• Katarina Garcia

STRANGER IN DANGER: WHY I HUGGED A STRANGER IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC


It started off as an exciting, mid-May day. It was the day I’d get a new MacBook Pro, something I thought we couldn’t afford at the time. But thanks to our savvy budgeting, my husband and I decided I could take the plunge with this pricey purchase. My previous laptop has lasted 5 years and counting, but it has slowed down some and I’m honestly terrified of the possibility of it crashing on me without having saved every last file. I figured this preventative measure was the best option now that we could afford it.


I spent the day pacing around the apartment knowing my new laptop and external hard drive would arrive at any moment. The original delivery date was actually this previous Friday, but I had unfortunately missed the delivery man while we were out of the apartment. So instead, I prepared to be home all day in anticipation of this special arrival. I even postponed my morning shower to avoid missing the sound of the UPS delivery man’s knock.


At some point in the day, I got ambitious and decided to make a risky move and vacuum our room. I knew this was a dangerous move given that I can’t even hear myself think while vacuuming, but I figured I’d only be vacuuming for a few minutes. What are the odds of the delivery guy actually arriving in the 2 minutes I spend vacuuming? Apparently, very high. As soon as I finished this risky yet necessary task, I checked my phone again to see the location of my package, a nifty little feature on the UPS site. To my horror, I received a message titled, “Sorry we missed you again!” I ran to the door to find yet another notice of my missed delivery taped to our door. I was devastated, but as I turned my gaze from our second floor apartment to the parking lot about 60 feet away, I make awkward eye contact with a man wearing the iconic UPS uniform. I do an embarrassed half-wave and he smiles and hops out of his truck. Mind you, I’m still in a nightgown at 1PM, braless, as I imagine most moms probably are during this self-distancing era.


I sprint to my room and throw pajama pants over my nightgown and run downstairs to at least meet him halfway. I’m greeted by a very kind UPS man who assures me it’s no problem at all. I realize it’s our usual delivery guy and figure he’s probably come to know me as the crazy nightgown lady always sporting a messy bun. But I didn’t care, I was just so happy to have my new MacBook. I don’t often splurge on big purchases, and this new laptop was much more to me than a new trendy gadget. It’s a fast-performing machine that can keep up with my thoughts and craft them into stories. I was so grateful when my package arrived and that I caught the delivery guy when I did. The day was off to a good start.


Mid-afternoon, I packed my son up to take him to his weekly chiropractic visit. As we made our way out the door, I began to worry that I left my apartment key in my husband’s car. I usually keep the key attached to my car keys, but the previous day I had taken it off for an errand. Luckily, I found my apartment key dangling against my car key. Yet another close call, as I wouldn’t have been comfortable leaving our apartment unlocked.


My son had been seeing a chiropractor since April for digestive issues. After his adjustment, the chiropractor informed us excitedly that Maxon’s alignment seems to be improving immensely and that we can start spacing out appointments more. This was a huge win in my book, because aside from Maxon’s improvement, this also meant that we could cut costs. I always feel the most helpless when Maxon struggles with constipation just knowing that he’s in pain. I felt so relieved to know that this treatment might be the one that gets Maxon up and running after so many trials with other at home remedies. I was so happy I just needed to call someone, so I called my mom. Of course, she didn’t answer, but I was feeling great!


Fast forward to the evening and my husband arrived home from work ready to take over. I was all changed and ready to go to my first tumbling class in 10 years. I had finally found a gym that would allow me to take classes as an adult and I was thrilled. I had found a fun place to get in a good workout. Normal gyms just weren’t my scene. Here, I could at least work towards different skills and feel a real sense of accomplishment after mastering a certain technique. As I was about to head out for my class, I noticed my leggings were on… inside out! I am mortified and glad I at least caught this wardrobe malfunction before I could make an embarrassment out of myself.


When I finally stepped into the cheer gym, my predictions proved to be true. I was the oldest person taking the class and probably the tallest too. A little girl sat next to me as we waited for class and asked if I was the coach. I responded that I wasn’t, and she said she didn’t know because she was also new. I let her know I was new too and made my first friend. I told her we were in this together. We were eventually separated when we were placed with different coaches. We were separated into three groups: those who could tumble, little girls who couldn’t tumble, and big girls who couldn’t tumble. I fell into the last group. We worked on our back walkovers, front walkovers, and round offs. Then we moved onto the more challenging back handsprings, something I had learned 12 years ago. Thankfully, my muscle memory didn’t fail me, and I was able to pull off a back handspring solo on a sort of squishy mat. My fellow classmates in my group were impressed and I told them they would get there soon. I left feeling somewhat like a noodle but really excited for this new journey ahead.


In the midst of my state of euphoria, I found myself seconds from an accident. I was solely focused on driving straight without any regard to the possibility of a car running a red light from the perpendicular direction. I had become complacent as a seasoned driver and never thought someone could be foolish enough to run a red light. My old habit of making sure to check the intersection completely before speeding through had died out. I had my eyes fixed straight and nowhere else. Before I knew it, my reflexes had me slamming my brakes and bringing my car to a sudden shop. Directly in front of me I see a man staring me straight on from within the driver’s side of his car. Our cars appeared to be inches apart, if not touching. He looked scared and shocked. I didn’t know what to do so I did what I was taught and immediately called 911. I explained the situation that there was an accident between two cars and that I wasn’t sure if I was hit. I gave him our location and described the cars for the dispatcher as well. I was informed to move my car off the road and to stay to get my car checked out and to provide a statement.


