football—what a goulash of topics, right? Employees weren't supposed to be up at the security desk, but for some reason I guess having a new guard was a reason to take five hour breaks.
    I kept glancing at the camera, saving everyone's lives by visually patrolling the facility—and shit. You know, simply being a badass, making sure there wasn't a bomb in the building… And that's when I saw you—one of those times I was looking for a bomb. You didn't come see me though, not right off. I remember you walking with this tall blond guy and a bearded man who was nearly your own height
    It might sound silly, but I saw you in the break room. I remember because I noticed your smile, the same smile that would drive me so crazy a few months from this moment. Those same lips that would kiss mine tenderly, or kind of ferociously, depending on your mood.
    Every person you passed on the camera smiled, genuinely happy to see you despite their creed, race, or gender. They all adored you, waving, chattering away…everywhere you walked.
    I wanted to ask the maintenance guys, who swarmed the front desk, who you were, but I quickly changed my mind. That sounded silly anyway. And if I'd learned anything in my short time as a guard, it was that rumors spread quickly around that plant, and if I asked who you were, everyone would know.
    "The people you hang out with sound like idiots," a maintenance guy named Rob suddenly said so loudly I looked from the camera and you disappeared forever—or at least that night anyway. "You don't plant a saltlick!" Rob went on. "You hunt the old-fashioned way, like a man." 
    His co-worker nearly snorted. "We'll all have to learn how to hunt soon. And if a saltlick gets ya meat, that's what you'll use. The government is taking a nosedive. Ever since 9-11, things are getting out of control. It's gonna be the end of the world as we know it, man. Really."
    "Give it up, Jay," Rob said. "The end of the world, again! That's all you ever talk about."
     They were so ironically funny as their faces turned red and they fought about what I considered nonsense.
    People came and went that night. I worked on safety paperwork and thought that the whole plant had come up to meet me, everybody except the trio of guys, Big Beard, Tall Man, and the guy with that contagious smile.

    As the morning came, my boss arrived a bit early and showed me how to organize the paychecks. "Now remember," he said, "on Friday morning, all the grave employees will come ask you for their checks. They can't get 'em 'til the morning. But after that, go ahead and pass 'em out."
    "Every grave employee?"    

    "Yep. Every one who wants their check."
    I must have blushed because my boss's face changed from informative to concerned. 
    "Why, Gina?"
    "It's just that…. I'm excited to meet everyone."
    "You listen," he said. "I know you've been through a lot. And we all understand you have some PTSD and you've just gotten out of a long-term relationship. I'm here to help make sure you're emotionally healthy so you can get your job done. The company has free counseling and everything. Take advantage of that, but don't be running into someone's arms here at work! I can already tell you're a good worker. You can't start dating someone at the jobsite, or I'll have you transferred to a plant with less men."
    I cleared my throat. And looking at the shorter, younger-than-myself man, I said, "Yes, Sir," grabbed my jacket, and left.
    My mom called me right away. "Is your shift over? Did you make it to the van?"
    "Yes, Mom," I said. Then paused as I started my vehicle. "Mom, do you believe in having a spark with someone?"
    "Yeah. Your dad and I just watched a documentary about how people can fall in love with one out of every four people they meet."
    "No way," I said. "25%—that makes it way too easy."
    "That's what the show said," she replied. "Who knows. Spend enough time with someone and you can get attached. Look at that idiot you've been dating."
    "Mom!" I paused, then decided not to arguing with her about who I had or hadn't been dating. "I'm not talking about falling in love. I'm talking about a spark. Have you ever seen someone and wondered if you'd have a spark with them?"
    She stayed quiet on the phone and I started my van. "I had a spark with your dad," she said.
    "You're lucky. I think sparks are rare—I bet you can only have a spark with one out of every...five hundred people."
    "How many people work at that plant of yours?" she asked.
    I swallowed, then whispered, "Five hundred." 
    "A-huh. I think you want this job for more than just a sign or a paycheck!"
    "What in the heck does that mean?"
    "I'm saying…" she suddenly laughed so hard. "I'm saying you're interested in a man who's one out of five hundred. He must be cute!" 
    "Mom! But you know I've been dating someone."
    "Oh yeah, the schmuck! Not for long—thank God." She sighed. "I'll let you go. Drive safe, sweetheart?"
    "I love you, Mom."
    "You too, honey."
     I hung up the phone, and kept thinking. Could people really fall in love with one out of four people—that sounded crazy! And why was I so interested in the man with the contagious smile? 

    I bet he'd be more than one out of four—maybe he would be one out of five hundred with a smile like that—if he'd just come up to the damn security desk, then I could find out!

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