Finding “A Lady What Has Kids With Her”

read the previous post about landon (below)

Landon took one more look out the window and then sank to his bottom, deflated. He was really, really hoping that Mom was out there now, even though he was really sad at her. He was always sad at her cuz she said stuff that she didn’t do all the time. Like today, how it was posta be fun and then it didn’t. It wasn’t being fun today at all.

He climbed down from the box by the window and looked around the tiny motel room. His mom wasn’t here and he wasn’t supposed to be alone. His heart was beeping big. Maybe he should go find somebody, a big person. What did Gramma always say? When you’re lost find a lady what has kids with her.

He creeped real quiet to the big door that goes outside and listened; it was really quiet. Slowly he turned the handle. It wasn’t as hard as he thought it would be, but the door was kinda heavy. He held on with both hands and pulled as hard as he could, shuffling his tiny feet backwards inch by inch and one by one. He slid in front of the door and onto the sidewalk. The concrete was warm on his toes, the last remnants of yesterday’s heat. It was big and dark outside and spooky quiet; then swoosh-CLICK, the door closed behind him and his heart beep got bigger. But the air smelled fresh and warm; he began to calm. He pressed his back to the door and stood for a moment, catching his breath. He could see the plastic playhouse in the light from the parking lot, and beside it, a big white truck with a giant bucket. And a dump truck! With a giant dirt mountain! I know what thems are for, oh boy!

Forgetting his plight for a moment, Landon pattered across the sidewalk toward the parking lot and the big trucks. His eyes were fixed on the dirt mountain as it beckoned him to play. At a sharp stab to his heel, he jumped back, hopping and then sinking quickly back to safety on the sidewalk . Owie, owie, owie. Tears stung his eyes as he pulled his foot to his lap and groaned. I know it’s blood, I know it’s blood, owie,owie, owie! His eyes moved from the mean gravel parking lot back to the motel building. There were lots of doors now, all the same with chipped blue paint and numbers way up high. His face was sweaty; he was getting hot and the bugs were buzzing him. He liked the crickets, but only in daytime when he could see ’em not just hear ’em. And it was really big dark out here.

The doors; which one was Mom in? Maybe Mom went home to Gramma. Or maybe she went home to Dad. It was hard to pick which home, there were lots of them and they always changed. That’s how come Gramma’s house is where I live. His foot was throbbing now and he knew it had blood but he was scared to look. Hopeless, he began to whimper as he rocked onto his knees and then gently stood, trying his best to be brave.

He hobbled to the closest door and knocked timidly. One, two, three, four. Same as his age. Turning his head, he waited, listening. It was quiet except for the humming box. And his beeping heart. With growing fear, Landon moved on to the next door. Tiny knuckles tapped the door; one, two, three, four. Again, nothing. His sobs consumed him as he ran to the next door. Clenching his fists, he pounded the door, screaming, “Gramma, help me! Gramma! Gramma! I’m SCARED! GRAMMA, PLEASE!

He nearly fell as the door opened to a pair of big hairy legs and plaid boxers. Landon caught his balance with a startled step back, then tilted his head up, his eyes following the boxers past a big bare belly to land on a big gray beard; he froze. Before he could inch away, the big gray beard shifted, revealing a very sleepy face with some very angry eyes. That’s not a lady what has kids with her.

Landon took another step back as the man came toward him, out the door and onto the sidewalk. He watched, paralyzed with fear. As the man quickly realized he’d been awakened by a frightened little boy, his eyes softened and concern took over his face. He bent to one knee, reaching out a tanned and calloused hand. His voice was raspy; in almost a whisper he said, “Hey, hey, hey little dude. It’s okay. You lost? Need some help?”

Landon hesitated and tugged at his pajama top, his shoulders slumping forward. He liked the way the man smelled, like cigarettes and the man soap his Grampa used. And his eyes were nice now; they were shiny bright blue with a twinkle that made it seem like he was laughing even when he wasn’t. But Landon wasn’t sure; his Gramma always said to find a lady. A lady what has kids. He looked from side to side but there was no one else around. He tried to peek past the man to see inside his room; maybe there’s a lady what has kids in there. Exhausted and tired, he burst into tears and slowly backed away.

Before he could run, he was snatched into the crook of an arm, like a tiny car attaching to a crane. Kicking and screaming, Landon began to fight for his life.

Winner Winner, Booze For Dinner

He stared at the house as he backed out of the driveway. It was huge. Nothing extravagant compared to the rest of the neighborhood, but still impressive. Plain white colonial, absent stone or brick. Had to be 4,000 square feet. He watched her close the front door as he shifted into drive and eased up the street.

