Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Story



Many years ago, I lived in Indianapolis for a few years. It was a job that brought me there...out of college for a few years and way before I met Sonja. I was fairly young, full of ambition and lived life with abandon and fearlessness. I had a girlfriend, a local bar I hung out at, a group of guys I played softball and bowled with and a nice apartment with great neighbors. 

I would come back to Louisville occasionally to visit family and friends...weekend stays mostly...crashing at my parents' house for a couple of nights and driving back to Indy on Sunday night. 

I planned to come in for Christmas one of those years...the plan was to attend a Christmas Eve party and then spend Christmas with my parents...heading back to Indy the following day. We worked a half-day that Christmas Eve Day and several of us met at a local establishment after work to have lunch and a few beverages. 

I hadn't done any Christmas shopping yet. Back then, my protocol was to go out on Christmas Eve Day, buy a few spur-of-the moment gifts and then distribute them to friends in Indy...taking the rest back to Louisville for family and friends. 

After a few beverages, I said my goodbyes to the gathering and went about the process of shopping. There was a big mall near our place of work and I worked my way through it among the hordes of last-minute shoppers. I then went to visit several friends, dropped off my gifts, had a few more beverages and prepared to head south to Louisville. 

I stopped at a beverage shoppe near my apartment to pick up a few items for the drive and was casually chatting to the cashier when my eye caught a rather shabbily dressed young woman standing in the wine section. I remarked something...I don't remember what...to the cashier and she revealed she had been watching her...a potential shop-lifter in her opinion. I remember wishing her well with that and left. 

Sitting in my car, I decided to watch and see if there would be any excitement inside the shop. After a few minutes, the woman went to the door, was stopped, her bag searched and finally allowed to leave after a brief animated discussion. The woman walked outside, sat on a bench outside the store and...visibly trembling...reached into her bag and produced a pack of cigarettes. She lit one up and then put her head into her hands. She was crying. 

Something came over me. I sensed something was amiss here and exited the car. I approached her, she looked up at me, tears rolling down her cheeks and I asked if there was anything I could do for her. She wiped the tears from her cheeks and began her story. 

She was homeless. Things weren't working out with her parents. She was young and had left Chicago several months ago to live with a friend in hopes of finding a job in Indy. It didn't work out and the "friend" turned out to have bad intentions toward her. After beating beaten by him one evening she left, broke and without transportation. This had occurred several days ago and she had been wandering the streets since...with just a bag and the clothes on her body. She had been sleeping in an abandoned garage near the liquor store and asking people for food and money. She had collected very little. She was hungry, tired and had decided to steal a bottle of wine, get good and drunk and then step off a bridge down the street into an icy creek below...but changed her mind at the last minute. She said there was something that she needed to do first.

I listened to the story. I made a decision. I asked her if there was anyone she knew she could stay with. She thought about that a minute and said that her parents would probably take her back in but she was ashamed to call them. I asked her name. It was Mary. She was a beautiful 19 yr. old girl with long but matted brown hair and a cute, turned up nose. 

I had plans. I had things to do. I thought about if I was in the same position. I made a decision.

I told her that suicide was a coward's way out and if it took the rest of the day, week or year....I would not let her do such a thing. I asked her if she would like a ride to Chicago. To go home. She was surprised. She asked if I was going there. I told her I had no pressing commitments and that I would like to take her to get her some food and drive her back to her home. 

She had no idea who I was. Yet, she put her trust in me. She said she would like that. I drove to a fast-food place and told her to order whatever she wanted. We got the food, she ravenously devoured it as I got on I-65 for the three-hour drive to the Windy City.

Along the way, I encouraged her to place a call to her parents...to tell them she was coming home. She was hesitant at first but finally agreed to do so and we took an exit and stopped at a phone booth. I gave her change, she made the call...spoke for quite some time and got back in the car. She was smiling. She said they had been very worried about her and wanted her home. 

As we drove, we talked. I don't recall the whole conversation but I remember parts. She had longed freedom and independence. She had graduated from high school but was stuck in a dead-end job in Chicago and decided it was time to move on. The guy she went to stay with had been a boyfriend in the past. He had changed. She spoke about the abuse, the forced sex, the beatings and the degradation. 

