“When my son was murdered, I read Job,” Regina said.
Regina was my ride-share driver, fifty-something, and a seat-full of voluptuous curves. She was chatty and she talked with her hands vociferously, which was only a little scary. After each burst of information, they’d reclaim the steering wheel.
Usually, Regina told me, she has a gig driving a charter bus up to Boston and back, but then she has to wait four or five unpaid hours before she can return her passengers to Philadelphia. And if they don’t tip well, she’s better off with Uber or Lyft. She has a lot of friends, but they’re not all real friends, “Not like the real close ones, you know?” She has fewer of those, but they’re good ones. She also has mixed-race grandbabies she has to worry about, given, well, everything.
I was heading home to California from Philly after a Mother’s Day visit, and I’d been thinking about my long-gone mother and my adult daughter, wondering how she’ll fare when I go belly up. Regina’s thoughts seemed to be in a similarly cheerless place, missing her murdered child while she drove me to the airport.
“Everything’s just gotten worse, since, well—”
“Since Trump?” I offered.
“Yes, sister! So glad you said that, whew, you never know.”
I wasn’t sure it meant anything, but it felt good, a white woman, descended from people who owned people, being called sister by a black woman. So I considered telling Regina about the racist next to me on the flight out from California. She owed me no emotional support, but I decided to tell her anyway.
“The woman had been contorting her upper body, trying to see the cover of the book I was reading. I finally showed it to her so she’d stop hovering—Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir, by Jean Guerrero. The nitwit proceeded to spew xenophobia about the hordes coming across our border—our border. Like she was a major stockholder. Like she assumed our shared whiteness meant a shared ideology.
“‘Is the author Mexican?’ she said. ‘We don’t need any more of thosepeople coming here. Right?’
“Being an educator, I tried turning it into a learning moment for the racist—with facts and even primary source references—but I failed. So I put down the book, looked the woman in her hateful eyes, and told her we were diametrically opposed, so we should be silent seatmates.”
“You told her what?” Regina said. “What were you?”
“Diametrically opposed—complete opposites.”
Regina whooped. “Praise God, dear father! That is my new thing. Thank you, sister. Diametrically opposed. What did she say?”
“Not a word. She put on her earphones and plugged into her tablet for the rest of the flight.”
Regina laughed and reached around to high-five me. I hoped her peripheral vision far exceeded mine.
“You just made my day,” she said. “This is a holy day. When you challenge your own, yeah, that’s what’s got to happen. You told that bitch—forgive me, God. Sometimes that foul language just flies out of my mouth, and I have to ask God to forgive me. He always does.”
“I know. I wanted to call her a ‘fucking bigot,’ but it would have been a waste of a useful obscenity.”
Regina laughed louder. “You are something—this isa holy day! I don’t drive just anybody. And some people, I think they look at my picture and go, ‘Oh, no, I’m not riding with her.’ That’s OK. I’d rather not have that kind in my car. Sometimes it’s just too much. Have you read Job? Are you a Christian? Catholic? Something else?”
“Nope, I—” Our temporary bond felt too good to blow by owning up to being a heathen, but maybe I wasn’t giving Regina’s tolerance the credit she deserved.
“You see,” she said, “God is testing Job. But I don’t know.” She futzed with her GPS screen and my sphincter clenched as we performed a gentle swerve into the next lane. And back again. “You get stopped by a cop, you have to get your registration and license out before they shoot you. Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland. Always being afraid, that’s some test.”
Regina said she believes Jesus is the son of God, sent to us to suffer for our sins, but she said this with a skeptical tone. “God is love,” she said, “so he must love us, but if he loves us, why does he test us like he does?”
I had no answer for Regina, academic or faithful, nothing.
She raised her hands to the heavens and slammed them back on the wheel. “Anyone who’d take babies from their parents and lock them in cages and let them die? They are just evil. What kind of test is this?”
She fished in the console and pulled out her phone. I wondered if we’d survive the drive.
One of her friends, she said, had texted her a biblical meme, Proverbs 31:25, and she’d made it the phone’s wallpaper.
“Here, look at this,” and she read it to me while I clung to my seatbelt and watched the road. “‘She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without—’ What?”
The screen had lopped off the last line. Regina wanted to find the original text message with the whole verse. I wanted her to keep her eyes on the converging traffic as we approached the airport.
“Here it is! ‘Without fear of the future.’ … A lot to fear nowadays.” She put the phone down, gripped the wheel, and her hands went still.
I hoped a less controversial topic might steady her driving and distract her from her fear. “Your car smells great, Regina. What is that?”
She reached down to the passenger side floor and popped up with a yellow spray bottle. “That’s my essential oil.”
She kept the oil in her car because she needed it, for the calming effect, she explained.
“Every time I get a passenger with a bad vibe, I just smile and—” She sprayed the space over her head.
“And every time someone calls me a ‘n—-r’—” She aimed the bottle over her shoulder and pulled the trigger.
“Jeez, Regina! Does that happen a lot?” recognizing too late what an ignorant question it was.
“Oh yeah, a lot. It’s gone on four hundred years. It’ll go on until the Apocalypse. If there’s really going to be an Apocalypse. Or maybe this is the Apocalypse. Maybe it’s happening right now. But that’s OK. I don’t take shit from anyone. Sure as hell not one of those fucking racists. Forgive me, God, dear father—and you know he will.”
Regina spritzed the air and laughed. I laughed. We laughed together. We had to.
And then we were there.