He couldn’t figure this chick out, his Landlord. She was nice, always had been. Married to an ex-cop who didn’t take shit from nobody. He’d seen the guy toss a brat college kid and his mommy out of a rented room when they challenged him over parking in the driveway. Kurt chuckled to himself at the memory. They blocked his car in once and then left together in another vehicle. Assholes. So he called the Lady Landlord and she sent hubby out. Watching from his second story room, he could hear most of it through the open window. Mommy said something about Hubby Landlord being bitter because he wasn’t successful. Then a barreling voice said, “You know, it’s just time for you to go. Start packing. I’ll be back with a 30 Day Notice.” The Big Guy didn’t stop to listen to another word, just slid into his truck and drove off. By the time Kurt got back from the gas station there was a notice taped to their door.

The Big Guy made Kurt nervous. He was nice enough, but intimidating, partly because of his size. But it was his eyes–they seemed to take in every detail, like he knew way more than he let on–that really made Kurt keep a low profile. That’s why he always went to Lady Landlord. She was pretty clueless, but likable, with her squinty smile and nervous chatter, always wanting to keep the peace.

He had rented from them before, a few months back. Until Bryn got pregnant and was able to convince her parents to rent her a house out near them. But Kurt wasn’t supposed to be living there. When the septic tank backed up and left a foot of raw sewage water in their basement, Bryn called her Dad, who saw the obvious signs of Kurt living there, and her parents threw a fit. The sewage problem was enough to get her parents out of the lease and leave him homeless. Again.

But Lady Landlord came through for him with a room back in his old place. That’s when he really started to see how crazy she was. He told her upfront he couldn’t pay her anything for a week and she agreed to make him a personal loan. He almost felt bad about lying to her. Thank God she didn’t check like she said she would. Once he was back in the place, he fessed up to being fired from the limo company. She didn’t need to know it happened months before, back when he moved out the last time. Her fault for not checking.

He turned left onto the main road, passing the club house, then took another left back into the neighborhood. The back of the clubhouse opened up to a patio looking out over the golf course. On the other side of the fairway stood an all-brick monstrosity with a rambling, multi-tiered deck winding down to an in-ground pool. He drifted back to Vegas, when he was selling real estate. He’d been so close, clearing $140,000 in commission his last year. He still owed the IRS for the taxes. He felt a churning in his stomach, sweat on the back of his neck. Instinctively, he reached for his travel mug. It was light; he’d drained the last of it as he pulled up to Lady Landlord’s house, the whole reason he ended up in this neighborhood to begin with. He turned around in a cul-de-sac and headed back to the main road, toward the grocery store he saw on the way. Screw the big, fat brick house.

He still couldn’t believe how easily she handed over $150. He shouldn’t have been surprised, really. Afterall, she basically gave him a room for free. Not to mention the bag of food and $50 cash he hadn’t even asked for. It was around that time that he started to feel better about having to move back into that shitbox of a room in Akron. All because of Bryn’s freaking parents. And Bryn. She was sucking every dime out of him, constantly whining about being sick. Dope sick, maybe. Stupid bitch.

His mood lifted as he pulled into the grocery store and saw the big old sign on the building: State Liquor Agency. For the first time in a long time, he’d be able to get a decent drink. He was sick of watered down gas station booze. He’d rather chug mouthwash, and sometimes did.

He had told Bryn he was getting $100 today, which left $50 she didn’t know about. And Lady Landlord had surprised him again with $50 to Olive Garden. He thought he’d gone too far, venting to her about how sick and nasty sick Bryn was. But then she handed him the gift card. “Take her out for a Date Night.” He was barely able to contain himself. This lady didn’t stop! Not that he was complaining.

He left the little liquor store that was inside the grocery store with a couple bottles of 80 proof vodka in a plain brown grocery bag, stapled shut with a receipt attached. Not your average gas station score, that’s for sure. He was thinking about ripping it open on his way past the registers, when a green and yellow sign caught his eye:

Instantly Exchange Gift Cards For Cash.

Jackpot. He dodged a lady with two kids hanging off a cart full of groceries as he headed for the machine. He scanned the screen, followed the prompts and printed a receipt, which he immediately took to the Customer Service Desk for his $35.

Screw Bryn’s date night. This was just like winning slots in Vegas.

Flipping Switches

The more interaction I had with Kurt, the more I wondered about his story. I was beginning to realize that my initial impressions were off, many of them by miles. I remember commenting to Matt that Kurt “just seems like such a nice a kid.” To which my astute husband replied, “You do realize that guy’s 38 years old?”

