Do you ever wake up in the morning and just know that something feels off….and kind of wait for something to happen…even though you have no idea what you’re waiting for? That was me, on Thursday.
I woke up immediately all in my own head…making my lists (checking them twice), already running late before even really getting going, remembering the gas light came on the night before, and wishing that I had finished packing lunches/snacks before going to bed. The puppy woke up the boys…as he does every morning…by nosing his way into their bedroom, jumping on the bottom bunk, stepping all over Thatcher, stealing a stuffed animal, and “climbing” as far up the ladder as possible to whimper to Finn.
Finn, in turn, wakes up the same way every day. Immediately happy to see Minnow, stumbles into the living room rubbing his right eye with his right fist, and mumbles “Who won?”….because invariably, someone was playing something when he was shuffled off to bed. This time of year he wants the Bruins update and tries to park it on the couch for game highlights…even though he KNOWS the deal is get dressed first. Ground Hogs’ Day. Mad…he stomped back into his room that particular day….and things went from bad to worse when he realized he was supposed to put on…HEAVEN forbid…a sweater. Gasp. The horror. His class was heading to the Nutcracker and I refused to send him looking anything other than “Theatre Casual.”
He was grumpy and, for whatever reason, it made me mad. The day was already out of whack.
During the somewhat quiet ride to Beverly I started having Mother’s Remorse. Shouldn’t have gotten angry, should have given him a few choices of what to wear, could have struck a bargain, could have offered a change of clothes for after the field trip, etc. And then, I started to remember the school bus accident last week that took the lives of several young children….and how horribly horrific, unexpected, and unfair it was. And how those parents must be feeling. And I vowed that there’d be no more arguing….especially over something so small. Because, what if? I can’t even. Image.
Thatcher’s day was off too. He sought me out on campus all teary about some social interactions. Not the norm for him at all. I was already feeling kind of spent and emotional and seeing him sad tugged at my heart strings a little more than usual. Why? I still, I soon realized, had that nagging feeling that the day was awry. Thatch and I took a walk and sat in the car for a bit….talked….hugged it out….and parted ways to head to class and head to work.
The rest of the day was uneventful, I guess. We left school at 4:00, I took the boys home to Freddy, and turned right around to meet a friend at her home just outside of the city…to go to a Bruins game. With tons of traffic near the malls I started nearing late….but with the traffic soon letting up…I crossed over to a little bit early. Which, I realized at the last minute, gave me time to make a little pit stop to get the boys a treat. Back all in my own head again, I was already thinking about how late I’d be getting back to Rockport, about what I was going to use for a blog post the next day, and about the fact that I’d have to finish packing lunches AND get to work extra early on Friday as we had some important things going on in the morning. After having had a rough start to our day I thought I could put a little smile on their faces the next day by packing a favorite special snack in their snack bags for them from a place that we don’t get to often…and expedite the snack packing process at the same time. Win…win.
I pulled into the parking lot at 5:59….they close at 6:00. Would they be open?
There were two people just inside the door. Coats on, bags in hand, the man digging through his stuff, clearly looking for something….and looking like they had just wrapped up work, were shutting down shop, and about to leave and lock the door. I used some sad excuse for sign language to ask, “Are you still open?” The girl looked at me confused. I tried again and her eyes averted to somewhere else in the shop…towards an employee….which I then realized quickly they were not. I tugged on the door and, in fact, it was still unlocked. I stepped around the couple and walked to the counter….and was a bit intrigued (for lack of a better word) by the random items on the floor at the man’s feet. A toothbrush, some ear buds, some wrinkled clothes, am empty soda bottle, etc. I started to order….they started to fight. Quiet somewhat censored whispers escalated to full on yelling almost instantly. The woman at the register seemed unnerved yet made no eye contact with me….seemingly having decided that her strategy was going to be to ignore. I, at the same moment, realized This was what my brain seemed to know was coming all day long. Swearing started, crying started, some throwing and slamming started…..and I’m pretty sure I whispered, “oh, shit’ aloud.
My little wax paper bag with the top folded over perfectly (which I remember thinking this is so absurd…she is taking the time to fold my bag perfectly while these two are erupting 15 feet to the left) was handed to me….and I knew I had run out of time. They were blocking the door, I had no more business to do in the bakery, and it was time to decide which route to go. 1) Say “excuse me”, walk out the door, and move on with my evening or 2) Get involved.
