My doctor was running late. Her assistant told me it would be at least fifteen minutes, so I took a seat in the waiting room and looked over a tempting array of magazines, mostly directed at a female audience. It seems the only time I get to read women’s magazines is when I’m at the doctor’s office.
I was leafing through lots of articles with super in the title (“Super Nutrients!”, “Supermodel Diet Secrets!”) when the woman next to me let out a soft gasp. She was watching a morning soap on a wall-mounted TV. The volume was so low I couldn’t make out what was happening, but whatever elicited the gasp made her turn to me and say “Do you see what her boyfriend is doing! My boyfriend did that to me too.”
The man on the screen was making slashing movements with a pair of scissors. Fortunately, no one was wearing the women’s lingerie he was cutting up.
“Your boyfriend did that?” I looked closely at the woman, not sure whether this was a cry for help or just a personal moment she felt compelled to share.
“Oh, no,” she assured me. “He didn’t cut up my clothing. He put dents in my car. On purpose, I’m sure, but he would never admit it.”
The magazine lay in my lap, forgotten, while she told me the whole story.
It seems her live-in boyfriend was adamantly against long-distance relationships, but she’d been offered a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity in another state. After many arguments and much negotiating, he finally agreed that she should take the job and he would stay and hold down the fort, a house they’d bought together and did not want to sell until they were sure her job would pan out. He agreed, but it was obvious that he wasn’t okay with the arrangement and he found a variety of ways to punish her for sacrificing him instead of the job opportunity. Sacrifice was the word he’d used, according to her.
I wasn’t surprised when she told me she’d lost the job and the relationship had fallen apart. He moved out of their place, leaving her to sell it when she returned home, which was when she noticed that her new car had a dozen or so nearly identical dents on one of the fenders. It looked like a car parked next to hers had opened the door and hit her fender over and over again.
Since her car had been parked in the garage while she was gone and the only car next to it was his, she didn’t have to wonder for long how the dents got there. She imagined him driving into the garage and using her fender as his door stopper whenever he got out of his car. She also imagined that repeatedly denting her new car had given him some kind of perverse pleasure, as if he was hurting her with every dent the way she’d hurt him when she’d chosen the job over him, which she swore had not been the case.
Every good story should have a surprise or two. This one had a happy ending, if it can be called that. Regardless, it was a surprise. These two people, who had inflicted so much pain on each other, perhaps unknowingly, although both seemed convinced it was intentional, they got back together!
She didn’t tell me how that miracle came about, but she did say that her boyfriend felt badly about their split and the job she’d lost and he asked how he could make it up to her. She gave his offer some thought and decided she wanted to have her car detailed. He agreed happily, probably relieved that she hadn’t asked for diamonds or pearls. However, when they took the car in the detailer pointed out the fender dents, guaranteeing that they could be completely removed and the car would look as good as new. Her boyfriend agreed—and it cost him a chunk of money, several hundred dollars over the detailing cost.
It occurred to me that if the boyfriend had made the dents, it must have been an interesting moment for him. Maybe he’d thought he was paying her back, but now he was paying the bill for his revenge. Karma in action. What goes around does comes around, especially if it’s pain.
It also occurred to me that if we put more energy into figuring out how not to hurt ourselves rather than how to hurt others, we might accomplish great things in this life. World peace, anyone? I’m only half kidding about that. Studies show that the great majority of humanity’s problems are self-inflicted. Not all, of course, but too many, yet it seems a rare thing when we’re willing to look deeply enough to see how we might have contributed to the mess we’re in—and accept the answer as a gift rather than a judgment, or an opportunity to blame others.
Ah, life. So many mysteries, so little time—and even less insight, but that can change. One thing I can say for sure. I’m glad my doctor was late that morning and that a stranger decided to share her story with me. I learned a lot.