Grace sat up front, something I always take as a sign of friendliness. But she just silently stared at her phone for a while.
I had picked her up at the Block–a spot on Atlantic between 21st and 22nd street where four night clubs abut one another. It gets pretty wild there on weekends in the summer. She was alone and headed to Norfolk–a good twenty-five minute drive.
After some stalled attempts at small talk and a few minutes of total silence, I took a shot.
“Are you okay? You seem kind of down in the dumps.”
“Ah. That old lie. Why do women always lie like that?” It sounds harsh when I write it out, but I was teasing. I think she understood my intention. She shrugged.
“Look,” I said, “It’s weird, but since I’ve been driving an Uber, I’ve had all kinds of people open up and tell me their problems. I don’t mind it. In fact, it’s kind of an honor that they would trust me with their struggles. I think they feel safe because they don’t know me and probably won’t ever see me again. And I’m a pretty good listener.
“So, don’t feel any pressure, but if it would help, you can talk to me. We’ve got a pretty long drive ahead of us.”
The tears came immediately. In seconds, mascara streams ran down her cheeks.
“My life sucks. This is the first time I’ve been out in months. I was looking forward to having a good time, but it was awful.”
“I went out with a girlfriend from work. The only one I work with who is close to my age. She got so drunk. And then she got in a fight with this guy, and the cops showed up, and the only reason she didn’t go to jail is because I talked them out of it. I got her a ride home. Then I was all by myself. So I’m going home.”
“Yeah, that sounds like a pretty miserable night. Why don’t you go out much?”
“I have a daughter.” The tears came heavier here. “She’s four. My mom is watching her tonight, but I don’t like to ask her at night. She’s with her all day.”
“How old are you, Grace?” She looked like a kid herself.
“I’m twenty-one. I was stupid.”
“Wow. You were very young. Where’s the dad?”
“He’s not in the picture. Never was. I started working right after high school. I had to grow up quick.”
“What’s your daughter’s name?”
“Caroline. She amazing. I love her so much. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I love being her mommy. It’s just that I never get to do anything. I take care of her and I work. That’s it.
“I don’t have any friends. I thought the girl tonight was going to be my friend, but she’s a mess. I’m just kind of lonely, you know?”
I didn’t know what to say to her. I told her she was doing the right thing to make her daughter her priority. And that friends will come and go, but that she’ll always be a mom. It all sounded cliché, but she seemed to appreciate the effort.
“Have you tried a church?” I asked. “I mean, I don’t know if faith is important to you, but churches can be good places for making friends.”
“That’s what my mom says,” she said.
“My church is kind of far from where you live, but there’s good people there.” I gave her an invitation card. “I bet there are good churches near where you live too. It might be worth a try.”
She didn’t seem real keen on the church idea, but just getting her grief out seemed to make a difference.
As we pulled into the neighborhood, I said, “You seem pretty great to me, Grace. I know you are going to find some real friends. But in the meantime, keep being a good mom to Caroline, okay? I’ll be praying for you.”
She thanked me and left looking a bit racoonish. I made a mental note to keep a box of tissues in the car from then on.