Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Meet My Neighbor Beverly

Born the daughter of an alcoholic mother, Beverly has learning disabilites, bipolar disorder, and three children by two fathers.  All she wants is the stable loving home she never had as a child.  It is getting there that is so damned hard -- especially when she forgets to take or can not afford to buy her medications.

Beverly works as a home health aide when her car runs well enough to get her to and from work.  She has not learned how to get around on public transit in Columbus.  I think she is frightened of losing her way, and there is the snob factor, too.

Her husband lost his job as a laborer when the financial crisis hit Ohio hard in 2008.  He has been looking for work ever since with nothing ever quite panning out for him.  Employers generally are not interested in two-time felons even in a good economy.  Finding a real training program that in fact leads to a real manufacturing job was a joke in Ohio even before the crisis.

It was no secret that my neighbors were going through a rough patch; you could hear the fights all the way down the street.  I do not know what it is about my dumpling face that makes stressed out women want to talk to me about their problems.  I have never married.  How do I know what to do about it?  I think that they just want to get things off their chest, and I am willing to make them a fresh cup of coffee while they unburden themselves.

"Ms. Charlotte, can I talk to you about something?"

"Would you like a cup of coffee?" (Oh brother, here we go.)

"I feel so betrayed, but I can't do anything about it."

"Betrayed how?  Remember that this is the worst economy since the Great Depression.  In all fairness, he is out there every day, pounding the pavement to look for work.  He does his best to help look after the kids when he's home."

"It's not about that.  It's about...", she drifts off.  (Jesus, help me, I am no marriage counselor.)

"Well.  I was six months pregnant with this new baby when I found out that ... well.  There was this woman who came to our house with his mother one or two times.  I thought she was his cousin or something, you know.  But she's his first wife.  And they're not divorced.  Ms. Charlotte, he swore before the judge that he was forsaking all others when we got married. Now what am I supposed to do?  I married him because I thought that we were going to build a family.  And he's still having, you know, relations with her."

"Does she work?  Are there other children?"

"She's on some kind of disability.  They have no kids." (Aha, a built-in stepmother.  Don't even go there, Charlotte.)

"How did the county clerk's office miss this?  Don't they do a name check in their records?"

"He married her in Franklin County and me in my county.  I guess one county doesn't know what the other one is doing."

"That's Ohio for you."

"Yeah.  I don't know what to do." (Especially since turning him in likely would mean hard time for the third strike.  What about the children without even half a father in the house?)

"I don't know what to tell you, Beverly.  Maybe you need to speak with a bona fide counselor in confidence -- like a pastor or somebody who could help you work through this." (Don't mention lawyers, yet.  Get her to her pastor first; the pastor is certain to have more connections in the community than I do.)

"I can't talk to my caseworker without her having to report him."

"What about your pastor?  What you tell her is strictly private."

"My church is back home.  I don't know anybody here in the city."

"Make an appointment with your pastor back home the next time you go down there to visit.  You need to sort out for yourself what you need to do or not do in what order to protect yourself and the children.  Would you like more coffee?"

"No thanks.  I have to get back to the kids."

"How are you fixed for laundry detergent?"

"Ms. Charlotte, you shouldn't.  You don't have that much money, either."

"It was one of those buy-one-get-one specials.  You can't let a man leave the house in dirty clothes when he's looking for work."

Leave it to unprincipled peters practising the Peter principle in the Ohio General Assembly to tell qualified doctors how to practise medicine when those same legislators can not, or will not, find a way to consolidate marriage and divorce records across Ohio.

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