As I said in my earlier post, the laundromat was empty. I had clothes in the dryer by the time another patron came in.
She was stunning.
She seemed lost.
She approached the detergent dispensary by my table and asked, “This doesn’t take change?”
“No”, I told her “You have to use your card.”
And she got the detergent and then took her meager load of laundry to a machine. I didn’t think much of it after that – I was writing my post.
She came back.
Hair in a disheveled pony tail – no make up, still drop dead gorgeous.
“If someone went between your legs and took everything, and they’re not your boyfriend, is that wrong?”
I glanced up, was momentarily confused and shocked at such an out of nowhere comment and then, “Um, yeah, that’s wrong.”
Not even sure what she was talking about. But it sounded wrong. And the childlike, confused look on HER face, immediately engaged me.
This woman obviously needed to chat. This woman was also either on something, or had a mental issue. This woman was so beautiful and SO lost.
“What if someone makes you sell everything? What if someone puts cameras in your car?”
“Um, yeah – that doesn’t sound good either.”
“Yes! OK, that’s wrong.”
(How does she not know this?)
Other comments she made:
“People tell me I’m beautiful, but I’ve been hit so many times, it’s amazing I can even smile anymore.”
“This is a small town right? A lot of gossip?”
“I’m so broke.”
“I think I’m going to go into prostitution, this (as she directed attention to her face and body) is all I have.”
“I spent $5,000 on a broken tooth, that’s wrong, right?”
“I have no one to hold me at night – I need someone to take care of me.”
“I have panic attacks, you know, in that show, Modern Family, there’s this guy who freaks out over birds, that’s me!”
“You know, at our age (after she confirmed she was Sophia Vegara’s age – who is in her latter 30’s, so you know I appreciated being included in ‘that age’ when I wasn’t lol) our menstrual cycles change!”
By this time, I’d already invited her to my table.
“You ARE beautiful.”
“No, don’t do that.”
“You need to work on yourself, stay away from toxic people.”
“You get to decide who you want to be, let the right ones in.”
“Yeah! Yeah!” She said. “That’s what a police officer said to me.
“Do you think people with money want to hurt you? I don’t want a mansion.”
“Nah, I said, you don’t. Too much to clean.”
That got a laugh.
After dozens of disconnected questions and back and forth, I was now folding.
“Come here.” I said.
And held her. Her small arms wrapped around me and we were alone in that laundromat and something strange and purposeful was happening.
“I’m here every Sunday.” I said.
I wanted to give her my card – but there was a part of me that didn’t feel like I had the right advice for her.
Who am I?
Who am I to give advice?
But I think I was in the right place at the right time.
“My name is Jenna … and you are?”
“Amanda …. thank you.”
And at that moment, I knew she would be in my head.
She’s staying at a hotel. She doesn’t have a job. She used to model.
“Jenna, sometimes the rich are more miserable than you can imagine – those that have ‘enough’ usually don’t have ulterior motives, they are giving what they can from their heart. ”
“I have no one to hold me at night. I have no one to take care of me.”
“You have to take care of yourself. Learn to be alone. Learn to love yourSELF. Then you’ll attract the right people.”
Her childlike responses – her manic bouncing just endeared her to me.
Then I remembered, I wouldn’t be at the laundromat next Sunday.
And all I can think about right now is Jenna.
And how I should have given her my card.
She needs a friend. A healthy friend.
I wonder right now, what is she doing?
I almost want to show up next Sunday, no matter what. Get out of SELF and be a friend to someone who needs one.
I will try.
Because I think I need her as much as she needs a friend.
It was windy today.
I leave the front door ajar for Butters so that she can exit and enter when she needs to. It opened and closed with each gust and outdoor furniture slapped and thudded against the porch.
Butters is not brave, but what she lacks in courage she makes up for with volume. Startled barks peppered the morning and when startled turned to alarmed, I would go to the door and check that it was in fact just the wind.
I don’t always assume she’s barking at nothing – and try not to get frustrated at the nine out of ten times that she is.
After all, she’s guarding her territory. And, in turn, us.
No one needs to know she’s all bark and no bite. It’s comforting that she is on duty, albeit, over zealously most of the time.
One such zealous bark had me looking out the front door and that’s when I noticed the man in the road.
He sat past the nearest cross street – his legs out in front of him, in the dirt.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first glance. A jogger resting? No.
He looked like he was injured – perhaps wincing. His hand on one leg, his head moving back and forth.