Okay, so I’m not the most observant person in Summit County. In my own defense, I do tend to create images of people based on their application data and background check. Kurt first applied for a room with us in 2018 and I didn’t meet him until he came to get his keys. Any information I had before that came from the rental application…that he completed. And I did not look at his date of birth.

On paper, I saw a guy who was earning a reasonable income driving for Uber with a more than decent little Kia, no criminal or eviction history and only one speeding ticket, ever. His current address was local, and prior to that, he’d lived in Vegas. His emergency contact was a cousin who lived in our area. His car told me he was responsible enough to make payments, his squeaky clean background said he was too young to have made much trouble yet, and his emergency contact indicated he had no spouse or parents in the area. In my head, I made him a twenty-something guy who had fled from Vegas to Ohio, where his cousin lived. Perhaps he was exchanging the party life for a simpler one, and maybe a few classes at Akron U. It was a responsible decision for a young man.

Even I can do a bit of basic math (just not in my head) and things weren’t quite adding up between the Kurt I had created and the Kurt I was now getting to know. Driving for Uber can be great for someone working toward more (like an education) but he wasn’t. And the on-again-off-again thing with Bryn was junior high level lust at best. Not to mention he was borrowing money from his Landlord. (Where was this Emergency Contact Cousin?) There had to be more to this man’s story. So when he came to collect his loan proceeds, I gave him a cigarette and got to picking his brain a bit.

I started with Bryn and their love-hate relationship. His recent texts had been riddled with snippets of a self-centered nag who did nothing but bring him down, so I half expected him to tell me they had–yet again–parted ways. I was surprised when Kurt said they’d been together for two years. Their baby was due in June and they were planning to get married as soon as he got back on his feet. With a child-like grin on his face, he pulled out his phone to show a picture of a frumpy, plump faced girl with thick, brownish hair piled on top her head in a ponytail loop. Not even close to the image I had conjured. (She wasn’t blonde and she was not petite). If I hadn’t known she was pregnant, I would have judged her as overweight. She was caught off guard by the picture, a bulky men’s hoodie unfairly adding to her size. Her eyes held years beyond her age, but there were hints of pretty peeking through them.

Kurt said she lived with her parents (so how old was she?) about 40 minutes away. She’d been sick throughout her four months of pregnancy and wasn’t able to work. (So they both had no income.) Her parents were assholes, he said. Despite having the financial means, they offered no help.

But she was living with them...
And hadn't they just been looking at houses to rent?  

Well yes, but then that whole “blow up argument” thing happened and Bryn’s “pill-popping” mother had physically come at her with accusations that she tried to take money from her purse. He said, “Her parents treat her like shit.” Like the flip of a switch, his face scowled and his chest raised a bit, as he spewed details of how they “do everything” for their other kids but “Bryn gets nothing. She has nothing for the baby and no one will even have a shower for her. Her parents can go fuck themselves.” This was not the talk of a 38 year old man. Then his whole demeanor flipped again. And again, it was like a switch. It was as if he suddenly remembered who his audience was and realized he’d been giving the wrong speech.

These ‘flipping switches’ were a pattern for Kurt, but it would be months before I could recognize it. In the meantime, I bought into everything he said and continued to see him as the sweet, innocent ‘kid’ I had concocted in my head. If I was questioning anything at this point, it was about Bryn. Kurt’s ‘flipping switches’ and nasty rants–about Bryn one minute, and the familial injustices they suffered the next–were red flags. And I rushed right by them to pass judgment on Bryn by deciding she must be the source of Kurt’s problems.

I still can’t define the sense of allegiance I felt toward helping Kurt and, eventually Bryn and their baby. At the time, I was so clearly being led by God to be a light and an example; to give something back in a pay-it-forward sort of way, that I virtually never questioned any of my decisions. Everything I did–physically, financially, emotionally–it all felt like it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. They were in great need and God had blessed me with the time, resources and financial means to meet most of that need. If I didn’t do it, who would? I never stopped to think about why they were in that position to begin with.

Instead, I worked diligently to avoid seeing what I didn’t want to see. And not just about Kurt; but about myself, and my priorities, and my own unhealthy boundaries. But mostly about my drinking. When it was finally clear that Kurt had a deeper problem, it never crossed my mind that alcohol was the source. Not once, until someone else brought it up. And even then, I discarded the thought. I would know if he had a drinking problem.

I would know…Because I had one, too.