Erica - On Mother’s Day
While walking to the corner gas station to buy cigarettes, Erica noticed the sign, “Call your mother for Mother’s Day–FREE.” Thoughts of her mother put Erica’s mind in a whirl. It had been a long time since she had contacted her parents. Scenes of the journey from her home to here flashed through her mind.
There had been no contact with her family for more than a year. Now she stood looking at a sign that said, “Call your mother for Mother’s Day–FREE.” With a laugh, Erica thought, if I call my mother, it has to be for free. She had to scrounge around in her room to find enough change for cigarettes.
Squelching an overwhelming urge to call her parents, Erica went on to the gas station. She had to have cigarettes before she could consider doing anything else. The decision would have to wait until she returned.
When Erica returned from the gas station, the line for the free calls was longer than ever. Since she didn’t have anything else to do, she joined the line while puffing on a cigarette. She had often wondered how her mom and dad would deal with her life’s decisions.
Would they disown her? Actually, they had good reason to reject her. She had a hard time accepting herself. Still, she had hoped her parents would support her no matter what. Well, she would soon find out where she stood with her family.
A myriad of thoughts ran through Erica’s mind as she stood in the long line. Who was offering the free phone call and why? What was the catch? Most organizations wanted to make money. Maybe the phone was provided but everyone had to pay for the call plus a fee. If that were the case, she would get around it somehow. Now that she was in the mood, she would make that call even if she had to throw a tantrum and make an ugly scene.
When she tried to rehearse the conversation, Erica was not so sure of herself. Should she first apologize for not calling in a year? Should she tell them how messed up she was or just ignore what she had been doing for several years?
Oh well, she whispered to herself, I’ll just let what happens happen. I just miss my mom and dad.
The line moved slowly and Erica had smoked almost all of her cigarettes. She had hoped they would last long enough to call her family. In the crowd of homeless and poor people, she knew the chances of getting a free smoke were slim.
With this many people on the street, it was surprising that everyone remained respectful and orderly. Perhaps others were also pondering what they would say to their mothers. Certainly she was not alone in her situation. Others looked as though they had made some wrong choices too.
As she grew closer to the sign, Erica recognized it was Pastor Kurt with the cell phone. She knew him from the outdoor church services he had around town. His presence made her feel at ease because he really cared about people. He never talked “down” to them. Only five people were ahead of Erica now. Instead of wishing the line would move faster, she now wished it would move slower. Her heart pounded so hard she wondered if she would be able to talk. When one of the men ahead of her decided to turn away, Erica understood. Staying in line was one of the scariest things she had done in a long time.
Pastor Kurt cleaned the phone and made the call for the woman in front of her. A moment later the woman handed the phone back to the pastor and left with her head hanging low. Was no one at home? Did someone hang up? ... Would she, too, be disappointed when she made the call? Erica wondered. Life would be too hard to bear if she could never again hear her parents say, “I love you.”
The call from Pastor Kurt interrupted Erica’s thoughts. Sitting beside the pastor, she nervously waited while he cleaned the phone. When he asked who she wanted to call, she said, “My mom and dad” as she grabbed for the phone.
“Wait,” Pastor Kurt said. “Let me make the call and introduce myself, and then I’ll hand you the phone.”
The phone rang three times before the pastor said, “This is Pastor Kurt from Church On The Street. Your daughter is here and wants to wish you happy Mother’s Day.” Handing the phone to Erica, Pastor Kurt said, “Take as much time as you need.”
With trembling hands, Erica took the phone. “Mom, Dad, are you there?” she said.
“We’re both on the phone,” Mom said.
“Happy Mother’s Day.” Erica’s voice cracked with emotion.
“It’s been so long since we’ve heard from you,” Mom said. “I know. I’m so sorry, but ... A lot has happened here.” Erica tried to make the story of her life sound plausible without revealing what caused her downfall.
Dad interrupted her words with pleas for her to return home. Dad spoke sternly and Mom was crying. Finally, Dad said, “Let me talk to Pastor Kurt.”
As the man in the clerical collar took the phone, Erica wished she could listen in on the conversation. She could tell nothing from the pastor’s end. He merely said, “Yes ... I’ll try ... I’ll do my best.” If she could only fill in the blanks with her father’s words.
When Pastor Kurt handed the phone back, Erica heard the words she had longed to hear. “I love you too, Mom and Dad,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I will be here when you come.”
After saying goodbye, Erica held onto the phone and tried to gain her composure while still seated. The man next in line called out impatiently, “It’s my turn. It’s my turn.”
