Gummo ★★★★

I was riding my bike a few weeks ago. I had just made it through the underpass, and was heading straight down the avenue. You know the one. It has the bowling alley that I went to with my friends on that half-day in the sixth grade. The 7-Eleven with the Redbox outside that I browsed while my mom was inside getting her gum. The car wash that, even though it was an utter waste of money, fascinated my younger self with its colors and big spinny things.

It was on this avenue when I was riding my bike that I saw an old woman standing on a grass patch with a trash picker and a large yellow bag. She didn’t make eye contact with me once in those twenty seconds. She didn’t make eye contact with anybody. Yet, as I passed her, she was smiling. Just standing there, looking down at the litter that surrounded her, smiling.

Our lives intersected for a brief moment, and yet this image has stuck with me for over a month now. My city is a small one where everyone knows each other. So-and-so’s father went to school with so-and-so’s mother and dated so-and-so’s sister and so on and so forth. My city is one where anyone living there has lived there their whole life. I worry a lot about the people I know making it out of here. I worry because I know what they’ll likely fall into. I worry because I’ve seen it happen to so many. 

This old woman smiling at the litter that surrounded her represents one of two things to me. The first thing being another person who never made it out of the city and remains trapped in a life they didn’t want. Putting on an artificial smile, they go about their everyday life filled with regrets. Shattered dreams that never came to fruition. 

But, what if I’m wrong? What if, by some chance, I happened to ride by at a moment in which she felt genuine happiness? Perhaps remembering a funny joke or warm memory from yesteryear. What if she found something that makes her happy in picking up trash on that grass patch on that avenue? Her picking up trash may be more indicative of her as a person than her environment.

At the end of the day, I don’t know this woman or her story. Everything I’ve stated has solely been my perception, which is subject to change based on current emotion and mood because unfortunately I am human, and therefore don’t have everything figured out. But, the brevity of my glimpse into her life doesn’t render me unable to connect with her. It just means all I can do is hope that she’s living her best life.

All I can do is pray that she wasn’t on drugs.

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