Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Scroll down to read Her-Part 1 first.
"Can I help you?" The guy doing lock-up asks it, and I guess it's a fair question. She did just sort of barge right in. Whatever she hoped she might find inside that building had left a good twenty minutes earlier. We are the stragglers busy discussing our plans for the day--the movies, a hike.
She grips the cottony-white envelope, holds it up. "I just wondered if somebody could help me . . ." she hesitates, but only for a second. Her voice, though. It's laced with some kind of anguish that comes from below your gut where things are raw and red and real. " . . . my power bill. They're gonna shut it off in the morning. We won't have heat."
We've been under some kind of arctic system, haven't had a night above freezing in at least a week, maybe two. Pipes everywhere are popping open like overfilled balloons, bursting when they thaw in the daytime. People complaining about buying more propane. Me threatening to buy a wood stove to save money. But I have money in the bank. More than enough to pay the power bill.
There are feet shuffling and eyes darting, eyes averting, no one really knowing what to do. And the man locking up scurries off to find a number.
The number of the guy that handles these things.
We have a guy for this stuff.
A couple actually.
I know their name, and I know their number is in my husband's phone. I'm wanting to take my four-inch, high heal and kick him in the shin. Instead I kick him with my eyes. "Honey, you've got his number in your phone, don't you?"
I want him to pull out his wallet, not his phone.
She's just standing there, now.
We're all just standing.
So, I start the interrogation. I always talk when I'm nervous. If I can just get her story, find out what's going on. If I can glimpse the baby's face under the thick, blanket. It keeps slipping off. The woman keeps fumbling with it, trying to hold things together. She's shielding her little one from the cold.
That's why she's there. At a church.
At our church after the service is over and the people parted in paths to Kentucky Fried Chicken and Fatz Café.
She's trying to shield her children from the cold to come.
I remember one time a man showed up at my house. He couldn't look me in the eye, so I knew something was wrong. He kept calling me ma'mm saying he was sorry to have to stop by like this. The kids were home, hunkered around the hem of my jeans. He said I needed to pay by the close of business or they'd turn the power off. It was bitter cold that day too. I still remember this feeling of nausea that came up from my feet and flipped and flopped in my stomach until I wanted to sit down.
I rang the people at the head office immediately.
They had made a mistake.
But I never forgot that feeling.
So I asked questions, but I really just wanted to hold her in my arms. Take her home. Make her tea.
"Are you from around here?'
"A trailer park nearby."
"Do you have a job?" I'm such an idiot. She just had a baby.
"Not since the baby."
"Do you have a husband? Someone helping you?"
"Yes, but he is out of work right now too." Her brown hair hung in a low pony tail down her back, pulled away from her face. Her face is the kind of tight that a face is when it is a dam holding everything back and if one single, solitary muscle is moved, all the pain of a thousand years will come flooding out.
And I just cannot stand it. I am moving. I'm beside her, and my arm is reaching around her shoulders. Her hurt, her humiliation, her need? They flow in tears. Just a few, quiet, dignified tears.
I don't know what else I say. Other people talk too. Someone offers a prayer.
And prayers are good.
The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
So that is a good thing.
But gosh, I'm a doer.
And when that woman in the Bible thought if she just touched the hem of Jesus' garment she would be healed? Wasn't that the same as this woman thinking if she could just get to the door of our church, she'd find help?
And maybe we are the hem of His garment, we the body, His power coursing through us.
We had swallowed Styrofoam wafers embossed with crosses on them and sipped grape juice just that morning. To remember. Remember that His body was broken for us.
This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.
To remember He was broken.
The body that was broken for others.
And now we are His body. We the people. So shouldn't we break too? For others? For her?
So, we break open wallets.
We say goodbye and wish well.
Give the couple's number.
Give the place where she can get clothes. The place where she can get food.
Give what we have on us at the time.
But it isn't enough.
And of all the questions I could have asked, I don't know her name.