Then I noticed a pattern to his movements and the repetitive motions made it clear he was having some sort of a seizure.
I called out to Nic – to come with me to see what was the matter. Then decided the man needed help quickly – threw my flip-flops on and headed out the door.
I went through my gate, shut it and started toward the man.
As I passed by my neighbor’s house, I noticed that two men were outside working on their cars.
How are they not seeing this?
I continued past them and called out “Are you okay?”
As I got closer – a voice from behind me “Be careful.”
I turned to see one of the men looking toward me.
“He needs help …” I kept moving forward.
“That’s his brother.” The speaker thumbed in the direction of the other man.
Why are they not helping him??
I came closer to the man in the road. Noticed the spittle and drool on his chin, his denim shorts caked in dust, a sheen of sweat on his contorted face.
“Are you alright?”
I saw his eyes – wild and unfocused.
“He’s got mental issues.” A different voice.
“Well, he seems to be having medical ones right now – is he having a seizure? What can I do??”
The first speaker suggested ice water, and both men now had phones in their hands.
I assumed one of the men was my neighbor, but didn’t know which. I really only hear him, when he’s yelling at the children.
I don’t see much of the people living next to me.
Regardless of who was who, it appeared they were calling for help, so I turned to head back to my house for ice water.
I found a cup I didn’t mind not getting back, filled Nic in on what was happening and headed back out the door.
I saw now that the man was no longer in the road and felt a little better.
Until I reached my neighbor’s house and saw what must have been the brother (my neighbor – the puzzle pieces were fitting now) yelling at him.
The man who was no longer in the road, still looked awful. Shaky on his feet and eyes still wild.
I didn’t understand why this was a good time to yell at him.
I held out the water and it was taken. I can’t recall who reached for it, but it ended up in the right hands.
“He needs help, not reprimanding!”
“He has mental problems.”
Again with this!
“Regardless of any mental problems, he clearly needs help!”
“Go back inside your house lady.”
It wasn’t said with any room for debate. My racing heart and hot body suddenly felt chilled. I had been dismissed and I was not to continue questioning or inserting my opinion.
Having had a past with these particular neighbors, and knowing what they’re capable of, I once more headed back to my house.
As I walked away, the man who was in the road said to me “I’m sorry … I’m sorry.”
The walk back was uncomfortable, surreal and daunting.
I felt like a child who had awoken to fighting in the house – seen someone they cared for being hurt, only to be commanded back to bed by the aggressor.
Some time later, Butters started barking again. This time at my back door.
I peered out to see only a hand and the cup I had taken over earlier.
I told Nic to hold Butters and slipped outside.
It was the woman who lives in the house.
The one who yells at her children almost every night:
“GO TO FUCKING SLEEP!!”
The lullaby of dysfunction.
The one who told her children that daddy was trying to kill mommy – and then brought them back in the house.
The one who said she was leaving when she could, and never did.
As time has passed, I notice that she is an instigator in the chaos.
I am not saying she’s ‘asking’ for any of it – I just notice (from my couch, yes, she’s that loud) that she does the majority of the screaming and yelling.
So she’s standing on my back porch with the cup and for some insane reason, explains to me what had happened.
The man in the road had been staying with them for four months while he sobered up.
She explained with feigned ignorance of the topic “He does those rocks, you know, the ones you crush and smoke?”
Just say CRACK woman! I see your teeth, I know you know what it is!
He relapsed apparently and what I thought was a seizure was – but of a drug induced kind.
“We were trying to get him sober.”
“You know you can’t get someone sober? He’s going to have to want that for himself.”
I suggested a local mental health location in our town as a possible resource for her.
The whole time I stood there – holding my cup that now had crack saliva on it – and hating her. Hating her for having that man in an already horrible environment around her children.
“You should be careful – having him around your children.”
Oh God. I said that out loud.
She nodded at me – much like she did when I offered my home as refuge in the past. But I knew she wasn’t really listening to me.
I said I hoped things would be okay – and I meant it. She went down the steps and disappeared.
I tell you this knowing my house is made of glass. I share my anger because I can, I have already been in their shoes.
My past is not perfect.
The difference is, I made a choice to change.
Even after I learned that the man in the road was there due to drugs, I hoped he would find help.
Even after I hear the woman screaming at her children, I tell myself “She’s lashing out at them because she is unhappy and feels powerless.”
Even when I hear her partner being violent in the house, I think “What horror must he have come from to end up so angry?”
