By Chef Dectrek
I’ve never liked getting help from others. It always felt like pity. Like someone was trying to rub it in my face that I needed them even for the briefest moment in time.
So you can imagine how tough it was when my husband died and all the neighbors wanted to offer me their condolences. Denise would come over and say “Laura, it’s such a shame about George. How are you going to manage raising little Susy all by yourself? I’ve still got Drew and we can barely keep up with our five little ones considering how involved they are at the school. Anyways I brought you a casserole. Just put it in the oven for 30 minutes and no more or else it will burn…” It’s funny how I always left it in ten minutes to long. I guess I’m clumsy.
As bad as Denise was, she did raise some good points. George made things easier around the house, and he always knew how to help without adding anything onto it. It was just an action when George did it; no pity, no pride, no “look at what I can do that you can’t”, just help because we loved each other. Now his help was gone, but everything else lingered.
Susy didn’t seem like she understood what had happened, but you could tell she knew when you looked into her eyes. The day after he died, she told me she wanted to go to school. Her teachers said she acted normal, but when nap time came she just sat in the corner of the room and looked at all the other kids sleeping. I guess we both cry dry tears.
Denise was right. She was annoying, but she was always right.
We had been on our own for a month when the first one came. It was January then, and the snow fell softly in mounds outside of our empty house. I didn’t see him the first time, but he left his mark in the form of my shoveled driveway. It felt worse than anything Denise could have done. I can always turn help down when it’s offered, but to force it on me and never even show your face is low. I was able to respond when I looked into Denise’s eyes and saw that her kindness was meant to make her feel better about herself, but this was a good deed that could go unpunished. It’s all I thought about on my drive to work.
I guess it’s no surprise that I acted the way I did when I finally caught the culprit. I was reading Susy a bedtime story when I heard the scraping noise of plastic on concrete outside her window. I didn’t check to see who it was. I went straight to my front door and threw it open with the rage that had been building up for the past few nights. I ran out and yelled “Who are you?” and not a second later the man took off down the street. I guess I came on too strong. I had a problem with doing that; he was shoveling my driveway regardless of his intentions after all. I watched him run away, taking note of two things: to be calmer if he came back, and that he didn’t run to any house on my street.
I waited up the next night that it snowed. I made sure that Susy was asleep and that I was a little more relaxed for this next encounter. The scraping came later than it did the last time, but I spared just as much time getting to the door. Outside was a scruffy, bundled up man using a red snow shovel to clear a path to my garage.
“Hi there,” I said.
“Hi” he responded without pausing his shoveling.
“Who are you?”
“Uh… My names Hank.”
“You don’t live here Hank, do you?”
“Nope. Just here to shovel your driveway.”
“And who told you you could do that?”
“Do I need permission to do something nice?”
He stopped shoveling as he said that. He gave me a smile as he leaned against his shovel.
“My name is Laura.”
“I know. They told me that before sending me over here.”
“Whose they? The school?”
He laughed. “No, it’s not the school. I don’t know how to say this. I’m part of this ‘organization’ that goes around doing good things.”
“A public service group?”
“No. no. I guess you could say we are more of a… cult?”
He said this with a slight embarrassment in his voice. I guess he must have done this explanation before because he made a slight nod of understanding at my surprised expression.
“A cult? Like those Satan worshipers?”
“Not exactly. Here I’ve got a pamphlet.”
He pulled a clean, laminated, folded piece of paper from his coat pocket and trudged his way in the snow to me. It was brightly colored and had the words “The Cult of Kindness” in a glistening blue font printed in a gold diamond. Right below the emblem was the words “kill them with it”. Not the most comforting phrase to read.
“Kill them with it.” I read aloud.
“Yeah, I didn’t like that too when I first read it. Weirdly sinister considering we just go around town and do chores.”
He went back to his shovel and started heaving snow. I started to flip through the pages of the pamphlet only to be greeted by more bright pictures and words.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Hank said as he stopped shoveling again. “Did you want me to stop? I’m not supposed to finish the job if you want me to stop.”
I stood on my doorstep for a second before saying “No, go ahead.”
“Kill them with it.”
You couldn’t be more blatant unless it read “We are an evil cult”. The phrase echoed through my head for the next few days. Everything about it was wrong, yet the rest of the pamphlet was entirely clean. It talked about building a community for the downtrodden and promoting a sense of service in the world. The only thing that seemed to make it a cult was the fact that it called itself that. The Cult of Kindness: kill them with it. The cover page was a screaming warning sign to stay away, but everything else didn’t match. There was no motivation to take over the world or find some dark dimension; just a desire to do good deeds.
