God's Fashion Advice
When asked about my religious beliefs, I will often declare myself to be a Catholic by convenience. I started off on that road courtesy of my parents, but along the way found myself exploring other religions and cultures. Still, when the shit hits the fan and I'm up to my eyeballs in trouble, I will wield my Catholicism like a birthright. As hypocritical as that sounds, and perhaps even offensive to those that live by their religious beliefs, I've not been turned away by God yet...
This story is true...and I've never been able to explain it away.
Fridays usually meant skipping class and spending the afternoon preparing a lunch for the guys at Phi Sigma Kappa. My best friend, Mag, and I were dating two of the frat house guys so everyone benefited from our culinary skills just so we could spend time with our boyfriends.
On this particular Friday, however, Mag was in the middle of another dramatic quarrel with Javier. Rule number one of friendship, especially female friendship, meant that since she couldn't stand to even be in the same room as him, I wouldn't be seeing Jack. In order to get her out of her funk, I suggested going out to lunch together.
As a freshman, I didn't have much in the way of luxuries. Mag was lucky. She had a car. It was a 1972 Plymouth Valiant that we nicknamed La Bomba...since we were pretty sure that one day it would probably blow up and take us with it. Still, it was transportation and that made it a wonderful asset to have.
Although it was her car, Mag hated to drive. That worked out wonderfully for me and I readily agreed to be the chauffeur in our relationship. This is how I happened to be behind the wheel on this particular Friday at the intersection of Eagle Rock and Colorado Boulevard.
I drive like a little old lady. As I made the left hand turn onto Colorado, I kept a watchful eye on the car speeding toward the intersection from the opposite side. So when Mag said in a very calm and conversational tone, "Laurie, look out for the man" I took a split second to frown at her in puzzlement...
Bernard Chicoine had been having a very good day. Earlier, he'd gotten a clean bill of health and was finally released from the hospital. Chronic emphysema coupled with a lifetime of back problems had plagued him. But now...now he was out...a free man! He had just picked up his new driver's license and was walking back across Colorado Boulevard to pick up his car. The last thing he did before La Bomba hit him was throw up his hands in a futile attempt to stop over a ton of steel.
It was one of those moments that is flash-frozen in my mind. I turn my head to look where Mag's eyes seem to be glued and I see him. He has thrown his hands up to cover his crotch and I think..."if this weren't so scary...that would be rather funny." The bumper makes a sickly soft thumping sound as it strikes Bernard, sending him onto the hood where his belt buckle makes a cringe-worthy scraping sound as he slides across it, then over the driver's side of the windshield and finally deposits him somewhere to the left of the car onto the pavement.
"Oh my god." I gasp softly...
My hands are trembling as I throw the car into park right in the middle of the road. "Oh my god, ohmygod, ohmygod..." I fling the door open and race back about 10 yards to where Bernard is sitting, somewhat dazed, on the center line. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Mag slide over into the driver's seat of the car. In a very expedient and business-like manner, she parks it at the gas station.
"Ohmygod...I'm so sorry...are you okay? I'm so sorry..." I crouch beside the elderly gentleman as he continues to look around in bemusement. He reaches his hand up and gingerly touches the bald spot in the center of his wispy white hair and winces when he comes back with blood on his fingertips. I kneel beside him and touch his shoulder...
"Are you okay...I'm so sorry...I didn't see you...." He turns his pale blue eyes slowly to me, still not speaking a word and reaches his bloodied hand out to me. Without thinking, I take it in my own and hang on tightly as if to let go would be to allow him to drown. "I'm here...I won't leave you," I said.
A crowd has begun to gather around us. Mag comes back and gently touches my shoulder. "I've called 911...they are on their way." I am grateful to her for taking care of these things...but I can only nod my appreciation. My world has shrunk to the connection between two hands.
Paramedics arrive on the scene and separate us. Bernard refuses to get in an ambulance because that would mean having to go back to the hospital...again. With nothing to do, the paramedics try to treat me for hysteria. In the end, Bernard's daughter arrives and he is whisked away before I can say anything more to him.
The police never did show up. Mag and I waited at the gas station for a couple of hours and then finally decided to go back to the college. She was suddenly in the mood to make up to Javier...and to be honest, I really needed a hug from Jack.
When I saw Jack, tears started and when he hugged me and asked what was wrong, I simply told him that I'd hit a man.
"Did he say something mean to you?" Jack asked.
"I hit him with a CAR, Jack."
My friends meant well and obviously had been reading a lot of pop-psychology, because their answer to the trauma of the day was to put me right back behind the wheel of La Bomba and take them cruising up and down Sunset Boulevard. Every pedestrian really freaked me out for the first few hours...but by 3 a.m., they began to look a bit blurry and I was pretty sure I was ready to go home. As a result of the late night out, when I received a phone call at about 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, I was still pretty groggy.
"Hello!" the man said,"I'm Mr. Chicoine's attorney and just wanted to inform you that Mr. Chicoine was admitted to the emergency room last night. He was having difficulty breathing."
Despite this shock, I was still trying to wake up. Somewhere in my subconscious the words "oh shit" were trying to surface.
"Is he okay?" I whispered in a sleep-raspy voice.
