The Kindness of Strangers

“Stop! Stop! What are you doing? Have you lost it completely? This is a 25 mph zone and it’s RAINING hard! Can you even see anything?!”He put his foot down even harder on the gas pedal. “Why do you do this to me? You make me do these things. If you want out, get out.” He reached around her, fumbling for the door handle. She was sure he’d push her out. She slammed down the lock and blocked the handle with her arm.

“What did I do?” she sobbed.

“Looking at that guy the way you did. I saw you. You think I didn’t see you?”

“You’re completely crazy. There’s a red light! Rico!!!!! OH MY GOD!” she closed her eyes, tight together. If they were doomed, they were doomed. Rico slammed his foot on the brake just in time to avoid colliding with a red pickup.”This is it,” she thought, and opened her door. Before he could reach across the seat to grab her arm she was out and running across the street to the fast-food noodle joint that had opened a week before where the taco shop had been after the Denny’s closed. The light turned green. Horns honked at Rico. He drove off. Megan knew it was five blocks before Rico would have a chance to turn around. “Good,” she thought. “I’m going to do what I should’ve done a long time ago.” She went to the payphone in front of the noodle shop and called the police, gave them Rico’s license plate number and told them he was harassing her, threatening her with physical harm.

“Not much we can do, lady, unless we’re there when it happens. Do you have somewhere to go? Do you live with this guy?”

“No, no, I have a place of my own, but I’m afraid to go there.”

“Any friends you can stay with? A motel?”

She looked around. All there was in the area was La Petit Rouge and everyone knew what THAT was. “I don’t want to stay around here. He’ll be back. He’ll be back any minute and I’m scared.”

“Tell you what, I’m sending a squad car over to your location. They’ll take you somewhere. Will that work?”

“Oh. Thank you, thank you.”

“They should be there now.”

“I see them.”

“Stay safe. If you’re afraid of that guy, stay away from him. Don’t go back to him like most women do. Make tomorrow a new day, OK?”

“OK,” she had started to cry. Kindness at this moment was so sweet, so surprising, it hurt.

“Ma’am?” said the young, Hispanic policeman. “Are you all right?”

“I am. I’m OK.”

“Get in. He’ll be back, you said?”

“If I know him. Any minute.” She looked up and saw his black Honda coming slowly down the street. He was looking for her. “That’s him,” she said, pointing up the street, half a block away.

“All right. Hurry.” She got in back of the squad car. The policeman drove a circuitous route ending up behind the Honda. He was checking to see if the driver had seen the girl. “He didn’t see you,” said the cop. “Good. C’mon. I’m taking you to the station. You can spend the night there. You’ll be safe, but it isn’t plush.”

“That’s OK. I don’t know where to go and I only have $3.00.”

“Tomorrow you go to family court — it’s in the same building — and you get a restraining order, OK? Then someone will drive you home.”

All the things she had known she should do but had not wanted to do. “All he had to do was trust me,” she said, under her breath.

“Some guys can’t do that, miss.”

“I guess not.”

Megan spent the night on a bench in the police station. The sun was just up when she was awakened by Doris, a female police officer, saying, “You want some coffee, honey?” Megan shook sleep from her mind and nodded.”It’s a beautiful day,” said the police officer. “ The rain is gone. It’s a little chilly, one of those crisp bright mornings that makes you glad to be alive. You want sugar in that?”

“Yeah, please.”

“Officer Lamont will be back soon with doughnuts. See? We really do eat donuts.” The officer grinned. “I’m supposed to take you down to family court as soon as they open. That’ll be in about 20 minutes. You want to wash up after you have your coffee?”Megan nodded. “I’ll lend you my gym bag. I have everything in there, soap, face cream.”

Megan began to cry.

“Oh honey. You don’t have anything to cry about now. You’re safe.”

“It isn’t that. You’re so nice to me. What did I do to deserve that?”

“What didn’t you do? You ain’t in jail. We didn’t pick you up for shop lifting or worse. You just got a bad boyfriend. That’s no crime. Go back to him? That’s a crime.”

“What do I do in family court?”

“You get yourself a restraining order. Ah, here’s officer Lamont. Did you get me a jelly doughnut ?”

“As always, Sweet Cheeks,” said Officer Lamont, opening the box. “Help yourself. So you’re our roommate,” he said to Megan. “Have a doughnut.” Megan reached for one of the glazed doughnuts in front. “Take two,” said officer Lamont.