I pulled over at a nearby gas station and got off my car to inspect any possible damage. It became clear that my car wasn’t hit, something I had already figured since I didn’t feel anything. But I wanted to be sure the driver’s car hadn’t grazed my car and left any damages. That’s how close this driver got to me. Close enough for me to question whether or not his car grazed mine. After I determined my car was fine, I turned my attention to the other driver. The driver was an elderly, Hispanic woman who looked obviously startled. She was standing with a young man who seemed to be the passenger of the car. As I inched closer to the conversation, it became clear this “passenger” was actually just a witness.


I heard him tell the police officer that he was walking by while everything happened and went to check on the elderly woman after the accident. She begged him to stay with her, because she didn’t speak any English and was afraid she would be taken advantage of. My heart immediately broke for this woman and after giving my statement, I decided to stay to make sure she was okay. I noticed her removing her items from her car as it was apparent her car was going to be towed and hurried over to help her. She thanked me in Spanish and I assured her it was no problem in my somewhat broken Spanish. She explained to me as I was removing cleaning supplies that she cleans houses for a living and was on her way home from buying these new items. She said that she was driving in the opposite direction of me, towards me, when the other driver ran the red light and caused her to veer off the road. I honestly couldn’t recall anything of what happened, but the one thing I did remember was that my light was green, because I was ready to run through it. That meant by default, the other driver’s light had to have been red, which meant he had run a red light and caused the accident.


Police officer after police officer continued to come up to us to take our statements. I couldn’t tell them which car hit which, as I didn’t see it, but I knew for a fact my light was green. This one statement was the necessary evidence that validated the woman’s statement. We couldn’t hear anything of what the other driver was saying as he was inside the ambulance being checked out. But the police officers seemed to understand that the accident was not this woman’s fault.


Early in the conversation, the police officers had said I was free to go and they had thanked me for my statement. However, it never felt right to up and leave this woman who was obviously scared of the situation. It was baffling to me how many of the police officers didn’t know Spanish here in this south Texas town of Corpus Christi. I ended up being the most fluent out of all the police officers until an older police officer appeared. When the woman began to ask the police officers in Spanish whose fault they had determined it to be, the Spanish speaking police officer wouldn’t respond. Instead, he made the officer standing next to him try to explain in Spanish their decision. He was having an obviously hard time, so I had to jump in and help with my broken Spanish because the Spanish speaking officer seemed to refuse to help. I was able to get the gist of what was being said translated for the woman and explained that she wasn’t determined to be the one at fault. She was very grateful, but something just didn’t sit well with me about how the one police officer who knew Spanish wouldn’t speak up.


As the situation wrapped up, I loaned my phone to the elderly woman to call a relative to pick her up. Soon after, her nephew showed up to pick her up. He explained that this was the second time she was in an accident and the second time someone had hit her. He said that the last time this happened, the man got away with it and she had to pay through her own insurance because of some connections that man had with the city. He asked for my phone number in case they needed my statement should they need to get a lawyer. I agreed and gave them my phone number starting with the 956 area code. The woman immediately recognized this phone number as a Rio Grande Valley phone number. I explained to her that I was born in the Valley and she was so delighted as she was too from the Valley. We had a nice conversation and she was so thankful for me standing by her side through the whole ordeal. She promised to save my number and call me when the pandemic ends to get lunch. She reached out and I gave a complete stranger a hug in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic. I knew it wasn’t the safest move, but I knew it was this hug that would make all the difference in this woman’s day. I warmly hugged her and wished her the best and let her know that she could call me if she ever needed anything. She reminded me of my grandmother, and I just hoped that if a stranger were ever in my shoes that they would treat my grandma with kindness and empathy.


The pandemic has shifted life for nearly every living, breathing person on this earth. But the one thing that remains constant is the kindness that we can offer people, especially in moments of crisis. I had a lot of close calls that day. I almost missed the delivery of my MacBook, nearly had to cancel my son’s chiropractor appointment, almost wore my leggings inside out to my first tumbling class, and was inches away from a head on collision. This woman wasn’t as fortunate to have had a close call like I did. She will have to file a claim and jump through all the hoops and loops of the insurance process for a new car, but she still warmly thanked me for my help. She even went to the lengths of calling me an angel sent by God to help her. All day, I felt as though someone was looking out for me and protecting me, especially before the accident. But to her, I was the one protecting her. I guess you could say it was me just paying it forward, but I’d like to think I’d act the same in every similar situation. With all the police brutality we see on the news and social media outlets, it’s no wonder this woman was scared of being taken advantage of, especially because of the language barrier. I am just glad I was able to lend a helping hand and hope someone will do the same should any of my family or friends ever be in the same situation as this woman.


I now wait patiently for that call for lunch.

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