Healing

The monotonous sound of my shoes pounding against the cement reminded me how tired I was. I clicked my volume up two notches to drown the noise out. I had been tired for a long time. I was used to it. The upbeat music pounding into my ears didn’t help like I had hoped. I focused on breathing instead. I reached the end of the paved road and continued on slipping through the gravel filled path. I picked up a warm smoky breeze coming from the campgrounds up ahead. Dane and I used to camp there. It was only two miles down the road but made a nice retreat from home. I would work on setting up our dwarf sized tent while he attempted to start a fire. I don’t think either of us knew what we were doing. The tent was always crooked and our fire would sizzle out after an hour or so. On more than one occasion we just laughed at the mess and drove home. I missed the sound of our individual laughter combined to make one booming sound. We hadn’t been camping much in the past year. A lot had changed. When I realized my lack of sleep had caught up with me, I decided to head home.

 

I could see the driveway was empty from studying the house from a distance. It made sense when I checked the time on my phone. One advantage to my insomnia was starting my runs before he was awake. Sometimes I would catch him on his way out the door. We would exchange an awkward “Have a good day.” I don’t know if either of us meant it. We pretended a lot. It spanned from our fake greetings to playing nice around his family. Pretending was so exhausting. I was relieved to be avoiding our fake greetings today.

I dropped my sandbag of a body on the couch. I could feel myself being sucked into the throw pillows. I sat there for a while as if I was completely paralyzed. I studied the room. Pictures from our wedding day covered the walls. Two strangers stared back at me. It was hard to believe we were ever that in love. The one next to it show the strangers sharing a passionate kiss at the altar. The last one I stared at for a little longer. I recognized the people in it. It hadn’t been as long since I had seen them. Dane’s family was the only family I knew now.  With both of my parents gone and no siblings it was hard to even say I had a family. I think that’s why the pretending was worth it. I loved them like my own and I didn’t want to leave them either. I sat there for a while longer until I realized I had sweat drying on my body. I looked down at my sorry-looking shoes and untied them carefully. I was happy they had made it through another run. I thought about getting new ones a while ago. They really were on their last life. I didn’t like the thought of having to settle on new pair. I really liked these. And with new shoes came new blisters. It would be painful to adjust to new shoes. When I realized I wasn’t deciding on shoes I picked them up and threw them in the closet.

I battled the stairway to get the shower started. I turned the knob to the hottest temperature possible then adjusted it so I wouldn’t scald myself. I pulled my shirt over my head along with my sports bra. I started a pile on the floor. I added my running shorts and socks to it and stared at myself in the mirror. I noticed the black and blue marks fading to an ugly brownish color. I was happy to see them healing with the cuts above my right eye. I stared at my skeleton figure in the mirror for a while. I pushed my stomach out as far as possible while I held my breath. I tried to remember what my stomach looked like rounded again. After the last miscarriage, we decided to take a break. The break had lasted a while now and I wasn’t sure it was a break anymore. I used to pray to God for a miracle but stopped after the last one. I hadn’t talked with God for a while. I didn’t trust him anymore.

Pregnancy had ruined my marriage. The second pregnancy was just filled with anxiety. I began running around that time. When we lost her, my doctor had suggested I do something healthy to take my mind off of the “situation.” I hated how she danced around the word miscarriage. I knew what the fuck it meant. She was right about running, though. It saved my life. I slept an hour or two more every night. I could feel the anxiety fade a little after each run. And I noticed muscle starting to bubble from under my tired skin. I wish the doctor would have had a talk with Dane that day. His resolve to the second loss was more whiskey. I wish I could blame our issues on the whiskey. I often did but always realized it was the man behind the bottle. He would stumble home most nights from the bar. I really couldn’t remember the last time I had a normal sober conversation. When his drinking first started getting worse I tried to help. I would ask him things like, “Why do you need alcohol when you have me to talk to?” He would usually hang his head and say, “Just give me a minute to think.” His minute would turn into what felt like hours. I couldn’t handle the silence so I would keep talking until talking turned into yelling. We would scream at eat other until our voices were gone. Thank goodness our neighbors were half a mile away.

When we realized talking didn’t do us any good we stopped. The house was quiet without all the arguments, but it wasn’t a serene quiet. I think we both knew we were still thinking about what we wanted to say. I don’t know about him, but the thoughts in my head were much louder than any screaming match we had ever been in. I thought of something to say to him every day. I would muster up the courage all day but lose it at first sight of him. How did it get so bad? Why are we still doing this to ourselves? I knew the answers to these questions but didn’t like them. I think I just kept asking myself them to look for a different answer.

