In 2013, Laura DiGeronimo got a Christmas surprise — one that you wouldn’t welcome.
Laura was 25 and in love. She lived with her boyfriend, whom she’d dated for four years, and she knew something big was on the horizon.
“Everybody was asking, 'What colors for the wedding?' " she remembers. “'How’s the seating gonna go when you get married? When are you guys going to start having kids? Do you think you’re gonna have two kids or three kids? Wow, this would sure be a good place to have a wedding.'"
On Dec. 22, her boyfriend said it was time for a heart-to-heart. She didn’t know quite what to expect.
“It was like 6 p.m., dusky, and it was freezing. He said, ‘We need to talk.’ I said, ‘OK,’ and he said, ‘I just think things would be best for both of us if we broke up.’ He was done.”
Laura asked what she could do to make him stay, but that night, they started packing his things.
Christmas was three days later. Of course, her family asked the obvious question.
“‘Where’s the ring?’ I’m looking at a pile of gifts that are for him, and my heart’s falling out,” Laura says. “I didn’t want to make it a downer.”
So Laura shared the news with a smile and hid how deeply heartbroken she was. She decided to prove she didn’t need him or anyone, that she was a “self-contained island of a person.” But becoming an island wasn’t what she needed. Things were about to get bad.
“It became really hard to get out of bed,” Laura says. “I would wake up hours early for work and just look at my ceiling and look around the house at all the empty spaces on the wall, where art that he and I had gotten together wasn’t, and I just felt so scared.”
She was scared no one would ever love her. She was scared about bills, so she kept her heat around 50 degrees and skimped on food. But she was scared for another reason, too.
“I wasn’t me,” she says.
She cried a lot, and her house became littered with the remains of chores she was too overwhelmed to complete: mildewed clothes, garbage, sand. Laura had sunk into depression.
“The dishes in my sink were probably about two and a half to three feet high, piled in horrible, stagnant water,” Laura says.
The dishes weren’t the only thing piling up. It was a rough winter, and the mountains of snow outside her door felt like a symbol of her isolation.
“My house is really small, and it’s white, and the snow got so high that it looked as though my house was a set of windows built into a snow pile.”
After each snowfall, ice crusted over with a horrible sheen that looked to her like the surface of the moon. She felt trapped and alone.
Finally, in what Laura calls “a weak moment,” she posted a plea for help on Facebook: Could someone help her shovel or help her figure out how to hire a plow?
Ruthy Brown saw the post that morning in Winchendon. She didn’t know Laura well; they had met LensCrafters, where Laura is an optician, and they clicked.
“I watched it for a little bit, and nobody, not one person, had responded to it,” Ruthy says. “I’m like, there is no way this girl can go home and do this by herself.” So when her husband came in from clearing their own driveway, she told him Laura’s story. They convinced Laura to let them make the 40-minute drive to dig her out. They wanted to do it right away, while Laura was still at work.
“We loaded the snowblower up,” Bill says, “made sure it had gas in it, threw a couple shovels in the back of the truck, and went out there and looked at everything, and said, ‘Yeeeee.’ "
Yup, the snow was bad. But he got set up, and Ruthy went inside to plug in the snow blower. Then she saw the pile of dishes, so she washed them. She noticed the floors, so she swept and mopped.
Laura was still at work, but just knowing someone was at her house helping out made Laura feel lighter. When she drove home that evening, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Her driveway was clear, with wide paths to her porch. She was crying even before she reached the kitchen, which was cleaner than she’d seen it in ages.
“Somebody cared,” Laura says. “It felt like I could say, ‘Help!’ And it wasn’t weak to need their help. It made me feel strong again.”
When Laura saw Ruthy again at LensCrafters, she hugged her.
“I said, ‘You’re never going to know what it means to me that you were so good to me.’ ”
Laura says the day Ruthy and Bill stepped up was a jump-start for her, because it showed her she wasn’t alone. Of course Ruthy and Bill brush it off. For them, it was natural.
Ruthy explains, “You just never know when it’s going to be your last minute. If there’s something you can do to help somebody or do something, you don’t let that pass, because you can’t go back. You can never go back and try to help her again on that day.”
“It was nothing,” Laura admits, “but here I am talking about it, and I probably think about it every day.”
Laura says when it comes down to it, Ruthy had no idea what she was going through, but she acted anyway.
“She just needed to know that my dishes were dirty, and that there was some soap right there, and she could just pick it up and solve that problem. So it really has made me want to be somebody who picks up the soap.”
This piece came out of our story contest with the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation and includes music from APM and Jason Leonard. We want to hear your stories of kindness. Find us on Facebook or Twitter, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don't miss an episode.
This segment aired on December 13, 2016.