The Gift of Geraldine

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Geraldine is the personification of a life lived irresponsibly. 50ish, bloated up over 250 pounds, half-a-dozen illegitimate children scattered over the city — the products of drunken liaisons with assorted men. Liver now failing along with other abused body parts, she is in and out of area hospitals and specialists’ offices — those that take Medicaid — charging on the tab of tax-payers exorbitant sums for endless tests and medications. Her current monthly cash-flow — government checks for two remaining dependents that still live at home plus her own disability entitlement for "bad nerves" — is being siphoned away by fines she is paying for drunken disorderly convictions. Geraldine has never worked, at least not legitimate employment, for any length of time. Her explosive temper, which served to fend off the unwanted advances of predatory men, also cost her jobs. A caseworker with the help of a legal aid attorney finally got her qualified as “disabled”, a status that secured for her the permanent rights and privileges of a public dependent. Over time she became an expert in playing the system, using various addresses to gain admittance to preferred hospitals, mental health facilities and addiction treatments programs. She now talks of getting on a priority list for a liver transplant to replace the one she has destroyed.

Geraldine is a very weak person. Or a very strong person. It depends on one’s perspective. She has never been able to set boundaries for herself or her children. Her life is riddled with inconsistencies. Drugs — a dangerous combination of legal and illicit ones — wreak havoc on her mind and body. She vacillates between rage and crippling depression. But she has moments, sometimes days, even weeks, when a fragile order calms her life. These are times when her spirit connects with her Maker. She returns to church, soaks up life-giving affirmation from responsible friends, admits her total dependence on God if she is to gain any measure of wholeness in her life. At present she is experiencing for the first time an emotional and spiritual release through acknowledging long-buried pain and festering anger — this not in a church but in a court-ordered anger management program. One could see strength in her, a remarkable resilience that is allowing health to emerge from the wreckage of a devastated life.

For some reason beyond my understanding, Peggy had an abiding affection for Geraldine. For more than twenty-five years, ever since we moved into the inner-city and Geraldine became our neighbor, they shared in each other’s lives. Their point of connection was motherhood; little else in their lives or backgrounds was similar. For years Peggy tried to rescue Geraldine from her addictions and from an unending stream of calamities. But Geraldine would not stay fixed. Every effort to free her from her life-controlling problems proved futile. Finally, mostly out of frustration, Peggy gave up and resigned herself to being just a friend. Peggy stopped taking her calls when she was intoxicated or locked up which, of course, infuriated Geraldine. But in time Geraldine stopped asking Peggy for bond money or for advocacy to manipulate her way into a “better” rehab program. Something very positive happened when Peggy relinquished responsibility for Geraldine and Geraldine ceased to view Peggy as one more player to draw into her destructive dramas. Their relationship was freed up to become mutual friends.

Geraldine has been straight for nearly four months now — her longest stretch of sobriety in 20 years. She is also sick. Powerful medications keep her functioning but the side effects of one require another to make it tolerable. And what is needed to control her pain also numbs her mind. She knows that another hit of crack cocaine or one more alcohol binge could push her over a precipice from which she would not return. But that threat alone is insufficient to ward off the demons that lay in wait, ready to rush forward at the first hint of weakening. Her only hope is in God. She knows this. But she also knows that hers is a fragile faith with little mental or physical stamina to reinforce it. Until a month ago, until Peggy left us, Geraldine called every day, sometimes twice, for doses of encouragement and moral support. Some days were brighter than others but none free from trouble. One day coughing up “coffee grounds” (dried blood, no doubt), the next bent over from gastric pains. No telling the cause. More doctor visits.

It is amazing that Geraldine is still alive, given the abuse her body has endured. She has now outlived Peggy and may outlive me. But I doubt it. She will likely die of major system failure triggered by cocaine or alcohol or both. Though she and Peggy prayed earnestly for healing and for strength to resist the intense cravings that have controlled so much of her life, such healing would be nothing short of a miracle. And while I believe in miracles — the dramatic, spectacular variety — the kind of miracle that astonishes me most is the patient, unrelenting, attentive Presence of One who lingers near, even while promiscuity, perversion and pathology twist His creation into deformity. What wondrous affection is this - that One so long ignored, pushed aside, cursed, would again and again extend His embrace until Geraldine, broken beyond repair, has nowhere else to turn! And nothing to offer but her ruined self. Now that is a miracle of awe-inspiring proportions!

PS: Two weeks before Peggy left us, she confessed to me that she had told Geraldine that she could still call every day, even though it would be Bob and not Peggy who would be answering the phone. I was not thrilled but there was no way I could object. And so the phone has continued to ring. Geraldine tells me how much she misses Peggy, tells me that God loves me, tells me that God will be with me during these hard times, tells me about her ailments. We cry together and I feel better. I thank God for Geraldine.

Bob Lupton

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