“A Minnie mouse suitcase?” Jorge asked as he squashed the last of his cigarette to free up his hands to help me with my arm load.
“Yep, that way I’ll know it is mine!” I replied passing him my 28 inch red, white, and black polka-dotted suitcase. That past Saturday my suitcase broke, and I was traveling in two days. Amazon Prime to the rescue, and my childhood was given a window to unleash itself for a tiny moment.
This Tuesday was a shitty day. I was nervous about leaving the country for so long. My position and team were recently reorged yet again with a pending move to North Carolina. My web-series campaign wasn’t going as well as I had hopped it would’ve. My workload for my new project was ridiculous, and managing a U.S. based project, while kicking of a European initiative had my stomach in knots. The difficult girl scout knots I could never untie.
“What’s on your mind, Princess? You and Minnie planning to run away?” Jorge asked.
I had just gotten back into the Uber after making him drive back to my midtown office because I stupidly forgot my keys in my blazer, that I stupidly forgot at work. 20 minutes wasted going round the block in NYC rush-hour traffic, and I still had a dinner date with my big brother, Tunde, that I knew for a fact I was going to be late for.
“Something like that. I mean, that was the plan. Now I’m scared to do it,” I replied Jorge with my forehead pressed to the window. “Today’s a shitty day.”
“Nope. No shitty days allowed in this car. I left shitty days Ecuador.”
Jorge moved to New Jersey when he was my age. 27. He moved 5 days after marrying his wife, whom he had only been on 6 dates with.
“We knew each other for 38 days. And now we’re married many, many years.” Jorge liked to emphasize the 38 days. I think it was his way of saying it was love at first sight, or close to it. He calls his wife his GPS, his life compass, because, “She’s my guide! When I need telling what to do, she will do it, and put me in the right direction. She’s got my back, you see!”
We spoke of why he moved, and how he transitioned. Transitioning was hard because he didn’t speak a word of English. He recalled trying to make a trip into the city and couldn’t read the signs. When he finally made it to the bus depot, the bus driver had to physically unbuckle his seat belt and walk him across the station to the correct bus.
He told me this story in efforts to make me feel better. It didn’t work, but it did distract me for a bit.
“What are you afraid of?”
“I don’t like being places on my own. Doing things outside of my regular routine. It gives me really bad anxiety.” I replied. I really wanted to say that I have no medical insurance outside of this country so if I go into a full blown attack, someone might leave me for dead in the UK Underground. Or on a tour bus in Santorini. Or maybe the Eurostar to Brussels.
“Anxiety means scared?” Jorge began to apologize, “My English is no good.”
“Yes scared. But worse. Much, much worse,” I laughed, “And your English is fine!”
“Okay, Princess,” Jorge pulled over on the corner of 9th Ave and 42nd street, “Can we have a real conversation? Like person to person, not driver but me as person.”
The truth is, Jorge became a person to me right after he engaged with me and “shared his heart”, as Moe would’ve described. I obliged, and he began driving again, but not before turning off the Uber. He took the longer, more scenic route to my home as he told me his secrets to happiness.
“Princess, the first thing you have to do is speak nice to yourself. Say nice, kind things to yourself as much as you can. My wife taught me to do this. In the morning she sings this song to herself, it’s in spanish, but it’s basically a repeat of I am able, I am blessed, and I am brave. She sings it to remind herself that she is all of those things! She started when I finally got her moved here. We spent a year apart before she could move to America with me, and she was so scared. But she did it, because she was able, she was blessed, and she was brave! And she had a very handsome husband waiting for her!”
“You have to do new things, and you have to do what makes you feel good! Not one or the other! Both! Must do both! I’ll talk about new things in a minute, but you feeling good, keeps you happy! Take Uber for example! Once the traffic gets bad, I get stressed! When I am stressed, I’m not happy! So I go home back to Jersey. I could make money in traffic, but money doesn’t make stress go away. Going home makes stress go away. So I go home!”
“Do you pray, Princess?” Jorge asked.
[ Truth: I have a love / hate relationship with God, the bible, and the basics of Christianity. ]
“No, not often,” I replied. It was downhill from here. I just knew it.
“Princess!” Jorge gasped, “Princess, you’ve got to pray! How else do you expect to make it through the rough and itchy parts of life! Even if it’s for a little bit, make time to be thankful to God, make time to help him help you be safe and certain with the new things you do! Like this trip.”
We made eye contact through his rearview mirror, and I wanted to tell him the God he was referring to doesn’t always show up for me, so I’m better off sticking to the first two rules and that’s it.
And then he hit me with the, “Will you let me pray for you? We can pray together for a safe and fruitful trip. And that way you’ll have nothing to be afraid of.”
As if the Universe hadn’t played enough mean tricks on me this month, now this.
“Jorge, I don’t feel comfortable…”
“I’ll do all the work. You just sit there,” he pulled up in front of my apartment. I looked through the window and saw the neighbors that weren’t really neighbors inhabiting my stoop yet again and thought to myself, praying is definitely better than battling that crowd.
I gave Jorge my hand, he smiled a wide-toothy grin, and he proceeded to pray in Spanish. He closed his eyes so I followed suit, peeking every once in awhile to make sure nothing crazy was going on. It didn’t sound as forceful as I expected it to. In fact, it was soothing, and oddly reassuring. By the time he ended with “Amen,”, I felt so calm that at that very moment, I questioned what I had been missing out on with this whole God thing.
As he handed me over Minnie, and I dug in my purse for my house keys, he grabbed my shoulders, and said, “Princess, you’re going to be just fine. Here’s my number, call me anytime you ever need a taxi. Or if you’d like my wife to sing her song to you. She doesn’t sing good though, I’m warning you.”
Jorge was what I needed before I boarded my flight. So I called him, and he took me to the airport two evenings later, and as promised his wife sang her song to me.