Updated: Oct 20

Nelley Henderson is a character from the novel LOVE ADDICT by E. S. Bailey. When the main character Ryan Starr first meets Nelley Henderson a woman who later becomes part of her redemption. Their first meeting she puts her in the category of an old crazy woman. In this

chapter Seek And Ye Shall Find, Ryan ends up in jail for an overnight stay for driving under the influence. While in jail she meets this woman who approaches her asking for a light for her imaginary cigarette.

LOVE ADDICT: Seek And Ye Shall Find by E.S.Bailey

I kept to myself. An older woman, who was undoubtfully on drugs and perhaps inebriated, walked over and asked me for a light. There was no cigarette and of course, I didn’t have a lighter. She sat down beside me and crossed her legs puffing on her imaginary cigarette. She looked at me and said, “You are broken.”

Not in the best mood, I rolled my eyes thinking to myself, who is she to tell me I’m broken? She was right and although I acted as if I couldn’t hear her words, they caught my attention. I thought to myself crazy people could always see things that the normal eye wouldn’t detect. Maybe she saw the inside of my soul. I kept my head straight ahead, not giving any indication that I was interested in what she had to say. Maybe my being in jail was a sign from God.

This blue-eyed stranger started to tell me her story. Smoking her imaginary cigarette, she took a breath and exhaled deeply pushing out what would have been clouds of smoke from her lungs. She looked at me and said, “You think no one loves you, don't you? You think that God has deserted you. Why are you so broken?”

“More so why are you here?”

“You must be one of those rich girls from the Northside, probably got messed over by some man. Did you find him, sweetie? Was he with another woman or was he with another man?” she chuckled. I continued to look straight ahead hearing every word she said to me listening to her puff on her imaginary cigarette. I wanted to scream at her to go the fuck away, but my spirit wouldn't let me. It was as if I was paralyzed to listen to what she had to say.

She turned to me and asked, “Who taught you not to love yourself? It's a lot of us in here as you can see.” She started to point out the different women and told their stories. Pointing with her index finger, I could see the frailness of it as it slightly shook. Her voice deep and low as if she was trying to whisper. The words only for my ears.

The lady over there by the toilet, she was molested by her dad and set on the streets when she was 10 years old. A life of begging for food and shelter. Learning that her body could be the asset that could feed her stomach and keep her warm at night. Her father taught her not to love herself. That woman across from you, her mother was a prostitute and had her tricks in their home. One night she was raped by one. Her mother taught her not to love herself. That little white girl sitting on the edge of the bench near the corner, I'm sure you can tell she has lots of money. She had all the things that money could buy, except the attention and love of both of her parents. They were busy making money and keeping their lifestyle. They taught her not to love herself. Look at me. I had a good mother and father, my husband taught me not to love myself because I loved him more than me. Look around we're all just a bunch of women who don't love ourselves. You think that you have it hard, don’t you? Some of us have it a lot harder. Doesn’t mean it hurts any less, but you must figure out how much you’re going to let it hurt you. How much is it going to take you to survive?”

Some of these women will survive it but a lot in here won’t. They will give up their lives to momentary happiness, ending up destroyed or tormented inside. I guess you’re asking why I am telling you this, I felt like you needed to hear it. I've been on this earth for 75 years. I have had a rough life with some good times and a whole lot of bad times and regrets . I decided tonight that the man I had spent most of my life with was gonna die and not by God’s hands, but by mine. He had beaten me one too many times, I’m an older woman and I couldn't take anymore. No one would ever suspect that I had been beaten. My husband never hit me in the face like other men do, he beat me with extension cords, belts, shoes, and anything he could find. I believe he got more gratification from hitting me with his hands. Punches to my stomach, my sides, and my back mostly. Every time I went to the hospital, I would make up a lie. I’m sure my doctor knew but he never said anything, so neither did I. I loved him and for 50 years, I made the choice to take the beatings because sometimes it got better, but a lot of times it got a lot worse. Tonight, I had had enough I put that old dog out of his misery, and I felt liberated. For once, I chose me.” She chuckled and puffed on her imaginary cigarette and blew out with relief.

I could no longer look straight ahead. I turned to her, her blue eyes clear as a cloudless sky, her skin wrinkled like the Atacama Desert, her lips drawn tight. I began to see and smell the cigarette smoke.  I was still drunk or maybe I had lost my damn mind completely, but at that moment, I felt no heart pain. I shared her energy of relief to choose herself first over being broken and in some insane way, she freed me.

She touched me on my shoulder. By that time, I didn't care. She leaned over to whisper in my ear, “Choose you.”

“What is your name?” I asked.

“Nelley Henderson. I'll probably need you to put money on my books and come see me sometimes. I’m sure I’ll get a life sentence. But if by some miracle I get insanity instead, it may add a couple of years onto my life. I don't have too many years to live anyhow, but it sure feels damn good to be free of the mental and physical pain.”

Nelley, now looking straight ahead in a dazed look, said, “Maybe I will be sad tomorrow, but I sure won’t miss those beatings. Those beatings stole most of my life away and broke me as a woman, left me childless and loveless but not moneyless.” Then Nelley chuckled and turned to me, by now I was looking at her in the eyes and she said, “Choose you, baby girl.”

Nelley got up, and before walking away she turned to me and asked me what my name was. Caught off guard I quickly responded, “Ryan Starr.” She turned and walked away.

Author's Insight

I love this part of the chapter. The main character Ryan Starr was becoming emotionally unhinged. Nelley brought her back to the realization that it was time to choose herself. Although Ryan would interpret Nelley's advice into a sinister meaning. Her words had become Ryan's salvation.

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