PORTRAIT OF A LIFE
I want to tell you a story about a young woman. I warn you now, it does not have a happy ending. You can stop reading, but if you have the courage to continue, I hope you’ll discover, as I did, the value in it.
We tend to think one opinion doesn’t matter, one voice or vote doesn’t matter, and often that one person can’t make a difference. The problem with that is sometimes one anything does make a difference, and that difference can be enormous. It can be constructive or destructive. This is the point I want to share.
This, and to remind you (and me) that sometimes we don’t see the results of our actions or inactions, but others feel them. Often, we do too, just not as up close and personal as this woman…
Cindy was eleven when her father left her mother for a younger woman. Her mother, a stay-at-home mom, had been out of the work force for decades, and life that had been less than picture perfect became extraordinarily difficult. Providing basic necessities—food and shelter—became monumental struggles.
Like many girls in her position, Cindy sought approval in boys and then men, in drugs and alcohol. At sixteen she got pregnant. She and the baby’s father were together for the next three years and had a second child—both boys.
When the second son was three months old, the father, who had been physically abusive almost from the start, threw Cindy out of a moving car going thirty miles per hour. She was bruised, battered, and sore, suffered a broken nose and ribs and severe road rash, but she eventually healed. She counted her blessings that her children weren’t with her to witness the incident or to also be victims of it and she saw her survival as a second-chance warning. She took it. Cindy stopped drinking, stopped taking drugs. She was determined to turn her life around.
Because she had nowhere else to go, she moved in with her still struggling mother and tried to be good to her kids. She had no marketable skills and applied for food stamps and Medicaid for the kids. Fortunately, she got it—and information about going back to school (she’d dropped out at the father’s insistence after a whale of a beating; he was embarrassed that she was still in school).
Cindy was bright and motivated. She wanted a better life for herself and for her kids. She wanted to be a better example for them, too, and to assure that they never ended up in the position she had. So she studied hard. She didn’t have health care on herself, so she walked five miles every day to try to stay healthy. She was a success-story in the making of the entire assistance program—an A student.
Then two weeks before graduation, she met with her school counselor. The job she would qualify for after graduation would earn less than she was getting on entitlements. She decided she could live with that. She’d find a second job somewhere doing something until she could work her way up to better pay. It was an unexpected setback, but she had a plan to overcome it. Onward and upward!
Then the counselor told her that on graduating and taking the job, she’d make too much money for the kids to be eligible for Medicaid. Like her, her children would be uninsured. No medical, no dental, no vision, and no meal programs at school.
That loss knocked the wind out of Cindy’s sails. Her better life made her family’s lives and situation worse!
She left the counselor’s office stunned, dejected. Hopeless. Her dreams of a better life for herself and her kids shattered. At a loss as to how she could provide for her kids and herself, she thought about what she could do. What was the right thing to do for her children? And she decided one thing was clear: she couldn’t afford to graduate.
So with all As and two weeks to go to graduation, she stopped going to school. She accepted that her life wouldn’t be better, and her kids’ lives would be decidedly worse.
Bitter and angry that she was stuck in a cycle with no way out, she grew more and more despondent. So despondent that she again turned to drugs. Her kids would be better off with her dead than alive…
She made sure her mother had custody of her boys. And then, a short time later, she overdosed on drugs and died on a bathroom floor.
They buried Cindy in a graveyard across the street from the assisted housing where her mother and boys lived and grew up. They saw her grave every day of their lives, and every day it reminded them all of the dangers of drugs and that they too were stuck. Dreams of a better life were for other people. Not for them. They were doomed to struggle.
When Cindy’s youngest son turned eighteen, the grandmother, too, passed away. Neither of the boys ever saw their father; he was, from the time their mother left him, a stranger, and he remained a stranger to them. The boys were alone.
They worked hard and built lives for themselves. Both married and had children. Both struggled and lacked anyone else to turn to for advice, anyone else to depend on for anything. They were, as they had been, students of the school of hard knocks. Over the years, they cobbled together lives and tried to be good parents.
No one knows all the trials or anguish they endured. Or all those that Cindy or her mother endured, but events we do know about show us what happens when one loses hope. When one struggles and tries to do better but well-intentioned programs and others conspire and intentionally or unintentionally oppress.
Oh, no one meant for the programs to result in this type situation and have this type of impact on anyone’s life. But they did. Often, in all kinds of situations, unintended consequences stemming from good intentions are the worst kind.
Some of the laws that played out in Cindy’s case have changed now. Some haven’t. So there continue to be more people like her than others realize.
And because there are, and because there are mothers in the position her mother was in, and because there are other children in the position her boys were in, we should be aware. We should notice. I often wonder if things would have been different for Cindy, her boys, her mom, if someone had just noticed.
One softly spoken, This too shall pass, Cindy. One You’ll get a job with benefits that cover you and your kids, just give yourself a chance. One anything might have ignited a spark of hope that changed the outcome.
The potential for that opportunity warns us to care enough to seek wisdom when we form and voice our opinions. When we act and vote and when we think we’re just one person and can’t make a difference. One person could have made an enormous difference in Cindy’s life, in her mom’s, in her boys’ lives.
Far too often, a bad result isn’t an unwillingness to do something. It’s a lack of awareness that something needs to be done. Or a lack of awareness that someone needs help doing something that needs to be done.
And that’s the point we shouldn’t miss. We need to make an effort to be aware. To help as best we’re able those trying to help themselves. Those trying to build a better life. Trying to be a better example for their loved ones.
For others like Cindy and their kids and their moms. For ourselves.
Because if we don’t, if you don’t, one day you might find yourself in a similar situation. No one is immune. You might find yourself standing at the grave of a woman you loved who felt to those she loved she was more valuable dead than alive. You might find yourself regretting that someone you knew was in this kind of turmoil and you did nothing because you knew nothing.
Be aware. Get informed. Lift your voice. In all areas of your life, act and vote carefully, thoughtfully, respectfully, based not on some party but on some person you trust to do what you believe is the right thing.
Notice those around you. Their future, your future, well might depend on it.
And when you think of Cindy, think not with judgment but with your intellect and your heart. Her story, I’m sorry to say, isn’t uncommon. It isn’t atypical or unusual.
Her story is simply a portrait of a life.
© 2014, Vicki Hinze. Hinze is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is The Marked Bride, Shadow Watchers, Book 1. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact.www.vickihinze.com. Subscribe to Vicki’s Newsletter.