Reflections – A Novella – Part 4
I wanted to see my sister Katie, desperately in fact, and muss her hair. Thinking of her made me even sadder and more homesick. Mostly all she’d ever done was follow me around, take my things and drive me crazy, but what I wouldn’t have given just then to see her silly grin. I made a silent vow to never again take what I had for granted, and that vow extended to my little sister.
Of the three dressers in the apartment only one was full of men’s clothing. The other two – as well as nearly everything in the small closet – clearly belonged to a woman.
Most of the wardrobe was quite feminine, and though not really my style and not nearly as fresh and new as I was used to, some of it was quite pretty. Again I felt a little guilty at rifling through someone else’s belongings, but I was able to find clothing my size.
I dressed in a simple pair of jeans and a black t-shirt embossed with the ever-flirty Betty Boop. I found sneakers in the bottom of the closet that were also – fortunately enough – my size. I slipped them on and laced them up.
I left the little apartment, locking up respectively as I went.
At the street, rather then crossing to seek out Mort in the bar, I went left. Less then three blocks down I found what I was seeking; a payphone in working order.
My joy was destined to be short lived, however, interrupted by the blaring reality that I was completely penniless. I might have given up then; broke down and bawled until they took me away in a straightjacket; had I not caught a shard of slivery light glinting under the streetlamp.
I have never been a religious sort of person, but as I write this now, thinking back on that moment, I have to pause and wonder if there’d been a higher power reaching out to me that night. Fate, luck, or divine intervention – call it what you will – something miraculous appeared to me that night, and it chose to show itself in the form of a humble quarter.
I nearly fell over myself in a rush to get to it. I scooped it out of the muck and stared down at the treasure in my hands as though it were the most amazing thing on earth. Beaming, I wiped the coin on my borrowed jeans and deposited it into the phone slot. I dialled the number to my house cautiously, all too aware that if I screwed up in my excitement, a second quarter was unlikely to fall into my lap.
The receiver lifting.
My mother’s voice reached softly out to me. “Hello?”
I lost all control at that point. I stood there sobbing like a fool into the mouthpiece. I knew how hard it must be for her to make any sense out of what I was saying, but I could no longer hold myself together. “Oh god mom!” I wailed. “Mommy I’m so sorry I lied. I’m so sorry… but I’m okay. I’m okay and I need you. I need you to come and get me.”
A short silence and then I thought I heard her sob. Finally, in a tone as cold as ice, she said, “My daughter is dead.”
The words burned through me, crushed me, and hollowed me out until I almost believed that I was dead. Confused I stammered, “n-n-n-no mom. No, it’s me.”
There was a rustling on the other end. I heard murmurs. I heard a click and for one brief but terrifying moment I thought she’d hung up on me. But then my father’s voice came across the line.
He was as calm as he always was, but there was an uncharacteristic sadness in his voice. “Laney-Jane?” he asked. “Is that really you?”
“Yes daddy,” I sobbed. “I d-don’t know what happened. I don’t know… daddy? I’m in trouble. I’m so sorry I lied, I really am. I need you dad. Can you come and get me now? I just want to come home now, please?”
He was silent a long time but I could hear his faint breathing so I knew he was still there. He sighed.
“Laney, honey, I wish you could come home too. I really do. If I thought… if I believed for one second you were ready to get better I’d come and get you myself.” Another sigh. “But Laney? I just can’t go through all this again. It’s too hard. It’s too much for you ask.”
I lost control again, sobbing like a child. Oh, I couldn’t even imagine the kind of hell I’d put them through this past week. I knew how worried they must have been. I knew how much I must have disappointed them… what I didn’t understand was their unwillingness to help me now. Wasn’t it obvious that I had learned my lesson? Couldn’t they hear that much in my desperation? Wasn’t it clear how much I’d suffered?
I choked out another apology. I begged again that he come and get me. I pleaded without shame as I stood there on the exposed street corner for anyone to see.
“Listen Laney… if you need more money I’ll send you some. But that’s all I can do. You just can’t call like this out of the blue… it’s too hard. It’s too much Laney.”
Great heaving sobs wracked my body, making it difficult to breathe.
“Do you need money Laney?” My father asked in a flat tone.
“No. Dad… I just… I just want to come home now. Please.”
More sighing. “I’m sorry Laney, that’s just not possible. Goodbye honey.”
I heard a click.
“Daddy?” I wailed.
Hesitantly, “Laney?” It was Katie. Just like my parents, her voice sounded strange and out of character, but it was definitely my baby sister.
“Oh my god, Katie! I thought dad hung up on me.”
I was stunned. I knew they had every right to be mad at me for lying, but I’d been missing for a week… weren’t they worried about me? Shouldn’t the worry outweigh the anger at this point?
