“What’s your name?” the man asked me. We were in the Publix parking lot. I was hugely pregnant, waddling across the cold pavement toward my car, a basket full of groceries. When I told him my name, he broke out in a huge, gap-toothed grin and reached for his back pocket. He pulled out a worn brown wallet, the creases of which matched the smile lines around his eyes. Rifling through the billfold, he pulled out a crinkled yellow Post-It note and showed it to me.“ This is my e-mail address,” he said. “And this,” he pointed, “is my password.” Written in all capital letters was the name “CLARABELL,” as though it were some poignant, divine intervention (or as though that were my name).
I smiled politely and nodded as though I understood the nature of this revelation.
“I just wanted to know your name to let you know that I’ll be praying for you, Claire. Prayin’ that you deliver a healthy baby.”
I looked at the green nametag on his shirt. He knew mine, after all. His name was Jimmy, and he had just bagged my groceries, asked me about my pregnancy, and walked me to my car. I don’t like accepting help from anyone, but now with a protruding stomach, people insisted upon it, and I’d given up arguing with them. As he walked me to my car, Jimmy told me about all the February birthdays in his family (I was due in February) and the dates of each family members’ birth.
And when he told me he’d be saying prayers for me, I thanked him profusely. If nothing else, that’s the kind of help I can get behind, particularly when I’m treading the uncharted waters of new motherhood.
“Everything will be great,” he promised. And looking at him—the sincerity in his eyes, the age lines of his face and his lop-sided grin—I believed him wholeheartedly. “I hope so,” I agreed, getting into my car.
“Hope,” he nodding, pushing my empty basket back toward the store. “Ya gotta have hope.”
Nine mornings later, I awoke with faint contractions. Things moved swiftly thereafter. I was ushered into the hospital, then into a gown. I was given needles and catheters and ice chips. And then the baby’s heart rate began to drop. And things moved even more quickly. “We need to get him out now,” my OB informed me as a nurse slapped an oxygen mask on my face.
Tears swam in my eyes as I looked up at my husband, who squeezed my hand and nodded it was going to be okay. Six minutes later in a roomful of people working at breakneck pace, my baby was pulled from my stomach. He was swollen and pale, and his head was a bit conical, but he was perfect.
Two days after I left the hospital, I went to the grocery store, wincing a bit from my tightening C-section stitches as I strolled the aisles for provisions. As I passed shoppers, I wanted to call out: “Do you know who I am? I’m someone’s mom!”
I had ceased to be just me anymore. The frenetic birth of this baby inexplicably changed who I was.
I looked for Jimmy while I was there, but I didn’t see him. And I didn’t see him again for many months after.
And then one day, there he was. He passed me by, looking straight at me, but there was no light of recognition on his face. Just a placid nod, an impersonal smile as we passed. I felt a pit form in my stomach. He doesn’t remember me. I’m just one of the hundreds of customers passing him by.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, that Jimmy clearly had no recollection of our moment months back.
Maybe he’d changed. I certainly had.
So when he passed me, I didn’t say anything either. Just smiled back, remembered that one cold February day and the kindness and reassurance given by a man in a grocery store parking lot.