Making Room

She got out of the car and loaded my suitcase in the trunk, a whoosh of stale cigarette smoke and ash exhaling with her, as if the car itself were trying to get a fresh breath of air. Debra, the Uber driver, slunk in behind the wheel, her head down, shoulders slumped. My goal was getting to the airport alive and on time, not necessarily making friends along the way, but I have to admit, I was disappointed.

“Thanks for picking me up,” I said, offering a handshake. “I’m Eve.” Debra’s hand was limp, and I put mine back in my lap. She let out a deep breath and turned the key in the ignition. I cracked my window and settled back in my seat.

Her phone rang. “Nah, workin’. I can’t tok. Trix needs to be let out. I’m headed to the earport and won’t be beeack for three hours.” Debra cut off the caller without saying goodbye. She wasn’t supposed to take personal calls while she drove for Uber, she said, “but I depend on my GPS. The real reason I don’t teek cahlls is ‘cahz I’m not good at gettin’ ‘round without it.”

My heart sank. An Uber driver who was not good at getting around? It began to rain, and I looked at my watch. I’d allowed two hours. Deep cleansing breath.

So you have a daughter?” I asked, guessing who called.

“Yeah, and a grand-dahter. Live about 20 minutes from me. I keep her dahg. Well, I guess, by now, she’s really my dahg.”

“So why do you have her dog?”

“Deleeney couldn’t treen her. She’s high strung, that dahg is. My dahter got tired of dealing with her, so she was going to put her down. But I said we should re-home her. So we tried that and we found a home. But a week leeter, we got a cahl from the new owner that she couldn’t heendle her either. She prob’ly wouldn’t find anythin’ else, so I took her.”

“How’s that working out?” I asked.

“Well, it was harrd at first. Trix bites and chews when she’s afraid, and she was bitin’ and chewin’ on us. I figured it’d peeass and it mostly has. But the harrdest part was losin’ the other dahgs.”

“Other dogs?”

“Yeah, I lost three of my dahgs in ten days. Near broke me,” she rasped, her mouth twisting. She wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her shirt. We hadn’t been in the car together more than ten minutes, and already Debra was weeping.

“Losing a pet feels like losing a family member. It’s happened to us,” I said wanting to empathize.

“And then the next week, we gaht a puppy to make up for those dead dahgs, but I wasn’t ready to love her yet. I was still grievin’. Just a couple days after we gaht her, her neck got caught in the cheen link and choked. Didn’t find her til mornin’.” Debra paused a minute. “She didn’t feel like mine yet,” and her voice cracked as she confided, “but still, it was another harrd lick. I guess I’m still not over any of it.”

“I’m sorry.” I wanted to connect with Debra’s loss, but I’m not exactly the dog lover in our family.

“Wish I had ahll three of ‘em beeack with me. Trix is a nutkeese and Rahscoe, our other dahg, is too old to do anything but dreeag around. He probably needs to be put down, but I keean’t do it.”

Debra wiped fresh tears from her face with both hands and then wiped them on her jeans. “It’s harrd on me,” she said. “It’s real harrd.”

“Tell me about your granddaughter.”

“She’s some fun. Comes over eeafter school and wahtches TV with me in my room if I’m home.”

“Your room?”

“Yeah, it’s a room I made just for me in my house.  I go in there at night, mostly by myself, just to be.”

“Are the other rooms in the house not yours?” I wondered what kind of arrangement she was living in.

“Yeah, they arre. Only my husband’s in them, too, you know? And he doesn’t like me much. He meeks fun of my TV shows. He meeks fun of me. He’s really just kind of mean, so I meed me a room of my own, where I can go.”

“A safe place?” I asked.

“Yeah, like that. I let my grandkids come in there. They like my TV. I gaht Netflix and we wahtch nature shows and stuff.”

“Do they like Trix?”

“Not really. She’s harrd to live with. Sometimes I sleep in my carr when I get home from work ‘cause I don’t want to have to deal with Trix when I go inside.”

“You sleep outside in this car?” I glanced behind me and saw that it was a hatchback with the backseat down, extending into the trunk space. A red heart shaped pillow and rainbow fleece were scattered among the empty soda cans and takeout containers.