To Katie I said, “I didn’t mean to make them so mad at me.”
I could hear her breathe as she struggled to find the right words. “It’s been really hard Laney, on everyone. Especially on mom, you know?”
Katie sighed. My existence seemed to be causing an awful lot of that, I mused.
“How are you Laney? I miss you.”
“Horrible,” I sobbed. “Katie, I’m horrible. I’m hurt. I’m like sick or… or something. I really just need to come home. I need mom and dad.”
“Where are you?” She asked. “Can I come and see you?” And then, “Well… not tonight… I’d never get passed them tonight. Maybe tomorrow? Can I come and see you tomorrow?”
I didn’t want my little sister coming down to this hell for anything. But I missed her so much and I was far too weak a person to deny myself her company. God, how I wanted to see her.
I told her as much.
“Where are you?”
I glanced around at my surroundings. “I think I’m in hell,” I snivelled.
The cramps and queasiness were making violent return. My skin itched. My head throbbed. I couldn’t think straight.
Beyond that, my insides ached from the blow of abandonment. It was different than the physical pain; deeper and more absolute.
Suddenly I felt all too defeated. I wanted to sit down and cry ,and cry, and then cry some more. Preferably away from this filth but right in the middle of the muck if need be.
“Laney?” Katie pushed. “Tell me where to find you and I’ll come tomorrow.”
I looked around for some landmark that would be easy enough to remember. “Um – God this place is disgusting – um… can you meet me down on East Hastings… there’s a bus stop… in front of the… Asian Pearl… it’s a restaurant I think”
“I know it.”
“Katie? What time? What time will you be coming?”
A pause. “Noon. I’ll cut class and come down around noon. Okay?”
“Okay,” I muttered. “See you then.”
“Don’t forget, okay?”
“I won’t. Noon.” I hung up.
I stood there weeping, wondering how it was physically possible for one body to produce so many tears in a single day. I cried until I was certain I would throw up and when I didn’t – after I leaned against the wall retching for a time – I just cried a little more.
It was a busy little strip of hell and I was standing completely exposed in the center of it. I’d always been a little shy, a little uncomfortable with public displays of emotion. It should have bothered me that people were all around. It should have troubled me when they looked my way, peeking out from their corners, from their own little patch of this nightmare world.
It didn’t bother me; I didn’t care.
I hated them all. Without want – or need – to know them, I just loathed these people. I hated their dirty clothes and their sunken eyes; those dark-ringed portals to their broken souls. I hated their need to cling to their oh-so-important treasures; their trinkets of scavenged trash. I hated their filth and their addictions. I hated their very existence in a world that clearly didn’t want them. Most of all, I despised them for their part in the creation of this dark, ugly sub-culture.
They were all beneath me.
I did not deserve to be left here to drown in this sea of human waste.
I was just a kid; an innocent victim; and I belonged in that place no more then a guiltless man, wrongly condemned, belonged to be waiting on death row.
And that’s what my parents abandonment felt like; a death sentence.
They’d enrolled me in ballet lessons when I was little, guitar lessons when I was older. They’d encouraged me to join the debate team and the basketball team. They’d taught me to be polite and they’d taught me how to ride a bike… but they’d never given me the skills required for surviving this madness.
Without a lick of street smarts I would die out here; that was the inevitable reality. If I got lucky death would come quick and easy and not at the hand of some psychopath… but I couldn’t help feeling that my luck had run out.
I wiped at my cheeks with the back of one hand. I attempted to take stock of the situation from a more clinical standpoint.
Yes, I allowed, things had gone terribly awry but I didn’t have to take it lying down. I could figure this out. I was on the honour role for Christ’s sake – clearly I wasn’t stupid. I could work through this.
I told myself that my mom and dad loved me; that they’d always been there for me. This neglect on their part couldn’t be real, they wouldn’t just abandon me; not truly; in my hour of need.
No… they were trying to teach me some kind of lesson, as absurd and misguided as it might seem.
I smiled then, certain I’d hit the nail on the head.
My dad was big on teaching Katie and I that there were little life lessons in everything; he saw every new experience as a learning opportunity. That was what this was; obviously.
I didn’t know how I might have missed that before, but in my defence I was having a very bad day.
Still smiling, I bobbed my head up and down in eager agreement with myself.
All I had to do was make it through this little test, learn whatever lesson dad was trying to teach me, and then they’d come and get me and take me home and everything would go back to normal.
I’d find a quiet place to hunker down for the night, meet with Katie in the morning; and surely she’d have some clue as to how long this stupid lesson was meant to last; and then maybe I’d call Claire or Amanda and maybe…
… and then something far more insistent than my childish plan hit me.
To be continued…