Bookworm and I were 95% of the way home from our Target run with a trunk full of useless items when she noticed the torn paper flapping in the breeze.
“Mom? There’s something under the wiper!” she said.
I rolled my eyes.
“Probably an ad for sports betting or an S.O.S. from that Nigerian prince,” I said. “But let’s make sure we grab it when we pull into the driveway. Just in case there’s a coupon or something.”
When we arrived at home, I put the van in park, strolled right past the driver’s side rear bumper that had been scratched with white paint and snatched the scrap of paper from the dash.
In what I deduced to be bouncy Teenage Girl — or at the very most, Diligent Millennial — handwriting, it said:
“Hello, we are so sorry, we accidentally scraped your car a bit. Here is our phone number.”
I read it three times and sighed.
“Blast,” I said. “We didn’t win the Mega-Jackpot.”
It was at this moment I noticed the damage to the bumper. It honestly didn’t look that bad. (That’s what I told my husband when he broke his elbow after taking a fall while jogging. He put off going to the doctor for months. Turns out that was the wrong call.)
“I’m sure we can just take that off with a magic eraser, but I guess we should have Daddy come look at it,” I said to Bookworm. “Or…” I trailed off.
“…Grandpa,” she finished.
I mean, I wasn’t gonna say it. But there it was.
Mr. Roy came out and inspected the scene, noticed some cracks in the paint that I had missed and declared that moisture could leak in, which would lead to rust, which could lead to parts falling off our Dearly Beloved Minivan that we bought in 2014 with the intention of it lasting until Kingdom Come.
“I’ll take it to the shop tomorrow,” he declared.
Meanwhile I was left with the awkward task of sending a text message to a stranger who was probably rocking back and forth in a corner somewhere, nervous about whether I would be the sort of person who would call her and utter strings of profanities, or at least text in all caps with angry emojis.
(The truth is, of course, that I have never used an angry emoji in my life unless it’s had to do with failing a Wordle or our school system’s monthly 2-hour delay days. So clearly this was not the time.)
“Hey there,” I messaged Mystery Chick. “Got your note. Thanks for leaving it! My husband is going to take the car to our guy this week and will keep you posted on things.”
Because when you’re worried about things getting awkward or controversial, just toss the burden of the decision onto your husband/mechanic and you can save face.
The quote came back higher than I expected, but what do I know? Maybe car shops buy fancy magic erasers. And who am I to say, really, when my husband to this day cannot fully extend his left arm.
Through various text exchanges, Mystery Chick and I pieced together a solution to the problem. Her 16-year-old daughter had been the one driving and had written the note. She felt bad about the incident but was learning a life lesson.
“I have three daughters myself,” I wrote back. “We’re always learning life lessons over here.”
On the day we met at a local grocery store to exchange a check that would cover the damage, we ended up chatting for at least a half hour.
About motherhood and parenting and moving from a faraway place; about great places to eat in our county, and the sports our kids play, and how hard it can be to parent at times.
It was such a great conversation with a person I’d never have been able to meet, had it not been for the unfortunate incident of her daughter cutting her turn a little too hard out of her parking spot — and we’ve all been there.
And after our in-person conversation (given, I was not the one handing over the check for repairs), I was reminded of the beauty of human connection and how kindness and courtesy — on both sides — made all the difference in how our stories intertwined, just for a week.
She didn’t have to leave the note. I could have been a jerk. But she did, and I wasn’t, because kindness can be harder but it also makes the world a better place.
Abbey Roy is a mom of three girls who make every day an adventure. She writes to maintain her sanity. You can probably reach her at [email protected], but responses are structured around bedtimes and weekends.