I was struggling.
I was on my way back from the laundromat; I had three huge garbage bags full of laundry, clothes, sheets, towels, lovely and clean. I felt like I was carrying bags of wet sand. I was hot and sweaty. I was feeling like a fool; I was upset. Why was I doing this all by myself? I shuffled along, heaving the bags alternately over my shoulders and trying to carrying them, stopping and starting, beginning to drag them along the sidewalk, hoping the bags wouldn’t split.
This mountain of laundry I was now dealing with happened because I had been trying to hold out, hoping my boyfriend at the time would pitch in and do it, but you can only hold out so long. The boyfriend was currently and conveniently for him, out, who knows where. He was an actor, so probably with his actor friends, talking very seriously about acting, talking very seriously about plans they had for themselves as actors, probably mostly talking very seriously about themselves.
Laundry, dishes, cleaning was not on his agenda.
I was 30. It was the late 80’s; the concept of co-dependency hadn’t found its way to my door just yet. I had no idea of the cost I was paying because of the way I was living, how it was eroding my self – worth like wind against chalk cliffs. I had no idea who I was really living with, who I was for that matter, and no understanding that I had unresolved traumas deeply buried within, ones that would take the next 30 years to uncover and heal.
So although I couldn’t name it at the time, I was living in an abusive relationship.
I was sharing my precious days with someone highly creative, intelligent, charismatic, sometimes funny, who was also sometimes violent, a gaslighter, a game player, a profoundly fractured person with that fact hidden under layers of a carefully constructed persona that was beginning to crack.
Drama every day.
So there I was, on a day filled with the joyous light that comes when the sun bursts through clouds that have threatened rain.
A salty breeze coming off the ocean rippled through the leaves of the trees that lined my city street, its fresh promise completely lost on me as I lugged the laundry I could now care less about toward home.
Then, from behind me, a deep voice said,” Hey, are you Ok? “Looks like you might need help with that.”
I turned to see the guy in the business suit who had just passed me standing there, looking at me with a mildly concerned expression. I hesitated, staring at him, not sure what to do, but he seemed to grasp that maybe something else was happening that was bigger than garbage bags full of laundry.
“Here, let me help you,” he said with a smile as he strode forward and picked up all the bags effortlessly. “Where are you headed?” he asked carefully as we began to walk.
His tone was deliberately easy, the way a person talks when encountering someone who might be in some trouble, maybe about to break. ”Up there,” I said, gesturing vaguely to my apartment block just ahead.
I couldn’t look at him. His kindness had unexpectedly undone me. He made small talk, courteously pretending he didn’t see the tears that were coming, that tears I couldn’t stop. We got to the steps of my building, and I thanked him, my eyes unable to meet his. I could see he wanted to help me carry the bags to my apartment, but he didn’t ask, and to this day I can feel the way he looked at me, a look that badly wanted to ask if I needed a different kind of help, but I think he knew what I would say. He stood awkwardly as I opened the lobby door and dragged the bags inside, offering a mumbled thank you, afraid I might lose all control and fall to my knees weeping because a stranger’s small act of kindness unravelled all my defences in second.
It wasn’t just a considerate thing he had done. He unknowingly pulled me away from the abyss I was stumbling along. He was the coast guard in a storm; he was the rescue and search team in an avalanche, he was the anchored ladder down the side of the broken cliff I was clinging to, his act of kindness, the recognition in his eyes that I was not alright, profoundly shocked me. I saw myself in a stranger’s eyes. I saw a truth I hadn’t wanted to know, was trying hard not to know. I saw at that moment that this could no longer be my life. It had to stop. I needed help. I was too alone, and I was in over my head.
I’d love to say I packed up and left that same night, but I didn’t.
It took about a year before I finally broke free from the toxic enmeshment that consumed me, that fed my shame and fears, but the seed had taken hold, after that, it was only a matter of time. I don’t know who that man was, but wherever he is, I am forever grateful for whatever prompted him to turn back and ask,
” Hey, are you Ok?’