“No, no, this is fine.” The two officers went about their routines of starting their morning. Megan ate her doughnut and drank her coffee. “Here I am, spent the night in the police station and now? I’m going to clean up and go to court and get a restraining order. Wow. How did it ever come to this?” 

“Here you go, Megan,” said the female police officer. “ The Ladies is just down the hall.”

Megan took the officer’s little duffle bag. Once in the ladies’ room she was overcome by everything that had happened over the past few months. It had started out as a great love, or she thought. They seemed to share everything. Every idea, belief, dreams, everything. She’d never felt so close to another person. And their sex! It seemed their souls melted together in those moments. “Stop it. If it had been that great, you wouldn’t be here now. This isn’t where relationships are supposed to end up. You JUST slept on a bench in a police station!” She shook her head to resist illusion, to accept the moment in which she was living.

“Are you ready? They’re open for business over there.” Megan nodded.”I have the report from last night. Here we go. Hi Sharon. This young lady is Megan. We brought her in last night for her safety. She’s got a bad boyfriend and wants a restraining order. Here’s our report.”

“Hi Megan. Sorry to hear that.”

“I’m going back over,” said the police woman. “ Don’t you worry, Megan honey, Sharon will see you’re set, and when you’re ready to go home, she’ll call us. One of us will take you home and make sure everything is OK.”

“OK, Megan. First I need to know. Has he ever hit you?”

Megan wondered about that. Why is physical violence the determiner for abuse? There are other ways to hurt people. “No. He’s never hit me.”

“Do you think he could?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you afraid of him?”

“Yes.” Megan began to cry.

“OK, then. A restraining order will not keep him away from you, but it does make it a crime for him to come within 20 feet or 50 feet or 100 feet of you — you decide that. You don’t work with him, do you?”

“No.”

“So there’s no reason for any proximity, right? You’re not stuck in a situation where he has to be near you.”

“No.”

“100 feet, then. What this means is if you see him near your house or anywhere you are known to be — work, school — you call the police immediately. If they catch him, and he’s within 100 feet, he’s arrested. But you must call. Otherwise, it’s just another piece of paper. Lots of women never call. I don’t know why — they’re too afraid of the guy or they don’t want him to get in trouble. Love is madness, I swear. Anyway, now that you’ve filled this out, I’ll got get the judge to sign it. Why don’t you look at these pictures until I get back?” Sharon handed Megan a notebook in which there were large glossy photos of women who’d been beaten to death by their husbands and boyfriends. There were even pictures of men who’d been hurt by their wives and girlfriends. After four or five pictures, Megan couldn’t look at any more.”This is to scare me,” she thought to herself.” It worked.

“OK. All done. Here’s your copy. Here’s a copy for the guys next door in the cop shop and one for our files. It’s a court order. The sheriff will serve it on this guy at the address you gave us. That doesn’t mean the guy will take it or the sheriff will find him. It doesn’t reduce the effectiveness of the order. It’s just to inform — and warn — your EX-boyfriend that coming near you is a crime, OK? It doesn’t mean you won’t see him again. Remember. It’s up to you now to make the call if he comes around. Keep your phone on you — you have one, right?”

“Oh my god,” she said, “I left it in Rico’s car. That’s why I had to use the pay phone last night.”

“Use the phone on that desk over there and call your cell phone company and tell them you lost your phone. You don’t want anything going to it, OK? Then get a new one. You have a land line at home?”

“No.”

“Trish? Could you set Megan here up with a cell phone?” The office assistant nodded and went to a locked cabinet and brought out a box of pay-as-you go phones. When Megan finished her call, Sharon brought a phone over to her. “This will take care of you until you get a replacement. Are you set? You know what to do?”

“I do.” Megan’s voice was shaky, but inside she felt like she might just make it.

“You have our number and now you know how to call us.”

Megan nodded. 

“Your ride is waiting,” Sharon nodded at the front window of the family court where Doris sat behind the wheel. A young officer sat beside her.

Megan went out to the car. The young officer hopped out and held the door for her. 

“This is soon-to-be-officer Howard. He’s riding with me today,” said Doris. 

They drove to the address Megan had given them. 

“You want us to come up with you?” Doris looked at the 1950’s three story apartment building not far from the community college.

“Yes.” Megan’s stomach flip-flopped. Rico could be waiting in the hallway, on the stairs, even in her apartment.

