“You don’t answer for God!” he had shouted.
“I never said I did,” Fran had replied calmly.
“You don’t answer for God! You don’t’ answer for God! He don’t need you! You don’t answer for God!”
His voice had risen and risen and this must have gotten to Fran.
“Well, neither do you!” Fran had exclaimed.
That’s what did it. That pushed the Crazy over the edge.
Poor Fran. That’s her, over there, behind the folding table, under the huge green umbrella, up against the concrete wall, right smack dab in the middle of the boardwalk. That’s her, with the cast on her left arm.
You’ll think I’m stupid, but she’s fun to watch as she gets out her Jesus pamphlets and her “Go to church with me” flyers. She arranges them just so, puts her notepad in front of her and settles into her folding chair. I can always hear the rubber feet of the chair scraping the sand on the sidewalk whenever she first pulls herself up to the table.
Today, she’s wearing her pink vest and white ankle-length skirt. Her $5 sunglasses sit perched on the end of her nose where they really do no good at all. As usual, her hair is done up in a nice Evangelical bun.
Every morning, I walk the block from my apartment, stop here at Kona’s Grill, grab the worst decaf coffee in town and stand under this awning and watch her set up. When she’s done, I stroll over and sit on the concrete wall next to her and we talk.
It all began as a joke. I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw her going through her ritual. This odd looking woman, out of place, obviously from the Midwest (Illinois to be exact) sitting on the Pacific Beach boardwalk, telling sun worshipers they need Jesus. But looks can be deceiving. I went up to her table to mock her and ended up making a friend. How do I explain our friendship? Well, Fran is unique.
She’d been coming out here – to San Diego – for twenty years during the summers with her husband. Two years ago, they felt a need to move here. One year ago, her husband got a job doing something with the city and they moved to San Diego. She discovered her “calling” while her husband went to work and she walked the boardwalk. She saw so many people she calls “lost” (I’ve since convinced her not to call them that – bad marketing) and felt “compassion” for them. The idea to set up a table and talk with people about God came from some missionary book she’d read. She set the table up and waited. No one came. When she decided to bring an umbrella, give people shade from the sun, a place to rest for a moment from their job or biking, a few stopped, but no one wanted to talk about God. Then I came along four months ago and things changed.
I am a marketing guru, so to speak, and she and I discussed — for an entire month — that she needed more than a green umbrella to bring in the crowds. She needed branding. She needed to tell people who she was and what she was doing. Her response was to create a sign on hot pink poster board that read “Bible Questions Answered Here”. I made fun of her. She couldn’t possibly attract attention by hand scrawling “Bible Questions Answered Here” on a hot pink board. Some genius I am.
Fran is not some wackadoo that stands on the corner near Joe’s Market with his stupid sandwich board sign hanging around his naked body, proclaiming that we are all going to hell, and the world is coming to an end tomorrow. Fran is intelligent and funny and persistent as hell. I told her that and she laughed.
“Hell is persistent,” she said, smiling.
I’m new to the whole religion thing and it took time to get what she was saying. But she’s right. Hell is persistent. It is unrelenting in what it belches out. Now, don’t mistake me. I’m no Jesus freak. But the more I listen to Fran, the more she makes sense–common sense. When I talk with her, things are clear, her thoughts are clear. I like that. Not everyone does.
The Crazy with the sign didn’t like Fran’s common sense. I’m talking about the guy that shouted at her, that she didn’t answer for God. He had a sign. It was made out of plywood, nailed to a two by four and he had painted on it, “Religion kills!” He had ridden his bike around in a circle in front of us a few days before the attack. He read Fran’s sign, smirked and biked away. He returned the next day with his sign and started shouting. After Fran shouted back, “Well, you don’t either!” the man blew a circuit.
Kona (the owner of this coffee shop) told me the Crazy threw down his bike and rushed Fran. Before she could call for help, he swung his sign high over his head and hit her over and over again with the edge of it. I can’t imagine the scene – well, I can, but I don’t want to. Like some demoniac from the Bible, it took four guys to pull him away, wrestle him to the ground, disarm him of his plywood weapon. The guy kept shouting as they held him down and the lifeguards called the police.
Kona said he thought Fran was dead. He knelt at her side, her head bleeding, her left arm shattered from protecting her face from the blows. But she was conscious, in pain, but conscious. Fortunately, Fran had stationed herself in front of the lifeguard tower. She told me yesterday a real stud lifeguard had helped her, staunched the wound in her forehead, stayed with her until the ambulance came.
Here she is, cast and all. Sitting there, ready to answer questions. Ready to tell someone why there is so much evil in this world, with love and compassion no less. Ready to assure those who wonder that God loves them. Invariably, whoever leaves the table leaves with a smile. I always do.
Here’s my issue right now: I’m finding it harder and harder to leave her. The longer I spend with her the more I want to be with her. She’s twenty years older than me. She dresses like a schoolmarm. She loves God and I don’t know if there is a God. She’s a widow and I’ve never been married. She has grandkids and I don’t even talk to my grandparents.
But I want to be with her all the time. Which is why I’m still standing here, hiding from her. I want to sit next to her so bad. But I can’t. I can’t because I wasn’t here when Sir Psycho attacked her. Because I didn’t visit her in the hospital.
It’s killing me.
Fran is alone in this city. She moved out here, thousands of miles away from her family and she has no one now. Her husband died suddenly two months ago and left her without an income, without security, without companionship. I’m the only friend she has, I think, and I didn’t go to the hospital. I knew where she was, but I didn’t go. Kona told me the room she was in and I stayed in my apartment and watched American Idol.
It hurt Fran. I could tell. Yesterday, when we talked, she was distant. She perked up when she mentioned the lifeguard, but she was different with me. There was a distance. A coldness. My stomach is in knots. I don’t know what to do. Last night, I tried to tell myself I was crazy. Oil and water don’t mix. But my gut tells me to apologize, to make amends. She was almost beaten to death by a psycho-God-hater and I wasn’t here to help. She lay in the hospital recovering from a severe concussion and a shattered forearm and I didn’t even call to see if she needed anything.
My mind says I don’t owe her anything. But my gut says I do.
I do because she’s never asked anything of me.
I do because she’s never tried to change me – she’s accepted me as I am.
I do because she’s Fran and she answers my questions for God.