Kate’s world-view had changed drastically in the last nine months.
In November, Kate had been assaulted by a violent criminal with a long history of sexual assaults. Only quick action on the part of Ms. Stacy Sheridan prevented an unhappy ending for Kate.
Then, in mid-January thugs swooped out of nowhere and looted her store, destroying what they could not load into trucks and carry away.
Kate’s thirty-five years of work as a Social Worker did not immunize her against the physical, mental and emotional trauma of being a victim
Trauma rewired her brain.
Kate became subject to brooding. The episodes sometimes lasted a few hours. Sometimes it took a week for her to shake it off.
Rick learned to not try to help too much. She was mentally processing. Rick’s mental image went back to when Kate would brush out the girl’s hair on Saturday night after showers. Sometimes the hair was clean and combed out easily. Other times it would be filled with snarls and Kate had to take it in tiny hanks and comb out each bit, a little at a time.
When the hair was particularly snarled after a weekend at the beach, the combing sessions became marathon session with multiple breaks. That is where Rick thought Kate was, slowly and methodically combing her way through the recent past.
Every so often, Rick would interject. “Can I make you a sandwich?” or perhaps “Do you want me to turn on the lights?” as the light from the evening sun waned.
Rick was worried. Lately, the episodes had gotten longer.
Kate had always been the one with the sunny, cheerful disposition. One of her coping strategies as a Social Worker was to compartmentalize. Working with victims she focused on the two or three immediate causes that triggered the traumatic event.
Her rational was that there was nothing she could do to improve environmental factors other than have the victims see the need to change their environment. Sometimes that meant the victim had to be removed from the home. Sometimes the abuse was severe enough that charges were brought against the abuser. Sometimes it meant a call to Animal Control and a pet had to be euthanized.
Then, one warm evening in May, the dam broke loose. It was the day Ms Sheridan had canned the nettle greens.
Rick and Kate were sitting on the screened-in porch watching nature put herself to bed. They were sharing a glass of wine before turning in for the night.
“I apologize for neglecting you.” Kate said to Rick as the wine warmed her belly.
Rick nodded. Nyssa had warned Rick that alcohol was contraindicated for depression. That had Rick scratching his head. He didn’t think Kate was depressed so much as trapped in her head. Kate not wanting to talk about her thoughts and feelings was a novel situation but Rick was willing to let her thrash it out in the privacy of her mind.
“No apologies needed” Rick said. “We have all been through a lot.”
“You know I was a good Social Worker” Kate said.
Rick agreed. “It meant a lot to you and I could see you did a lot of good. You certainly made the lives of me and our children better.”
“Subconsciously, I thought I had all the answers” Kate said. “It is probably an occupational hazard. I only saw the problems where my tool kit could make a difference. I start thinking my tool kit had every tool I will ever need.”
“Even the cases where I could not fix the problem” Kate said, “I could tell myself that it was the victim’s choice to not choose a better path.”
“But now...” Kate’s voice trailed off.
Rick took a slow sip of his drink and let it sit in his mouth. Then he slowly swallowed it and took a breath.
“And now? What do you see?” Rick asked.
Rick did not think she was going to answer, she took so long to respond.
“And now I see that I was drawing fences around problems. The system sent me pre-programmed cases that matched my pre-programmed answers; little islands of predictable chaos in a sea of total chaos” Kate said.
Yep. That could be a problem. Decades of training and experience in a field and then finding out that you had a box full of screwdrivers when you needed sledge hammer and a case of dynamite.
Rick said, “You can only do what you can do. There is no shame in that.”
“That is where my thoughts went” Kate said. “I started looking beyond Kate Salazar, MSW. Maybe I cannot do ‘more’ but I can do ‘different’.”
Rick was puzzled. “What would you do differently?” he asked.
Kate’s answer veered way from the question Rick had asked.
“I realized that I was spending my time tending to victims” Kate said.
Rick started to speak and Kate shushed him with a motion of her hand.
“Yes, I know that is important” Kate said. “But the thing is that we could never determine exactly who was going to be the next victim of domestic violence or exactly who would go over the line with substance abuse. We had to wait for something to happen before we could step in and help.”
“What is different now?” Rick asked.
“People are hungry now. Even in Kates Store. And I know we went to extraordinary lengths to put food by” Kate said. “I don’t have to wait and guess who is going to be the five-in-a-hundred who are going to be victims. Everybody is going to be hungry.”
“I could not stop thinking about all the other people out there, the people who do not live in Kates Store or Pray Church.” Kate said.
“Most of them are dead.” Rick said.
“And a lot of them are not, at least not yet.” Kate said.
“Do you remember Maslow’s Heirarchy?” Kate asked. “It has been so long since most Americans were hungry...really hungry, that we have no concept of how desperate hungry people are. They will agree to anything to get one more meal for themselves, for their children.”
“Nothing else matters if you are hungry” Kate said.
Rick could have argued with her but he saw her point.
“We have that handled” Rick said with certainty. “We figured out how much we were going to need and then we doubled it. Those seeds are already in the ground.”
“It isn’t going to be enough” Kate said with even more certainty.
Rick was baffled. Math was not Kate’s strong suit.
“Why do you say that?” he asked.
“Because every survivor in fifty miles will head our way when word gets out that we have food.” Kate said.