Nic and I had to leave the house to visit my parents shortly after the woman left.
I was uncomfortable leaving as there were repercussions the last time I spoke to her.
I decided they wouldn’t try anything in daylight and Butters could be trusted to deter anyone from entering the yard.
(I’ll admit, I fear for her too though. Who knows what they are capable of.)
In the car, we spoke of what happened.
“People like that should be wiped off the planet.”
“Nic, people can change … there’s a reason for their behavior. They were once children perhaps in that same environment. Besides, I’ve done drugs. I drank. And I changed. I chose good. “
I love that he knows this. I love that we can talk about anything. No skeletons in our closets.
“But you always had that in you.”
“Are you saying you think they’re inherently bad? Do you believe there are some people just born evil?”
I hope not.
But I just don’t know.
My favorite quote by W.H. Auden comes to mind once again:
The neighbors are fighting again. They’ve been fighting with some consistency since my first blog post about them:
If a visit from the Sheriff and a trip to jail isn’t a deterent, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear angry screaming yesterday evening and the unmistakable sound of a slap.
The problem I have is this, I don’t know when to get involved anymore!
I only called last time when it was very apparent that the children had been in the house during the violence.
I’m not going to lie – there’s a big part of me now that cares a hell of a lot less about that woman. Especially after saying to her little girls “Because daddy tried to kill mommy” then putting them back in that house with daddy.
I’ve received letters from the District Attorney. Apparently, I was the victim of ‘Disorderly Conduct by Domestic Violence’.
There were originally 4 counts to my neighbors charges. They diminished over the course of a couple more letters. I don’t know too much about the court system but I assume the following:
1) I am the victim because perhaps the woman who received the blows decided against pressing charges?
2) The charges were plead down
One letter mentioned a fine and court ordered anger management/counseling. The last letter I received only mentioned the fine.
I called the District Attorney after the first plea deal after much deliberation. I decided that someone needed to advocate for the children. Evidently it wasn’t going to be their mother and it wasn’t going to be their father.
I never heard back.
After last nights charming background noise to my relaxing porch reading – I’ve been thinking more and more about those little girls.
I know what just hearing it from afar does to me. My stomach clenches, the blood rushes from my gut to the soles of my feet in a cold whoosh. I’m transformed from a 43 year old woman to a scared child.
I could go inside. I could drown out the sounds – self soothe. But those little girls are still in there. They can’t get away from it.
I have a fantasy – it goes like this:
I stomp over to the house mid-fight. Knock on the door. They open the door.
“Hi. Obviously you two have plans tonight – so while you’re busy beating your wife and she’s busy taking it, how about I take the children over to my house until you’ve gotten your rocks off? Then you don’t have to worry about them getting in your fucking way?”
What I would give to do that. To say that. Then to march those children out of there and to safety.
Here’s just part of what’s going through my head while I’m deliberating what I can possibly do:
Okay, say I call the sherriff again – what if the children get taken away? Good you say? The reality of ‘the system’ is not that of rainbows and candy and warm blankets and laughter. What is the lesser of two evils? Can they just take the ‘dad’ away? But what if he’s the primary provider in the house? Perhaps the ‘mom’ has issues – if she had help, perhaps she would find the strength to do the right thing for her children and herself? I don’t think the children are being hit, but growing up in that environment is still abuse.
And I’ll say again, because it seriously bears repeating – those little girls are learning how to become women by the examples in their life. They’re learning that apparently, men hit women, women go back, a childs safety is not a priority. Their formative years are being spent soaking up the dysfunction that is their parents. So when they get older and have issues – I hope they don’t end up in court being held responsible. After all DA, you decided $300 was punishment enough and let their teachers go back to teaching. Bravo!
I’ve spoken to a friend of mine who happens to be a childrens advocate about what direction she thinks I should take – what avenues I have available to me. I’m not going to sit on my porch and pretend that I don’t hear the fighting. I’m not going to sit and ignore the fact that those children are in that environment. I’ll find out when to get involved, and how. And I’ll do the right thing.
‘Back to back
And a wild attack
Face to face
And it’s finger popping
Twenty-four hour shopping in Rapture’ – Blondie
This one’s going to be tough. But it’s time.
I just watched a documentary called “The Released”, about mentally ill offenders struggling to make it on the outside. To see the pain in their eyes – the hopelessness and helplessness, just broke my heart.
