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.

Broke, But Not Homeless

read the last post about kurt: Broke & Homeless

It didn’t take long for Kurt to get comfortable back in his rented room on Roselawn Avenue. He kept in touch frequently, mostly by text message. I assumed he and his pregnant fiancé, Bryn had called it quits, otherwise he wouldn’t have been homeless. I expected the old happy-go-lucky Kurt would resurface now that he’d been relieved of the premarital woes that seemed to have plagued his previous tenancy.

You know how we often say, “If there’s anything you need…” ? It’s kind of meant to be congenial from a distance, like saying “good morning” to a passing stranger, or “how are you?” to the Target cashier. You don’t intend to invite an ad hoc therapy session; you’re just being polite. Most people will smile and respond with something like, “I’m fine, how are you?” and probably not even wait to hear your reply. And~if you’re like most people~you’re okay with that. And~if you’re like most people~when someone, like say, the hotel desk clerk, says, “if you need anything…” you have that special little filter that stops you from trying to bum money from her. One would think this “filter” – often referred to as a boundary- would be especially sensitive in someone who had just been given a place to stay, a little bit of cash and some basic human kindness from a relative stranger.

From the start of Kurt Take Two, it was obvious he had found his assertive side, and it was ignorant to social cues. Much like the annoying kid in the neighborhood who never knows when to go home. It seemed that providing an opportunity for Kurt to get back on his feet came with price tags of entitlement and expectations, and I had unwittingly signed up to pay the freight.

Three days after he picked up his room keys, Kurt asked me for a “loan” of $150. He fessed up to losing his dispatch job (although he didn’t say when) and said he had just interviewed with Goodyear, which was “in the bag” just as soon as his drug test came back. In the meantime, he needed to “make some quick bank” until his first check rolled in so he could pay the rent he owed me. My loan would fund car insurance and gas so he could drive for Uber, which he had done prior to dispatching limos, so he was sure that would pan out, too. And everything he made “would be going right back to [me]”. He hated to ask; I had already done so much. But, he reminded me, I did say, “if you need anything…”

“And by the way, THANK YOU!” He had just found the $50 I stashed in his donation bag of canned goods. “You didn’t have to do that!” Oh hey; was there any way we could move the bed frame out of his room and get him a second twin mattress so he and pregnant Bryn could sleep comfortably together in the one-person room he rented but hadn’t paid for? And it was cold as hell in there! Could we come by and check the vents and maybe bring him a space heater? He was heading out right then to donate plasma (he didn’t know you could DO that!) for cash, but he would graciously postpone that if there was any way that I could meet up with him right now to make my $150 donation to Uber For Kurt.

I said yes. Yes. To loaning $150 to a relative stranger. I can still remember staring at my “Yes I can” text on my phone before hitting the send arrow. I’d like to tell you that I thought long and hard, weighed the pros and cons, talked it over with Matt, and prayed about it before mindfully making the decision. But I didn’t. At the time, it honestly felt like the right thing to do, a no-brainer. We have much, Kurt had little. “Of they who are given much, much is expected.” So I said yes and The Bank of Vicki was established.

I really never questioned my decision to loan Kurt that money, which was almost exactly 11 months ago. Frankly, I had forgotten all about it until now. And while going through my notes to write this, my resounding thought has been, “What in the Hell were you thinking?”

Was it the right thing to do, a good decision? Or was it wrong? I’m still wrestling with that question, which is why it’s taken me two weeks to write less than 800 words. But I do know that one small decision set several people on a life-changing path to recovery, healing and forgiveness.

And grace. Incredible grace like I’ve never seen before.

What Happens in Vegas…

He stirred a bit to the steady hum of the air conditioner and a familiar throbbing in his head. He knew better than to open his eyes and reached blindly for the bottle on his nightstand. He was cold and wet with his own sweat, his body working hard to rid itself of the night before. No bottle. Damn.


Last night. What was last night? His head was in a fog, his mouth like a cotton field in a dry, hot summer. Forcing his eyes to open, he tried to focus on the kaleidoscope of unfamiliar surroundings: a ceiling fan torturing his already dizzied head; a sky light slicing through his throbbing temples. Black stilettos on the floor, red ones, too; their respective owners tangled together beside him. Shit.

His last solid recollection was of working. He had ridden with John for the Tuesday Broker Tour, they stopped for drinks. Slowly he turned to find a clock, squinting until the numbers came into focus. It was 12:37; Wednesday afternoon.


He sat up too quickly and felt the tidal wave of nausea in his stomach. Hair of the dog, hair of the dog. His regular morning mantra. With mounting desperation he stumbled toward the door in front of him. Closet. Before he could turn around, the wave in his stomach rose to his throat and splashed onto a pile of women’s shoes. Where in the hell was he? Wiping his arm across his mouth, he turned back toward the bed where the Stiletto Twins were beginning to stir. He weaved a path to a collection of bottles across the room, then leaned against the dresser and into the bottom of a Bombay bottle, barely enough to steady his gaze. He slid down the dresser, knees to elbows, and rested his head in his hands. His phone; shit.


He found his clothes in a pile on the floor, his phone nearby, plugged into the wall and fully charged. Thirty-eight text messages and 17 missed calls shifted his brain into high gear and his fingers began to scroll. By the time he finished he had learned it wasn’t Wednesday after all. It was Sunday afternoon and he had lost three and a half days.


He looked around for something familiar and found nothing. Not even the Stiletto Twins rang a bell. He gathered his clothes from the floor and eased his way through the bedroom door and down a hallway to the bathroom. After dressing, he splashed his face with cold water and helped himself to the Listerine near the sink. He swished and gargled, then swallowed a few swigs, hoping to steady his hands.