Gently taking the phone from Erica, Pastor Kurt said, “I have to make the call for the next person, but stick around and we can talk. Your mom and dad want to come see you.”
As Erica stood up, her head was in a whirl. To steady herself, she leaned against the truck with the sign, “Call your mother for Mother’s Day–FREE.” That sign had certainly caused a dramatic turn in her life.
While the man talked with his family, Pastor Kurt got up and gave Erica a hug. With one arm, she hugged him back while keeping one arm on the truck to balance herself. Then she dissolved into tears.
“They want me to come home,” she said.
“Do you want to go home?”
“I don’t know.... I don’t know.”
“I’m hungry,” Pastor Kurt said.
Startled by the words that seemed out of place, Erica said, “What?” Her heart had just been pulled from her chest and the man of God was only concerned about his stomach. Anger flared up inside of her.
“Erica, could you please get us something to eat down the road? I’ve been here all afternoon and I’m really hungry.” While Erica stared at the strange man, he dug into his pocket and pulled out a tendollar bill, which he handed to the distraught girl. Pointing in the opposite direction of the closest restaurant, Pastor Kurt said, “There’s a restaurant just down the road that makes great sandwiches. Could you please get us something to eat? We can talk after you get back.” Clinging to the money, Erica stood in stunned silence. She certainly did not know what to make of the unusual behavior of the man who had seemed so normal before.
“I really need that sandwich. Will you get it for me?” When Erica made no response, he gave her another hug and said, “Would you rather talk now?”
She shook her head. What was up with this guy? she wondered. Well, she decided she might as well play along. Besides, she was hungry too. He had told her she could eat her sandwich at the restaurant and bring his back. At least the distraction might help her quit thinking about the phone call with her parents. “Where do you want me to get the sandwiches?” she asked.
The pastor gave her detailed directions to the restaurant that was hard to find. He also had specific instructions as to how his sandwich should be made. What a fussy eater, Erica thought. Before he finished describing the sandwich he wanted, Pastor Kurt had to clean the phone for the next caller. The man who left seemed happy, and that gave Erica a sense of peace.
While the pastor made the phone call for the next person, Erica reached in her pocket for her last cigarette. Drawing the smoke into her lungs seemed to bring her comfort.
When he finished the phone call, the pastor said, “How about it, Erica? Are you agreeable to our plan?” She continued to puff on her cigarette with a dubious expression on her face. “I’ll tell you what,” he said persuasively. “I need that sandwich so much that I’ll give you ten dollars when you bring it back.”
“Okay, I’ll get the sandwiches. But why do you want me to go so far away? Other places have good food.”
“I need the sandwich made that special way.”
With all the instructions Pastor Kurt had given her, she figured that anyone should be able to make what he wanted, but she did not question him further. By now, she was amused by the strange turn of events.
“All right. I’m on my way,” she said as she took off in the right direction.
When she was out of sight, Erica thought about her options. With the ten dollars in her hand, she could buy two rocks of crack cocaine and smoke this day away. By the time the day was over, she would not even realize that the talk with her parents had put her emotions in turmoil.
In spite of the temptation to get high, Erica kept walking toward the restaurant. As her mind replayed the conversation with her parents, she began to confuse what was actually said and what she was thinking. Did Dad say anything about coming to get her or did she dream up the idea? she wondered. Dad had talked to Pastor Kurt and Erica did not know what was said. She almost hoped he did have a good reason for his erratic behavior. At least she thought, time would go by faster. Maybe, that was Pastor Kurt’s intention.
How would she react if her parents came to get her? ... Fearful! Shameful! She could only face her parents with fear and shame . . . but, oh, how she longed to love and be loved! At the restaurant Erica put in the order for the special sandwich along with her own. There was enough money left over to buy another pack of cigarettes, which she needed badly. She smoked one while waiting for the sandwiches. Her thoughts turned to the ten dollars promised by Pastor Kurt when she made it back. Maybe she would end the day with a couple of rocks of crack to relieve the emotional pain she had suffered.
Instead of eating her sandwich at the restaurant as the pastor suggested, she headed back carrying both sandwiches. Pastor Kurt’s face lighted up as she approached as though he was glad to see her. The girl who sat in the other chair was talking on the phone with a smile on her face. The scene again warmed Erica’s heart. I hope she doesn’t have as far to go to make things right with her family as I do, she thought. The possibility that her parents might come to get her kept nagging at Erica’s mind. She longed to once again experience the love of Mom and Dad, but how could she bridge the great gap between them?
“Here’s your sandwich just like you wanted it,” Erica whispered to the pastor as she took out her own sandwich and handed the bag to him.
