Stranger at the Airport; Even Stranger in My Home
I make many of my own problems. The adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is accurate.
In January 2013 my husband and I took a dream trip to Belize. We waited at JFK for our flight. This trip was a big deal for both my husband Chris and me. Chris is averse to traveling outside of the United States whereas I am more adventurous; so this was especially exciting for me since he finally agreed to travel someplace “exotic.” Chris is a nervous traveler and a worse flier. He gets anxious which means we always get to the airport at a ridiculously early amount of time before our flight; this was an international flight so Chris’s anxiety level was through the roof and we arrived at the airport 4 hours before our flight. I brought plenty to read since I knew this was his habit even for domestic travel.
We were sitting in the airport for so very long when after about an hour we noticed that there was a woman in her 30’s sitting in the same area with us for as long as we were. She was alone. People came and went, getting on and off airplanes while we waited. The woman was still waiting just as we were. I get antsy sitting for so long. I continuously get up and walk around the airport looking for some junk item to buy to distract me from boredom. After one of my “circling the airport” jaunts, I returned to find Chris talking to this woman. I sat next to them and said hello. Chris introduced me to Sara. They had just started up a conversation about college when I returned to the terminal. Chris likes to be fatherly and give mentoring advice to young people. He gives good advice. He is successful. Chris was giving Sara advice about her college career, and I listened. The conversation segued into where each of us were going (Sara was going to El Salvador to see her mother), where we lived, etc. Sara said she was married but that she was taking this trip alone. We chatted with Sara for nearly an hour when at long last it was time to board our plane. We enjoyed our conversation with Sara; she was poised, literate, interesting and conversational. We exchanged telephone numbers and agreed to contact one another later that month to have dinner along with her husband Jason.
Our trip in Belize was wonderful initially. Belize is absolutely beautiful, and the people are very hospitable. The Mayan history is engagingly interesting. Our trip was scheduled to be 8 days. Day 3 I received a telephone call from home that my cousin with whom I had a close relationship with just died in a motorcycle accident. He was 52. It was deeply sad, and I made arrangements to send flowers since I would not be back in the States in time to attend the funeral services. Later that same night I became extremely ill with a stomach bug of some sort. It grew worse and worse. I left the safety of netted canopy of our bed – yes, in Belize despite closed windows and doors, there are hundreds of bugs at night and it is requisite to sleep under a netted canopy inside your cottage. I went into the bathroom and curled up on the cold floor into a ball where I laid for 3 hours in abdominal pain. When Chris woke he went to the manager’s desk to ask for help. We were in a remote area. A pharmacy or medical facility was absolutely not nearby. The manager offered some medicinal tea she drank herself for her own abdominal issues. I was helpless and hopeless. I would try anything. I drank 3 cups of tea. I felt better. I did not feel well but I was able to stand and get off the bathroom floor. Chris and I decided that it was prudent for us to return home. We made arrangements to change our travel plans and flew back to the States. I saw my doctor immediately upon returning home. IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome. This was a new diagnosis for me. My physician gave me remedies (over-the-counter pharmacy) and guidelines for nutrition henceforth so as not to upset my digestion again. It worked. It was disappointing to lose those extra days in Belize but we did have such a wonderful time the few days that we were there.
After we were home a few weeks, I received a text message from Sara; she was home too and did we want to set up a dinner date. We said yes. We made plans. Sara cancelled the plans a few days later for reasons I no longer remember but we rescheduled for another date at her request. A day before our rescheduled dinner date, Sara called to cancel our dinner plans again because she had so much school work to catch up on. By this time, we knew that Sara worked part-time at Columbia University as a secretary while she went to college full-time. No problem, Sara! We will get together whenever it’s convenient. We left it at that, and I did not talk to Sara for over a month….maybe two.
Random phone call on a random day in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, Sara calls me crying. She doesn’t know who to call or what to do but knows that I’m kind and could she please just talk for a bit. Sure. Then the shit hits the fan.
Sara tells me that she doesn’t know where to go or what to do because Jason has beaten her up again, and she is afraid to go home. WTF! Goodbye normalcy. It needs to be said that I come from a childhood of violence against women so this is a button for me. Of course, I do NOT THINK but react….I tell Sara, come to my house!!!! Come here and be safe! I don’t call Chris and discuss this. I just tell Sara to come over. Of course, Sara arrives in 15 minutes.
Sara carried herself in shame. She dressed in tight but shabby jeans. They were tight because she had outgrown them. She had gained weight. She wore a loose flannel shirt. Her face was broken out in acne. I didn’t see any physical damage. Sara went on to tell me about her husband Jason. She said he beat her regularly; they both slept on the floor; he was a 300 lb. wrestling champ genius with a full scholarship to Columbia who derided and belittled her; who made her miscarry by beating her and worse. I was horrified as I watched her cry.