Further down the hall he found the kitchen, littered with empty bottles and the sweet stench of liquor and faint perfume. A dusty mirror displayed the residue of last night’s score. He wiped it clean with his index finger and rubbed it into his gums as he slid a rolled up twenty into his pocket. He found two beers in the refrigerator and sifted through some mail on the counter. He didn’t recognize the female name or the address of an apartment in Spring Valley. He was thirty minutes from home. Lovely.


He took a last look around then squeezed through the sliding glass door into the desert sauna of mid-afternoon. He didn’t know where he was going but he sure hoped there was a liquor store along the way.

Meeting “Chase”

It was obvious from the beginning; what she showed on the outside didn’t mesh well with her internal demons. She tried to appear sweet, and motherly and could even be fairly well-spoken; but her hardness had its way of shining through. She wore it like a badge that she wanted simultaneously to hide and shove hard in your face.

She was conflicted; had been for as long as she could remember. Never feeling capable of being who she should be, she became someone she hated. But now she embraced it, clung to it even, like a child holds onto her favorite blanket. It worked for her, most of the time, allowing her to keep at bay those who were capable of breaking through that nasty, hardened shell to touch the little girl heart she hid so well from the world. The same heart she couldn’t quite hide from herself; until she met Chase.

She didn’t really want to go to the bonfire that night, but she was dragged along by her sister. They were Jen’s friends and Bryn knew how it would go; Jen would be the center of attention and life of the party and Bryn would be left by herself, as usual. But she had nothing better to do and Jen was relentlessly begging. She pulled her hair into a loose ponytail, grabbed a hoodie off the floor and snatched the car keys from Jen’s hand. “I’m driving,” she said, knowing there’d be no argument.

She didn’t mind being at the party, once they got there. Jen’s friends were nice and they seemed genuinely happy that she was there. But after 20 minutes, Bryn grew tired of the conversation and wandered off to smoke a cigarette. It was a new habit for her, a self-declared right of passage that had come with getting her driver’s license that summer. She enjoyed it from the start, unlike most kids her age; didn’t even cough much when she learned to inhale.

She was nursing the burn on her hand when she noticed him approaching. He held out a beer and she shook her head, “No thanks.” With a knowing smile he replied, “It’s for your hand, silly.” He pulled her right hand into his and gently placed the cold can against it. “You know, I can show you how to flick a cigarette without burning yourself.” He had been watching her.

He was handsome and rugged, like Jax from Sons of Anarchy. His dirty blond hair was cut short at the sides, with a perfectly messy spike above blue eyes that seemed to know too much. He wore a diamond stud in his right ear, a smaller one on his chin, almost hidden in a short, thick stubble. Manly and boyish at once, mischievously smiling at her, tipping his head in an attempt to see her eyes. And when he did, he seemed to look right through to her soul; to her heart. Her little girl heart.

Eventually, he would give her the greatest gift of her life. And then he would nearly destroy them both.

Broke and Homeless

Christmas came and went without a peep from Kurt. Not even a card. Or a demeaning text meant for someone else. Assuming he was busy embracing impending fatherhood, I had pretty much forgotten all about him.

January in Ohio can be a tough time for filling vacant rentals. Those who haven’t spent every last dime on Christmas generally don’t want to move in the bitter cold and snow. Anyone who wants to is likely being evicted. Having a handful of vacant units to fill, I jumped into action when Kurt reached out on January 8. He was sleeping in his car and wanted to move in that night. He had $20 to his name, he said. At the time, we only had unfurnished rooms available. It was late in the evening and bitter cold outside, so I offered him an air mattress and told him he could come pick up the keys. I threw some spare sheets and blankets into the washer and waited for Kurt to respond, which he did…six days later. It must have been fate; by then we had another tenant who pulled a Kurt, moving out without notice from a furnished room at Roselawn. I asked him, “When do you want to pick up the keys?” Once again, I waited.

Most people would be irritated at this point. But I had a feeling there was more going on with Kurt; I was thinking mental illness and I was concerned for him and for his pregnant girlfriend. If my hunch was right, they needed some time apart. I tend to overthink. I also tend to think I can save the world, or at least some of us who live in it. So I reached out to Kurt the next day around 11:00 am. To my surprise, he said his girlfriend’s parents were helping them look for houses to rent so they could “live together as a family”. Great! I was encouraged to know he and his girlfriend had the support of her family; it gave Kurt and his situation some credibility in my eyes. But by 5:00 that evening, things had, once again…changed. His girlfriend and her parents had a “blow up argument” he said. They were staying with her sister for the night. He threw in that he was “broke” (again) but assured me he had a roof over his head, at least temporarily. Very temporarily, I learned the next day, when–you guessed it–Kurt was again ready to move back in.

This is where things got messy(er). Whether it was from my desire to help a soul in need, or simple desperation to fill a vacant unit (or maybe just be done with this), I’m still not clear. But I bent “The Rules”. I did not run a new background check and I did not verify his employment or income when he told me he was still working at the limo company. Had I done those things, I would have found that he’d been fired from that job in November; right around the time he made his split-second departure from Roselawn. Carelessly, I rented a unit to a tenant with no income and agreed to let him pay the rent and deposit later. When he got paid from the job that I didn’t know he no longer had. Lesson learned. Well, eventually.

Kurt had little money and apparently only the clothes in his car. So, along with his keys, I left a bag on my porch with some canned goods and pasta and a few warm blankets. And $50 of Christmas cash I’d been hoarding. Because I had everything I could ever need and more, and he was just down on his luck.

Perhaps it wasn’t so coincidental that a few days after moving back in to Roselawn, Kurt lost his job. At least that’s what he told me when, instead of contacting me as promised to make payment, he texted me asking to borrow money.