Kindness is a butterfly

Photo By Larry Dalton

I remember driving to San Francisco from Sacramento on New Year’s Eve like I remember the pain of my first broken ankle. My girlfriend, who was too young for me, brought her CD collection, which included Slightly Stoopid, Fiona Apple and a band that rhymed “Baby, yeah!” with “labia.” I was out of cigarettes and about a half-hour from an exploded bladder. The cars were moving like worms through cement. Being stuck on a freeway with a bunch of people who are just as angry, or angrier, than you makes you realize that even the tiniest of pebbles can shatter a window.

Somewhere around Dixon, I saw the first pebble being cast. A scrawny high-school kid pounded on the tinted window of a pickup truck, yelling, “Get outta there, you pussy!” A man the size of a small apartment complex emerged from the truck and stood there as the kid inched back, slyly trying to calculate the formula for looking tough while fleeing to safety. As time and traffic flow struggled in an epic battle for last place, people’s faces took on the characteristics of the freeway: stony stares with gray, fogged-over expressions. It might have been my road delirium, but I swear that one woman’s eyes were blinking red. Although we had moved 15 feet from the Taco Bell sign up to the anatomically correct cow sculpture, two hours later we were still in Dixon. According to the radio, the delay was due to a flood, but at that point I didn’t care if Jesus was shopping for new sandals at the Vacaville outlets; I needed to be in San Francisco, away from all those homicides waiting to happen and closer to a whiskey and coke. We were stopped on the freeway for so long that both my girlfriend and I searched my car for objects that we could fashion into prison shanks.

When a Ford Explorer pulled up next to me, I almost joined the ranks of the infamous. “Is this guy really blasting R. Kelly’s ‘Feelin’ on Your Booty’ with his windows rolled down?” I asked myself. What happened next amazed me. The man, wearing yellow wristbands, leapt from his SUV and ran about four cars up to a woman who was sitting on the hood of her Cabriolet with the emergency lights flashing. Her face was gray, and she looked like she’d been crying. Her body language suggested that she was not waiting for help; she was merely waiting for the next thing to happen to her. But the man with the wristbands cleared a path, flipped her car into neutral and single-handedly moved it to the shoulder of the freeway while she looked on with her mouth agape. Then he lent her his cell phone and waited as she called for help.

The woman’s look quickly changed from the expression of someone who had just stepped on a baby’s hand in a foreign country to that of someone who had just found a hundred-dollar bill in her coat lining. She thanked him profusely, and for a second I expected tears. It took us seven long hours to get to San Francisco that night, all of which were intense and hellish. My girlfriend broke up with me shortly thereafter. I went on to lose my job and all my money. Despite the fact that my world seems to be directly in front of life’s wrecking ball, the memory of the man with yellow wristbands still lights up my mind. We were all tired that night. We all wanted to get to where we were going. We didn’t have to help that stranded woman, and we didn’t. But the man with the yellow wristbands did. Sometimes kindness is a butterfly fluttering among the rubble of our lives.

Josh Fernandez has a warrant out for his arrest. If you see him, look the other way.