Woe to the One Who Falls

August 8, 2011
When Hannah Vetter called me at 8:48 p.m. and asked me if I was ready to run away, I didn’t take her seriously. On the phone, she spoke in a frightened almost oppressed-sounding whisper, and I detected a hint of a sob somewhere in there. I couldn’t understand anything she said except, “We have to go now. We have to get out of here, Grant.”

“Is this serious? I mean, is it for real this time?” I asked her.

“Yes, I’m packed. Call when you get here, and I’ll climb down from the balcony.”

I agreed and hung up the phone. Hannah and I had an unusual relationship. We called each other best friends, but I often believed there was something more. Occasionally, we would talk about dating, but she always told me that a formal relationship would ruin what we already had. So at this point in my life, Hannah was my best friend and officially nothing more. Although in some strange and completely unique sense of the phrase, I think we may have been “in love.”

At the time of the call, I had been lying in my room watching the Philadelphia Eagles play the New York Giants. The score was 31-31, and it looked like the game would go into overtime. I turned the T.V. off and paced back and forth across my room worrying frantically, “Where will we sleep? How long before they realize we’re gone? How long will our money last us?”

My brain continued working as I wrenched clothes out of my dresser in a tornado of red, blue, yellow, green, white, black, grey. I had 150 dollars from a past birthday in the drawer of my bedside table. I grabbed it and imagined the way that gasoline could tear into a man's wallet. I wasn't sure how far we could get.

But why should that worry me? I was a modern day pioneer! Pushing into unknown territory with nothing but my car and my lady -- this was my chance! Me, a boy of the 21st century -- an age of technology where borders are defined and no land is new land -- becoming a man by blazing my own trail. We might even make it to Mexico, then what? I pushed that thought out of my head and shut the drawer of my dresser.

After stuffing a black duffle bag with clothes, I grabbed my wallet, my car keys, and my – should I take my phone? If I were to stay away from home for a long period of time, I would surely receive pleading calls on my cell phone. I couldn’t decide at the moment whether or not I would have the will power to resist these emotional appeals when the time came. Still, I grabbed my phone and slipped it into my pocket, because I knew that I would have to call Hannah when I arrived.

The drive to Hannah’s took only 12 minutes, a record performance. I suspect I speeded but can’t remember exactly; the drive was rather blurry. I sat in the driver’s seat of a black 2000 Honda Accord beating my wrist to Miles Davis on the radio while I called Hannah. She was speed dial number 5, since it was in the center of the keypad, making it easiest to press.

“I’m out front,” I told her.

“OK I’m coming.”

The sliding glass door to the balcony outside Hannah’s bedroom jerked open, and a familiar head poked out of the house. Hannah spotted my car and slipped out onto the balcony with a rectangular brown suitcase big enough to house my entire closet full of clothes. She surveyed her obstacles and then took action, starting by tossing her suitcase to the ground. It landed with a muffled thump on the damp grass. Next, she climbed carefully over the balcony railing until she was hanging by her fingertips from the outside ledge. She dropped down and hurried over to my car, continuing to survey her surroundings the entire way.

Hannah… I nearly forgot how much I loved her. Her dark brown hair, almost black, curled and waved freely as it fell down past her neck. But her beauty came mainly from her elegant arching eyebrows. They sliced across her forehead and accentuated her remarkable features. Her light blue eyes entranced me; they were those eyes that’ll make you do anything if you stare long enough into them. They were wide open when I saw her, darting back and forth to each side of the street making sure we were alone. She opened the door and slid into the passenger seat, never looking right at me, always glancing back at her house. I kissed her lightly on the forehead. That’s the best kind of kiss: it says, I love you forever and I care about you more than anyone else. We stayed away from other kinds of kisses.

And me? I was just a lanky awkward looking high school kid. I was 5ft 10, a bit above average height, with fair skin and a lazy left eye that would squint a little more than the right one when I smiled. My teeth were not very straight, because I refused to wear braces as a kid. Hannah told me I had nice brown hair, but there really wasn't anything special about it. It was messy, but she loved how soft it was. When I would get upset about school or something someone did to me, she used to sit down next to me and just run her fingers through my hair telling me, "It's alright. It's alright."

