Innocence + Kindness = Growth
By David • November 17, 2020
It was June of 1988. Out of a 13-year-old's early summer boredom, I had pitched a tent in our rural Virginia yard and intended to sleep in it, but I was staying in the house late to finish watching the Lakers’ play-off game. It was almost midnight and Daddy had been asleep upstairs for hours. Someone knocked on the front door. It never occurred to me not to answer it.
On the other side was a woman in her thirties in an evening gown with a bloody gash on her forehead. She was awkward and a bit embarrassed, but she asked if she could use our phone to call her boyfriend to get a ride home. I escorted her to our rotary dial on the kitchen wall and watched her struggle to finger the numbers correctly. After several false starts, I offered to dial for her. She said, “Sure, go ahead, you can talk to him, too.”
Once she stammered out the number, I found myself with a ringing phone on my ear and no idea what I was supposed to say. There was a groggy hello on the other end and I think I said, “Hi. Um, your girlfriend is at my house and she would like a ride home. Can I give you directions?”
He was mostly incoherent. I tried several times to explain where I lived, but he was unable to sensibly indicate that he had any idea what I was talking about. I’m not entirely certain that he was even fully conscious. After getting little more than grunts from the other end, I hung up, looked at my guest, and said, “Want to sleep in my tent?”
I treated her forehead with hydrogen peroxide and bandages and then left her in the bathroom while I found another sleeping bag for the tent. When I came back into the house, she was sitting on the couch looking like she was trying to figure out where she was. I accompanied her into the darkness of the yard, unzipped the door to the tent, and turned my lantern on. I was just starting to realize that both she and her boyfriend must be exceptionally drunk. I was 13, remember, and I had not been around that level of inebriation, but she certainly wasn’t a threat and I felt bad for her. Plus, what an adventure!
To my surprise, she didn’t pass right out. In fact, she seemed to want to talk. She explained how she and her boyfriend had had a nice dinner date with lots of wine followed by a nasty fight on the ride home and she had gotten out of the car to walk. He drove off and she found herself in farm country on an unfamiliar road. She had stumbled in her high heels on the gravel shoulder and hit her head, which felt much better with the bandage on it, she said. Our porch was the only light, my dad’s nursery business was right beside the house, and she did not know what else to do. She began to sob after telling this story.
I didn’t know what to say and figured that she would cry herself to sleep, but I was still trying to be a good listener. She dried her eyes with my pillow case and said that when they drink, they often fight, but he had never left her like this before. She then looked at me with eyes that appeared to be clearing a bit from the fog. “Do you think I should just end it?”
I didn’t say anything, hoping that it was a rhetorical question. She maintained eye contact. Oh, man, she really required an answer from me; nodding sympathetically was no longer getting the job done. “Are there still good times? I mean, you said it was a nice dinner. Do you have fun together?”
She brightened at my question and was able to recite all sorts of pleasant times they had spent together. She and I ended up talking for hours. Somewhere in the very early morning hours, she reflected on what a rather ludicrous night it had been. She finished with, “But at least I got to meet the coolest kid ever.”
My heart swelled as I fell asleep. The next morning, which always starts with the sun rise when you’re camping, I took her back into the house and we called her boyfriend again. This time, he was deliberate, articulate, and anxious to come pick up his girlfriend. He knew exactly where we lived and, though it was pretty clear that he didn’t remember my call from the night before, he thanked me for helping and said he was on his way.
About this time, my dad walks down the stairs in his boxers in a classic pre-coffee early morning fog. I was able to get him turned around before either of them saw each other, but I did quickly explain that there was a woman in the house. He asked, “Oh, does she want a kitten?”
We had advertised that we were giving away a litter of kittens which my cat had just weaned. His assumption made reasonable sense: why else would a stranger be in our house at 7am? Overhearing, the woman said, “You have kittens? I really want one!”
Six months later, I was working in the nursery and a customer got out of her car carrying a beautiful cat. She walked straight up to me and said, “Hey coolest kid ever. Remember this kitty?”
We had a nice chat and when she shook my hand to say goodbye, I saw an engagement ring on her finger. I stared at it and she said, “Yeah, we do have fun together. Thanks for helping me realize that.”
I never did tell my dad the whole story…until now, I guess.
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