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Smell the Coffee: Some things you can't explain

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While having lunch with friends, the subject of Halloween stories came up, and I said I had none left worth telling, that 16 years of sharing seasonal stories had left me tapped out.

I've written about clever costumes and creative decorations and pumpkin carving techniques. About my daughter's obsession with finding the perfect costume, and the hilarious creations she's come up with over the years. Our conversation ran the gamut from scary movies to haunted houses to Stephen King novels. And returned to me insisting I'd told all my tales.

"So, has anything ever happened to you that you couldn't explain?" Sue asked.

Something had. And I couldn't explain it. Still can't. But I'll try.

Several years ago, back when the gold-selling trend first got going, I took on a second job as a gold buyer. It was a weekend gig, and I'd set up at local venues and test jewelry that people wanted to sell. It was generally a slow-paced but very interesting job, with people telling me stories all day about where a piece came from and why they wanted to sell. It was so different from my somewhat isolated day job, where I generally interacted with the same few people each day.

One day, the two other gold testers and I were set up in a conference room at a hotel. My customer had just left, and the other testers were busy with clients of their own. Those clients were a mother, who appeared to be about 60 years old, and her daughter, who was around 30. With them was a little girl, who was perhaps 5 or 6. She was wispy-haired and thin, with big eyes and hollow cheeks, much like I was as a child. She was seated quietly in the front row, staring at me.

"Can I talk to you?" the little girl asked.

"Don't bother the lady," her mother said. "She's working."

"It's fine," I said. "She can entertain me until someone comes in."

The girl approached cautiously. She seemed shy yet curious, and I expected she wanted to play with the magnets or look through my loupe, as those things tended to attract children. I was wrong.

"I know you," she said in a strong and unwavering voice. She was staring at me so intently. "How do I know you?"

"Maybe I look like one of your teachers," I said.

She shook her head no.

"One of your neighbors?"

Another shake of her head. I shrugged.

"Leave the lady alone, honey," her mom said. She turned to me. "That's not like her. She usually never talks to anybody. Usually hides behind me."

"But I know her," the little girl insisted. Her voice took on a sense of urgency. "I don't know how I do but I do, and I think I need to hug her."

She turned to me, and I could see she had tears in her eyes. "Can I hug you?"

Her mother looked alarmed, as did the grandmother.

"It's OK," I assured them. "I could really use a hug."

The girl ran around the table and flew into my arms, wrapped herself around me monkey style. I held her tight. She felt immediately familiar to me in a way I can never explain.

I knew her too. I absolutely, positively knew her.

"You've held me before," she said.

"I think I have," I told her. "A long time ago."

"But not for long," she said.

My throat was so tight by then that I couldn't talk, so I just nodded.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be your little girl," she said.

She pressed her face against my shoulder and I held her that way for what was both just a few seconds, and a lifetime.

Her mother hurried around the table and peeled her off me.

"I don't know what's gotten into her," she said.

"She could sense I needed a hug," I said.

But it was more than a hug. It was more like a visit.

I can't really explain it any other way. But I tried.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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