With my right hand, I shifted the car into drive; then, stepping on the pedal I took us away from strife and struggle. Hannah and I had developed this singular sort of bond over time; when she felt something painful, so would I. I refrained from breaking the silence so that we could both meditate on the pain that gripped our minds. I chose not to ask her what had happened, because I understood that she would tell me as soon as she felt ready, and rushing the issue would only make it hurt more.

I turned right onto San Felipe heading west; then left onto the 610 Loop, taking it until I merged onto US 59 and headed southwest out of Houston. Neither of us had said a word yet. All I could hear was the gentle humming of the car engine and Hannah's sharp frightened breathing beside me. I decided to ease the tense atmosphere by pressing the DISC button just beside the car radio. The Doors Greatest Hits was in the CD player. I tapped the NEXT button until track 6, Hello I Love You, came on. It was Hannah's favorite. She looked over at me and grinned, making the feeling of discomfort vanish. Her smile could do that to you.

We rolled along US 59, wrapping our minds around the melancholy tone of Jim Morrison's voice and feeling the steady vibration of the tires on the long open freeway. Finally, after about 30 or 40 minutes on the highway, Hannah said three short words, "She hit me." And I understood.

"I'm sorry," I told her. "Can I help?"

"You've done plenty already Grant."

So we left it at that. The silence renewed itself and continued for another hour until we had to stop for gas. By now we were somewhere close to Victoria, Texas, roughly 200 miles from the Mexican border. I pulled into a forlorn gas station and parked next to one of the eight empty pumps. Hannah approached the small adjacent food mart to use the restroom.

"You can buy some food if you want, but only if you need it. We don't have enough money to last us more than a few stops for gas," I told her.

"It's ok. I don't have much of an appetite right now." She looked back at me and forced a smile on her way to the food mart.

As I held the gas pump in place and watched the gallon counter steadily increasing, I thought about what Hannah and I were getting ourselves into. I remembered one hot Sunday afternoon no more than a month ago. The grass was bright green and sparkled with dew, and the entire lawn seemed full of life -- squirrels, birds, and even a rabbit roamed the wooded expanse of my backyard. I tossed the football around with my little brother Donnie. He said to me, "Throw me a harder one, Grant. This stuffs too easy for me." He always told me he was way too good for those simple throws. He liked it when I would toss it just out of reach, and he would have to dive heroically to catch it. He liked to call the play like an announcer and make himself sound like a superstar, "WR for the Houston Texans, number 88, Donnieeeee Belton! Belton goes deep, calling for the ball. He's got his man beat! It's caught at the 15, the 10, the 5, and touchdown!" He always scored a touchdown, probably because the squirrels weren’t great tacklers.

Thinking about Donnie made me feel like this whole expedition was not worth what I left behind. Sure, Hannah needed it, and I always looked out for her like a sister, but maybe I shouldn't have done this. I loved my family and I knew plenty well how much grief I would be causing all of them. It made me sick.

Just then, Hannah pushed open the food mart door and plodded toward me with her head pointed toward the ground. She wrapped her arms around my neck and shoulders and rested her face on my chest. A tear or two dampened my shirt. I ran my fingers through the curls in her hair and asked her what happened.

"My mom just called," she whispered. She seemed ashamed that she had answered the call. I knew that this moment would come eventually, and I had no idea how either of us would handle it.

"What did she say?"

She shook her head, her dark hair swaying back and forth gently. "Let's keep going," was all she told me. So we got back into the Honda and continued wearily down US59. By this point, we weren't actually going anywhere, just driving. We were two troubled souls fighting sleep and our own homesick impulses, so that we could go nowhere at all. I think nowhere is what we really craved. To be able to disappear and never deal with other humans and just be alone and free and secure. But life doesn't allow that. The "real world" always reaches out and yanks you away from your sanctum. As I contemplated the futility of my escape, my cell phone rang. I showed Hannah the caller ID (it was my mom's home phone) and she nodded at me. I pressed speaker and answered the call.

