A couple days after Christmas, still feeling a little down and blue, I took myself over to the main Goodwill store in Portland. There were tears in my eyes as I steered my mother’s unwieldy 10 year old Nissan Quest into a narrow parking spot. I got out of the car feeling sorry for myself, still feeling like there wasn’t and would never be a place for me in the world. A couple steps into my walk towards the entrance of the store, I looked down. At the toe of my left foot was a 20 dollar bill. My heart and mood lifted, and I reached down to pick it up. The thought flew through my head that this must be a little serendipitous gift from the universe, placed there to brighten my mood and lift me out of the muck I was reclining in. Just as I had straightened, a middle aged man bounded out of a just-parked car and ran over to me with his hand stretched out, saying “Thank you for finding my money.”
I don’t know if living in Philadelphia has made me skeptical, or if I would have always reacted in this manner, but I didn’t believe him and didn’t want to give him the money. He told me a story about how he had lost his wallet, that his wife was inside the store and couldn’t pay their bill. He even showed me the hole in his coat pocket, to prove that he really had lost it. I had watched him pull into the parking lot just before me, so I really didn’t believe that he had been there previously, and that this $20 flapping around on the ground really had been his. But he told a convincing story, and the part of me that is still all Portlander couldn’t walk away with it, knowing that the only claim I had on it was the fact that I was holding it in my hand. Before handing it over, my comment to him was, “I’m having a really crappy day, so I don’t need you to be shitting me right now.” He swore up and down that he wasn’t, and I handed over the money.
I walked into the store a couple steps back from him, and watched. There was no wife in line, and as he headed to the back of the store, I lost sight of him. I walked over to the women’s tops (organized by size and color) and called my mom to relate the story and I flipped through the rack of used cotton tees and sweaters. I started to cry. Her comment was that that’s the way it should be. Money comes and money goes, and if he needed it enough to scam me out of that found $20, then he should be the one to have it. She wrapped up with the statement that hit me the hardest, which was, “What if it really was his money, and you had refused to give it to him. How would you have felt if someone else had refused to give you back something of yours?” In the moment, it made me feel marginally better, although I still itched uncomfortably with the possible knowledge that I had been played by this guy.
Later that night, I sat by myself in a showing of “Good Night and Good Luck.” I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, just enjoying the movie with a box of Red Vines (why can’t you find those things on the east coast), when I felt the interaction with the guy in the parking lot slide away. I suddenly felt silly for having worried about it, or for having resisted giving him the money. I felt like a chunk of rock had cleaved off my insides and that there was now room for some light to shine through. And I knew that everything was going to be okay.