“Thank you.” Pastor Kurt stood up and offered the chair to Erica.
“No. No. You need to sit there with the people who want to call home. I’ll sit here on the curb.” Erica was used to doing without the comforts that most people took for granted.
Pastor Kurt had removed the sandwich wrapper and was about to take a bite when a man in line yelled, “Hey, Pastor Kurt, I’m hungry. Will you share your sandwich?” The pastor gave him half of his sandwich.
“I’m hungry too,” another man yelled.
What will he do now? Erica wondered. The man of God hesitated for only a moment until he handed the man the other half of his sandwich. What’s with this man? she wondered. He was hungry and had to have a sandwich made a certain way. When it comes, he gives it away. It didn’t make sense. Erica turned her back to the crowd before people started asking for her sandwich. She was not so willing to share.
After finishing her sandwich, Erica stood up. Time seemed to move slowly now that she was back to the truck. Trembling from anxiety, Erica wanted to leave. The uncertainty about seeing her parents was unbearable. Suddenly, Pastor Kurt blurted out, “Erica, I need to give you the ten dollars I promised you.”
Pastor Kurt went to his truck to look for the promised money. As he looked in every possible container in the truck, Erica gave him the “evil eye.” Finally, he reached in his front pant pockets and pulled out a ten-dollar bill, which he handed to Erica. With pleading in his voice, he said, “Please wait for your parents to come.”
With the money in her hand, Erica thought about drowning out all of the buried emotions that had been resurrected during the day. They were too painful to entertain any longer. Still, for an unexplained reason, she lingered. Without a word, she sat back on the sidewalk curled up with her chin to her knees. It had been a long time since she experienced so many conflicting emotions. Too many unanswered questions invaded her mind.
After waiting for the next caller to begin the telephone conversation, Erica said, “Pastor Kurt, will you explain something to me?”
“If I can.”
“Why did you give away your sandwich when you were so hungry and I went to so much trouble to get it for you?”
A smile covered the tired expression on the pastor’s face. “It’s all because of Jesus,” he said. Erica’s face registered confusion as she did not understand what Jesus had to do with giving away his sandwich. To her questioning glance, he continued. “You see, Jesus said that when I help someone in need, it’s the same as though I did it for Him. I got to give Jesus a sandwich.”
Now she was totally confused. She knew the bum Pastor Kurt gave the sandwich to. He was no “Jesus.” The explanation failed to satisfy Erica’s curiosity, but her mind turned to another matter heavy on her mind. Even though she was afraid to hear the answer, she had to ask, “What did my dad say to you on the phone?”
When the pastor hesitated, she stared at him with anticipation. “He told me that he loved you so much that he would do anything to see you. He said that you have run away every time they tried to see you. He wanted me to try to keep you here as long as I could. Your parents both love you, Erica.”
Her suspicions were true. It seemed to be a comfort to her to know that Dad was working so hard to see her. This time, she desperately wanted to connect with her parents. Today - on Mother’s Day. At the same time, her whole body shook with the thought of facing them in her condition. She feared her head might split in two with such conflicting emotions.
Pastor Kurt finally spoke. “Erica, if my calculations are correct, they should be here in about an hour. Can you make it that long?” Pastor Kurt seemed to be as emotional as Erica.
Unable to respond, with her head spinning, Erica rolled sideways on the curb in a fetal position. Her legs had turned to jelly and she could not have run away if she had wanted to. Pastor Kurt asked, “Are you all right?”
All she could do was nod her head. She knew this was going to be a long hour. Still in a daze, she raised herself up in a sitting position and watched every passing car. As the cars slowed down, people looked to see what the crowd was doing in this part of town. Erica strained to see if her parents were inside.
It had been a long time since Erica worried about her appearance. Now she wished she could wash her face and apply some makeup and comb her hair. Although she didn’t notice it herself, she knew she reeked of body odor and tobacco smoke. She looked at the tattoos on her arms and legs. How she wished she could remove them, but they were there to stay.
Finally, a blue sedan drove slowly beside the line of people and toward her. It was a newer model but the same style and color of car she had ridden to school in every time it rained. Those days seemed far away.
Recognizing her parents, Erica got up and took a few steps and then broke into a run. Regardless of the consequences, she was eager to see her mom and dad. Mom opened the car door and stepped outside, but Dad remained in the car. Mother and daughter both dissolved into tears as they embraced, but neither said a word. “Erica, get in the car. We’ll catch up on everything later,” Dad said. He always was the strong silent type.
After opening the back door of the car, Erica turned for another glimpse of Pastor Kurt. He was watching the scene intently and they both waved at the same time. She realized a miracle had brought her together with her family, and it would take another miracle to mend their broken relationship.