"Where are you?" my mother's voice asked urgently.

"Hi mom, I'm with Hannah."

"Well, her mother just called and told me she's gone. You both need to come home immediately. You should have been home an hour ago." I hung up the phone. I could not lie to my mother. Hannah squeezed my wrist, and I glanced over at her, seeing her face stretched tight with worry.

"Honestly, I think we ought to head home soon, Hannah. You know we can't really sleep out here."

"Yeah, I agree." She nodded her head, but an apprehensive look in her eyes betrayed her true feelings. I could tell that she wanted to stay away from her mother for as long as possible.

I offered to let her come over and stay at my house for the night, but she declined.

Her whole body shivered; she looked past me into the vast expanse of rural land out my window, probably thinking that there was no escape from the troubles that plagued her mind. "I wanna go to Brazil. Wouldn't that be perfect? What if we just vanished and reappeared somewhere in Brazil? We would never have to worry about everything we put up with here."

I sighed. "Yeah, that would be nice..." If only life were that easy.

I exited the freeway, U-Turned, and headed northeast back to Houston where we would face the consequences of our actions.

Hannah worried about her mother's impending response to our actions, and she grew more and more vocal with her discomfort, "She's gonna kill me, Grant. You might as well start planning my funeral, because she will actually kill me. Make sure it's not too gloomy, and I want a good turnout. That's important to me."

"Relax alright."

"You could get a band to play for me! Yeah do that! A good old-fashioned swing band. Why should funerals have to be so damn somber all the time?"

"If you really feel that way you can come over to my house and stay as long as you need to. My family will understand completely."

"That would only make things worse. I have to go back and face my execution with dignity."

"Fine. Suit yourself, but you can't complain to me anymore now that I've offered."

She looked me in the eyes with genuine disgust. Her expression made me feel sick and guilty, but what was I really supposed to do? I had just picked her up and driven her 200 something miles and then offered to let her stay with me. What else could I really do? Besides, she was starting to get on my nerves. So I stayed silent.

After a lengthy quiet drive back to Houston, I pulled up next to Hannah's house and parked the car. She gazed at me with an exigent look in her eyes. She basically knocked me out then and there. But what was I supposed to do, honestly? I shrugged my shoulders and said, "My offer still stands." She shook her head and glanced at the monstrous house.

It was a house that on any other day would have been beautiful, but at that moment it looked like some hellish state penitentiary. Hannah hugged me tightly and gave me a kiss on the cheek. She then opened the car door and approached the house, dragging her feet with each step, like someone walking down death row. Once she reached the door, she turned her head and gave me one more look as if to say, "Wish me luck." I wished her luck in my head then watched her disappear through the unlocked door. No one could safely predict what awaited her in the dragon's lair, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't pretty. In any event, I put the car in drive and headed home.

On the drive home, I kept contemplating the sacrifice I had just made for her. Would she have done the same thing for me? I thought so, but I couldn’t be sure. I just went through hell for her, and I didn't even get a thank you. It made me a bit upset, but I decided I was just being selfish, and Hannah had really needed me. I was lucky that my mom never hit me, and Hannah had a perfect reason to be the way she was. Still, I couldn't help but wonder what I would be like if I had never met that girl.

When I arrived home, I climbed over the white picket fence separating the back and front yards and then crawled through my bedroom window. Maybe I could get some sleep and let the whole thing blow over with my mother. However, immediately after I got undressed and collapsed on my bunk bed, my cell phone rang. It played "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd, the song that I had long ago set to ring only when Hannah called. I hesitated; I really didn’t want to talk to her at the time. I decided to let the call go unanswered, but within 10 seconds, another call came. Same caller. This time I answered, figuring she would only call twice in a row for an emergency. "What is it?" I asked.

"She did it again. I really need you Grant," she told me.

"There's nothing I can do," I said and hung up the phone.

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jwillis111 said...
Aug. 18, 2011 at 9:47 pm
Incredible! The ending was absolutely perfect.
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