After a terrifying racial experience the city scared her. But on a return trip she knew that God was with her.
Posted in , Aug 26, 2021
San Francisco—next stop.
My train pulled into the station, but I hesitated to leave my seat. God, be with me on the way to Dr. Cho’s office, I asked as the doors slid open.
Dr. Cho was my dentist, and she was a good one. So good that I usually didn’t mind the half-hour train ride into San Francisco and walking 15 minutes to her office. But after the terrifying experience I’d had the last time I walked the streets of San Francisco, I’d considered never going back again.
I tried not to think about that day as I stepped out of the train with the other passengers, all wearing our masks. Back in September, when I’d come for my six-month dental check-up, the train had been almost empty. So were the streets. Covid had kept everyone at home. Wildfires up north made the air thick with dust and smoke. The usually bustling city seemed like a ghost town.
Things aren’t like that this morning, I thought as I started walking the long, steep blocks to Dr. Cho’s office. People were out and about again. In front of me, an older Asian woman stopped to let her little white poodle sniff the sidewalk. She looked at me and smiled with her eyes.
There were no such friendly faces on the street that awful day, I thought. The memory I’d tried not to focus on came rushing back. Six months before, I’d left Dr. Cho’s office, my face numb with Novocain. A thick mist from the fires hung in the air, blocking the sun. I seemed to be the only person outside. I was making my way down the long, steep street toward the station when an ugly shout cut through the fog. Did he just call me the N-word? I whirled around. The tall white man behind me was dressed as if he was on his way to work. He looked perfectly normal. Except for his eyes. They blazed with the hatred that spewed from his mouth.
My heart racing, I walked faster. The man followed, repeating the word over and over, getting louder each time. Was he going to follow me into the station? Would he attack me? I prayed to God for protection and quickened my pace.
I tried to shake off the memory and push away my fear. There are lots of people around today, I told myself. You’re not alone. I reached a crosswalk and waited at the light. The Asian woman with the poodle was waiting there too. She glanced at me again, eyes smiling above her mask. She looked to be about 70 years old and was quite small. When the light changed, we crossed the street together, but I continued straight uphill and she took a right. I was sorry to see her go.
Three Hispanic men had finally witnessed what was happening to me that day and had chased off my assailant. Certainly the elderly woman with her poodle wouldn’t be able to do the same, but her presence put me at ease. God protected you then, I told myself. He’s with you now even if you can’t see him.
I concentrated on my walk, but when I looked to my right I saw that the friendly Asian woman with her poodle was beside me again. But I thought we’d gone our separate ways. Odd as it was, I was grateful she was back.
I started up the last long block to the dental office, the woman behind me, probably pacing herself on such a steep hill. I looked over my shoulder, and there she was with her poodle, making her way sure and steady.
As I neared Dr. Cho’s building, I slowed my steps to let the woman catch up. She’d have to pass me by since there wasn’t a shop open yet or a street corner to turn on. She’d been such a comfort, I wanted to say something to her. Maybe ask her about her poodle. I stopped at Dr. Cho’s building and looked down the block before opening the door. But the woman was gone. There was no sign of her and her poodle heading back downhill, not on either side of the street. It was as if she’d simply disappeared.
My checkup with Dr. Cho went fine, and I was glad I’d come. I didn’t need to see the woman with the poodle on my way back to the train station. I knew God walked with me.
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