We end 2017 with a story that was written in Herstory’s first bilingual workshop 12 years ago in Farmingville, shortly after the violence there, ushering in 2018 with a sense of reaching out to the stranger, building bridges, redemption and hope. This story was read and reread all over Long Island, and now, so many years later, still resonates in our hearts.
By Yolanda Gress
A Tuesday in January 2005, a very cold day. Snow had fallen the day before and the wind was blowing. It made your hands freeze and the cold penetrated through to your bones. My car didn’t have heat, but I had the responsibility of taking Armando, my son, to Kara, a high school student who helped him with the hard homework problems that he didn’t understand.
The road and everything around it was white, but just as we were crossing a bridge, the light turned red. It was then that my son and I turned around, toward the right, and we saw a man covering himself with cardboard. The cold was awful, and I noticed in particular that this man’s hair was very messy, he had no sweater, and his face and hands were very red. I had to drive on, and in the moment when his hands were present in my mind, what came to me was the image of Jesus.
I drove on to the next traffic light, when my son and I turned toward each other, and he said, “Poor man, no, Mom?” Yes, I answered, adding, “I don’t know why the government doesn’t help him, since he’s American!”
We arrived at the next light, and I turned around as if expecting to see him, but what I saw were two blankets belonging to my two-year-old daughter Diana, the baby of the family. I remember that I said to myself, “Blankets!” and I said it aloud to Armando. I saw an expression of happiness on his face, and I thought, “These are little Diana’s blankets. How can I give them away?” These blankets meant a lot to me because Diana had them ever since she was a baby. And I asked myself, “What do I do? Do I give them to him or do I go on?” But poor thing, pobrecito, I thought again. He’s cold, and I at least am inside the car.
I had little time to decide, and I was confused, the light turned green, and I had to go on. But, the road divider was long, and there wasn’t a place to turn around for the entire length of it. Armando and I were silent. I saw my son’s eyes fill with tears, and I had a lump in my throat, as I thought, “Dear God, protect him! Forgive me, Lord! I don’t know what to do! I feel bad. Forgive me, Lord!”
We passed under a bridge, and I turned around to look at my son. He looked very sad, and at the moment we were looking at each other, he said, “When you go back, look for him, Mom!” I immediately answered, “Yes, son, I’ll look for him. I don’t know if I’ll find him, but I will look for him.”
We finally got past the long road divider. The silence continued for seven or eight blocks, as I thought, “Where will I find him? What direction did he take?” Since he was on one side of the bridge, I didn’t know if he had walked off of it, if he had gone to the other side, or if he was headed towards the gas station that was on one side or if he had gone back the other way. We finally arrived at Kara’s house, and Armando got out of the car.
I began to head back home to Ronkonkoma, but to my surprise, crossing the bridge where we had seen him, I could see that someone was walking in the snow, and at that moment I felt the sky open up. I felt that God was smiling down on me, and once again I felt a lump in my throat. I felt my chest fill with emotion as I caught up with him, and I turned around to see if it was him. Yes, it’s him, yes, yes it’s him! I parked on the right side of the road, a little ahead of him so that I could wait for him, and then I lowered the window and yelled to the American, “Hey, you need a ride?” I don’t know if you say it like that, but I offered him a ride. I felt that he was waiting for something like that, because as soon as he saw me and heard my shout, he didn’t even think about it; in fact, he even crossed the road without looking both ways. When he got to my window I took out the two blankets and said, “This is for you.”
I offered to take him to his house. In English he said, “You’re going to take me to my house?” I understand very little English, but in that moment it was as if we had spoken the same language. “Yes,” I answered, smiling at him. “OK,” he said, and got into the car.
After a moment of silence, he said, “In this city, nobody gives rides.” And he continued talking throughout the ride, but I couldn’t understand anything else. I remember that he spoke slowly and in a soft voice. I asked him, “Where is your house?” To my surprise he said, “Here’s fine,” pointing to a parking lot. I stopped, he took his blankets, and as he got out of the car he thanked me. I never saw his face again. I remained parked, looking at the cars covered in snow, with nobody else around. I wondered, “Where does he live? What is he going to do?” And then I headed for home.