The Georgia Story

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Sean Dietrich

By Sean Dietrich

DEAR SEAN:

Do you ever write anything not about gooey, syrupy love?

Thanks,

MARK-IN-ATLANTA

DEAR MARK:

I have a story for you.

It starts with a woman who pulled her Chevy Blazer alongside an ordinary Georgia gas pump. There, she noticed a teenage girl seated on the curb. Head resting against the pump.

It was the early 1980s. Blondie was still on the radio. Crimped perms were still a thing. Aqua Net hairspray was obscenely over used.

The girl at the gas pump was late teens, wearing a sweat-laden sundress, and eating an ice cream cone.

The woman in the SUV wasn’t sure whether to approach the girl and offer assistance, or whether the girl even needed help.

What was obvious, however, was that this vagrant child was on foot.

The woman thought for a few moments. Conventional wisdom says you’re not supposed to approach vagrants or down-and-outters. “Be cautious” is the mantra of all responsible suburban people.

So the woman in the SUV was telling herself to be smart. “You don’t know this young woman. She could be dangerous. Be cautious.”

The woman pulled alongside the pump and lowered her window. “You okay?”

The girl nodded and gave a quiet, “Yes, ma’am.”

But something just felt wrong.

“You sure you’re okay?”

“My boyfriend’s supposed to come get me,” the girl said, blowing her nose, dabbing her eyes.

Oh, yes. Something was definitely wrong.

“How long have you been waiting here, sweetie?”

“Since six this morning.”

The woman turned to look at the horizon. The sun was sinking behind the treeline and dusk was approaching. “You’ve been waiting here all day? Where is he?”

The girl finished her cone, then stood to stretch. She placed a hand on the small of her back and extended her very, very pregnant belly.

So apparently the girl was eating ice cream for two.

“I don’t know where he is, ma’am. He just took off and left me.”

The girl explained that all day passersby had been offering rides, but she was too afraid to accept these offers because, like I said, caution.

The girl began to cry. So the woman leapt from her SUV and moved in for the classic maternal shoulder rub. This was a woman with two teenage daughters at home. Shoulder rubs were her specialty. “Where are you from, honey?”

“Virginia. Me and my boyfriend left two days ago. And we… We had a big fight.”

She told the woman she had been riding shotgun with her boyfriend when he informed her that he didn’t want their baby. Things escalated. He got violent. The girl told him in so many words to “Get lost.”

So he did.

He left her at this station and cut out faster than a ten-cent shave. The filling station cashier had given the girl a free soda and soft-serve ice cream while she awaited his return. But things weren’t looking good.

The woman embraced the child. “Is there someone we can call? Your parents? Brothers, sisters?”

The girl shook her head.

The woman could see how truly young the child was. The ice cream smears on her cheeks only completed the picture.

“Ain’t got no family except a little brother, ma’am.”

“How old are you?”

“Nineteen.”

“Where is your brother?”

“Foster home in Richmond.”

The woman helped the girl into the SUV’s cushy interior, then adjusted the AC to full blast. And here’s my favorite part of the story. It took this woman maybe 60 seconds to make a decision that would alter her life forever.

“Okay then,” announced the woman, clapping her hands on the steering column. “You’re coming home with me.”

And it was as easy as that.

The next few weeks were an adjustment. The 19-year-old assumed a new life in the spare bedroom of the woman’s home. In no time at all, the girl became a genuine part of everyone’s life, and a close friend to the woman’s teenage daughters. A sister, if you will.

Months later, the girl gave birth to a boy. And minutes after the baby drew his first lungful, the girl’s newly adopted family crowded her hospital room like a bunch of smoked oysters, snapping mile-long reels of Kodaks.

I’m compressing a lot of information here, but over the following years the girl and her infant son fit into this average suburban family like round pegs in round holes. Her brother even came to visit sometimes.

And since all good stories have a wedding, I will also tell you that the girl finally married a guy from work four years later. A good guy. And for the girl’s wedding, brother, her new family put on the dog.

A huge shindig was planned. Florists were invoked. Bridal magazines were bookmarked. Dresses were purchased. The Blazer sat in the wedding-reception parking lot the whole time.

There was a wedding band, complete with frizzed-out hair, “Flashdance” cover songs, and 70-year-olds doing the foxtrot. There were long, sappy toasts. There were tears among adopted sisters who were of no blood relation — although try telling this to them. In other words, love. Lots of syrupy, gooey, life-reorganizing love.

To answer your question, Mark: No.

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