Last Chance

I don’t have a chance to ask her all the things I want to. She is cagey, doesn’t want the friend she’s with to be in the photo – for his sake. They lie in the back of the mini van with the rear door open high so they can see the ocean, feel the sun on their faces. When I first pull up I hear giggling, notice only their legs dangling out the back of the van, swinging like kids, barefoot and silly, like they were on Spring Break, like maybe it was summer and nothing else mattered. The sun can do that to you.

last chanceBut it’s March, and they’re grown up and everything does, in the end, matter. She lets me take her picture, eager to tell her story, but to leave him out of it. For his sake – his family would have a fit, she says. They laugh. They used to date twenty years ago, when she was twelve, before drugs, and then prison, took her. But they’ve found each other now. And who knows? Maybe everything will be all right.

I want to ask her about the wedding rings that dangle from a chain around her neck but we don’t have time. They’ve only got an hour together and she can’t give that up, not to me, a stranger looking to capture a glimpse of humanity in a beach side parking lot with the sun going down.

She didn’t get cleaned up in prison, that only made things worse, more drugs, more everything. In prison she cared for strays for a society called Last Chance. It was better than cleaning toilets, she says. Every dog an inmate could train might find a new owner. She could save its life. That was worth living for.  That was how she learned about dogs to begin with. Now she’s nearly finished her degree in dog grooming she tells me, has a job as a groomer, and a purpose. She has a life, even in this small town, where everyone remembers you, where everyone remembers every mistake you ever made. I’m not sure small towns give away last chances anymore. Maybe they never did.