When my parents both passed away suddenly they left me everything. I had no siblings and my parents had no one else to care for. Dane knew his homely job as a carpenter wouldn’t pay the bills. I wasn’t happy with our marriage but it was better than coming home to an empty house. With no relatives on speaking terms, children, or even a dog that liked me, what would I do with my life? At least with Dane around I had another warm body in the house with me. I thought about leaving a lot. I would make plans and write them out in a notebook. At one point I had decided to move to Clearwater, Florida. It was about a twenty two hour drive from my freezing Michigan home. I would pack up everything I could and leave. Reality set in quickly. This wasn’t a Hallmark movie. I couldn’t just pack up my Jeep and drive thousands of miles with no place to live. I ended up using the notebook to kill a man-eating spider one night and threw it in the garbage with the corpse. I realized I was still standing in the bathroom bearing all that I had to show. I carefully stepped into the shower.

 

I grabbed the pile of pizza menus that delivered to our lonely home. Cooking wasn’t on my list of things to do tonight. I knew Dane would eat whatever leftovers in the fridge. I guess that was the one good thing about his habits. My eyes grazed over the options. I was starving as usual but nothing sounded like it would cure my hunger. I was crazy for pizza with my last pregnancy. I would have Dane order three medium pizzas for the two of us and finish them all by the next day. I had a little hope for the last pregnancy. I was feeling much healthier, and something was different this time. It was like my body finally agreed to help me out for once. I still wonder what we would have named it. We never even got to find out if it was a boy or a girl. I had names picked out for both.

My deep thoughts with the pizza menu were interrupted by the front door. I heard the key attempting to make it into the lock. Then I listened to a few angry grunts. I decided to help the shithead. I took my time walking to the door though. When I finally opened it I saw a tired- looking man. His blond hair was twisted every which way but you could still see the line from his hat. His broad shoulders were hunched over as if he had just been punched in the stomach. He had obviously stopped by the bar after work. His dusty work boots matched his filthy outfit. He looked at me with his baby blue eyes. They had changed a lot since we had met. They no longer made me smile when I looked at them. These days they were bloodshot and darting around the room as if they had never seen the house before. After the giant stumbled past me I looked out the door to see if his car had made it hone too. It did. You would think he would learn from his mistakes.

I dialed the number for Marco’s Pizza and put in my usual order. “That will be about an hour, ma’am. Is that alright?” Is that alright? No, but it was a done deal now. “Sure,” I responded and hung up. Heavy footsteps were pounding through the house. What the hell was he doing? I decided to check the situation out.

I found him butt naked trying to pick up his t-shirt at the wrong moment. I turned away until I was sure he was upright. When I looked back at him I met his stare with rosy cheeks. “Sorry,” he slurred. “I was just looking for some clean clothes.” I let him know I had left a pile of them on top of the washer. He stumbled into the laundry room. I decided to turn on the TV and wait for dinner to arrive. I had hoped he wouldn’t join me. I couldn’t handle his inebriated presence tonight. I thought about the car again when I passed by the window. Chills ran through my body. His brand new F150 wasn’t a purchase we planned on making. His last truck didn’t make it through the accident. I suddenly felt hot as I thought about what else we lost that day.

 

My body was keeping up with the last pregnancy. I had complications but not like before. I was on bedrest so I sat home most nights reading various books about how to raise a healthy baby. Dane and I were also doing well. He decided that he wanted to take me out to dinner with the doctor’s permission. We called the doctor and she gave us a time limit of an hour. I attempted to make myself presentable while Dane called in reservations to our favorite restaurant. I could tell he had been drinking but he still seemed to be functioning normally. I let him drive since he insisted I was in no condition.  I should have told him the same thing.

The next thing I remember is the truck spinning and rolling into one of the deepest ditches on our road. They blamed the icy road in the police report, but we know there were other factors involved. When they pulled my body out of the ditch, my skin had a pale blue tint to it. I lost consciousness a lot so I don’t remember much until I woke up in the hospital bed. Dane was sleeping in a chair next to me. His wrist was wrapped and his bruised skin matched mine now that I was looking at it. I looked around the room and back at my limp body. I could tell something was terribly wrong just from looking at my torso. Dane jumped up as soon as he realized I was awake, too. His tearstained cheeks confirmed my suspicions. I didn’t cry when the doctor repeated the news everyone had already heard. I just sat there and stared at the ceiling. I didn’t think. I just stared at the creamy orange-colored paint. I remember not feeling the pain even when they took me off the morphine. I just felt numb. There was nothing I could do. We had lost our last baby.

The doorbell threw me off the couch as if there were springs in my ass. I grabbed my wallet out of the kitchen and gave the zit-faced kid a twenty and told him to keep the change. Dane suddenly appeared in the room. The smell of pizza must have made its way to wherever he had been. I didn’t want to look at him tonight. How could he drive drunk again after what happened? I called him every name I could think of without actually saying them out loud. He looked at me with a twisted face and dropped the pizza. “Who the hell puts pineapple on a pizza?” I would normally ignore his inebriated talk but I had too much on my mind today to hold another thing in. “It’s called a Hawaiian. Most people don’t complain about pizza they didn’t buy.”

“Really? You’re going to lay that shit on me again?”

“You asked…”

“If you‘re so unhappy, why don’t you take your trust fund and leave me the hell alone?”