Before even talking to Chris, I said, stay. Just stay here. At the time, my youngest was living in college and my two older were living on their own. I have a big house. I said, here….this is your room. I offered comfort. I told her, I’ll give all of his details to the town police. He won’t come here. And anyway, I’ll kill him if he does. She was grateful. She cried a lot. She went upstairs and lay down.
Chris came home. Ugh. He was upset for Sara. He was upset that I hadn’t called him. We now have a stranger living in our home. But he has some SOME compassion. He said, you’re right. We should help her.
Geez, we were wrong. Later for that.
Sara arrived with next to nothing; she had 4 boxes. She said Jason made her disconnect from her family here.
Sara was engaging to speak with. She moved into our home in April. We gave her one of our son’s bedrooms and told her to make it her own; that she could stay as long as she needed to get herself together. During the first week, Sara grabbed onto us and told us all of her stories. She talked incessantly. She also ate and ate. We felt very sad, as if she had been denied food, and we thought perhaps she had. Among the things Sara told us (and we, intelligent, well-educated, naïve people simply took her at her word):
- Jason was 300 lbs., a scholar in physics at Columbia Graduate School with a full free ride; a former wrestler. Jason ruled the roost in the home. Jason caused Sara to miscarry their child by pushing her. Jason beat her regularly due to his temper tantrums. Jason was into science fiction and dictated what and when they could watch television. Jason told Sara what she could and could not wear. Jason did not permit Sara contact with any of her family or friends other than her mother. Jason demeaned Sara and told her she was stupid.
- Sara was a part-time student majoring in political science at Montclair State University and a full-time clerk at the Columbia University Observatory.
- Sara was a former marine though she only served 2 weeks in boot camp until they found she had a bone disease. She was discharged receiving full military/veterans benefits. Sara considered herself a marine and entitled veteran.
I prepared meals for my husband, so I prepared enough for everyone. Sara made herself at home very quickly. Sara put her dirty clothes in the family hamper. She ate freely from the refrigerator and put “items to buy” on the grocery shopping list. In short time, about a month, Sara settled in like a bug in a rug. Sara decided to get divorced but first decided to get a restraining order. She was afraid to go to court and see Jason. She also stated she had no court clothes. I went shopping and bought her a suit. I gave her a quality handbag I had and told her to keep it. I told Sara that I would attend court with her; that Jason would NOT mess with her while I was nearby. I am a force to be reckoned with. My death stare alone peels paint. I attended the hearing with Sara. I sat next to her so that Jason could not see her. He did not attempt to approach. He appeared defeated. Sara received her restraining order and was gleeful.
The next few weeks Sara began to change. She started to lose weight, wear makeup (she did not wear makeup before), fancy herself up and carry herself with a bit of an attitude. I was happy to see that Sara had gained some self-confidence. Whenever Sara came home from work, she’d talk my ear off. I was happy to give her a safe haven but I am essentially a loner. I was happy to engage in some banter but Sara never turned it off, and it began to wear on me. My husband told me to be kind and patient, so I bit the bullet and shut up.
Sara started behaving erratically. Late at night…about 11pm…we’d hear her dancing in her room (with headphones, because we did not hear music) pouncing on the floor for an hour or two. She’d come into the kitchen some days and talk about how she was reconnecting with an old boyfriend on Facebook who was actually gay. Ugh. This does not sound like a good idea. Sara went on to say that this old boyfriend had verbally abused her. I told Sara that I thought a fresh start was best for her. That fell on deaf ears. She became increasingly entwined in her Facebook affair with the old flame.
And then he dropped her. He dropped her and laughed at her, told her she was a fool and worse. That’s when the crap hit the fan. That’s when we found out the truth. Sara told us what he had done. Sara was despondent. Worse….Sara told us she was bipolar and needed to go to the VA Hospital to get back on meds. Oh geez.
Ok. Good idea! If you need meds, then take them! Sara went to the VA Hospital. I have no idea if/what meds she was issued or took but she sure did not get any better. In fact, Sara got worse. She did not go to work. She holed herself up in her room. She did not come out to eat, to wash or brush her teeth for days. When Sara finally appeared in the kitchen she was a wreck of her former “healed self.” She was also combative, angry, belligerent, antagonistic and toxic.
At this point, Sara had been living with us rent free for six months. We had included her in every family celebration and holiday. We had opened our arms and home to her. Now, this was a scary person. I called my husband. I told him, I’m in the house with a maniac who seems dangerous. Chris told me, it’s time to ask Sara to move. She’s had enough time to save.
I knocked on Sara’s bedroom door. She said come in. I told Sara that Chris and I thought it was time for us to part ways, that we wished her well and that she should look for a place. Sara freaked out. She just lost it. FINE! FINE! FINE! FINE! YOU PEOPLE SUCK! Oh my God! This woman is nuts.
Sara immediately began gathering her things and putting them in her car. I did not try to stop her. I did not dissuade her. No, I was relieved. Good….go. Holy smokes….just go then. Sara was packed and out of the house within an hour. I changed the locks.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.