As a cab driver, I meet all kinds of different people, from all different walks of life. Part of the fun and feeling of adventure that comes along with my job is never knowing who I will meet. I start off each day with the thought that I would like to make a positive difference in someone’s life I meet that day. Think about it: I have a captive audience. I can, for the most part, control the conversation, change the topic and focus of what is said, and can usually do it quite easily with questions. Inevitably, I’m the one who is changed in a positive manner by those I meet and spend a brief period of my day with.
About a year ago I pulled up to the front of an apartment complex in a questionable neighborhood some place in Phoenix. I had no idea where I was. I called the passenger and she said she would be out to the cab in just a minute. As I watched her walk to the cab, I couldn’t help but notice she was very beautiful. She was a young, Latina woman, about 24 years old, but she looked distraught. I quickly got out of the cab and walked around the back of the car and opened the door for her. Just like most people, she looked at me like I was a crazy person for opening her door, then quickly thanked me and sat inside. As I closed her door, I couldn’t help what wonder what we would talk about and what I could leave her with in the form of words that may brighten her day.
It didn’t take long to start the conversation. I asked her how she was, and the broke down and started sobbing. She told me that only 15 minutes before her boyfriend had tried to choke her to death. The neighbors had heard the commotion and had quickly called the cops, literally saving her life. She was on her way to a court ordered, mandatory mental health appointment, and all she could think about was how angry he would be with her when he got out of jail and back home. She then began to tell me her story:
She grew up in California. I can’t remember all of the details, but she told me that at the age of 8 she began to be pimped out for sex by a Mexican gang there where she lived. I can only imagine what kind of physical and mental and emotional damage that was done to such a young girl. For years she lived like this, and told me the only way she could escape her literal hell was by drinking and doing some pretty hard core drugs. That life was all she knew. I have no idea where her parents were or what kind of family life she had that allowed for such a devastating life. She never had a chance. Now at the age of 24, she had four children, none of which lived with her. The courts had taken her children from her and placed them in homes with foster families. She sobbed and sobbed as she told me about her life and how awful it had turned out and how unhappy and scared she was. I don’t know what it is about cab drivers and bar tenders, but people tend not to hold back. She really unloaded on me. It was obvious she needed to talk some things out and process everything. As she told me everything, my heart sank. I was speechless. I had no idea what to say to her-none at all! I was completely blown away by what she said. I always try to imagine myself in the other person’s shoes, and think about how I would react to what they have been through. Without a doubt I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to handle anything this young girl had been through half as well as she had.
Finally, about 20 minutes into our 30 minute drive, I looked into her eyes in the rear view mirror and said, “It sounds like you need to make some changes with your life.” She stopped crying for the first time in 20 minutes and started laughing. I’ll be honest. It made me a little uncomfortable. She looked back at me in the mirror and yelled, “You think?!!”
Then she started asking questions:
“How do I change?”
“How am I supposed to heal from what has happened to me?”
“How am I supposed to me a good mother to my babies? I probably won’t even get them back?”
“How do I find a man that will be nice to me so I can get away from this guy who just wants to kill me?”
I didn’t really know how to answer some of these questions. I told her that her future was up to her and that no matter what had happened in her past, today was a new day, and each day she woke up she had a choice and a responsibility to herself to make her life as good as she could from here on out. I asked her what she wanted. She said she just wanted to be happy. I asked her what would make her happy and she answered that she wanted to be with someone who loved her, to get off drugs, and to get her kids back.
By this time we were pulling into the parking lot for her appointment. I wished her well and said, “Good luck with everything. It seems like you have a lot of work to do. If you want it badly enough, you will do it.” She looked into my eyes. In that brief moment I wondered what would come of this girl. What would come of her children? Would she ever be able to get the kind of help and support she needed from anyone or anywhere to make the necessary changes in her life in order to be happy? I knew there wasn’t a damn thing I could do for her. She had to choose to do some things for herself. I wondered if she could do it while living her current lifestyle, on drugs with a violent boyfriend and surrounded by people making poor choices, all the while getting deeper and deeper into trouble with the court system.
She told me thank you. I asked her to wait for me to open her door. As she got out of the cab she told me nobody had ever opened a door for her before. I wished her good luck with everything and we parted ways. Ten years ago, when my wife of 12 years left me for another guy, I found myself raising my three sons on my own. I never thought something like that would happen to me. I was sure my marriage would last my whole life and me and my wife would endure to the end and grow old together. I felt sorry for myself for years and adopted a “poor me” attitude, the mentality of a victim. Truth is, I’m now grateful my ex wife left me. I don’t blame her for doing it. So much good came from it. After hearing this girl’s story, I remembered how much help and love and support I had received from my mom and her husband, my dad and his wife, and my sisters. I had such a great support system and so did my boys. I said a small prayer for this girl. She helped me remember how great my life really is, and how blessed I truly am. She helped me remember there is hope for the hopeless. She helped me remember that we all need to stand up and take responsibility for our own lives and each of our choices and for the choices we will make every day from now on. Every day is a new opportunity.