Passages of Time
It’s late July. The spring-fed pond wrinkles around the edges, fissures forming where the ground parches.
I’ve become part of the landscape on this rock. Even the bullfrogs ignore me now, moving with unconcerned ease. A snake slithers into the murky pool, its tongue tasting the air for scents of intruders and prey.
The heat of the afternoon enfolds me like the blanket my late mother wrapped around me as an infant, which I carried every day until it shredded in the washer one fateful Sunday. The sun barely penetrates the leafy canopy above. I feel enshrouded.
Approaching footsteps ease through the thick grass as they had for the 22 years we’ve known each other. Mac always knew where to find me, but it wasn’t always here.
Out of the corner of my eye I see his faded brown leather work boots first followed by the equally faded blue jeans, frayed at the bottom.
“Were you going to tell me?”
I smile wryly. “Well it wasn’t one of those things I could have kept a secret.”
He grunts, one of his favored forms of expression.
His hand embraces my upper arm before sliding back into his blue jean’s pocket. Our divorce and his marriage to my sister extinguished most affection. It’s amusing how adult I was at the beginning of my sobriety, giving him an uncontested divorce, blessing his marriage to my little sister, trying to make up for all the bad when there should have been all the good.
“There’re all kinds of treatments now. Not like when your mother got sick.”
This is true. Advances in medicine have been miraculous. Mom would have survived if she’d been diagnosed today. Me, on the other hand. My friend and sobriety mentor suggested it was suicide, blithely ignoring symptoms until the symptoms reached out for help. Who’s to say? I’ve admitted to so much, but this?
I gaze up at him until his eyes shift to mine. Cognac, I used to call them because everything centered around alcohol then. They could have equally been milk chocolate, warm. Yesterday in a moment of pure self-indulgence, I imagined a parallel universe where I never slid into a bottle, where he and I stayed happy, where we had a kid with his auburn hair who could name all of the different birds and the constellations and loved peanut butter and cherry preserves sandwiches. We would have summered at the beach, bronzed, and eaten ice cream cones for dinner and laid on tartan blankets to watch the Perseids streak across the sky. There’s still love in the eyes, although diminished.
“You’ll take good care of Chloe.” I hate the words as soon as they leave my mouth. Abruptly I stand, almost lose my balance and end up in the pond if not for his grabbing my elbow to right me.
“You’re going to fight?” he asks.
“Sure.” But that’s the least thing I’m sure of. I feel that the universe has shared its sense of irony with me. Get me sober. Let me live a couple of years happy and clean. Give me cancer.
I fold my arms across my chest, stare down at my bright purple painted toenails as if all the answers rest in a swirly eggplant color. “I’m a little scared.”
He moves like he wants to embrace me, but I release him from the decision and step away, smile uncertainly.
“We’ll be there for you.”
I nod. I feel like there’s something I should say. Something monumental. Something profound. But maybe it’s the universe I want the words to be directed to: just give me a little more time. I know I threw away 20 some years. Just a little more time. I bet the universe hears that a lot.
“I guess I’d better get back,” I say.
Silently we walk along the jagged trail to the old family house with its wraparound porch that always looked like it’s warmly embracing the house. Chloe stands there waiting, chewing her lip, her eyes so full of love for Mac and, strangely, me. After all the trouble I’ve been.
“I made chewy molasses cookies,” she says. Because they’re my favorite.
We sit around the wooden kitchen table that’s been here since before my Mama was born. We eat molasses cookies and drink milk and laugh over the stupid things we did as kids, our memories sepia images of golden-haired girls innocently dancing across lazy summer afternoons much like this one. Soon dusk will drape around us, bringing night and then tomorrow where answers will surface, and decisions will beg to be made. But now, just for now, I can bite into a cookie and play pretend as if I’ve never stopped.