“Does he have a key, Megan?” asked Officer-To-Be Howard.

“Yes,” she whispered. 

“Oh honey,” sighed Doris. “Which apartment. We’ll go up. You stay in the car.”

Suddenly Megan understood just how serious the situation was. She didn’t want Officer Doris or Soon-To-Be-Officer Howard going up there. She realized that she had no idea what Rico would do. She realized she didn’t know Rico at all. 

“No,” she said. “I’ll go.”

“We’ll go with you,” said Doris. 

“You know how many officers are killed in domestic things like this?” asked Soon-to-be-Officer Howard.

“That’s not something we talk about in front of a victim,” said Doris sharply. “She didn’t ask to be in this situation.”

Megan began to cry. 

“Don’t cry, honey. Just take out your phone and be ready to use it. Rookie Howard here and I will be ready to use what we have. 

Soon-to-be-Officer Howard opened the door. Doris went in first, then Megan and he came in behind. Megan held her phone with her thumb ready to hit 911 if she had to. Doris had her gun drawn. They climbed the stairs. The smells of last night’s dinner filled the hallway. Someone had had friend onions. 

“That takes me back,” said Doris. “Third floor, honey?”

“Yes.” Megan held her breath as they went up the last flight of stairs only to find Rico sleeping in front of her door. 

“I thought you said he had a key,” whispered Doris.

“He does.”

“Why didn’t he let himself in?”

“Maybe he did,” said Soon-to-Be Officer Howard. “Maybe when he didn’t find Megan inside he decided to wait out here.”

“Makes sense,” nodded Doris. “You go wake him up, cuff him and take him out to the squad car. We’ll see how things are in Megan’s apartment.”

They walked quietly and purposefully over the the sleeping man. 

“Get up, buddy. I have to take you into the station for violating a restraining order and vagrancy.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Rico woke suddenly, confused, angry and then scared seeing the police.

“Your girlfriend came into the station last night and filed a report saying you harrassed and frightened her.”

“That little, lying, cheating bitch.” Rico was ready to fight. He smelled of cheep booze.

“You have the right to remain silent, etc.” said Doris as Soon-to-be Officer Howard cuffed Rico.

“Fuck you,” said Rico. 

“C’mon honey. Let’s see if he did any damage. Unlock your door.” Megan did. 

There were holes in the drywall, the closet doors where Rico had bashed them in with his fist. He’d kicked in the gas wall heater, creating a hazard. Megan’s dishes lay broken all over the kitchen floor. 

“Megan, honey, get a locksmith over here to change that lock. Changing the lock will give you a little security. Here’s a card.” Doris handed Megan the card of a locksmith and Megan immediately called.

“OK, if we saw him do this damage, it would be a felony, but we didn’t see him. It could have been anyone for all we really know. You understand? Now you see how serious this is, right?”

Megan nodded, tears streamed down her face.

“Do you have a lease?”

“Yes.”

“When’s it up?”

“Next year.”

“OK. Well, is there anyone who can stay with you?”

“No, I don’t know. Since I met Rico I haven’t seen my friends much.”

“Get in touch with them. Let them know what happened. Do you have any family, Megan?”

Megan thought of her mom. “It’s your bed, you lay in it.”

“Not really,” she said.

“Well call your friends then. We can hold Rico for 24 hours for vagrancy, sleeping in the hall way, but after that. Just get yourself as squared away as you can as quickly as you can. Try not to be alone. Stay on public streets. Keep your phone handy. OK? I’ll call you tonight and see how you’re doing. OK?”

The thought of being alone suddenly terrified Megan. Reading her mind, Doris said, “He’ll be in jail until tomorrow morning. Sleep well tonight. Get your locks changed. Talk to your landlord about that heater. Be sure the gas is off. You can do that, right?”

Megan nodded. 

“You go to the college?”

Megan nodded.

“Tell your professors. Tell campus security. Show them your restraining order. Get all the help you can, honey.”

“Doris?”

“Yeah?”

“Did you learn all this when you became a police officer? You know everything I should do.”

Doris looked intently at the young girl in front of her. Her brown eyes slowly filled with tears. “No, honey.” She opened the collar of her police uniform and turned it down as far as she could. There Megan saw scars cut into Doris’ neck.

“Piano wire,” said Doris. “He nearly killed me.”

10 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Wow, excellent tale, Martha. Chilling, well paced, well told and I didn’t see the ending coming… 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.