Sara (name changed) sat in a secluded corner of the YA section of our local library. She was a small woman made even smaller by circumstance, choices and disposition. Fragile self esteem, unusual health issues, unemployed for the better part of seven years, and fleeing an abusive ex-husband. A man she later came to find was on the sex offenders list, a man bad to the core. “Who would’ve though you needed to run a background check on your husband,” Sara had said in an earlier conversation. She wore a scarf around her head and penciled on brows. Her skin a smooth alabaster with the sheen of silk, devoid of all hair. Cancer a stranger would surmise but no among other things she has Alopecia Universalis and her own immune system was attacking her hair follicles.
The sun back lit this woman, dressed in black, glasses slipping off her dripping nose. I say sun but in Oregon I’ve come to call the light shining through a thin cloud cover sun. It is lighter than when there is heavy cloud cover. We even had some sun-showers this day, moments when the sun broke through and rained downed on us. Sara needed a sun-shower in her life. A moment of hope, a look forward. I couldn’t solve her problems only she could do that but I could suggest baby steps, I could offer support, I could cheer her on.
Sara’s voice came out shriveled and wizened, she wheezed as she spoke and took careful breaths. I knew some of it was an act to elicit my pity. I stood firm. That may sound heartless but I truly want to help not enable. Once I understood her back story I didn’t let her hash and rehash it with me. Move forward, take a step. I read a book when I was a teen. I don’t remember the title now, it was a French YA book translated to English. There was a line in there I posted on my mirror and still remember to this day, “Always remember to never look back, to look back is to regret and we must always keep moving forward.” At my age now there are times when I look back but not to pine over or beat myself but to revel in or use past experiences to move me forward. Sara’s looking back was pulling her back. Back to the darkness and hopelessness of abuse. Now she needed to cut ties with that past, leave it in the past and move forward to her future.
“I’m old,” she wheezed at one point.
“OLD!” my mind shouted, she was eight years older than, just eight years older than I. In eight years my sister and I plan to hike the Appalachian Trail, the whole thing in six months. I ignored her comment. We were moving forward one baby step at a time.
I saw her two nights later. She stood straighter. She engaged with the people at her dinner table. She is a smart woman, a PhD and two master’s degrees. I encouraged her, pointed out something positive. I’ll see her Sunday. We’ll work on the job search, the self esteem, the health issues, one at a time. She will make her long hike out of the dark woods she is in. In eight years I will hike too, one step at a time, through the woods, north from Georgia to Maine.