I smile and nod to Mrs. Kitty Cat as we pass. She is heading to where Sears used to be while I’m heading towards Macy’s. Mrs. Kitty Cat isn’t her real name, just the name I gave her, a label to distinguish her from the other regular walkers. She is as we like to say, a mature woman though more mature than most. Whenever she is at the mall for her walk, she wears a t-shirt with a picture or a cartoon of a cat on it.
Mrs. Kitty Cat is just one of us regulars who come to the mall when it opens so we can walk laps. There is Mrs. Neon who has an endless supply of neon leisurewear. Mr. Pink Sneakers who cruises around the mall in bright pink sneakers. I’ll never get an award for creativity when it comes to the nicknames. Mr. Pink Sneakers has to dye those himself. No way he can purchase pink sneakers in his size. There are stories lurking behind the fashion choices, but we don’t share them. We haven’t bothered to introduce ourselves much less share stories. We just nod and smile, maybe toss in a little wave, as we pass.
There are others who join us. Some we see when it’s raining. Others join us for a day or two, maybe a week, before they disappear. They don’t get named. Getting a nickname from me is something that is earned, plus I have to find what it is about you that is quirky or unique. The thing that stands out day after day that hints at the story you are carrying or honoring during your morning constitution.
Susan is the only exception I’ve made. Susan looked so small and frightened, unsure of her place, like a feral cat shrinking from your gaze, looking for cover so it can hide and be safe. I smiled at her the second day she walked with us and heard the word “hi” emanate from me. Susan lit up morphing into a presence and returned my greeting before turning and pulling up beside me matching my pace.
A conversation was initiated by Susan, each question dripping with desperation, the desperation to connect with another human being, to be seen, heard, acknowledged. I’m being polite and hoping this is a one off, that Susan will fall into the rhythm of nodding and smiling, something I pointed out as we passed Mrs. Kitty Cat.
After our walk Susan asked if I wanted to get a coffee. The only place open in the food court is McDonalds. I prefer to make a pot of coffee when I get home. There was something about Susan’s pleading eyes that pulled me in, something familiar, a memory awakened from its slumber. I agreed to join her for a cup.
That one cup of coffee was the start of our routine of having coffee and sometimes breakfast when we finished our walk. I’ll admit it did my ego good to have someone so excited to see me. Susan didn’t try and make our daily encounters into something more than what they were. Our interactions were limited to walking and coffee, sometimes breakfast. No exchange of phone numbers, no social media contacts, just a walk and coffee.
I figured it helped me be a little more open. I’m naturally warry of other humans though naturally may not be the right word. We humans are naturally social animals like chimps and apes. Being reticent to interact with others is probably something that is learned unless you are on a spectrum of some sort which as far as I know I’m not.
I’ve never desired a lot of friends and I can be quite happy being by myself. I have had some friends who I would be close with for a few months or years only to be dropped when they found other friends. I seemed to enter their lives when they are at a low point. They are attracted to my strength, at least that’s what they have all called me at some point or another. That’s how I’m identified, strong. Once they are healed of whatever they had been broken of they leave and simply no longer have time to spend with me. I then have to morn the loss of that relationship and take care of myself, getting back into the groove of taking care of myself and going about my life on my own.
I’m not totally alone in the world. I have family and a handful of friends I’ve had since elementary school. The kind of friends you can go weeks, months, or even years without talking to and pick right up where you left off. I just haven’t established the same kind of friendship where I live now.
Susan was another lost, injured soul that drifted into my life. Maybe it was me inviting her in, hoping for a second chance to get it right. I figured out quickly that Susan was in an abusive relationship. She never said anything, didn’t even mention being in a relationship. She was well versed in covering the bruises but makeup can only cover so much. I noticed the occasional wince of pain when she moved her arm or bumped her leg on a chair.
Then came the week Susan stopped showing up for the morning walks. I tried not to worry. It’s not like I had her contact information. I didn’t even know her last name. I continued coming for walks, but each day that passed without Susan only made me certain something had happened.
Then Susan made the news. Local woman missing. Good thing they showed a photo of Susan because it turned out Susan wasn’t even her name. Her husband was being interviewed on the local news. He did what he could to look torn up over Susan’s disappearance. My gut told me it was an act, not a good act either. He was banking on the sympathy for someone in his position covering him. I knew a detective worthy of the title detective would see through his act. There is still a long road to go between a gut feeling someone is guilty and having the evidence needed to convict them in a court of law. Not everyone pays for their sins.
I moved here after a co-worker was killed by her abusive husband. A husband that had a girlfriend on the side, the one who gave him an alibi. I heard she recently got a protective order against him. I guess five years into her marriage to him she realized he isn’t her Prince Charming. She recanted her story supplying him with an alibi, but he still hasn’t been arrested regarding what happened to his first wife.
I had no intension of watching another man get away with hurting his wife and probably taking her life. I found out everything I could about him, took some vacation days I had saved up, and made it my business to follow him. Took five days for me to find the opportunity. I took it when it came.
I’ve been surprised at my lack of guilt. I was worried crossing that line would be hard on me. I expected to be haunted by the act. I expected to have nightmares. I expected some manifestation in my life memorializing the act of taking another person’s life. It’s been a shock to feel so normal.
It took some effort to come back to the mall and resume my daily walks. Part of me hopes to see Susan, that her disappearance was her choice. I prefer to think of her having executed her escape from her marriage.
I don’t think that’s what happened, not when I listen to my gut. His reaction when I confronted him let me know he was responsible, and he would never reveal what he did with her. Revealing that would surrender control. At least Susan’s family won’t be tortured by him holding that information over their heads for years.
I think I’ll get a coffee before I leave.