I was feeling alone.
Sickly lost, and craving completion. My heart yearned for satisfaction. I had tried everything: sleeping in, gorging on French fries and spicy chicken wings, downloading as much pornography as my browser could handle, gaming until I thought this really was Vice City, and every drug I could get into a straw.
My flaws overblown, my conscious overthrown, my healing unknown, and my therapy always postponed.
I needed help. When you can’t go a half an hour without popping a couple pills just to put on a smile, or a few drinks just to help you remember your coworkers names, you’re deeper down the rabbit hole than you would like to believe. Maybe it was god’s plan that they let me overdose tomorrow, and not today, but I had made it close to a year at this job I had gotten working insurance. For reasons I lack the memory to put into even the smallest words, I was liked well enough to even get a raise. It’s funny, considering I don’t even know what I’m doing half the time. I just wing it and hope nothing goes wrong. Most companies have dress codes that expect you to be clean, but considering how many times I’ve shown up with long white stains on my khakis, it is really no surprise that showing up to work high, drunk, or both on multiple occasions, raises no eyebrows. Everybody acts like a zombie here; I guess I don’t stand out all that much.
That is, everybody except to one. The one with the flaming red hair in a bun. The one that shows up to work consistently with dress shirts undone. The one with the makeup overdone.
She was always correcting me, always telling me how to do something. There wasn’t a day that would go by without her commenting on how frazzled my hair was, or why I was always drinking coffee although claiming to adamantly hate it. She was always telling me how to live. I hated her because it, but, with an odd twist of fate, I also had an admiration for her. After all, she was the one who not only referred me for the job but trained and helped keep my sorry ass at this job. I respected her for that, but there were other things too. She always asked me out to lunch, and while I not-so-politely declined, I’d always have something on my desk at the end of the day. A cream cheese bagel, a smoothie, something. She also offered my rides to and from work, since I couldn’t ever keep a car for longer than a week or two at a time. Once, I actually acted human and brought her to my home for dinner. With the smell of every kind of drug, street, black market, you name it, and pin-up magazines scattered throughout, I expected her to touch the threshold and run out screaming. Shockingly, she came right in and actually let me make her dinner. It was merely some fried chicken and peas I had bought earlier and warmed up, but she ate it as if it was the meal of a queen. She stayed for at least four hours, and we had some conversation. I don’t remember much from that night, but I do remember how she was always smiling. When I told her why my home looked so wretched, she didn’t even criticize. Before she left, I remember her saying, in the sweetest of voices “every man has fallen, but every saint has risen”. She thought I could change, which struck a chord in me. It was the polar opposite thought process of my wife, who’s leaving led to my addictions. After just six months of marriage, she was fed up with my antics. She said I was socially useless and too quiet and reluctant to throw myself into the fray to be a husband. So she packed what she did have and left, right there. “I’ll come back when you come back to me” were her last words. That was six years ago, and I haven’t recovered since. Why do I bring her up? Oh, that’s right, my coworker reminds me of her in every way possible. My wife, after we had become newlyweds, was the most considerate person I had ever known. Even when she saw my browser history, I told her I was just getting ideas for her, and she believed me. It took a couple days, but by that weekend, I was dying without her. I couldn’t function without her. I didn’t know how to cook, shop, or do any of the little things women do to keep a home running well. I missed her, and I had to find her.
I didn’t know how, but the help I needed didn’t come until now.
It came in the most inconspicuous way imaginable. On Saturday, my day off, I got an email. It was from my coworker. In italicized print, it read:
“If you want to find her, or anyone, go to the source of your relationship”
It seemed odd at first, but she had a habit of always dropping words of encouragement, so it really wasn’t that out of character. Since I had the whole day off, and needed something to do besides lay on the couch and watch Pretty Woman again, I decided to follow the advice. “It would be easy”, I thought. I had met my future wife for the very first time at the gallery downtown. Who knows, maybe she was there right now? I hopped onto my bike and rode as fast as I could. It didn’t occur to me that I was following the advice of someone I didn’t even know, and this could all be some hoax, but I didn’t care. The chase, the ride, the adventure…it was just another high to me. I got to the gallery, but to my revulsion, nobody was there. I checked in every store, but I could find no sign of the woman I used to call my wife. Bitter, I rode back home and swore never to listen to my coworker again. Throwing myself on my couch, I went to light up a cigar when I got another email, from the same sender, but a slightly different message:
“Silly, did you think it would be that easy? You have to clean up your life”
Angered, I threw the cigar onto the floor, watching it crumple and fall over. I got up, grabbed a stool from underneath the kitchen table, and smashed it into the TV. The glass shards went everywhere, but I didn’t care. I took an armful of magazines, half-empty bottles, and triple-X rated DVD’s and smashed them into a trash bag. I repeated that step at least fifteen times, since I had so many of each, before I had filled up my trashcan to the point of overflowing. Then, I took the drawer where I had stashed all my drugs and paraphernalia and dumped them into a trash bag. Much of it had cost as much as some bills, but cost mattered nothing to me now. After two hours of manic cleaning, I crashed onto the floor in exhaustion. Tears streaming down my face, I nodded in submission, as if god was there, standing above me. After years of collection, ignoring, and addiction, I felt free. I felt some glass scrape against my face, but I was tired to get up. There, I spent the night.
That’s how my life was for the next five months. Time not at work was spent cleaning out my house, making it a home again. I went back to therapy, and got the help I had been avoiding for so long. I started taking baths daily and dressing well. I even got another raise. I lost about forty pounds, too. Slowly, but confidently, I began taking my life back. All of this without a single email from my admired coworker, either. Then, one Thursday in December, I came into work, but she was gone. According to my coworkers, she had quit the week before. “She had moved on with this part of her life” they told me. I finished the day, but I was crushed. She was the only person in my life who understood me, and she was the one who pushed me to change. I went into work the next day as if everything was normal, but it wasn’t. I didn’t have anyone I could talk, no one I trusted. Of all those lunches she brought me, I had nothing to give back to her. I didn’t even have the chance.
On Saturday, the six year anniversary of my marriage, I put on some sweats and a t-shirt. The last couple of days had been hard, and I needed to do something and release the stress. I drove up to Lincoln Park in northern Maryland and started jogging on the trail. Though at a steady pace early, I started to run with anger as the trail lengthened. Each footfall, each kick of dust, was symbolic of everything I had accomplished in the last five months. Each breath I took was symbolic of the life I had taken and abused, but continued to be given. After a mile of running, I stopped near a creek and tied my shoelaces on a rock. I felt my phone vibrating in my back pocket, so I quickly pulled it out and read the email.
It was from her, the first contact I had with her since my change.
“If you want to find her, or anyone, go to the source of your relationship”
I froze. My hands trembling, and eyes holding back tears in vain. This date, the park, the ground I stood on. This…this was where I had proposed to her. Where she took my hands. Where she said “yes”. Where we kissed for hours. Where our love…began. I was back here, all over again.
“Daniel, you came back” I heard from through the breeze behind me.
I turned slowly, unsure of whether to be joyful or in fear. I saw flaming red hair in the bun, makeup rushed and overdone, and a dress shirt, half-undone. It was her! She had been working with me all these years, waiting for me to change. “That’s what she meant,” I thought to myself. “She wouldn’t come back until I changed”
“Where do begin?” I asked, humbly.
“Here”, Britney replied.
(This is one of my few short stories, but I feel it is a call to hope in restoration for those who go through troubled times)