When we have compassion for our fellow humans, invisible bonds are created where no naturally discernible connection exists.
Kayla wouldn’t have normally been shopping at this particular grocery store, because it was in the “bad part” of Des Moines.
The designation amused me, because having lived in Milwaukee, Boston, and Los Angeles, I always smile when people in Iowa discuss their version of “the bad part of town.” But, perception is subjective, and given the location of grocery store in question, it was indeed “ghetto” when compared to its peers.
It was nearing the Fourth of July and two of Kayla’s children were insistent on celebrating the occasion with sparklers.
(Kayla’s third child being an infant, had no opinion on the matter. His vocal cords were limited in expression to “Waaah,” which meant “I’m hungry,” “tired,” or “happy,” depending on the tone.)
Kayla was driving home, but in order to please her wee ones, she needed those sparklers. She had two options: quickly pull into the store she happened to be closest to and buy the sulfur and charcoal sticks, or go out of her way to find a “nicer” site for the purchase. When three children are in tow, ease usually supersedes all other options, so the closest location became her go-to shopping experience for the day.
While wandering the aisles—why stop for just one item when you can get all of your shopping out of the way?—Kayla noticed a downtrodden woman. She appeared to be in her early twenties and was carrying an impossibly tiny baby.
The woman looked, for lack of better description, like she belonged. She blended with the surroundings in a way that made sense. Where someone might see Kayla and wonder, “What’s she doing here?” no second glance would be given to the woman wearing less-than-stellar apparel.
She pushed a shopping cart with one hand, and cradled the baby to her chest in the crook of her other arm.
Kayla’s heart sank.
The child was the smallest baby Kayla had ever seen outside of a NICU; it couldn’t have weighed more than five pounds at best.
Invisible bonds exist between certain people, and that connection is ever-present between mothers. Creating and giving birth to life generates empathy among those who have shared the experience.
Without being exactly able to put a finger on why—maybe it was the woman’s shyness in body language, maybe it was the way she gingerly held her infant, having no carrier for the child—Kayla’s emotions demanded she speak with her. There are moments in life where you know you have to act, or forever regret your decision should you not. Kayla decided to follow her gut instinct and approached the young mother.
After a quick introduction and name exchange—Kayla/Carrie, Carrie/Kayla, nice to meet you—Kayla began lightly probing.
“If it’s not too forward of me,” Kayla began, “is this your first child?”
Carrie beamed; this was a topic that held much pride for her. “Yes, it is!”
“He’s very small…” Kayla offered, pausing to allow Carrie to finish the thought.
“He’s only twelve days old,” Carrie explained. “He was premature, but he’s out of the hospital and healthy now.”
She beamed again, proud of her child: a survivor.
Kayla did not ask for specifics regarding exactly how premature the child was. Instead, she began realizing why she had been drawn to Carrie; Kayla’s soul was informing her why she felt the need to talk to a stranger in a grocery store, one on the wrong side of the tracks no less.
“Well,” Kayla offered, “as you can see, I have three kids, and I’m done having babies… I’m moving and I have a ton of baby stuff that I was going to put on Craigslist and sell… but I’d rather give it away to someone who needs it. Do you need anything I could just give… you?”
Kayla was slightly nervous, and hoped she was treading lightly enough upon the eggshells she was walking. To approach a complete stranger and offer charity could easily be deemed offensive.
“I do…” Carried answered, growing meek.
She looked embarrassed, and Kayla wondered if she had overstepped her bounds.
“I do…” Carrie repeated, “but I wouldn’t have any way of getting anything from you. I don’t have a car.”
“That’s no problem. I’m a teacher, and have my days free for the summer. I could bring everything to you.”
“Oh…” Carrie said in an apologetic tone. “You don’t want to be coming down in my neighborhood. You shouldn’t be coming to my neighborhood…”
Kayla was determined, and pressed on; “It’ll be fine. My husband will come with me.”