The strangest thing was that I felt nothing from their good deeds. After going back inside, I fell right asleep to the sound of Hank’s shovel. When I woke up, the only evidence that last night was real was my freshly shoveled driveway. I felt nothing from the act at all. Actually, I felt grateful. Hank had no connection to me what so ever, and he never showed a desire to use the act to feel better about himself. I doubt he even knew my situation. He just did it for the sake of doing it. I felt something I hadn’t felt since George died.
It was a particularly snowy January this year. For a little while, it snowed every other night, and someone always came to shovel my driveway. At first it was someone new every time. I would ignore them and let them do their work, but the first time Hank came back I went outside to give him his pamphlet back. After that night, Hank shoveled my driveway every other snowfall.
I realized right away that Hank was coming to my house more and more because whoever was sending people here realized I must have liked Hank. It freaked me out a little to know that some entity had taken notice of my actions, but I wasn’t going to complain about my driveway being shoveled. I had my hands full with Susy and the house, so my driveway was the least of my problems. Besides, I did like Hank. Maybe it was because he was the first snow shoveler that I talked to, but I always had some sort of bias towards Hank.
Early in February, there was a particularly bad snow storm on an especially cold day and Hank was sent to shovel my driveway during the storm. I was so shocked to hear him shoveling as the snow pelted my bedroom window, that I invited him inside for a cup of coffee. I told him that it was no use shoveling while snow was still coming down and that he could go back out when it stopped. When he opened my cabinet door to get a mug, he heard a squeak come from the hinges and instantly took a screwdriver out of his pocket to tighten the door. Helping seemed like second nature to him.
Later that week my fridge broke, and instead of calling a mechanic, I instantly thought of Hank. At this point, they were sending Hank to shovel my driveway every snowfall, and all I had to do was wait for the next one so I could ask him to help me out. He came back the same night with a group of similar looking men that I had seen shoveling my driveway before and they fixed my refrigerator. Hank gave me his number after that, so I could call him whenever I wanted to get something fixed around the house.
I put the number in a drawer right away, telling myself that I wasn’t going to ever use it, but as my boss stopped giving me time off, it became hard to balance Susy and my job. The first time I called Hank, I told myself that that was going to be it, but one time turned into two, then three, then five, then ten, then almost every day. My life was just more manageable when I didn’t have to worry about the home, and I suddenly was able to focus on my work much more.
Don’t get me wrong though, the whole time I never stopped thinking about that phrase. “Kill them with it.” I enjoyed the help, but the signs were all there. When I took the time to talk to one of the scruffy looking men or women that Hank brought to my house, they suddenly appeared every day. I had talked to a woman named Martha about her life in poverty one night and for the next week she was sent along with Hank to help clean around the house. Whoever was in charge knew my every move and was adapting to what I was doing.
The first night that Hank stayed over was late February. He had accidentally fallen asleep while working on my radiator, but when he woke up the next morning he had a sadness in his eyes. He knew he had opened the floodgates and he looked genuinely sorry. He wouldn’t stop telling me how tired he was and that he didn’t mean to do it, but he never said that it wouldn’t happen again. I told him it was ok, but we both knew that that wasn’t what he was apologizing for.
I made a few makeshift rooms in my basement for those who asked me to stay overnight so they could get more work done. I basically had my own help at this point. Everything was done for me, I would wake up to a large breakfast, come home to a clean house, and find that everything would work perfectly. All I had to do was work and take care of Susy.
I’m sure you must all be screaming at me while you read this to wake up and see what they are doing. It’s a cult, after all, nothing about that word is comforting I knew what was happening the entire time. I realized that I was the only house on the street that got my driveway shoveled. That alone gave their plan away; to take advantage of me while I was in a state of sorrow, but no matter how much I told myself that this was going to end badly, I couldn’t help but let it happen. They did more work in a week than George could have done in a decade, and they did it solely out of duty. Not once did they talk about what they had fixed that day or ask me about how I was managing on my own. They just did things and nothing else. I knew I was dependent on them and I knew that that was what he wanted, but he wasn’t here. Whoever was in charge never showed their face, so I could tell myself everything was going to be okay as more and more people moved in.
The breaking point was when I couldn’t find Susy.
I had a set routine in the morning: wake up, get ready, eat breakfast, drive Susy to school, go to work. When I went into her room and found that she wasn’t there I knew that the day had finally come. They were finally going to “kill me with it.” My heart pounded, and I ran downstairs hoping that I was wrong and that she would just be in the kitchen, but she wasn’t there. She wasn’t anywhere. I started to call her name quietly, and then I shouted out of desperation only to be answered by Hank.