“Yeah. It’s just easier sometimes. Nobody hassles me in my carr. I just pull up and turn ahff the lights and get in the beeack. Simple, you know?”

“I do,” I said, thinking about the weekend I’d just had visiting my daughter in nearby Chatauqua and the safe place I’d enjoyed. The quiet and no hassles felt restoring. I understood very well.

“Do you see your granddaughter often?”

“As much as she wahnts to come over. It depends on stuff after school. I keep chips she likes, and Oreos and pop.”

“She’s lucky to have you. Do you have other family nearby?”

“Yeah, my mahm lives in the next neighborhood. I tok to her ‘bout everyday. She’s always meead about somethin’ somebody’s doin’ in the family, though, and wants to tok ahll about it. And I have lots of cousins and aunts and uncles ‘round. I’ve lived here my whole life except for when I ran away to see my dad after I graduated.”

“Tell me about that.”

“Well, my parents split up right after I was born. So when I graduated from high school, I think, ‘I’m gonna meet my dad.’ So I gaht on an airplane and flew to California to meet him. He’d just married again, only I didn’t know it. And his new wife didn’t like me showin’ up on their doorstep. They gave me a room for a while and then said they needed it beeack for the beeby.”


“Yeah, that was harrd. But I knew I couldn’t stee, and I didn’t really want to. Once I got to know him some, I thought, well, now I’ve done that. And I moved back here and lived with my mahm and went to night school and gaht a job.”

“So what do you do?”

“I’m an accountant. I’m good at numbers. I’m the president and treasurer of our family reunion comin’ up because everybody trusts me with the money. But everybody’s still complainin’ about it.”

“How so?”

“Well, Nikki says she wants it catered. But Jo says we’ve always brought the sides ourselves and bought the meat. The cousins want to have a separate reunion with just the people they like cause they’re tired of ahll the arguin’ and bitchin. And there’s a group that drinks, and there’s a group that won’t. And the ones that won’t arre the good Catholics that look down on the ones that do, who arre the beead Catholics.”

“Sounds intense. Which kind of Catholic are you?”

“Oh, I’m a beead Catholic. I didn’t drink all my life until my aunt died a few years beeack. We were all sittin’ there talkin’ after her service, and somebody asked me did I want a beer. And I thought, yep, I think I do. And I been drinkin’ ever since. That’s a weird thing about me, don’t you think?”

Debra’s phone dinged. She swiped to get a text off her screen.

There was more I wanted to say, but I was afraid I’d sound like a Bible thumper. I looked at my watch and saw we didn’t have much time left, so I decided to thump, “You know, the first miracle Jesus ever performed in public was turning water into wine at a wedding. He was all about celebrating and enjoying life. Religion says folks are good or bad based on drinking, but not Jesus.”

“Drinkin’s about the one thing that meeks me feel better. I like drinkin’ a beer by myself in my room and watchin’ my TV.”

We fell silent for a while. The countryside looked dry and scrubby where we were, like it needed rain, but the rain had already sputtered and stopped. Billboards advertising an Indian reservation and a casino came and went. We’d taken a couple of wrong turns, due to a glitch in her Uber software. I looked at my phone: we had 28 minutes to get to the Buffalo International Airport for my flight back to Georgia.

I’d read about God keeping our tears in a bottle. It was a comforting thought for me, and I wanted to share it with Debra, but I didn’t know how to circle back there without it feeling forced.

God, help?

“Debra, you know, we’re never going to see each other again, right? I mean, this is one of those meetings that come along out of the blue and is gone. So I want to grab it and tell you what I’m thinking and feeling, because this is going to be my only shot. Can you handle me?”

“Yeah. I think so.” I saw her knuckles whiten, the veins in her hands bulge as she tightened her grip. “Can you meek it good? I need some good news.”

That sounded like a green light.

“I think you’re just about the biggest hearted person I’ve ever met. You’re taking care of everybody in your life—your complaining mama and all your family and their reunion mess. And you’re taking care of your granddaughter and your daughter’s crazy dog, and you’re still grieving your own dogs’ deaths. And you’ve taken your father’s rejection all your life, and now you’re taking your husband’s. That’s a lot. That’s a load so heavy, it’d drive you to eat or drink or some other problem, am I right?”