Something an Outreach member said really stuck with me. “People are being released with one to two weeks of medication and being told to follow-up at this time and this date with this agency. Which assumes that they have the judgement that they need to continue their medications as prescribed and it also assumes they have the cognitive capacity to be proactive with phone calls, making appointments, discussing how many days of their medications they have left. It assumes a lot”.
I had never thought of it that way. How does someone mentally ill remember that it’s time for their pills? I occasionally forget to take my heart medicine – and always have had a hard time remembering to take antibiotics three times a day!
I’m digressing. Or avoiding.
Bottom line is I was reminded of a topic I want, or need to share about.
Back to rapture.
Sixth grade, and I’m in a new country, a new school – feeling completely lost and out-of-place. I met someone who would become my best friend for many years.
In the locker room she was singing ‘Rapture’ and she knew all the words. THAT was impressive. There began a friendship that would have more of an impact on me than I could have known.
We had our good times – but even the good times had an undercurrent that I didn’t have the understanding or life experience to identify.
I felt it – always felt it, but couldn’t put my finger on what was ‘off’.
My best friend was cruel. My best friend was a ‘bad influence’. My best friend was a chameleon, because she hid her sickness from parents and peers and saved it all for me.
There were constant threats to keep me in line. And constant verbal, physical and mental abuse. She took me on her wild ride and I so desperately wanted her acceptance that I followed. She was all I had. I didn’t see it at the time, but she was also the reason she was all I had. Why didn’t I end the friendship? I was scared of her and scared to lose her.
She would sing ‘somebody wants to hurt somebody’ as we lay in the dark at her house. She could do a spot on imitation of the Excorsist growl. She effectively isolated me from others at school by embarrassing me and telling me she was my only friend. It got to the point I would drop in the hall when she asked me to tie her shoe – and do it.
She introduced me to lying, to sneaking out, to drugs. I remember thinking when I was scared “I just want to go home”. I didn’t want to be where we were. I didn’t want to do what we were doing. But I was just a kid, scared to say no, and I did as I was told.
I was terrified of my best friend.
There was an atmosphere around her that scared the hell out of me. A darkness. A thickness in the air of almost palpable evil.
Wow this is hard.
Our Freshman year of High School, something shifted. And I’m honestly not really sure what the catalyst was, but she delved deeper into debauchery with a new friend and I found a healthier ‘relationship’. She ended up leaving the school – and town – and getting married then pregnant.
I’m leaving a lot out, I know. Truly, I’m really uncomfortable even thinking about the years we spent together. I didn’t anticipate feeling this.
We’d cross paths now and again. Then our paths didn’t cross for a very long time.
When I had my son, I spoke with her. She revealed something that made a lot of things make a lot of sense.
She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
In conversations over the years following that revelation she shared more. Before she was diagnosed and treated, she had tried to kill her daughter. She didn’t believe it was her daughter at the time. Even on medication the voices never left her.
God, what she must have been going through all those years! My torture a direct result of her inner turmoil. I didn’t know! I didn’t know.
I’m a little ashamed to say this was almost a relief. It wasn’t me! She couldn’t help her behavior. I wasn’t a target because of anything I was.
But I couldn’t forgive her.
While her condition obviously wasn’t contagious – our time together had a profound affect on choices I would come to make and my own mental health. Combined with other life events, her actions left me feeling less than, ugly, worthless, afraid, submissive and unimportant. We’re so impressionable during those formative years! We’re becoming the people we’re going to be as we soak up our immediate environment and draw upon what we experience.
It took years to figure out I could decide who I wanted to be and change my life.
We met again many more years later. This girl who had always put me down and told me how much prettier she was than me was now morbidly obese due to the medications she was diligently taking.
She told me I looked like a model. She looked at me with clear eyes and I was undone.
But, I still couldn’t forgive her.
She sent Christmas cards, tried to contact me – sent me letters. I’d call her occasionally, she’d share what was going on with her and her family.
And I still couldn’t forgive her.
This last Christmas I sent her a card – and didn’t hear back. This was strange, because prior to the holidays she’d called my mom and asked her to have me call her.
I hadn’t called.
I thought about her more and more and eventually did try to reach her. Her phone number was disconnected.
I found her sister on Facebook and sent her a message asking if she was alright? No response.
My gut tells me that she is no longer with us. I can’t explain why – just a feeling. Something has happened.
She was sick – and I wish that girl singing ‘Rapture’ in the locker room in 6th grade had found relief sooner. I wish she had known a peaceful heart and a quiet mind.
I wish I knew where she was, because, I want her to know that I forgive her.