When we got to the rest stop near Chicago, I suggested she maybe wash up a bit. After that, we continued on. She was a delight to talk to...and she innocently inquired what my plans originally had been. I told her that I was headed to see my parents but it could wait. She got a bit nervous as we turned onto the street where her parents lived. She asked me to stop. She had a cigarette and asked me what she should say to them. I remember saying to her something along the lines of just being honest and frank. 

We pulled in the driveway. We sat in the car. She looked at me and asked if I would walk her to the door. A cold, blustery wind greeted us as we walked the sidewalk to the front door. It opened...and a man, women and little girl came running out. Embraces followed and I watched with a feeling of satisfaction. The man approached me. A short, heavy-set man with a receding hairline. He extended a hand and thanked me for bringing his daughter home. He invited me in but I declined...thanked him but told him I had to be going. 

Mary looked at me with eyes full of tears and gratitude. She asked how she could ever repay me for the trip. I smiled and told her that just seeing the family reunion was payment enough. She asked how she could get in touch with me. I dug out my wallet and handed her a business card. 

They gathered around me and hugged me. I looked at the little girl and told her to have a very, merry Christmas. She looked up at me and said:

"I will. You brought my mommy home." 

A daughter that hadn't come up once in the trip.

I headed to Louisville, arriving at the very end of the party I had planned on attending. I told my story. I slept very well that night in my old bed at my parents. 

I heard from Mary about a month later. She was going to enroll in a community college and try to start anew. She was working part-time as a waitress at a restaurant. She wondered if I would be available for a visit. She was coming back to Indy to collect her belongings but was afraid to confront the asshole alone. I assured her that me and several big, strong softball-playing friends of mine would be glad to accompany her. 

And, it went without a hitch. The asshole wasn't even there..had left the front door unlocked. That disappointed me and my friends. We were ready to apply some "frontier justice"...

Before she returned to Chicago, I asked if she would like to dine with me. She agreed enthusiastically. Dinner at my place. We combined our cooking skills to make a wonderful meal, had a few glasses of wine and I suggested she sleep in the spare bedroom and make the drive home the next morning. She called to tell parents and her daughter. 

Early that morning, asleep in my bed...I felt a brief rustle, someone climbing in and felt an arm drape over me.

"I've decided how I can repay you for all your kindness." she whispered in my ear. 

I won't go into details. You can probably guess what happened. It was a surprise but loving, sensual, delightful and ...repetitive. When she departed later that morning, she smiled at me and said that there were few heroes in this world...but I was hers and she would forever be in debt to me. We kissed and she drove away. 

That was in the 1980's. I left Indy a few years later and returned to Louisville, where I've been ever since.

Today, Mary is married, has three more children...all four of them grown and out in the world making their way... and a husband of 30+ years who is a truck driver. She got her degree as a medical assistant and works in the office of a Chicago pediatrician. I get a call from her each year around Christmastime. She sends photos of the kids and we also stay in touch via the INTERNET. We never have seen each other again...but she has a 34 year-old son, named Paul that has Sykes-like features and looks. 

I asked her about it once...in an e-mail, whether this child was mine or not. Her response was {paraphrased...I have forgotten the original words} :

"Miracles happen. Paul is a wonderful young man. I can't say for sure whether he is yours or not...I met Jerry about a week after visiting you one day, when I was working at the   restaurant, we hit it off and we were "active" pretty quickly. Paul and all my children are greatly loved by Jerry and I. Jerry knows nothing about our night. He is Paul's dad. He knows you as a stranger who provided kindness when I was at the lowest point in my life. We'll leave it there. " 

We talked today. She expressed sorrow over the death of my mother-in-law. Her mother isn't doing too well and is in a nursing home. We shared stories. She was having the kids and her Dad come to the house. They would go visit her mom later. The conversation was heart-felt. As always, we vowed to get together soon. Someday, perhaps, we will. 

A random encounter. An act of kindness. Maybe life-saving, certainly life-changing.

We do what we can in this world. Sometimes it makes a difference, sometimes not. it is all part of the plan, the destiny and the course we navigate. Sometimes, we know not why...but...it is all connected and all relevant. 

Merry Christmas.