Something, this evening, brought me back to the site of one of my favorite blogs called The Sheila Varieations. After perusing her recent posts, I started looking for those that had gotten my attention before and so I remembered that it was in fact, a post on Sheila's blog that was the very inspiration for my own Myriad of Musings. I can not remember how it was that I stumbled upon her blog, but I did and it totally captured my imagination and led me to hatch one of my own.
In tribute to Sheila and her blog and by way of explanation for my own, I present Sheila's (also known as Red's) post of September 17, 2004, as well as my comments that followed.
September 17, 2004
Gladys, you're all right
Standing in line at the post office. Very very long line.
A woman asked me if I knew what time it was. I told her. She started talking to me.
Normally, in New York, when someone gets all chatty with you, it is because they are lost, desperately lonely, or mentally ill.
This was not how it was with Gladys (I found out her name at the end). As the conversation flowed (and it did, man, it just flowed) I thought: This could, conceivably, go on forever. And that wouldn't be too bad a thing. It was a GREAT conversation. Very very deep.
Gladys. I may never see her again. But I won't forget her.
She was very petite, and Latin-looking. Obviously bi-lingual, she had a bit of an accent. A beautiful face. Smooth tan skin. She had her black hair slicked across the top of her head, and then it popped out into a curly ponytail in the back. She was young, she almost looked like a teenager. She obviously was from a rough background. Do not ask me how I know, but I just know. You can tell these things.
It's fresh in my mind, so let me just re-create the conversation, as it occurred:
Gladys: "Excuse me, do you have the time?"
Me: "It's blah blah blah."
Gladys: "Oh, thank you. I'm on a break." Pause. "I go to school across the street."
"Oh ... in my building, I think? There's some kind of school on the 2nd floor."
"Actually, that's the administrative offices. The school itself is on the 3rd."
"What kind of school is it?"
"They train people to be medical assistants. That's one of their programs, anyway."
"Is that what you're doing?"
"Yes. They also have other programs ... They train people to be private detectives, they teach people to run laboratories, stuff like that."
"Private detectives ... really? And so ... how long is the program?"
"My program is 9 months long. I have 3 months to go."
"Once you're done, do they place you?"
"Well, then we can apply for internships, and if they like you at the internships, they might hire you. Or - the school will help you get a job. But I don't really want the school to do it for me. I'd rather do the research on jobs on my own, and the kind of internships that would interest me - so that - if they do offer me a job, I would actually want to work there. Know what I mean?"
"Sure. Sounds like a really good program. Do you like it?"
"It's all right. I mean, I think that the program should really reach out more to people like me - people with lower incomes, or no income - They should do outreach, stuff like that, because that's the people who are really looking to make changes in their lives, people who want to ... I guess progress is the word I want. You know? I want to progress. I started out on the bottom, but I want to better myself, and make a better life for myself. This program is perfect for people like me. But they don't advertise, they don't do outreach programs up in the Bronx, where I live, and they really should. People who already have good jobs, and who have money, aren't gonna want to take this program. But whatever."
I joked. "Maybe you should move into the administrative offices. Whip their business into shape."
She laughed. Sharp as a whip, this Gladys. We are standing in the post office, and this perfect stranger is telling me about how she wants to "better herself".
Gladys went on. "I mean, I'm 24 years old. I have a 6 year old son. So obviously, I've made some mistakes in my life. I did some things too soon. And a lot of my friends are the same way, you know? Don't get me wrong, when I was 22, 23, I spent a lot of time looking at myself in the mirror, feeling sorry for myself. 'I can't believe I'm 22 and I'm such a loser!' Stuff like that. But then I realized - wait a minute. Yeah, I've made mistakes..."
"Exactly! Who hasn't! And you can sit around dwelling on it, or you can pick yourself up, and try to make something out of your life. That's what I am trying to do. It's hard, though, because a lot of the girls in my program are really young - and ... I mean, they come into classes like this--" (Gladys then did a perfect imitation of young hip-hop tough-girl posing) "They snap their gum, they don't talk right, and they're just ..."
"They sound immature."
"Yeah! They're totally immature! They think that stuff should just be given to them, you know what I mean? And, sorry, but they're totally ignorant. Like - I mean ... with everything going on in the world right now ... and not even just the world ... just in our city ... how can you not take stuff seriously? How can you not get that we don't have a lot of time on this earth, and you need to work hard?"
"I so hear what you're saying." (In case you haven't guessed, I DEEPLY loved this girl by this point, and wanted her to keep talking forever.)
She went on. "I try to tell that to my friends. I tell them that we are not our mistakes. Mistakes are things that happen, choices we made ... and we can either moan about it, or we can stand up again."
I said, "And you have a 6 year old son. That's wonderful."
"I don't know about that! I'm exhausted all the time."
"Well, I'm a lot older than you, and I don't have kids."
She burst out laughing. "You're lucky!"
"I see what you mean - it's a grass is always greener thing - but I'm telling you, that biological clock is a real thing!"
"Did you not want to have kids, or...?"
"Guess I just haven't met the right guy yet. I do want kids."
She laughed again. "I don't want anymore."
"But see? That's great! You are DONE! When you're in your 30s, and 40s - you won't have little kids running around, you'll have more freedom. But if I have a kid now, I'm gonna be schlepping them around well into my 50s."
She said, "It's weird - having a kid. It's really scary. Especially now." (I was getting the sense that Gladys was not - to use Rebecca West's term for females only interested in their private concerns - an "idiot". She was well-informed. She continued to reference "especially now", "in a world like ours," "these days" ...)
I said, "I can't even imagine."
She said, "I mean, my God, when that thing happened in Russia ... I just ... my son's school started the next day and I was terrified to take him."
"And my friends were all like, 'Oh, it could never happen here!'"
She and I then spoke in unison. Loudly. As though speaking to her group of idiot friends: "YOU HAVE NO IDEA!!"
Gladys said, "How could they think that? Especially now ... especially in this city ... how could they not think that something like that could happen?"
We were now approaching the end of the line.
I said to her, "You know, I have a feeling you're going to do really well in your life."
She can't see it now. Of course she can't. She's in the middle of it! She's just trying to survive right now.
She rolled her eyes, sighed, said something like, "I gotta do SOMETHING, you know?"
I said, "You're gonna do fine. I can tell."
The next service window was called. I held out my hand to her. "I'm Sheila."
She shook my hand. "I'm Gladys."
"Nice to meet you."
"You too, Sheila."
And that was that.
But damn. I really feel like I just met someone completely SUBSTANTIAL. "We are not our mistakes." 24 year old girl.
Talking to her was the random gift of the day.
Posted by sheila TrackBack
I am so glad I stopped to read this story. Gladys does sound like a person who despite all odds, will make it in this world. But, the person who really stood out for me, was you, Sheila. That you responded to a stranger who clearly had a lot on her mind and was open enough to express it, by reinforcing her in an almost therapeutic way, speaks so well of the listener. Another person may have gone off on their own thing and consequently missed so much. My cudos are to you. Both of you, Gladys and Sheila, are people I would want to know. Sherril
Posted by: Sherril at September 21, 2004 12:11 PM
I am resending the message that I sent an hour or so ago. I am very excited that I just set up my own personal BLOG. I didn't even know what blog meant about four months ago, so I am moving along well in this cyber-world. I am uncertain if my other messages got published since I did not have an URL address. So, here again is the message and my new address: (...and here I had repeated the comment above...) http://sherrilsmyriadofmusings.blogspot.com/