Dad had barely turned the car around when he started to pepper Erica with questions. “What have you been doing? Why haven’t you kept in touch? Do you realize what you’ve been doing to your mother’s health? She’s been worried sick.” The questions came one after another before Erica even had the chance to answer.
Realizing she deserved Dad’s condemnation, Erica still wished he would take it easy and allow the truth to come out slowly and naturally. Interrupting Dad’s tirade, she pleaded, “Dad, Mom, I know I haven’t done right and I’m really sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it with me. I want some straight answers.
For starters, where are you working?” Dad asked.
“You know I went to work at a restaurant when I first came here.”
“Are you working there now?”
“Where do you work?”
“I - I don’t.”
“Then how do you eat?”
“I have other sources of income.”
Erica could see Dad’s eyes flashing as he studied her in the rear view mirror. “Are you a prostitute, Erica?” Lowering her eyes, Erica said, “I didn’t intend to be.” “What you intended doesn’t have anything to do with it. Are you or aren’t you?” Dad shouted.
“Yes,” Erica replied meekly.
Mom took hold of Dad’s shoulder. “Jim, please stay calm,” she said.
“Calm! I find out my daughter’s a whore and you want me to remain calm? You’re the one who’s been worrying. How can you stay calm, now?”
“Please, Jim, I don’t want you to have a heart attack or an accident. Why don’t we pull off the road and have a cup of coffee or something?”
“There’s a restaurant at the next light,” Erica said in hopes of restoring order.
Without a word, Dad turned right at the light and stopped in front of Majestic Diner. As Dad got out of the car, he looked at Erica with contempt in his eyes. “I’m certainly not proud to be taking you anyplace with those tattoos all over your body,” he said.
Already Erica wished she had run when she had the chance. Mom might have cut her some slack, but Dad was out for blood. As the first one into the restaurant, Erica chose a table right in the middle. Maybe being on center stage would prevent Dad from continuing to lash out at her.
“All right, explain yourself,” Dad said as soon as they sat down.
Through tears and with intense emotion, she started to explain how the stranger at the party showed her the way out of her financial worries. “I was broke, Dad, with lots of bills, and I didn’t know what else to do.”
Dad’s red face indicated that his anger had mounted. Through gritted teeth, he said, “You could have called home.”
The waiter brought menus. “I’m Billy,” he said. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Later,” Dad said as he waved him away. To Erica, he said, “Why didn’t you call home?”
“I didn’t want to trouble you and I wanted to make it on my own.”
“You made it on your own all right, and disgraced the family in the process.”
Unable to take any more, Erica retreated to the restroom. Billy’s eyes followed her movement. He had seemed to show interest in the family from the time they entered the restaurant. They looked like a family in distress.
When Erica started to leave the restroom, she abruptly changed her mind. If she stayed away long enough, maybe Dad would take off without her. If not, maybe Mom could calm him down. In an effort to remove the stress lines, she splashed water over her face and dried it with a paper towel. The tiny splash on the sink indicated tears had started flowing again. This has to stop, she told herself. To show she meant business, she gave both cheeks a quick, hard slap to shock her emotions into obedience. After dabbing her eyes with cold water, she headed back to the table.
While still in the hallway, Erica could hear Dad say, “You don’t know what she’s done.”
Moving so she could see but not be seen, Erica saw Billy standing by the table. In response to Dad’s remark, Billy grasped the edge of the table with both hands and leaned over. “I don’t care what she’s done,” Billy said slowly and deliberately. “You’re still family. I’d give everything I’ll ever earn if I could have one day with my family again. Mom died a year ago. It was too late when I tried to make things right.”
When Billy straightened up, he was shaking. It was as though the Holy Spirit directed Billy’s words and his towering presence made an obvious impact on Dad. Dad’s face had turned from red to white. For once, he was speechless. He had practiced what he would say a thousand times if he ever got a chance to see his daughter again. He knew he blew it. He did and said just the opposite of what he wanted to. He was ashamed of himself.
“Shall we order coffee?” Mom asked.
While Billy went for the coffee, Erica headed for the table with her parents. Before she sat down, Dad stood up. In an awkward manner, he hugged Erica and said, “I’m sorry, Erica. We’ll work things out. I love you and I want us to be a family again.” Mom’s face beamed.
The three of them sat drinking coffee in silence, but Erica was deep in thought. Pastor Kurt had said that Jesus died to pay for her sins. “When God forgives you, it’s the same as though you had never sinned,” he had said. With that promise, perhaps she could find a new beginning, she thought.