As I turned, she, who had been quietly whimpering as he did most of the yelling, yelled back. “I don’t even need you!” He, infuriated by that, used some expletives and stormed out of the shop. Which left us, two strangers, face to face, for the first time. I asked (ridiculous in retrospect), “Are you ok?” and she burst into tears and said, “no.” She started telling me that she couldn’t do it any more and that she just wanted to leave. I noticed she had two medium sized yellow trash bags, one in each hand, and that, while her mouth barely opened when she talked, there was something wrong with her gums and teeth. A weird thing to notice I guess. Just as I was thinking, “What the hell am I going to do now?” she asked, “Can you please give me a ride?” Shit. How do you say “no”?….but, how do you say “yes”? I have two young kids….can I really get more involved? My mind was racing….she looked sad….and so tired….and so desperate. And I really wanted to help. Shit. She just needed her check from Burger King….just down the street….could I take her to go get it….and then she’d find a hotel….
The door burst open…it was him again. He started yelling, “I’m all you have, I gave you a place to stay when even your own family wouldn’t take you, I came to the hotel last night to save you when you called, Where are you going to go?, What are you going to do with out me?” She just said, “STOP.” She shoved past him and….before I could really process what was happening….climbed into the back seat of my Jeep. Incredulous, there I stood….in a tiny parking lot…outside of a now closed bakery…in a nice town…next to a strange man….looking at a scared girl….sitting alone in my car. Shit. He started to tell her to get out, yelled a lot more, and looked like he was about to grab her. She just sobbed, “Stop.” I told him that he could not put his hands on her….and that he had to leave her alone….and look at her, she’s terrified. And then I thought, Does he have a gun or a knife or is he about to grab my little SCOUT bag or my car keys from my hands. Is he going to hurt her? Is he going to hurt me? She’s sitting in Finn’s seat? What the hell….is she really sitting in Finn’s seat? Is it safe to drive her somewhere? Then what? Shit.
He turned to me, now seeming more sad and desperate than mad and scary, and started detailing what “went down” the night before. She called…he went….she was under a blanket shaking…empty bottle of Advil…he saved her…she has no one…trust me…I’d never put a hand on her….. She just whimpered, “Please take me.” He said, “Trust me, she needs me.” Shit.
I remember thinking about 900 different things. Take her, leave her, she’s still in my car, I’m late meeting my friend, I have two young boys…. I KNEW something bad was coming my way today…. And, ridiculously, I remember saying, “Guys, I don’t know what to do, seriously, I was just trying to buy my kids a snack.” It occurred to me that all three of us were desperate at that point. She, suddenly seeming to sense that I couldn’t commit to taking her with me, jumped out of the car and ran away across the street, he followed. My heart broke a little. I really wanted to help her. But I was also relieved. Could I really have helped her? And it seemed he was just trying to help her. What about him?
And then, thank goodness (I think), a police car came tearing in. The cruiser stopped not far in front of me. An officer jumped out. The girls in the shop had called the police. I told him, “I really didn’t know what to do” and he told me “Well, they’re both going to jail now.” And my heart broke a little bit more. He ran off after them, I got in my car, wondered for a second Did she leave anything in Finn’s seat?, and then started to drive. As I got to the next intersection and stopped at the light, two more cruisers came flying towards me….and went off to assist.
I was relieved, but I wasn’t. They’re going to jail, but then what? What could I have done? And then, inevitably, came the cliche, but true, feelings of We’re so lucky, What went wrong for her? How did she end up on the street? One wrong turn….. I’ll never be mad at my boys again. I thought about her all night. I went to the game. I had a great time with my friend. #blessed, right? Later that night, on my way home to Rockport, I kept thinking she was still in the backseat. I obviously knew she wasn’t. Once home….I immediately checked on the boys… got ready for bed…and didn’t sleep. I thought about her, and myself, and my boys, and our life, and everything else….all night long.
I still feel horrible for not being brave enough….or stupid enough….to help her more. She was so desperate and it is hard to think that I didn’t let her down. But, maybe jail saved her? I don’t know. I’d like to tell you that I could wrap up this story with a neat little bow and a nice little moral, but I can’t. Maybe you can provide me with one. What would you have done?