If you had the opportunity to hear the whole truth and nothing but the truth about yourself, would you take it?  What if you were denied the right to answer the charges? 

Angie knows all about sanctuary when none is given.  She moved in with her mother-in-law last April after her husband died unexpectedly and left her penniless.  She didn’t intend to stay permanently, but the economic downturn made job hunting all the harder and she had no choice but to rely on the mercy of a woman whom wasn’t known for it.

She put all her possessions in storage and lived in a corner of the guest room.  Given the somewhat formal nature of their relationship, she tried to minimize her impact on the household by keeping a low profile and staying away as much as possible from the mistress of the house.

For that house was not hers and she was reminded of it daily.  Despite paying a good monthly rent, she never felt comfortable using any part of the house save the corner she occupied.  And when her part-time job folded, she was obliged to work from home… an unhappy fix, but one that was forced by necessity.

The arrangement lasted only a few months.  Angie moved out and drove cross-country to Chicago where I met her for coffee on Black Friday.  The Starbucks was packed with shoppers, but we found a table near the window where she spilled her guts and wept.

“She told me I’m a terrible disappointment to her,” she snuffled.  “I infringed on her and I feel awful.”

She wiped her eyes with a blue and white hankie.  An sweet old-fashioned touch fitting for a woman who was completely out of sync with the workings of the modern world.  “Did you apologize?” I asked, knowing full well the answer.

“Of course!  But I had the distinct feeling that she was actually enjoying my discomfort.  She didn’t relax until I started crying.  I think that gratified her.”

I smiled and patted her hand.  “Oh honey, what you don’t know about the failings of human nature is a lot.”

She looked up at me with bloodshot eyes.  “Kimmy, please.   She’s a good woman at heart.”

“No, Angie.  You are a good woman at heart.  She’s an opportunist.”

“That’s a little harsh, don’t you think?  I mean, she’s only recently lost her son…”

“… who  happened to be your husband!  All the more reason to cling to each other, not to act out.”

“Stop judging, Kimmy!  You don’t even know her.”

I nodded.  It was, after all, the least I could do for her.  Yet I wondered why she felt compelled to defend someone who had shown her so little kindness.

“She has been kind; she took me in.”

“She didn’t take you in like a stray kitten, Angie.  You paid her.  You have rights.”

She stopped for a moment and puzzled the idea.  It probably hadn’t occurred to her that she had the ability to lead her life as she saw fit.

“Look, Angie,” I said, leaning in, “you are an adult, not a child.  There’s no need to cower before people who refuse to see you as such.  They are the ones with the problem, not you.”

“But I do have problems.  I’m a mess!  She told me so.”

“No.  She found fault with you for being an independent woman.  You made decisions without consulting her, decisions which impacted her life very little, but her ego a whole lot more.”

Angie looked at me curiously.  “Have I really been behaving like a child?

I smiled, thinking about my own encounters with such people.  “Not anymore than the next person.  But even the worst criminal has a right to defend himself.  You had none.”

Angie smiled back at me.  “I wonder what the verdict would be if I had the chance to exercise that right…” 

We both laughed.  “That’s why it’s so seldom given.”


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