Living in DC means taking cabs. My husband, Shawn, and I took plenty of cabs for the 13 years we lived in DC together, and he always loved chatting with the drivers. I remember one time when we were going out he got into a long discussion with our driver who had fled Iran during the 1979 revolution. Our friends who were also in the cab were blown away with how much Shawn knew about the revolution. Our driver, who became Shawn’s newest best friend, was pretty impressed, too.
But now I’m taking cabs alone, so I prefer using a car service where I can see who my driver is. I especially like it when I get a female driver. Last night when I went out with my friends, we called a car and piled in. The driver was a bit older than me and wore a flamboyant hat, and yes, she was woman. About five seconds after getting in the car, my friends realized that it wasn’t going to work for us to travel together. So they hugged me and got out of the car and I was left alone with my driver.
We talked very briefly about my friends, and then the driver said to me, “You all taking a night out from your husbands?”
And of course, because I have no filter, I said, “My husband died in January.”
She physically turned around in her seat, and nearly swerving off the road, said, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry. And look at you. You are so young.”
It’s funny, because people don’t usually point out how young I am when they offer their condolences. But I know they must be thinking about it.
I told her I appreciated her kindness and then I silently hoped we’d leave it at that. It was 10 p.m. on a weeknight and I just wanted to get home in one piece. But my driver had other ideas. “Baby,” she started, “I know how it is without a man. It’s so hard. My divorce happened when my son was 14 and it was a nightmare.”
Ugh. She couldn’t see my face but I was thinking, “Dear God, please don’t let her compare her divorce to my husband’s death.”
“It’s not the same, of course,” my driver continued, seemingly addressing my private thoughts, “but that time when my husband was gone, it was so terrible. We lived in a walk-up in New York City and I remember how hard it was to get everything in and out of that apartment. I was working three jobs and trying to keep track of my son and it was impossible. So we moved here to DC, and let me tell you, my son hated it. He didn’t want to leave his friends and he didn’t want to leave New York. But what are you going to do? I needed help and my help was in DC.”
“You have to be where you can get help when you’re a single parent, that’s for sure,” I said to her.
“That’s true,” she said. “and so I did it. I worked for a company here and did make-up on the side and started driving cabs. I got my brother and my sister to help me out with my son. I had to ask everyone for help. It was not easy.”
“I know,” I said.
“I bet you do,” she said to me. “But you just remember this: I made it and you will make it, too. You just do each day and then the days become your life and you realize you did it. That’s how you make it in this world.”
I smiled at her. “Wow,” I thought to myself. What she said may have been the best piece of advice or encouragement that I’d gotten so far.
Just do each day and the days become your life.
Would she have told me all of this if she didn’t know that I was a widow? I don’t know. But I’m glad she found out a bit of my story and I was really glad that I got a bit of hers. I know we all have stories that strangers can’t see. But what I’m finding out in the past few months is that when I tell my story—the one that starts with “my husband died and I have three kids under 10”—people feel compelled to tell me about their lives, too. And no, it’s not the same to get divorced as to become widowed, but when people share their pain with me, somehow it makes my own horrors easier to bear. Suffering is everywhere, and while I wish it wasn’t, there is comfort in knowing that others face the impossible as well.
That night, as we pulled up to my house after 30 minutes of talking about our lives, my cab driver turned around and held my hand. “You are going to be OK,” she said to me with a nod of her head. The look in her eyes was one of fearlessness—one I think she wanted to transfer to me.
I thanked her, and got out of the cab. “You take care,” she said, and then added, “and you give me 5 stars, OK honey?”
You bet I did.