She sat on a wooden bench inside one of St. Simon’s more popular restaurants. Her blond hair was cropped short in the fashion of Robin Wright. She was thin and angular, and not a beauty really as much as she was simply striking. She was high as well, although I was too naive to know that right away. She was on something that kept her amped up. Meth, maybe.
I smiled. She spoke. We chatted about the island as we waited for our take-out orders. She was recently divorced. There were no kids. She was originally from a well-to-do family out of New York. A transplant like so many others on the coastal Georgia island. I was working on an article for Delta Sky Magazine and had talked to many people that week. I’d learned that the islands locals were being priced out of their homes and ancestral lands by the rich and super-rich, who make a hobby of buying up homes and land in playgrounds across the nation.
After a brief 10-minute conversation, she invited me to her home. This might alarm me today, but this was awhile back, before iPhones and Craigslist killers. I followed her on the backroads to a home along the beach. It looked exactly like you’d think it would, a sprawling home with wide hurricane shutters, tile floors, and a enviable view of the ocean.
We visited as we ate our take-out. She drank wine and cried over the break-up of her marriage. I listened and uttered what I hoped were words of encouragement. Darkness settled in for the night. I thanked my host, told her I hated to leave but had to get going.
“Wait,” she said, rising from the table where she’d been sitting. “I have something I want to give you.”
I didn’t know what to say, what to do. I had only just met this woman. I had come to realize that I probably should never have accepted the invitation to visit her home. If she wasn’t high, then she was most certainly emotionally unstable. What had I been thinking?
She returned from the bedroom where she had gone to fetch the gift she wanted me to have.
“It’s a cross,” she said, placing a ring in my hand.
A Celtic cross crafted of gold and turquoise.
It came with the magical power of what is most commonly referred to as memory.
I remember trying to refuse the ring, a gift too extravagant for such a brief encounter.
But she insisted.
I rarely wear the ring but its very presence transports me back to St. Simons and a lovely meal shared with a lonely stranger.
A reminder that sometimes the best way we can bless others is to just to be with them and receive from them.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy (Mercer Univ. Press).