I recognized him by his missing front teeth. The skinny youth with the outstretched arms was the one driving my stolen car four years ago, arrested as he was trying to gas it up.
The silver Lincoln Town Car had vanished from my driveway one Friday night. If I had looked out my office window, I would have seen the crime in progress. It wasn’t missing long. Police spotted it the next night.
I had learned to expect anything those days after my wife Nina’s death. Grief, fear and suspicion turn family members on each other. Threats fly and belongings disappear including, in my case, the Lincoln.
Time heals, and now we look out for each other, checking in with phone calls and frequent visits. We also agree that Nina’s spirit manifests itself. They feel her presence in the house we shared at Buhne and S streets. I hear Nina reminding me that every obstacle I face is partly my fault.
She was also my staunchest defender. When a boss once said he could easily fire me, I whined to Nina. She told me what to say: “Fire me if you want to. I don’t need this job anyway.”
The boss never threatened me again. “What if he had fired me anyway?” I asked her.
“We would figure something,” she said.
There have been bit players in our ongoing family drama — among them, the toothless kid now embracing me on the street corner.
I had first met him in jail in connection with my stolen car. He told police he had bought it, a plausible story in the drug community.
Surprised by my jail visit, he wept when I told him that I owned the car. He faced prison time.
“We’ll figure something,” I assured him, the words Nina used so often. I never found out what she meant. The words comforted the youth as they had me.
He waved to me at his arraignment. Out in the hallway, the deputy district attorney asked me how I wanted the case resolved. I asked them to let the youth go since prison time would serve no purpose. And so they did.
Eventually, I donated the old Lincoln to Teen Challenge, the drug recovery program, and moved on with my life. It is all we can do when forgiveness is the only implement we have.
When I saw him on the street last week, the young man gushed with gratitude. He offered that he had completed a drug program, relapsed and then had finished another. In other words, he had accepted responsibility for his actions — something I am still learning to do.
I promised to take him for a hamburger. I marvel how quickly he can swallow it.
Life so often gives us opportunity concealed as setbacks. I had always seen that potential in the story of my stolen car. The youth had evolved from remorse to wanting me to be the father he never had. I’ll bet he was serious.
It is an adventure — that path of discovery. I share it with my 14-year-old daughter, Leticia, who notes how often I speak to strangers. I tell her that is part of the experience.
Together, we listened to a woman boasting that she had moved 57 times in the past 10 years. That is more than a flock of Canadian geese. She said her husband doesn’t like to work, making him a migratory unemployment statistic.
My suggestion to Leticia was that we could give those unfilled jobs to people who would take them. I know some qualified Dominicans who would love to help. Among them is my wife.
Just 10 months ago, I met her and her daughter at the San Francisco Airport — two proud immigrants trusting me, a crazy old man with two Persian cats. I wondered what life would hold for them in this isolated place.
Now my ladies sing constantly though I still cannot understand their Spanish. The rest is day to day. But I like the odds. And if things get really rough, I’ll hear the firm, soft words of Nina saying, “We’ll figure something.”
Dave Silverbrand’s columns and other writings are available on his website, http://www.davespeople.com.