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A Time For Everything
Both had formed habits. She would take the same trip, trek the same half-block, and stop –frozen with fear- in the same spot. They, would pace along the entryway, peer around the window hangings- believing it only a mirage- doing so every few minutes. Each set of revolving habits brushed along the path of the other…
She had been coming to the same place every day for a month. Like clockwork, she would step off the 12:45 p.m. bus from Ash Street to Wolfe Avenue, and walk half a block to the street she had grown up on. The first week of her daily visitations, she could step no further than the hedging that separated her childhood home from the neighbors’. After three weeks, she could stand on the sidewalk in front of the house, but could not step across to the narrow stone path that stretched to the front porch. She had been coming to stand at this spot for a week, frozen at some wild unknown, feeling as if all the world were pushing upon her to move forward, forward to a bitter, vicious, painful end. Perhaps, in a month or so, she’d be able to stand at the brick steps that lead to the crisp white door from her past, and maybe a few months after that, she’d be capable of lifting her body- even as burdened with the past as it was- up those few steps to reach out and knock. Maybe then, she’d be able to say what she’s been meaning to say, explain, and then move on. A sigh escaped from under the weight on her soul. She shook her head, her wispy bangs falling into honey eyes that shone with apprehension. Allowing her dark tresses to curtain around her in an attempt to shield herself from what was to come, she hesitated slightly, before stepping forward.
Looking up from her steadfast gaze on her miraculously moving feet, she froze in shock at the realization that she was half way along the walkway. A brief smile flit across her face, lighting her eyes to shine with golden depths. Just as quickly as the smile danced onto her face, it slid off as her nervousness took hold again. She began to tremble lightly, either from fear at continuing forward, or from some struggle with her body which refused to listen to her mind’s commands to step forward. At last, she merely turned around, and began a brisk walk, needing to go back down the path that stretched forever until it reached the sidewalk, back down the street, back downtown, and back to the temporary comfort of her small apartment.
The sweeping sounds of a door being opened, and then the hard smack of it being pulled closed stilled her cowardly movements. A deep rumbling bass called out, squeezing her heart painfully enough to bring it to a stuttering halt.
“Carol. Carol, wait.”
Coming to a stop a few feet behind the petrified woman, a man in his early fifties stood, and waited for the young woman to turn around. When it became obvious that she would not be turning, the older man’s disposition became icy.
“What do you want? Why did you come here? Why have you been coming here?”
Carol spun quickly to lock her honey eyes on a pair so similar to her own.
“How long have you known that I’ve been coming here?”
“…since about half-way through the first week. The neighbor called to say they’d seen you, and wondered if it was really you. Then, of course, we couldn’t NOT see you standing on the sidewalk.”
“Why didn’t you ever come outside and say something?”
“We could tell that you needed to approach on your own. We could see your struggle, but figured you would either fight through it, or go home.”
“Today, it seemed like you would actually make it. For a moment, we thought we would witness your strong determination win through…I guess it just wasn’t strong enough…”
“I guess not.” The faint longing in that one reply heated the practiced cold around the man’s heart.
“Why are you here Carol?”
“I just came…. I came by to…” The short speech she had thought up long ago, and had practiced until the words rang clear in the back of her mind at all times, failed her. Worrying her bottom lip gently, Carol tried to find something she could say that would help him understand.
His eyes hardened to cold flecks of yellow topaz. He was familiar with the routine. She would come in need of money to support her addiction, acting meek. In the beginning, they gave in to her desperate pleas, but this caused too much pain, knowing that they were essentially killing her. It was just as painful to deny her, but seeing what Carol was doing to herself was enough to build a sturdy wall around their hearts.
“You know that we won’t support your habit. If you want to kill yourself, you’ll have to get someone else to help you.”
Tears welled in Carol’s eyes. It was hard to miss the seething contempt in the man’s voice.
“But I’ve….No, I’ve…”
Still unable to grasp the words that would bring the truth to light, Carol dropped her gaze from the hardened eyes that were determined to bore straight through her own. Such looks reminded her of her past, something she was determined to leave behind. She had made mistakes, had stupidly believed she was invincible to both influence and addiction. Reality had harshly woken her to the filthy truth that was her life. She had an addiction, or, an addiction had her, and refused to let go. When she realized this, she struggled, fought frantically, and finally succeeded in breaking free. Now began the struggle to stay away from the whispered promises that her body still ached for…
Straightening her slumped shoulders, and releasing her reddened lip from its torture, Carol lifted her gaze back to those stony eyes.
