There was a time, not all that long ago, when no matter how bad my day was, I knew I could go home and be greeted with The Smile that would lift my spirit.
Well, that’s not quite true. The Smile that would brighten my world would actually came about one and a half miles before I got home, when I stopped by the Wheels convenience store to grab my nightly dinner and snacks. (See why I needed The Smile? I’m eating my dinner from a convenience store).
I first met Bri (pronounced Bree) Wade three years or four years ago, on a day when I walked into that store and was greeted with one of the biggest, most genuine smiles I had ever seen.
It was that type of smile that literally gives you a lift, that grabs you by the shoulder and says, “Hey, can it really be all that bad?”
It was more than a smile. It was a beam, a glow. It was The Smile. She radiated happiness that wouldn’t just rub off on you, but leap from her soul and grab on to yours.
More than anything it was pure and it was genuine, and that’s what counted.
We came from totally different worlds. I’m the old fart from the state of Maine, working 40, 50, 60 hours a week as life slips away. She lived in Bridgeport, young enough to be dipping her toes into the real world while deciding what she wanted out of the rest of her life.
It was early in our nightly multi-minute rendezvous — me in front of the counter with my goods, her behind the counter, taking my money — where I told her she had one of the best smiles I had ever seen.
Somehow, she smiled even bigger and I felt even better.
Over the next three years, we saw each other often — she worked nights, I worked nights — and it was refreshing to know that I would be able to end my day with The Smile offering hope for another day.
We’d make small talk and over the years, Bri and I would, and all that adds up so you slowly get to know one another. I met her brother and her father over the course of my nightly stops. We even became Facebook friends, which in this 21st century digitally signifies the importance of a relationship, even one as seemingly mundane as two-minute interactions every day over the course of three or four years.
One night, she was sitting outside, taking a break, a sad look on her face. Something was up in her world, something that was none of my business and something I probably wouldn’t be able to understand.
But I tried to make to make her smile just a little, a thank you for all the nights she ended my day with her smile.
I liked it when I could.
She was Bri and I was Nash — that’s how she greeted me when I walked in the store … “Hey, Naaaassshhh!” — and I liked how I felt after spending just a few minutes with her.
Then one day, she was gone.
Convenience store jobs aren’t forever.
So just like that “The Smile” was removed from my life.
I still stop by “Wheels” most nights, but it’s not the same. The guys who work the counter — Juan, Ace, Bennie — he’s the new guy — are all nice enough people. They still feed me.
But none of them are Bri Wade. None of them flash me that smile that brightens my day just a little bit.
Wherever she is these days, I hope she’s still smiling. I heard through the guys she’s gone back to college, which is the big next step toward the rest of your life. I’m happy for her and proud of her.
I just hope all those she’s interacting with every day still get to see that smile and I hope she’s brightening other people’s world the way she lit up mine for a period of time.
Good luck, Bri. Keep smiling.