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Semper Paratus Pull-Up

One of the first things I did when I got my very first car in LA was put a pair of tennis shoes in the trunk. Back then, I wore impossibly high heels to work so as to embody the image of Melanie Griffith’s Working Girl. The higher the heel, the higher the corporate ladder I’d climb, I believed. I sat at my cubicle with big dreams, big shoulder pads and even bigger hair ready for whatever challenges came my way. Faxing, beta tape dubs, Xerox copies, vending machine runs? I was ready for anything.

And if there was an earthquake, and I needed to abandon my car under a partially collapsed overpass, I was ready for that too. I could break open a window with those heels, don my cushy spare pair of sneakers and walk the rest of the way to my tiny Hollywood apartment where I’d pick up the pieces of cheap tumbler glasses and clumsily assembled IKEA furniture from that brand new Scandinavian store that just opened in Burbank.

My single woman emergency bag in the back of my sassy little Miata expanded to include workout clothes for spontaneous gym classes, a toiletry bag in case I didn’t go home for a night, a first aid kit heavy on Band-aids that came in handy when my high heels gave me blisters, duct tape because “What would MacGyver do” and a flashlight so I could see whatever I assumed he’d be doing when duct tape seemed to be the best or only answer.

Once I had small children, the emergency bag in the trunk of my “at-least-its-not-a mini-van” Camry included diapers, pull-ups and extra pairs of tiny underpants, sweaters for when someone whined about being cold, extra socks for wet

sandy feet, and snacks, lots and lots of snacks – granola bars, goldfish crackers and those small cereal boxes from hotel breakfast buffets. Diligent mom that I was, I’d regularly go through the pack and replace teeny socks with bigger ones and ensure the snacks were fresh. Each kid had a compressed Ziploc baggie with a full change of clothes so when there was a fountain that needed to be run through just before a long drive home, they could run through said fountain and be dry as they climbed in their car seats.

At least that was the plan. But life took over and I kind of forgot about the emergency bag…until there was an emergency.

One night we were with extended family at a Mexican restaurant in Orange County, twelve of us around a long table under strings of jalapeno lights and fiesta flags, lots of margaritas and laughter. My son had to go to the bathroom. He was old enough by this time that he didn’t need me to go in the stall with him, but young enough that he wasn’t comfortable going to the far back of the restaurant by himself.

As I stood waiting by the sink, I heard a distressed child in the adjacent stall crying that he just can’t go out into the restaurant like this. “Honey, accidents happen but I’m so sorry I don’t have anything for you,” his mother said, sounding sad and frazzled. “I could go get my sweater and wrap you up in that or maybe get some napkins?”

The child wailed louder in despair. Poor mama, I thought, imagining her sweating with stress in the stall, likely long past diaper bag preparedness. And then I remembered my stash. I tapped on the door. “I have something in my trunk that might work, I’ll be right back.” I helped my son wash his hands, deposited him at the table and headed out to my long neglected emergency bag. Sure enough, though we were years past potty training, I still found a Pull-Up, a diaper, an extra pair of underwear and pair of old cotton shorts. I had no idea how big this kid was or what it was that he or she needed, but I thrust the Ziploc bag of supplies underneath the stall door. The mom thanked me, but she didn’t pop her head out so we never actually saw each other. I headed back to my mango margarita and lukewarm quesadilla and promised myself that I would update my emergency kit and deliver the collection of toddler clothing to Goodwill.

At the end of our dinner, when the bill came for our table of twelve, there was nothing but a note in the black check presenter. “Thank you for your kindness,” it read, “You were a life saver.” Our entire bill had been paid for by a woman I never met.

Now, in the back of my empty nesting Tesla, my emergency bag has Excedrin, Pepcid, and icy hot, an extra pair of glasses and a phone charger. And still, in a Ziploc baggie, I have a Pull-Up and a diaper and a tiny pair of undies, because you just never know when they’ll come in handy.


As told at Story Salon when the theme was "Can I Help You?" on September 20, 2023.


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