I have a very hard time taking a vacation. I know this goes back to my childhood where money was tight and taking six kids anywhere rarely happened. My only memory of going on a trip was when we all piled into the station wagon to drive to LaCrosse, Wisconsin so Dad could see his old Navy buddy. They were a family of six as well - all boys. For my sisters and me it was nine boys and a weekend of misery.
Mark was brought up going to Michigan for two weeks every summer for fishing and swimming. He has very fond memories of those trips and is more than willing to get in the car or on a plane in the middle of summer. It has been hard to mesh these two different ingrained experiences when it comes to getting away so it is a BIG deal when we go somewhere.
It was seven years ago that we threw caution to the wind and decided to go to Florida. I got on a house rental site and picked a place in Seagrove. We drove and stocked the kitchen with food upon our arrival so that we wouldn't be eating out all the time. The house was perfect. It had a huge kitchen that was a joy to cook in. The wrap-around porch had an outdoor table and chairs and we ate all of our meals there. We walked to the beach every morning, would come home for lunch and then go back again later in the afternoon. The kids would stop at the neighborhood pool on the way back and Mark and I would start dinner. It was a perfect vacation for us.
While all of this was in the planning stages, I was working with someone who was going through a very bad breakup with a partner who was emotionally abusive. I had a front row seat to witness what many women go through when they decide to walk away from someone like that and it rattled me to my core. The absurdity of the common question of "why doesn't she just leave" became very clear to me. It is never that easy. Many times this woman and I worked together until close on Friday and so she would come home with me and have dinner with us. Mark and I were very worried about her and protective of her fragile situation.
While I was excited and looking forward to our trip to Florida I was also feeling guilty about this wonderful opportunity in the midst of the suffering of someone I cared so much about. Besides the constant emotional abuse she was under she was also in some dire financial straits. Mark and I discussed it and decided to write her a check to help her out. On the day before I left I wrote her a note telling her that despite what she was now hearing from someone who used to be an important part of her life, she was truly, deeply loved by all of us at the store. That even on her worst days her light shined brightly. I told no one at work and put the note and check in an envelope and clipped it to her time card.
My note made clear that the money was a gift and any intention she had of paying us back was never our intent. I felt instant relief once I took care of that - as if it was finally okay for me to enjoy the beach with my family.
By the time we got back there was a letter in the mail from her thanking us and saying that she used the money to hire an attorney to see what her rights were.
My return to work was on a Saturday morning where she and I were opening the store. I was running late and she was already there and counting the drawer when I arrived. We both cried when we saw each other and when the owner arrived he asked what in the heck was going on. "We missed each other," I said. "A lot."
We would work on and off again in other places as the years went by - always connected through the retail world of women's clothing. Not a single time did we ever discuss what was attached to her time card that summer day.
One day she called me and asked me to help her with some furniture in her and her roommate's house. "I want to pay you," she said.
"You know that I love doing this and I don't want you to pay me," I said.
"Then I'll pay you in wine," she said and the next night I went to her house.
I listened to them as they told me what was not working for them and we ended up doing a massive room move late into the night. I suggested that they live with it for a few days to see if they liked the changes and that I would come back and help them rearrange it again if it wasn't what they wanted.
The next day I went to work. A few hours into my shift I decided to get some coffee and went into the back room to get my wallet. When I opened my purse there was a huge wad of cash. Too many fifties to comprehend and my heart started pounding.
Honest to God I thought it was drug money that had been planted in my purse. I didn't even want to touch it.
Where had this come from?
I went to the owner of the business I was working for and asked her if she had given me a bonus.
"A bonus? Are you kidding? Have you noticed how slow it's been?"
Right. What was I thinking? She was the one who had given me a $5.00 Applebee's gift card when I had my one year anniversary so it was definitely not her.
"There is hundreds of dollars in my purse and I don't know how it got there."
"Maybe it was from Mark," she said.
"We never have cash on us and if either one of us had this much we would say something. It was just there when I opened my purse."
It was like an Agatha Christie mystery and we churned over the possibilities all afternoon. Finally my boss asked, "Did you leave your purse somewhere that somebody could have put the money in without you knowing?"
"No. I went to a friend's house last night to help her move some furniture. It was by the fireplace all night and........ Yes. Oh. Yes. Oh my gosh."
When I got home from work I called my benefactor. "Were you the fairy godmother in my life last night?" I asked.
"I was.....just like you were to me a few years ago. I added a little interest. Now you and Mark need to do something fun with it."
It was an unexpected and wonderful surprise as the check we had written to her had long been forgotten.
This dear coworker and friend moved west awhile ago. Every so often I'll think of of those troubled days that taught me so much about the hand that some women are dealt and the quick judgement we pass when we know so little. The same judgement I made before I was a witness to the damage.
I'd like to think that her new start brought her a good-looking cowboy that came with so much abundant love and kindness that it made her forget her past.
A cowboy that knew how to lasso the moon.
She would love that.