“Martha took her to school”
“We thought we could save you some time in the morning. Martha drove Susy to school.”
“Don’t ever do that again.”
It may not have been as bad as I thought, but they had never helped me with Susy before. It crossed a line. They could do whatever they wanted with the house, but I was Susy’s mother.
But when you gave them an inch, they took a mile.
I drove Susy to school every morning, but they would find other ways to intervene. I would come home to Susy excitingly telling me that they had helped her finish all her homework or would get ready to read her a bedtime story only to find that she was already asleep. They promised not to drive her to school, but that was it.
Hank never touched her though. Everyone else would take care of her but Hank always kept his distance. He knew that what they were doing was wrong. He may not have stopped it, but he never took part in it.
The day finally came about two weeks ago.
I should have known that he would come when everyone stopped working so hard. The whole week that lead up to his arrival, some of the workers moved out while others started to do less. I didn’t really notice until my cabinet door started to squeak again.
He wanted me to know what it would be like without his help.
I was just finishing dinner when his car pulled into the driveway. A cleanly dressed man that I had never seen in my life stepped through my door followed by everyone who had ever worked for me and more. The foyer of my house was packed. This was it.
“Hello Laura, it’s nice to finally get to meet you.”
“I assume that you are the one who has been sending everyone to me.”
“My name is Sean Barton. How about we go to your kitchen and I tell you why I am here.”
“I know why you are here. We might as well make it quick.”
“Very well. I’d love to continue to do service for you…”
It was that moment that the feeling came back. I realized that every person who came through my house didn’t want anything from me, but they stilled worked for Sean. He was like Denise times one hundred. All it took was a sentence for me to realize that Sean didn’t have a charitable bone in his body. He wouldn’t do a thing unless it benefited him. Every action that had been done in the past three months had suddenly become tainted.
“… but I’m going to need something from you first.”
“That’s not really service then is it?”
“Maybe not. I guess we are more into kindness.”
“I’m guessing that you want me to join you? Is that how it works? I join your cult and you keep taking care of me?”
“That’s usually how these things go, don’t they? That’s not how we do things though. We don’t want you, we want Susy.”
As if awaiting her name, Susy appeared at the top of the stairs.
“We find that its easier to get them to cooperate if we start to teach them young.”
I looked around at all the people that stood in my Foyer and suddenly began to imagine similar situations to the one I was in right now. Countless parents in desperate situations handing over their children just for a little help. Handing over Hank.
“We can help you in more ways than just housework Laura. We can do all sorts of things. Maybe we can even get George back.”
“George is dead.”
I’m ashamed to admit that I strongly considered it for a second. I knew that I was dependent on them and that it would be hard to go back to the way things were. For a moment I understood how so many parents could have given their child away to a man like Sean when they were in the same situation as I was.
I looked to Hank, but he just stared at the ground.
Funny enough, it was Susy who made the choice. The room remained silent as Susy walked down the stairs and came to stand before Sean.
“We don’t need your help. I can read my own bedtime stories.”
That’s all it took for me to know that no matter how hard it got, we would be ok.
I grabbed Susy and then told Sean to get out. I never wanted to see him or any of his workers again. He sighed, but he didn’t try and fight me. He pushed everyone out the door and then turned around one last time to say.
“We get plenty of people who deny us. If you change your mind, you have Hank’s number.”
I ripped up Hank’s number not a minute later.
For the first time in a month, Susy and I were once again alone in our house. Not even George’s spirit lingered.
There are three reasons why I am posting this story.
- If you ever find yourself in a situation that feels inescapable and the Cult of Kindness comes to you, don’t let them kill you with it. There is always a better way.
- I’m hoping that this story somehow reaches Hank. I know that you told me that you came to the Cult of Kindness because they helped you out of poverty, but I never knew that your parents had given you away. You may have grown up in that community, but I want you to know that there is a better life outside, and that if you ever decide to leave, you will always have a place in my home.
- The last snow of the season is supposed to come tonight. I’ve been on my own for two weeks now and it gets rough at times but Susy and I are getting by. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve asked Denise for a few of her casseroles and she has graciously accepted to help. Spring is finally here and yet tonight we are supposed to get half an inch of snow. Most of the families on my street are going to let it melt in the morning, but I think that I am going to go out tonight and shovel.
Thank you for reading.