"Do you realize who that is?" she asked staring wildly. The look was a definite indication that my client was not welcome there.
"That's Roger's mother!"
The pain in my chest was instant and the vice around it fell with a heavy thud into the pit of my stomach. I actually felt it. My hands started to quiver and I swallowed hard, not sure what to do next.
She had a tear in her eye when she asked, "Do you want me to take over for you?" I felt her sympathy but decided to face my own fears. Now I understood why her name had sounded familiar.
I walked back into the treatment room and looked deep into her eyes. It was obvious that she had no idea who I was which gave me the confidence to continue.
I made small talk, asking Kathy about her family. She had a husband whom she did not trust and one grown son who still lived at home. I maintained my calm demeanor while asking her about her son. Does he have a job? A girlfriend? I already knew he was a slacker and didn't have to ask but the small talk helped me to remain composed.
He gets into trouble a lot, but he's a good boy!
She made another appointment and gave me a hug, telling me how much she enjoyed talking to me. After she left and I relaxed my guard, I saw that my hands were shaking and I felt sick to my stomach.
When she returned the following week, I welcomed her graciously and we chatted more. I always showed interest in her son and she loved talking about him. "Sure, he gets in trouble sometimes, but what 27-year-old kid doesn't?" I bit my tongue often.
Our relationship continued for close to four years. I do not know if Kathy ever figured out who I was but she often came bearing gifts of appreciation for taking the time to listen to her woes. She once asked that I follow her husband and take pictures as proof he was seeing someone else. I drew the line there.
When she stopped coming in for treatments, she would call to ask for advice - usually regarding her husband and how to protect herself. She knew he was heavily into drugs and women but she stayed.
I hadn't heard from her for several months until the phone call, "Hi, Carol?" Her voice was weak. "Do you mind if we stop by for a minute? I need to talk to you." We? Who is we?
I never expected what happened next....
He introduced himself, obviously not knowing who I was. We shook hands and he told his mother he would pick her up in 30 minutes. Those simple words were like venom and I felt a desire to destroy the predator.
"What happened to you?" I wanted to tell her she looked closer to death than life. I knew her chaste exterior was hiding the ugly truth.
"I just came from the hospital. I tried to kill myself a couple weeks ago." I didn't need to ask her why; it was easy enough to figure out.
We chatted and I did my best to encourage her. I told her to call me every day and to stay in touch. She promised. She didn't.
A few months later, we relived the same scenario. This time, the doctors had a difficult time resuscitating her. She really didn't care if she lived or died. She looked worse than the last time I saw her.
It has been almost two years since I have last seen or heard from her. I still have mixed emotions -- ranging from pity to anger.
In a crack-cocaine induced state, Roger was the arsonist who burned down our shop/warehouse/storage unit two years earlier. We had just taken possession of it and it was to be a temporary facility until we could find a bigger unit. My husband's father had recently died and we inherited his boat. Also in the shop were three classic cars and my husband's recording studio sound system along with numerous totes holding everything from childhood memories to tools and household items. We had just purchased two large compressors for shop air tools that had not yet been used. When the flames hit them, the explosion could be heard for at least a mile.
My husband told me not to bother getting insurance as we wouldn't be there long, but like any good wife, I followed my instincts and didn't listen. The most insurance I could get was $50,000 because it was not a residence. After the fire, our loss for just the contents was over $350,000. But the bigger heartbreak was over the loss of the precious memories in those totes including the only photos my son-in-law had of his mother who died when he was a little boy.
Who was to blame?
What do you think you would have done? Would you have said something to her? Would you have befriended her?
UPDATE: The day after I prepared this post, Kathy walked into my store. The state she was now in was worse than anything I remember. She needed help; a lawyer, perhaps. After all this time, she still reached out to me when she had no where else to go. Of course, I will do whatever I can to help her.
This was part of the true story that I share fully in my memoir, Battered Hope.
Photo courtesy of davidsaville.co.ukclaw