Pay It Forward
By Sue Schools
“Cindy, I’m in the lunch room at work and need to talk to you a few minutes,” Lucy whispered into the phone.
“Sure, what’s up?”
“You’ve known Bill and me for a few years but there’s something I’ve never told anyone. For the seventeen years we’ve been married Bill has abused me physically but especially mentally.”
“Oh, God, Lucy, I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?” That’s what people say, right? Little did I know …
“Well, I hate to ask but I know you live alone with your Doberman and I wondered if I could stay with you for awhile while I try to start my life over.”
“Uh, I guess so. When are you thinking of moving?”
“I’m planning to leave for work on Friday morning with the clothes on my back, maybe a few cosmetics and never return to him again. I’ll call in sick and disconnect my cell phone. I should probably go to the bank and withdraw enough cash to last awhile and then meet with a lawyer next week.”
I agreed to her plans and even hung black sheets over the windows at the front of my house, letting her park her sedan in my garage. And we developed a routine of coming home from work, drinking some wine and me listening to her horrors while I prepared modest meals. And I turned over in bed when I heard her nightmare moans from the other bedroom ... and tried to ignore her bathroom illnesses resulting from her stress. And I didn’t point out her paleness or listless hair and gnawed fingernails. And then I listened some more.
In our three months together, she lost almost 40 pounds (not my cooking, please) and I seemed to grow heavier from taking on her burdens. I seemed to absorb her pain without my own outlet.
And then the magical moment came when she announced she had found a studio apartment close to her job. I was relieved to see her go, proud to see her taking her first independent steps and a little sad too at losing her sister-ship.
We kept in touch but it was difficult for her to make decisions after being controlled for so long. It was also tough for her to be proud of her new body and hairstyle. She did begin to laugh again and I could detect a beginning of hope.
Ironically she hooked up with another mutual friend who was going through a disheartening divorce and when I saw them together at a local bar with his head hanging to his chest, blinking back tears, I told her he was a loser and not to waste her time.
But years later when I was her Matron of Honor at their Las Vegas wedding, she confessed that she treated Nick the same way I had treated her. Listening, absorbing and hoping. It also turned out that Nick was a millionaire and she was able to retire and cook his dinners.