I thought about it for a minute. Agreeing is what he wanted right now. I decided to change the subject and talk about what I really wanted to know.

“Why are you driving drunk, Dane? Didn’t you learn when you killed…”

I stopped because if I finished that sentence, it would hurt him more than me. I didn’t really like him right now, but no one deserved that. I didn’t have to finish my sentence though. The damage was done. He punched the wall on the way out of the room. Shit. I was going to have to fix this. I didn’t want to apologize but he was out of whiskey. Nothing good happened when the bottle was empty. I followed him into the next room. His head was between his knees.

I sat there staring at him. I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say. Why could I defend pineapple on pizza but I couldn’t talk about our failing marriage? I seriously needed to visit that therapist. When he noticed me standing there he scoffed and slurred out, “I don’t know what you want me to do. If you hate me, why don’t you just leave? Why do you stick around this dump? Why do you sit with garbage like me?” I thought about answers to all the questions he repetitively kept asking. I didn’t really know the answer besides being lonely scared the hell out of me. I interrupted his quizzing with, “Where would I go? You’re the only family I have.” I could tell he was stumped now. We both sat in silence. The escalated anxiety was sitting around the room with us. I was done talking until he decided to answer me. Maybe he knew the answer to the question I had been asking myself for a long time now. I would like to hear his opinion. His answer was laughter. Laughter! What the fuck was so funny? I repeated my question out loud.

“You would have no one to live with and I would have nowhere to live. I can’t afford this shitty house on my own.”

I still didn’t find it funny but answered with, “Well I’m glad we’re on the same page.”

He replied, “Why don’t you get a dog? That might be better company than a drunk.” He went into a fit of laughter. I’m pretty sure the alcohol was slowly melting his brain into nothing. I started thinking about that notebook again and my dream home on the Florida coast.

“Where would you go if I left with my ‘trust fund?’”

“I don’t know. I’d probably stay with Ma and Roger until I got myself a place.”

He got up and slowly made his way up the steps. Before he walked upstairs, he turned around and said, “Meg, you got to do something with yourself. We ain’t no good for each other. Hangin’ round here is only making the past hurt more.” He made his way to the second floor and I listened as his footsteps pounded into the bedroom before I started crying.

The emotion felt good. It was as if a balloon had popped inside of me. I felt all the sadness from the loss of our children but the happiness of knowing there could be a future. How could my husband, the drunk, figure that out but not me? When I was through with my concoction of emotions I decided the couch was more of a bed tonight than sharing one with Dane. I snuck into the dark room filled with snoring and grabbed my pajamas and my favorite pillow. I shoved the full pizza boxes into the empty fridge. I watched reruns of Friends until I felt the warmth of sleep take over my tired body.

That night I dreamt about running through the sand. The feeling of the grains filling in between my toes each time I took a step felt so real. The sun shined on the back of my neck. I stopped to take a break from the heat under a small wooden bridge. The salty air filled my nostrils and I sat there listening to the waves move in and out. When I felt cooled enough, I ran back the same direction. I knew where I was going. A small blue beach house waited at the end of a narrow road. The backyard was replaced with sandy shores leading into the bright blue water I had ran next to earlier that day. I made my way up the steps to the screen door. A medium sized black Labrador greeted me with licking the salty perspiration off my body. I laughed as the grainy tongue tickled my skin. I decided to thank him by sitting on the tile cold tile floor. I scratched behind his ears and all the way back to the dock of his tail. His little body squirmed all around as I made my way back to his ears. I heard a door shut from behind me and looked around the house. Panic overturned my happiness. There was no other door shut besides the one behind me. I thought maybe my panicked state pulled me out of my dream, but I realized it was our front door being closed behind Dane.

 

I listened as the truck door shut behind him and started the engine start up. He took his time backing out of the long driveway. Little rocks popped under the large tires. The dream felt so real and I tried to close my eyes and get back to my new friend. I gave up after a few minutes of tossing and turning. I sat up and thought about how refreshed I was. I had gotten my first full night’s sleep in over a year. I couldn’t give the couch credit though. Last night had changed something.

I hobbled up the steps. I was only half awake but already in a better mood thanks to my dream. I pulled out a fresh pair of shorts. I put on the clean sport bra and an old t-shirt I had gotten from Mackinaw Island on our honeymoon. I made my way to the dark closet at the bottom of the steps.

I pulled my sad looking shoes back on my feet. I tied them very carefully and thought about this being their last run.  The fading colors from what used to be a bright pink with green stripes were now some sort of odd gray. I stared at them a little longer and thought about how I really didn’t even recognize them. It was almost like they were completely different shoes. They were filled with little rips in the mesh. The bottom of the left one was peeling off the main part of the shoe. I prayed they’d hold up for their last run. I decided I was ready for a new pair.

My feet tapped against the pavement in a different way today.  Each one was filled with springy energy. I decided to take a new path today. I wanted to get to know the neighborhood a little better.

Lauren Hamel

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Filed under Fall 2016, Fiction 2016

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