Debra nodded.

“But lately, it’s driven you to a safe place—your room. I like that. I like it that you’re taking care of Debra. I like it that when you need to, you can ignore Trix and spend the night in your car. I’m sad you have to do it, but I’m glad you have a plan.”

“I need to treen that dahg better. I need to get some help with her. I’m lettin’ her teek over my life.”

“Yeah.  I get that. I think I’m managing a problem, and before I know it, the problem’s managing me. You’re right, we need outside help, you and I.

“This past weekend, I was in a safe place. Some friends let me stay in their beautiful home, alone, while I visited my daughter. I’ve got some things going on in my life that are heavy, too. And I was feeling beat up inside when I got there. But this house had a kind of secret hiding place—an upstairs porch. It was such a treat to be there, that I felt completely restored when I left. I’m still feeling that way now, even though I’m about to jump back into my problem as soon as my plane lands.

“I want to tell you that I feel full because I rested in the arms of Jesus while I was there. Does that sound cuckoo?” Debra nodded. I laughed, “It does to me, too. I just imagined him holding me in that beautiful space, and I let myself feel the peace and love and joy of that. He says he’s my hiding place, my strong tower, my Savior. And Debra, I gotta tell you, I need a Savior…and I think you do, too.”

I looked at her hands, relaxed on the steering wheel now.

“A relationship with him is just about sharing your life with him and him sharing his life with you. It’s really simple when you think about it. You just talk to him like he’s sitting right there with you. And if you listen, you can hear him or feel him, maybe. I can’t go a day without him. I can’t even go an hour.”

“I used to go to meeass and confession a laht,” Debra confided. “But when I starrted drinking, I thought I couldn’t go anymore. What’s the point in goin’ if I’m just gonna keep doin’ what I shouldn’t do? That would be lyin’. But Jesus turned wahter into wine? I never harrd that before.”

“Yeah, and some people think it was a LOT of wine, like way more than was needed.  Those people were partying at that wedding, and Jesus provided the fun.  Jesus is for us.  Jesus wants us to enjoy being alive and to enjoy being alive with him.”

“So I can still have a beer in my room and tok to him in there, too?”

“Absolutely. In fact, I’ve been thinking about that room. I wonder if you were trying to find him when you decided to have your own space, and just didn’t know it.”

“Yeah…I mean, wow! Do you think so?”

I reached over and grabbed her hand. We both had tears and goofy smiles as she pulled over to the curb. Time was tight—I had 37 minutes to get through security and to my gate—but I was euphoric, not worried.

Debra climbed out of her car and hustled back to open the trunk. I lifted my bag out and set it down and grabbed her in a great big, heartfelt hug. “You and I are weak and needy, but we have a safe place, and his name is Jesus. Every time you enjoy a beer in your room, let yourself feel this hug from me, and ask him to let you hear his words over you: Beloved. Apple-of-my-eye. My delight. Make a list of all the ways he tells you he loves you from the Bible.”

“I will. And I’m gonna think about you in your safe place when I’m in mine, so I won’t feel so lonely.”

I turned and started to step up on the curb, but remembered something and turned back. She’d gotten in her car and I ran to her side. Stale cigarette smoke drifted out as she rolled down the window. I had one more thing I wanted to tell her.

“Debra, he keeps all your tears in a bottle, or, as in your case, in lots of bottles. He’s probably got cases by now!” We laughed. “That’s how dearly he loves you. He doesn’t waste your tears. If he’s that concerned with tears, how concerned do you think he is with your dogs? Your relationships? Your heart?” We were both crying, and I squeezed her arm, “Debra, this is crazy, isn’t it? I love you! Goodbye!”

The rain that had been threatening finally broke and came down, a soft summer shower, washing the air, bringing in a breeze. And these words came to mind, “I’m making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

My heart was so full, I couldn’t stop smiling.

For the story of the weekend before this encounter, see

Quotation is from Isaiah 43:19.

This story was first posted Sept 10, 2018.

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