A few weeks ago, I wrote about an uplifting experience as I began to carry out my younger son’s vision of helping the homeless.
As usually happens with my life, the “awwww, that was great moment” has turned into “awwww, what the &%$* happened??!” Just like with my marriage, hindsight reveals exactly where I went wrong. Yep, I know precisely why that feel-good train jumped the track and now I’m left pinned beneath a mountain of guilt, picking off the shards of good intentions stinging my skin.
Here’s what went down…
Nine days after meeting Lynn, I got a call. They were cold, broke and needed to heat the tent I bought them. Her husband had started work, but hadn’t gotten paid yet. I went to them, my younger son came along since he was on winter break. She said they had contacted churches in the area looking for a sleeping bag, but there weren’t any (I know, that was a hint… I sidestepped several along the way.)
Anyway, after buying enough propane to heat their tent for a few days, we ended up at Wal-Mart to get her a hat to keep her ears warm. That turned into getting some hand warmers… then a sleeping bag… then a no-contract phone and a $45 one-month plan…vodka… a pack of cigarettes… and I don’t remember what else. Afterwards, I drove them to their campsite and they showed us their tent. I had already decided I wasn’t comfortable with how freely she asked for stuff. As we left, she pulled me aside and asked if I would check pawn stores for an acoustic guitar she could give her husband for Christmas.
Yeah, that was it. In that moment, the doors of the Bank of Me officially closed.
But wait, there’s more! (My life is like a ridiculous late-night infomercial.)
Two days later, she left three “urgent” voice messages asking me to come get her. They had stayed in a hotel the night before at $70 a night, they had to be out by 11am, they had no money and no one else to call. I didn’t call back, but did send her a text later in the day to let her know my aunt had passed away and I was dealing with family stuff so I couldn’t help her.
A couple days later, another message. This one, just asking about Christmas. I sent a text back (with the photo I’d taken of her and her husband) and wished her a merry Christmas and joy in 2017. I thought that was closure and the end of it because that picture was the only thing I promised her.
I was wrong. I’m getting used to being wrong.
On New Year’s Eve, she sent a text asking how I was. Again, I wished her a much better year in 2017. She thanked me, said she was praying for me, and mentioned she was cold. (Another hint). She left three voice mail messages on Monday, which I did not respond to. The last one, at almost 11pm. Then, she sent a text at 2am. Then around lunchtime on Tuesday, she send a text asking how I was. I finally responded several hours later that I was fine, but had a cold so I rested when I wasn’t working. I ended it with, “take care”. She replied that she was praying for me and trying to stay warm (ah, yes, yet another hint.)
I know you’re probably wondering why I don’t just tell her to leave me alone (my best friend sure is!) Simple… I don’t want to be mean. I have compassion for her because her life is difficult at the moment. I don’t wish anything bad to happen to her and truly hope things turn around in her life. It makes me sad if a stranger really is her only “go to”. My older son asked why I don’t just block her number. Smart boy. I’ve thought of that, but I won’t because I find human behavior fascinating, and I need to know how this plays out.
I can imagine what you must be thinking…. So you endure the harassment so you can “study” human nature? That’s like dropping a brick on your foot to see what happens. That’s twisted!
Yeah, it’s kind of messed up. But, in my defense, I don’t hide the fact I’m not normal. Not only do I find the not-so-subtle hints interesting (it’s less presumptuous to hint until someone offers rather than straight-out asking for something), I am curious about my own reactions and responses as well.
After 43 years, I know a few things about myself. Like, I will give up something so someone else doesn’t have to. Although life isn’t fair, I do my best to be fair. I will befriend someone that no one else will, because everyone should have a friend (that has bitten me in the behind more than once.) Often I do things I don’t want to because I’d rather take on something rather than burden someone else.
Do you see a trend here?
I do. And I know what happens…eventually: my toilet gets full and I have to flush it. (Ironically enough, that statement came from my ex, when talking about his mother… that’s another story for another time!)
I’m realizing that like flowers attract bees, giving invites takers. I need to know that I can be be assertive enough to communicate “I’m done” if I feel used and my hints continue to be ignored. I must find out if I can abide by my gut feeling that she’s trying to take advantage of my kindness and not cave to guilt (because I have a roof over my head).
Most of all, I have to know that I can deliver a kind but firm “no” and not apologize for it instead of allowing myself to be a dumping ground.
This experience has changed me in ways I didn’t anticipate, but that seems to be how God teaches. I will continue to keep my heart and eyes open to help those in need. However, in the future, my name will be fictitious. And, under no circumstances, will I provide my phone number (or that of any former friends).
I may not be normal, but I’m not completely stupid, either!