The Waif Named Crystal
We have no right have no right to ask a private question of a stranger, but we have the right to curiosity. So…. I asked.
These are stories, gifts, from strangers.
It goes something like this. Crystal* floated around the store. She kept stopping next to a table near the door. I was at the register, but I kept my eye on her. Christmastime is ripe with shoplifters. I didn’t have it in me to deal with it today. My feet hurt. I was trying to smile at these customers; it felt like I was grimacing. Judging their reactions, I was grimacing. This wonderfully vibrant couple made their way toward me. Their antics spoke of newlyweds, but their conversation betrayed them. They made me laugh. It was a blessing. I wasn’t halfway through ringing up their merchandise when a this waif of a woman tapped Husband on the shoulder. “Here, I can’t use it.” She smiled and walked away. It was a coupon. One of those tricks, “If you buy such and such amount we’ll give you this free!” We do it all the time. I hate it.
Wife was so excited! She had more than double the amount on the coupon sitting on my counter, waiting to be rung-up. She was lucky. She got the last t-shirt. It was in her size too. “It’s all about timing,” she said. True, I guess.
They continued to chatter, joking about things that I didn’t understand, but making me laugh nonetheless. They were about to leave when the waif came back. Now when I say waif don’t misunderstand me as some young, doe-eyed, blondie. No, she was middle-aged, thinning mousy brown hair, but stunning blue eyes that settled back into her hollowing face. She looked panicked. “I lost my wallet.” Not a question. I pressed my thumb into the headset and asked my co-workers to start a treasure hunt. I winked at her and told her we were on it. “It will show up.” The couple joined the search. I was surprised. They were strangers, what did they care? Maybe it was those blue eyes that had turned to near pools, streaking the blue mascara she applied at the beauty counter. (It actually looked fantastic moments before.) Manager #1 found it. Wife squeezed Waifs hand and thanked her for the gift. Husband smiled and repeated the sentiment and added “Merry- um… Happy Holidays.” A blushed. It was adorable. The entire thing was something out of a community Christmas play.
They had me leave early. The store was empty and there was nothing to do. I wandered, not ready to go home. I stopped by the food court, in search of chocolate (this will, undoubtably, be a recurring theme). As I came out of the coffee shop chain store, I noticed Waif. I hesitated so say anything. I must have been staring because she looked at me. I smiled. She did that half smile that didn’t come close to reaching her eyes.
“That was nice of you to give up your coupon,” I said.
“Oh yeah. Well, I couldn’t spend that much today.”
“Christmas shopping is definitely expensive.”
And that’s when a tear slid down her face. I was horrified. Had I somehow done that?
“I’m not shopping. I just don’t want to be at home.”
And then silence. I was still standing there. She was still sitting.
Should I leave? How do I excuse myself? But I made her cry! That was me, wasn’t it? No, no just go-
“But it’s just as lonely here as it is at home.” Oh man.
“That’s the worst. I mean, when numbers don’t matter.” Did that even make sense? She nodded. Apparently, she’s a mindreader. “Want company?” What the hell?!?! I need to think before I speak.
And she was surprised. But yeah, she said, that would be ok. Well, until the bus came.
I tried to make small talk about the holiday plans. Instant dead end. Good one. She didn’t have any. She asked about mine. I told her. Nothing spectacular, but I do get to see my mom this year. Hallelujah! I actually said that. Sorry. “Hallelujah!” That clarifies huh? She laughed. And told me her name was Crystal.
She launched into her story.
Chris had been in a head-on car accident two weeks ago. He was in a coma. They doubted if he would ever come out of it. She was hoping for a Christmas miracle. She felt bad she wasn’t at the hospital but she felt like she was going insane. The walls would collapse and fall on top of her and she would stop breathing. The first time, she called the nurse, swearing she was having a heart attack. By the fifth time she diagnosed herself. Her heart, broken in two, was going crazy without its other half. Without Chris. Without someone to talk to. Besides nurses and doctors, of course. She talked to her sister, but her sister was too hard to talk to. Her sister cried for her. Crystal hadn’t done that. Until today.
She has a decision to make. Go to San Diego and visit her mother on Christmas, a mother who has zero clue who she is, but is awake. Or sit with her husband, who they want to take off of life support.
I didn’t want to cry. Not in front of her.
Then she got angry.
“Why am I telling you this?” Lamely- I shrugged. What was I supposed to say?
She stood up, as if to walk away. She got about two feet away before she came back.
“That was the most time anyone has given me in two whole weeks. Doctors included. Thank you. Merry Christmas.”
It took less than ten minutes. Ten minutes.
That’s when I decided to give more of my time to people. Strangers included. Then I went to grab my chocolate bar and… it was gone. Crystal took my chocolate.
“It’s fine. It’s comfort food. She needs it more than me,” I thought. Or something similar.
“If her story is true.” My mind likes to play devil’s advocate.
Who cares? It doesn’t affect me. Why doubt her?
I cried all the way home. Her story is heart wrenching. True or false? True even if it’s false.