"Well that remains to be seen. You hit him pretty hard."
"I...uh...do you think he'd mind if I visited him?"
That threw the attorney off guard. I don't think he had been expecting genuine concern.
"Well...I suppose that would be a nice thing to do. Yes...I think you should. I can tell by your voice that you feel badly about this. I'm just not used to...here let me get you the information."
If I'd been awake, I'm sure I would have sounded a lot different. I'm also not sure if I'd have volunteered to visit a man that I'd nearly killed. Despite my friends' well intentioned distractions though, I was being eaten alive by guilt. Why did I have to hit a NICE man? How I knew he was nice...I don't know. And actually, if you think about it, hitting a nice person is probably better than hitting a not so nice person...even though nice people don't deserve to be run over. My head was starting to hurt.
I was now committed to visiting Mr. Bernard Chicoine and would do so on Sunday.
That night, I couldn't sleep. I paced my small dorm room, looked out the window, cracked a book open for about five minutes...but I could not get my mind to shut down. I resorted to the only thing I could think of...
After lighting a candle, I folded my legs and sat beside it on linoleum floor and took a deep breath...
"Hi God...it's me...Laurie."
Now I know that God is supposed to be omni-everything, but I still felt compelled to give him a complete synopsis of the entire event.
"...and so, I am going to visit him. It's the right thing to do, I know. I just...umm...what should I wear?"
Not the question you would normally ask God, right? I like to imagine that He was probably relieved to get a simple question. Instead of demanding answers to the suffering of the world, there I was asking for fashion advice.
But even stranger than the question, was the answer...
No...a burning bush did not suddenly appear in my room. In fact, God was very conscientious and did not want to disturb those living around me. The answer came as a thought in my head.
"Wear the first thing your hand touches tomorrow."
But oddly enough, I felt a lot calmer than I had been. I blew out the candle, climbed into bed and instantly fell asleep.
Sunday morning arrived and I woke up to a beautiful day. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes and running my fingers through tangled hair, I was on automatic pilot as I opened the closet door to peruse my choice of garments. Without thought, I reached in to push some hangers aside...ascertaining what was clean and available. And then I froze...
"Wear the first thing your hand touches tomorrow," I murmured to myself as I remembered the previous night.
I looked at what my hand was resting on.
It was a pair of white Madewell overalls. Hmm. Well, not the choice I would have made. I had been thinking perhaps a dress...or a nice skirt. Far be it for me to question God's fashion sense though. He hadn't made any shirt recommendations...so I exercised my free will and pulled out a crisp blue chambray oxford to wear beneath it.
With the assistance of the lawyer's directions, I found myself standing in the hospital doorway of Bernard's room later that morning. Despite the bright sunlight outside, his room was still in shadow. I stood there, letting my eyes adjust until I finally made out his profile standing by the window. He looked so frail in his hospital johnny, supporting himself one-handed with the IV pole.
He must have sensed my presence for he slowly turned around. His eyes widened slightly and then he nodded to me. To my amazement, he smiled and then said softly, "How did you know?"
He must have thought I was an idiot. I just shook my head and then remembering that he had received a head injury, decided to play along. "Know...what?"
Bernard chuckled softly and shuffled over to a chair. As he took a seat, he patted the bed and asked me to come in and join him. Timidly, I made my approach, found an uneasy perch on the edge of the bed and then waited.
He seemed lost in thought for a moment, his eyes were focused elsewhere as he gathered his thoughts. Finally he turned his amazing blue eyes to me and I was once again struck by the kindness I saw there.
"I'm old," he stated simply. "But occasionally...I think about things that I haven't thought about in a long time. You'll see... You are young now, but someday you'll understand what I mean. It's odd...yesterday I could have sworn you were a lot older...but now I see that you are not."
By degrees I began to relax. He wasn't going to point a finger at me...he didn't want to make me feel like a monster...he wanted to talk. And so I listened...
"Just now," he began to speak...
"Just now I was thinking of my father. It's sad to say, but I don't think about him a lot. He was a good father too. Growing up, he would take me with him a lot. Sometimes even to work. He was a painter, you see...and on those days, we'd dress up in matching clothes. We wore white overalls just like the ones you have on. So I'm asking again...how did you know?"
The skin goose-pimpled and my mouth fell open a bit. Now, as I grow older, I wonder why I didn't tell him the truth...that I'd asked God and He told me to wear the overalls. But at that moment in time, I could not give him that answer and so I gave him the typical teenage response, "I don't know."
Bernard and I talked for hours. We talked of family and friends as if we'd known each other a lifetime. As our visit drew to a close, he gave me a wistful smile and squeezed my hand. "I believe," he said softly, "that you and I were meant to meet each other. I only wish...I only wish that it hadn't been so painful."
I never saw Bernard again...but I think of him often. What could have been a horrible moment in my life, became an experience that I treasure. Instead of mowing down a pedestrian..."I ran into a friend." Bernard would probably smile at that.
As for whether or not I have the answer to one of the world's oldest questions...I still wonder. The world is full of mysteries and incomprehensible marvels. Far be it from me to slap a label on it and call it God. All I know for sure is one day I asked a question...and received an answer.