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Steve’s contacts came in handy, and I fell into a job within a few weeks, working again for a women’s assistance center, where they counseled victims of abuse, and provided short-term housing for emergency cases.
I understood I got the job only because someone else had burned out and left them in the lurch, but I didn’t care. At least I was independent, if only barely.
My father sent me a couple of checks, I’ll give him credit for that, helping with the legal bills, although he never would talk about it. Mom seemed to think it was just a matter of time before I came to my senses and begged Dale to take me back.
Not in this lifetime.
I found an apartment in an iffy neighborhood of Oakland, not too far from my job. It was dreary but cheap, and I fell into a kind of unconvincing mantra telling myself all the things I could do to make it livable if I ever got my act together. I was a little freaked out about safety, but my colleagues seemed so fearless I was determined not to let my own fear show.
I’d worked in the women’s shelter in Boulder. I told myself I was experienced. I knew all about legal and legislative issues. I was a fighter for women’s rights. I thought I knew what I was doing.
This was nothing like Boulder, where the average citizen has at least a bachelor’s degree. This was a working class neighborhood, lots of gang activity, and the center was underfunded and grimy. I’d never had to deal with the day-to-day realities of budgets and funding and community relations.
And one more thing. When I’d worked in Boulder, I’d had no idea what it was like to actually experience abuse.
Now I did, and I found myself a tangle of emotions, completely losing my objectivity, sometimes in empathy that kept me awake nights, sometimes in projected self-loathing that made empathy almost impossible.
I dragged myself home at night, barely managing to keep my little fridge stocked with milk and bread and peanut butter.
And yet, I adapted. It took about six months, but I slowly began to feel like I had my feet on the ground. I made friends, mostly with other staffers, who were as wounded as I was, for the most part. The one exception was Patty, who somehow seemed to keep perspective in the worst situations, whose basic kindness shone through no matter what was going down.
I was highly suspicious of her.
Yes, I was just getting my feet on the ground, all right. Then Mom called, in total, tearful disbelief, to tell me Dad had left her for a woman practically my age.
There was only the one sheepish call from Dad after that, awkwardly inviting me to come visit “them” for the holidays.
I was just learning how to brace myself for Mom’s suddenly incessant calls, always the same complaints, the same tears, always pleading for me to fix things with Dad. Her calls left me depressed and heartsick and lonely.
So when the phone rang one Saturday evening, my stomach clenched instantly at the sound of Mom’s voice, and it took me a moment to actually hear what she was saying.
There’d been an accident. Dad’s new Porsche had spun out on a slick road, and wrapped around a utility pole. The girlfriend was driving. She died instantly. Dad, thrown free, didn’t make it as far as the hospital.
All I could think of was how happy Dad had sounded when he bought that car, just before he walked out on Mom. All I could think of was that tone of optimism and possibility in his voice, a tone that had come across so vibrantly on the phone. I remembered what I’d thought at the time, that I hadn’t heard him sound that happy in years. I remembered how I’d listened to him, with a snide kind of condescension, the kind children often feel for their parents, I guess, chalking it up to some stereotypical mid-life crisis.
And yet, I’d said goodbye to him, hung up the phone, and thought a long time about how my father could be so happy, when my life was so damned hard.
I apologize, reader, if I’ve thrown too many facts at you too quickly. It may already seem like more than enough traumas for one lifetime. It certainly seemed that way to me at the time. The greater truth was that the Unseen Hand was shoving me along at something like the speed of light. Like I was some super-hero moving at twice as fast as everyone else, except my speedy superpowers just seemed to mean that I slammed into the inevitable walls with twice as big a splat.
But stay with me. We’re just getting started.