The church was at the foot of the Palos Verdes hills so it had more then its share of ’snob sisters’. It was blatantly obvious to the most casual of viewers that she was not one of their own, but she seemed to know all of them, and when she spoke they nodded their heads in recognition.
Our church had started something new. The banquet room of the hotel across the street had been leased and the word was spread. Our church welcomed single people to attend Sunday morning meetings developed especially for their needs.
I was part of the group that had pushed for such a change. I became the official greeter. When a tentative soul walked through the door it was my mission to make them feel welcome and comfortable.
There is a piece of my heart that is drawn to the underdog, the unwanted, the unacceptable. I have been accepted into the elite groups, but my feelings have always gone to the sisters that have been left outside. There is a part of me that is not entirely acceptable. It is the polio. I have felt that sense of hesitation, that question of acceptability. So when she walked into that room my heart broke into a dozen pieces.
Her name was Helen.
When she came through the door an attitude came through with her. It swirled around her in the way she dressed, the way she smiled, the way she walked, and especially in the way she accepted the ’nods of recognition’.
She was overweight, but even if she had been thin she would not have conformed to the standards set for a beautiful body. She wore clothes better meant for a Saturday night dance. Her makeup was brash, but just brash enough to set a tone. Her face was pretty, but defiant. She walked as if she owned the ground she walked on, but her ground had gotten shaky. Her smile was too large, too nervous, and too full of hurt. She was a woman that had been left outside.
When I asked her if she would like to sit in the chair beside me she accepted with a smile so grateful that I felt humbled.
After the meeting I told her that I had to go across the street to the church and pick up my son. She told me that she had two sons that she had left at the church. We decided that it might be fun if we asked our boys if they would like to go out to lunch. And so a friendship, of sorts, was started.
My friendship with Helen was different then any relationship I had had before or after. She was the daughter of a very high placed man. She grew up among the wealthy and important; ergo the nods of recognition from the Verdes hill women. She knew the manners and dress, she knew all the how’s and why’s, but for some reason she didn’t fit in. No matter what she did or felt she could never quite fill the proper shoes. She was always a slightly square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
We had tremendous fun together. Her sense of humor was outrageous and some evenings all we did was laugh. Our sons developed a deep friendship and we found much to do that evolved around their schemes and McDonalds hamburgers.
We went to a dance together one evening. A man approached our table. Helen pulled out a chair and invited him to sit. After a bit he asked if he could go get his mother and his friend. His mother was single and they often went to dances together. We had a great evening laughing and dancing and watching his mother work to attract the crowd of ‘older’ men.
The next afternoon Helen phoned to say that she had just gotten home. “He said that he had come to the table to get acquainted with you, but I’m the one that was willing to go home with him. Isn’t that great? You reel them in and I get to play with them.” I wanted to be angry at his insensitivity, but she wouldn’t let me. She thought it was a great joke. That was Helen.
Helen’s wealthy father bought her a house and a new car. He was trying to make life safe for his daughter and grandchildren. She accepted his gifts with a heavy heart and a wandering soul. Life was never quite safe for Helen.
I met the man that I would share the next 25 years with. She and I were going in different directions, but we still checked in with each other at least once a week. She called me and announced that she was going to get married. He was an older man. Life would settle and she would be in a loving relationship. Her father wouldn’t have to worry about her any more.
I groaned and rolled my eyes. “Are you certain this is something worth while? Is this really the man that you want to spend the rest of your life with?” She listened to my worries and frets, but assured me that her world wouldbecome secure with this man.
Her wedding was a nice affair if you discount the man that fell onto the table that held the wedding cake. The eight tiered cake went flying onto the dance floor. Men and women suddenly found themselves drenched in icing and white cake, and slipping and sliding instead of dancing. The marriage itself would have gone nicely if Helen hadn’t found a phone number in hernew husband's pants pocket and decided to dial it. The number was for his 12th wife that he hadn’t yet divorced.
Life never seemed to fall in place for Helen.
I had become very ill with a bone infection in my foot. I had been through some hellish pain, and eventually had to have surgery to remove a good portion of the bottom of my foot. I had been in the hospital for 12 days. Now I was on the mend and yearning to go home. I hadn’t heard from Helen, but that didn’t confuse me. Helen disappeared every once in awhile.
It was a Sunday afternoon. Have you ever experienced a hospital on a Sunday afternoon before visiting hours? It gets so quiet it is almost eerie, especially after the bustle that has gone on all week. The quiet was suddenly broken by the ringing telephone. It was Helen. She said that “the word had gotten around” that I had been sick. She was coming to see me.
In the meantime, blood had backed up the tubing of my IV; not an uncommon event. The nurse said that she would be right back with new tubing. That was when Helen entered the room. She was with a woman that I had never met. She kissed me hello and glanced at the tubing that was attached to my hand. She turned around and said to her friend, “WE NEED GOD HERE!!! THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH THE BOTTLE HOOKED UP TO HER HAND.” Her friend jumped up and the two of them threw their arms up into the air.
I tried to explain to them that it is nothing to get excited about. “It’s normal enough, Helen. The nurse will be here in a minute.”
Helen and the woman that I hadn’t yet been introduced to didn’t or wouldn’t hear me. They surrounded the stand that the bottle hung from and at full volume they beseeched God to, “CHASE SATAN AWAY!!!!!!! OH, GOD, WE ASK THEE, SAVE OUR GOOD FRIEND FROM ALL DANGER!!!!!!!! THANK YOU, JESUS, THANK YOU, JESUS.”
The louder they got the more I shrank into my pillows. “I quietly prayed my ownprayer, “Oh God, if you have any mercy, please ask these two to lower their voices.” The more I quietly prayed, the more they prayed at the top of their lungs. They prayed, and danced, and moved their hands, and arms, and jumped, and beseeched, and moaned, and sang, and yelled, and threw their arms through the air, and stomped their feet. I could hear their prayers bouncing off the walls, flying down the hall, and alerting everyone, on this quiet Sunday afternoon, that Room 512 had some very strange, very loud visitors. The nurse walked in, smiled, and changed the tubing. The antibiotic flowed freely. My visitors watched her intently. The minute she left the room they prayed again to “THANK YOU LORD FOR SAVING OUR GOOD FRIEND FROM THE DANGER OF SATAN AND BRINGING IN THIS WONDERFUL NURSE TO SAVE AND CLEANSE HER. THANK YOU, JESUS, THANK YOU, JESUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! After they were through praying Helen turned to me and said, “I have found GOD, THANK YOU. I have joined a new church. I have to go now. I have many, many sick people to visit. THANK YOU JESUS FOR SENDING US TO ADMINISTER TO THIS, YOUR PATIENT!”, and as she and her friend left my room and walked down the hall I could hear them stop at every room and say, “THANK YOU, JESUS. HEAL THIS PATIENT WHOSE NAME I KNOW NOT. THANK YOU, JESUS!!!” The nurse came to the door of my room, grabbed her stomach, bent over, and laughed so hard that I thought that Jesus needed to be beseeched to help her breath. I asked for pain medication to knock me out.
I didn’t see Helen again for five years. We bumped into one another in a restaurant once. She flashed a big diamond ring at me and said she had inherited it from her mother and “Oh, by the way I’m getting married again!“ I didn’t ask to be invited to the ceremony, but then again she didn’t say, “THANK YOU, JESUS” for running into me either.