“I didn’t come here to ask for money…”
The man’s look of suspicious skepticism only spurred Carol further.
“I’ve said goodbye to all of that. I’ve stopped using.”
Pulling up the sleeve of her cardigan, Carol showed the man the scarred tracks on her arms, and the absence of fresh needle marks. The man’s eyes shone with distant hope. “I’m clean, I swear. I have been for a while. I’m determined to stay clean. I’m tired of having such a dangerous dependency. I promise, I’m through with all that stuff-”
Carol was becoming more frantic, the assurances spilling from her rapidly as the silence stretched on.
“Carol. Carol, it’s all right-“
“But it’s not all right! I’ve hurt so many people; you. Mama. Joey. Crissa. Ryan… Every day that I shot up, I saw all of you die inside. I saw that, but I still did it… I couldn’t stop…I’m so sorry. That’s not enough, but I don’t know what else to say, and that’s not OK-“
“It will BE OK, Carol.”
Carol drew in a deep breath of cool air, which helped to calm her fraying nerves.
“Well, that’s part of what I came to tell you. There’s this place, up in Rhode Island, they want to help me… to make sure I stay off drugs forever. I’m moving up there, Daddy, to learn how to build a life without drugs. I don’t want to feel that dependency ever again, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure that happens.”
The conviction of Carol’s statement washed over her father, and like a man dying of thirst, he soaked in the refreshing wine of truth, and was sated.
“Do… Would you like to come inside?”
Looking over her father’s shoulder at the house that was the backdrop of so many of her childhood memories, Carol sighed.
“I shouldn’t. I’ve waited to call the movers until after I told you…It’s weird; I was prepared to wait months to gather the nerve to tell you and Mama, but now that I’ve told you, I don’t even want to wait until the weekend to call the movers…”
This admittance drew a booming laugh from her father. As his shoulders shook, and the corners of his eyes wrinkled, Carol memorized each and every deep-cut line, each and every tremble, imprinting the image of her laughing father into her mind, unsure of when she would see the real thing again. His laughter wrapped around her, like a familiar blanket of security from her past, and sank under her skin – into her soul. A sweet smile brightened Carol’s countenance as she watched her father calm.
“You got that backward sense of impatience from me.”
He could now see the changes, the slow but sure return of the Carol before her life of drugs. Her eyes, one of the other things he had given her, matched his own; emotions expressively conveyed through a myriad of shades of warm honey. Looking at the world by the reflection of his daughter’s eyes, he stood, affixed to the image of his life- minus his daughter. Throwing off such thoughts, he could see that Carol was waiting, but for what, he didn’t know.
“Well, I’ll tell your Mama where you’re heading, but you better call every once in a while – at least once a month.”
The tears that had receded sprang again to Carol’s eyes, making the molten gold gleam. The words that failed her this time did not need to be spoken; her eyes carried the message as wind carries a whisper to listening ears.
Carol shifted as if to hug her father, her arms moving slightly from their limp positions by her sides, before she decided against it. Smiling at her father, before turning to continue up the walk at a much more sedate pace, Carol turned only once – at the barrier of hedging – to wave to the figures watching her depart.
He decided to leave the front door open, suddenly feeling that the house was dreary, stuffy, and that the warm spring air, and the wide column of sunlight would brighten the house greatly. Moving through the house, he opened thick curtains and creaking windows. At last, he came to the last untouched window in the house, immediately to the left of the front door, at which his wife stood. Her eyes were still staring at the edge of hedging that their daughter had disappeared behind. Clearing his throat to gain her attention, she half-turned her body to face him, but her eyes still held fast to that spot. He reached past her to throw the heavy curtains open, and in an instant a warm bath of sunlight warmed their skin to a glow. He wrestled to get the wide bay windows open, and when they were finally propped up, a breeze swept through, wrapping the couple in gentle tendrils of scents of the coming summer and the renewal of life. Deep breaths of the air made to shimmer by the golden day washed the two in a similar mindset. Wrapping his arm around his wife’s petite shoulders, he stood at the window, looking out across the yard at the memories playing from times just like this…
“What did she want?”
His wife’s voice cut through the mirage, successfully grounding him in the present. Those memories, the ones that seemed to glow with happiness and warmth from the spring sun, were of past days. He had held on to them like a drowning man clutching a small sliver of driftwood; but know he knew, could feel, that things would be better. A strong man can win a fight, but it takes a truly courageous man to simply walk away. Looking down at his wife, who was waiting for his reply, he could only smile…
“She came to say goodbye.”