There is a look you see in certain people, that of someone cautiously hopeful. They want to believe something good is happening to them, but have been let down so often that uncertainty casts a long shadow across their face.
Kayla received an address and a phone number. If she thought the grocery store was in a sketchy neighborhood, she knew she was about to see worse. A quick, mental calculation told her that if she knew her city, the address Carrie offered was a stone’s throw from where a stabbing had just taken place. The stabbing had received widespread local news attention.
They parted ways, and though it is impossible to know what went through Carrie’s mind, it would be safe to assume she believed she’d never see Kayla again. Blanche DuBois may have always depended on the kindness of strangers, but many people view the world through suspicious eyes and with guarded emotions.
Kayla returned to her home and, despite her promise to Carrie, did not wait for her husband to return before loading her car.
Kayla was now on a mission.
If seeing Carrie with her infant had been emotionally jarring, knowing she owned no car, lived in a poor neighborhood, and had few (if any) of the necessary items to care for her child? That lit a fire inside Kayla.
She searched through plastic storage bins of baby clothes, pulling out a wide assortment the child could grow into. Kayla grabbed a baby swing, and at the last moment, a $150 Pack-n-play—a portable crib he could sleep in for years to come.
All three children in the car once again, Kayla drove to the address Carrie had provided and discovered it didn’t belong to a house or apartment.
Carrie was living at a homeless shelter for women.
Though the surrounding neighborhood was a study in decay, the Women’s Shelter looked clean and secure. It was a beacon of hope amid the rotting facades and crumbling edifices.
It was the middle of the day, but the front door was locked. Not surprising, given the neighborhood and the nature of the place. A two-way speaker system was present, so Kayla buzzed and was allowed into the lobby.
A woman greeted her—possibly expecting Kayla and her three children to be in need of assistance—when Kayla explained she had some items, “For Carrie.”
“I cannot confirm whether or not Carrie is staying here,” the woman intoned.
This was expected. Women-specific shelters are for those who have suffered the worst of abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to love and protect them. When boyfriends, husbands, or fathers have problems with anger, alcohol, or both, the shelter offers a harbor from the tempest known as domestic violence. Often times these pathetic men are possessive as well as cruel. They do anything they can to keep women under their control. When one escapes the bonds of abuse, the men hunt them down, enlisting the help of family or friends to aid in their cause.
Kayla, understanding the situation, asked if she could leave everything in the lobby, allowing Carrie to retrieve the items later.
The woman softened, and smiled. “That would be fine.”
“By the way,” Kayla began. “I have a Pack-n-Play in the car. Does the baby need one here or…”
Kayla trailed off.
“Here, the baby has a place to sleep. But if Carrie leaves, the baby will not have a crib or bassinet, no.”
Kayla nodded. That meant Carrie would be co-sleeping with her child, which could be a dicey proposition.
“I’ll be right back,” Kayla said, leaving with her children for the car.
When they returned Carrie was waiting, surprised and pleased to see the woman who had offered her assistance in the grocery store.
After giving Carrie everything she had brought, Kayla made a few inquires with the headmistress; she still had plenty she could donate, would the shelter take the items?
“You can give to specific people,” it was explained, “but we don’t take donations outright.”
A center existed next door, however, one affiliated with the shelter. Women seeking protection were allowed to “shop” there for free. If Kayla donated anything, women in need could pick it up at no cost.
Perfect. Now Kayla had an outlet for everything her children had outgrown.
Kayla went home. A little while later, she texted Carrie, asking if, a hand-held carrier?
Carrie texted back that she already found one, and thanked her.
Moments later, Carrie sent one more note: her son was sleeping peacefully in the swing Kayla had given her. He was gently rocking back and forth, knowing only the love of his mother and none of the awful that surrounded his life at the moment.
A smile crossed Kayla’s face, and her eyes watered just a tinge.
(Kayla is my sister-in-law. This story is a translation of her verbal presentation.)