I’ll call her Teresa and her ten year old boy Tad. Not their real names, of course. We’d met her when she lived across the street from us a few houses ago and became friends. Watched her daughter grow up and move out, her brother still at home. We liked her. She’d had a tough rearing; both parents marching to their own beats, their paths definitely not in the mainstream. Dad enforced discipline with violence but she managed to come through okay, a bit emotionally immature. Stuck in her late teens but not so much in a bad way. She was pleasant and friendly. Over the years we kept in touch and watched her stumble through a few relationships that simply weren’t mean to be. She had trouble managing money. Then again, it’s not like she had a lot of it. High school was it for education and she worked a lot of low wage jobs. I hired her to do office work in my own company when her former employer went out of business. She was a good worker –took a little time to get the routine, but when she did, we had no trouble letting her do the job without looking over her shoulder. Honest as the day is long, religion a big part of her belief system but she wasn’t overt and obnoxious like some people can be.
A year ago we bailed her out of difficulty with housing. She’d gotten behind on rent and got evicted –yet stuck with the bill for the unexpired portion of her lease. She moved into another apartment with another lease and the same thing happened. She was going to school to learn a trade in workman’s compensation and worked part time as much as she could. She tried to pay off the debts, but paying for the two apartment owings left nothing to live on and she was about to sign yet another lease when my wife and I yelled “stop!” All she was going to do was dig deeper into housing debt. The poor thing owned no property yet was facing the same indebtedness that people caught in the mortgage crunch experienced. It took some doing to chip past her pride, but we convinced her that she should take up residence in our empty basement apartment. We charged her nothing. What we wanted her to do was to save her money and get together a down payment so she could buy a little place for herself. Spokane offers a lot of inexpensive housing for sale. Matchbook living, but it would be hers and with a mortgage payment lower than what the rental sharks were charging. Her presence raised our costs only minimally. Not charging her, I had no worries about income that might affect my VA benefits. Plus, her presence meant that I had someone else helping out to keep an eye on me, freeing my wife to babysit her daughters kids and saving that family from the high expense of child care. Everybody wins.
She had a boyfriend that she was invested in emotionally. She was thinking future and he was thinking now. He was up front about it, but she didn’t hear it. Just before she moved in they broke up after it dawned on her that he wasn’t into the same goals as she. Besides, he had a couple of other lady friends, and one of them turned up pregnant. In the deciding conversation (read: one side screaming and the other calm endurance) she said some pretty nasty things, fully erasing any possibility of a future relationship of any kind. She accepted that he was also a friend of my wife and I, and made it a point to stay in her apartment when he visited. Yet as time went by, she recalled the good times with him and set her mind to try to repair the damage and become an item again, one again a goal of permanency.
The other girlfriend’s pregnancy produced a gorgeous little girl, and if any woman ever stole his heart in a permanent way, it was she. He ‘did the right thing’ by the woman and the hitched and set up housekeeping. Of course ”Teresa’ was nearly apoplectic about the turn of events. To salve her aching heart, she went out with some of her more rowdy friends and managed to get arrested for DUI on the way home. Between fines and drug/alcohol programs she was required to attend and pay for, six grand went up in smoke, totally depleting her savings for a new home and then some. It didn’t help that she explained to her caseworker that she had no intention of curbing her taste for inebriation, alcoholic or herbal. Like I said, she’s honest –to a fault. This extended her programs and piled on yet more cost.
As time went by, she became more demonstrative about her displeasure that my wife and I maintained our friendship with her ex. When he would visit, we’d spend the rest of the day and one or two following listening to sullen responses to conversation attempts, some door slamming and those sorts of unspoken indicators of displeasure. Then came the day that our friend asked us to babysit his new daughter so mom and dad could see a play and have a little time to themselves. Honored, we were the first people ever to babysit the little treasure. ‘Teresa’ heard the baby fussing and came to see the source. She recognized the child and stormed off in anger, treating us to loudly rattled pots and pans, more door slamming, and angered whispers between her and her son. For the most part, my wife and I ignored the display of unhappiness, but we did discuss it. We chatted about ”Teresa’s’ situation and combined our knowledge of her situation.
She had been with us going on a year and her situation was, for the most part, unchanged. She had graduated and had gotten a part time job, but financially there was little difference between her coming and the present. My wife went and had a talk with her and in the end told her that when ‘Tad’s’ school year was up, she should be ready to move on and retake full control of her life. This was met with shock, I guess she believed that she could count on us to provide her home, power, utilities, cable and Internet indefinitely. This reaffirmed to my wife and I that it was definitely time fer her to stand on her own two feet. We both advised her on the things she could do to find herself a house, suggesting lease to own situations and for sale by owner homes that offered opportunity to build up down payment equity to get a mortgage with down the road. There are a LOT of empty homes with owners pretty willing to work with potential buyers –lest the homes remain vacant and deteriorating, waiting for a very slow market.
With a bit of testiness about our continuing relationship with her ex boyfriend, she announced that she would probably be leaving before the end of the school year; she was negotiating, whatever that means, with managers of yet another apartment complex replete with a lease that solely favored the landlord over the tenant, and in my book, reality. Looking at the wording of some of these usury works of art, I’d sooner live in an appliance carton than sign such an obvious money trap.
Helping a friend has, in the end, cost us a little money, a bit of peace of mind, and damaged a friendship that spanned over a decade. We get grudging appreciation but for the most part, the music has stopped and the dance is over. It leaves me slightly reeling trying to figure out whether we did more harm than good, simply offering a time out in our friend ‘Teresa’s’ life. I wonder if maybe she’d been better off to face her own demons rather than be only seemingly rescued. You see, we didn’t rescue her from an outside negative, the negativity was within her and people can run away from anyone except themselves. Perhaps if she’d been busy digging out of the hole her life had dropped into, she would have moved on and let her feeling for the ex boyfriend quietly wane, obscured by her needing to pay attention to things other than her deceased relationship. Perhaps she wouldn’t have been able to afford to party, and thus bypass the whole DUI experience and cost. I’m not sure what to think, but I’ve certainly been thinking on it a lot. So far, I have only come to one conclusion, and that is when it comes to bailing someone out of financial difficulty, that should be reserved for one’s offspring, and then only enough to get the job done. It can’t be good on the psyche and self esteem to have to rely on the generosity of others rather than one’s own personal resourcefulness.
I don’t know if we did the right thing or not and the point I guess I’m trying to make with all of this is that the road to hell really is paved with good intentions. It seems obvious that we just moved in a great circle; the appearance of forward motion a sham. We’re right back where we started and somewhat the worse for wear. It appears that samaritanism is actually a skill that requires qualifications besides a desire to help. Like care-giving, there’s a lot more to it than it seems on the surface.