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Hackie: The Window

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"It's been a gorgeous fall, hasn't it?" My customer, Jane Gembart, was conversing with me from the shotgun seat of my taxi. She was easy on the eyes, but I mostly managed to keep mine on the road.

When I did glance over, I noticed that her wavy, gray-streaked hair was fashioned into two loosely fastened braids, an insouciant look I found fetching. She wore retro wire-rimmed glasses that sweetly framed her brown eyes. I guess I've always had a thing for the librarian look.

If I play my cards right, maybe she'll shush me, I fantasized.

Returning to my right mind, I replied, "Yup, I'd say it's been the best in years. The weather's been mostly sunny and mild for weeks, and the foliage colors have been outstanding throughout the state."

I was driving Jane to a drug rehab facility located in Orange County. A number of conditions, none of them great, can land a person in rehab. I was curious, but for me to broach the subject with her would have been intrusive.

"It's kind of ironic to be checking myself into rehab," she said, self-broaching, as it were. "In my work, I dealt with these issues all the time."

"What was your job?" I asked.

"I worked for child protective services in Maine for 20 years. I retired just over a year ago. These kids I dealt with, so many of the adults in their lives struggled with substance abuse."

Jane paused for a moment. She seemed to be reflecting on her time on the job. I could only imagine the heart-wrenching situations she had confronted, probably on a daily basis.

"I was a fierce defender of my kids," she continued, "and often ran afoul of my supervisors. It was amazing that I lasted as long as I did. Anyway, I broke my back in an accident a couple of years ago and began to use alcohol to cope with the pain, even after the worst of it subsided. It was an odd thing, because I had never been a drinker before this. Finally it dawned on me that I had a real problem, and that's why I'm going into this program."

"Good on you," I said. "I know it takes guts to face up to something like this. How'd you end up working for the State of Maine?"

"Well, my life has taken some interesting paths. I grew up in a French Canadian family in rural Maine. My father was an alcoholic and violently abusive, and I spent time in foster homes. I married my first boyfriend, Dan, at age 16, believe it or not, and had four kids in short order. All this while my husband and I worked at a local shoe factory.

"Well, the factory closed, and we got divorced. Dan is a good man and now lives in Naples, down in Florida. We're still close, and he remains a positive person in our kids' lives. After we split up, Dan was good about sending the child support, but I still had to make some real money. So I went back to school, got my degree and secured the job with the state."

"And you never remarried? I bet you had offers."

Jane chuckled and said, "Thanks for that, but here's the thing. At age 40, I realized I was gay and finally understood why I really left my marriage with Dan. Anyway, I didn't act on this self-knowledge at all because I didn't want any pressure on my kids. In rural Maine, folks can be pretty narrow-minded. So I waited until my youngest was out of school and then came out to everyone."

"How'd your four kids take that startling piece of news?"

"They were all great about it; I'd even say relieved. Their old mom's life suddenly made more sense to them. And, actually, I have just the three. My last child, Brian, was born with congenital problems and died after six days."

"Oh, I'm so sorry. What a thing to go through. Have you ever had any sense of Brian's spirit? Like, how he's doing?"

"Oh, it was my younger daughter, Eileen, who eased my mind about that. A few months after he passed, we were sitting in the living room, and Eileen — she was barely 5 years old — she yelled, 'Momma, look out the window, look out the window!' I got up and looked but saw only our snowy front yard. So I asked her, 'What do you see, honey?'

"She said, 'It's Jesus holding baby Brian in his arms. Brian is so happy, Momma! He's OK now.'"

"Wow, what a vision," I said. "Out of the mouths of babes, right?"

"Yes, and the first thing to know is that we weren't particularly religious! I grew up in an observant Catholic home — church every week and Sunday school, the whole nine yards — but I only took my kids to services on the holidays, if that. So, I don't know where she got it from. The only explanation is that she indeed saw Jesus holding the baby in our front yard, and I can't tell you how much that eased my grief."

"Well, then," I said, feeling the spirit rise within me, courtesy of Eileen, Brian and Jesus. "When you get to your rehab room, remember to check outside your window. You never know when and where Jesus might show up."

"Amen, brother," Jane said, and not jokingly. Rehab is serious business, and she was humble enough to accept all available support, divine and otherwise. "I'll keep my eye out for him," she added.

All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.

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