Mary Ellen caught her breath sharply while making her way down the stairwell from the tenth story of the shabby apartment building. Her left shoulder rubbed against the hard plaster wall, as her left hand grasped the wooden banister. With each descending step, her short halting breaths became deeper and more relaxed. By the time she reached street level, her breath was normal and the butterflies that caused waves of discomfort in her solar plexus had flown off to wherever stomach butterflies disperse themselves. She felt conscious self control return.
Like silent fireworks, red white and blue light beams of emergency vehicles broke against the night's dark cloak. Their jumping and darting from side to side and up and down added to the nervous tension of the scene that met her as she walked outside.
"Good job, M.E.", John Smythe, the Fire Chief walked over to her with an outstretched hand. His voice was flat, practical. "I'm not one for defunding the police, but this situation called for some real people skills. One wrong word and that young lady would have been gone."
"Yes," Mary Ellen replied, "precarious, touch and go.” She felt a sudden chill. "Can I get a blanket, or a jacket."
"Sure thing," John waved in the direction of one of the ambulances, gesturing with his arms for one of the medics to bring a blanket. A younger man in a medical smock appeared from the ambulance, walked toward them and placed a heavy wool blanket around Mary Ellen's shoulders. “We're lucky to have you”. He said. The girl you talked off that roof, has no idea how lucky she is.”
“We'll see, John. This is just the first step in a long tough journey...”Mary Ellen's attention followed her thoughts, as she considered how much therapy and emotional support the young woman would need before she would walk free of the trauma that had pushed her up to the roof of a ten story building, believing her only way out was to end her life. Her voice faded a little, “if she's willing to make it.”
“Well, I'm looking at the one person in this town who can motivate her.” John said heartily.
“The good thing is she'll be in the psychiatric ward for a month, She won't be able to run away from me, once I am given clearance.”
“A captive audience,” John laughed. Then he said, “Why would anyone run away from you, Em?”
“You know damned well why.” she retorted. “Meet me and you meet yourself.”
“And your presence stimulates profound change.” John shook his head. He was always astonished at the success this not quite forty year old, well-kept, but hardly beautiful woman with ear lobe length chestnut hair, and large round glasses overwhelming her angular face had achieved in many situations that would have turned into tragedy under another. “You have a gift, M.E, Your ability to pull these girls out of bad circumstances and lift them to their feet, is a real gift.” He sighed, “for which we are truly grateful.”
“ I can't pull them out, I can only offer them a lifeline. Grabbing it is up to them. Keep in mind, John. The relationship is voluntary for both people. There's no guarantee someone will want to work with an advocate like me. If a girl will meet with me just once, we have a chance.” She glanced in the direction of the building she had just left. “In this girl's case, we've already met, so I am very hopeful she'll want to interact with me again.” Mary Ellen hesitated a second, “If shame doesn't create a barrier.”
“She didn't jump Em. You said something that changed her mind.”
“For an instant, John,” Mary Ellen said. “Enough to get her to step back. Not enough to convince her she's worth fighting for. That might take a really hard sell.”
“And the 'Come to Jesus moment” is when you convince her she has value.”
“The 'Come to Jesus moment is only if she grasps the idea of her own value. I merely reflect possibilities. A builder with a crate loaded with tools. Here I stand,” Mary Ellen stood erect at attention for a few seconds, “remade, rebuilt. Put back together after being destroyed.” She pulled the blanket around her shoulders and thrust her purse comically over her shoulder,“many times, but you really are looking at a fully functioning Humpty Dumpty with cracks mended, visible, but together again.” Then she turned and headed toward her car thinking “This hard boiled egg is very, very grateful for all the tools left behind by the all the king's men.”
Mary Ellen considered the help she had received in her own life. Wow! What she would give to stand in the presence of the kaleidoscope of life changing rescuers and mentors to who had stepped in and out of her life, bearing gifts and filling her toolbox? “What do you say” she asked herself, “to the teacher who called the child abuse hotline thirty years ago, when she suspected things weren't quite right at home. Thanks for giving me myself? Do you have the even the most miniscule idea ” she addressed the teacher mentally “how that call redirected my life's path? Do you even suspect what could have been a hell on earth has become a pretty good life worth living?”
Mary Ellen looked up toward the night sky and whispered. “I hope you're happy up there, Mrs. Gustavson. You saved my life. Wish I could invite you for dinner, or something.”
. Upon reaching her car, she grabbed her cell before she threw her purse on the passenger seat of her light blue Camry and sent a quick text to her husband, Liam. “Be home in an hour.” She gave no explanation. She knew he would know she had driven to the hospital to check the seventeen year old's condition and schedule an initial interview. He would know. The marriage they built was based on love, listening and mutual respect. Another thing for which she was grateful.
They had met as young adults at a twelve step program Adult Children of Alcoholics and had formed an immediate bond. Their group often attended AA and Al-Anon meetings. Those meetings shaped their futures. Hundreds of hours spent sitting in church recreation halls, listening to recovery stories educated them above and beyond the reach of any college. College can impart information. It can't fix broken people. Was there a some means to pay back people whose last names she had never known and whose first names she did not remember. People who spoke brutal truths as they shared painful recollections of abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, substance abuse. Stories of rejection. Rejection of themselves, by themselves.
And then, stories of recovery. Victory over addiction. Triumph in the revelation of one's true self. Acceptance of that self, bringing it forth and putting it in control of one's life. To get there, sharing was an absolute requirement. Recovery began with admission and recognition of error. It continued through replacement of error with truth. Recovery flourished only in the presence of pure truth. A man who wanted only to die in order to be free of his drinking and the misery he brought to his family, tried to drink himself to death. He told how disappointed he was when he awoke the next day and was still in this world. Everyone had laughed when he said that since even God didn't want him, he had no choice but to apply the principles of the program. He gained self respect, the respect of others. Even though he was not young, he went on to become a successful businessman and in his senior years spread happiness to those around him. He taught them something higher than an ego can control and direct a life.
A mother devastated, alone and ashamed, Her children, in similar circumstances to Mary Beth and Liam, had been removed by the courts years before as had Mary Beth and Liam. She shared her story of being being forced from living in a tornadic vortex of emotional wreckage to the serenity and contentment of rebuilding her family relationships. This woman, Harriet, with no last name, paved the way for them to forgive their own parents. There were hundreds of stories like these and because they exposed their pain and suffering and the joy of attaining successful, happy lives, Mary Ellen and Liam, broke free of most of the baggage placed on them as kids.
Mary Ellen had replaced the baggage with a toolbox of memories, gifted to her by the legion of helpers who had helped her build the good life she lived today. Teachers, social workers, therapists and foster parents. Most of those she had encountered as she fumbled her way from a pale, child whose sad eyes were rimmed with the tired dark circles often exhibited by children of abuse and neglect to the confident, wife, mother and proud owner of Mary Ellen's Emporium, her own small gift shop that she loved. Many of those workers, like the twelve step program members had added something to the tool collection. To each one she was grateful to the depths of her very soul. Most she could never thank personally.
Driving into the parking lot and parking her car, she knew why she volunteered as a victim's advocate. For as long as she could, for the rest of her days, Mary Ellen would respond if called. She would hope her healed inner child would touch the broken child of another and call it forth. If the broken child answered, there was hope. The tool box would provide direction and suggestions. A life would be salvaged. She walked through the glass doors of the admissions office. Silently she sighed ” This is my gratitude.”
inspired by a Reedsy prompt