Sweet Relief

She liked her red as cold as his body felt when she finally reached the ER that awful night.  The first glass was gone before she even said hello to the kids. She needed to be a little drunk to meet them with a smile, so she always slammed down that first glass when she got home from work.  It numbed her heart just enough so she could breathe.  The kids were hurting too, they didn’t need to see their mama upset.

She glanced up from the second glass as Torrie shuffled into the kitchen.  She looked like she needed a drink too, but Bridgett knew better than to offer one to her 14 year old, even if she was already feeling better herself.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Bridgett asked.

“I’m just getting a Coke.  I’ve got this stupid project due tomorrow.  There’s no way I’m gonna finish it!  Why do they keep giving us these stupid projects?  None of the other classes have to do them!”  She huffed.

“Because it’s honors, Honey. Do you need help?” she asked.

Please say no, please say no, she thought.

“I’m not in kindergarten,” Torrie snarled, opening her Coke as she dragged herself back into the dining room.

Yes, just another couple of glasses and she wouldn’t care for a while.

She grabbed the bottle and her glass, said hello to her son who was on the couch playing a video game, and made her way up the stairs to her bedroom.

As she pulled the cotton pj’s over her head, she wondered what she should cook for dinner.  Honestly, the kids hated it when she really cooked.  They preferred it when she ordered out or pulled a  prepackaged meal out of the freezer and warmed it up.  Thankfully, the dinners that friends brought over had long since ceased.  People were nice, but you can only eat so much penne pasta and she had to act sober and polite while they were dropping off the food. She felt a little guilty for feeling that way, they were just showing they cared, but she couldn’t help the way she felt could she?

Thank God the kids were old enough that they could fend for themselves if they had to.  A few times she had passed out before dinner.  The second time it happened, her son rummaged in her purse, found her credit card, and programmed it into the Dominoes app so that if Mom wasn’t cooking, they could order food.  She felt a little pang of guilt for that.  She poured another glass.

She glanced over at the dresser. There was the picture.  She picked it up and held it to her chest.  Sitting down on the bed, she closed her eyes.  It was cold in Central Park, but they were wrapped up in each other.  Forty somethings acting like runaway teenagers.  She turned her head suddenly to kiss him as he snapped the selfie. He was faced forward with a look of surprise and her lips were smashed up against his cheek. They laughed as they looked at the picture in the phone.  He slipped it into his pocket and then turned to her and ran his hands along her jawline and into her hair.  His fingers tugged lightly as he pulled her face up to meet his and he kissed her.  They lingered for a moment afterwards, savoring the sweetness of it.  She loved that picture. Oh, what she wouldn’t give…but life doesn’t work that way.  She took another long sip.

Her stomach growled.  She swayed a little as she stood.

Oh yeah, food, she thought.

Chicken nuggets and mac and cheese…not exactly healthy, but it was dinner and it was quick.

Matthew grabbed a chicken nugget off the pan as she was putting them onto the plates.

“Did you have a good day at school today?”  She asked.

Barely opening his mouth, he said, “Yeah.”

“Have you done your homework?” She asked.

“Yeah,” he replied.

She wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth, but she didn’t want to deal with the attitude, so she decided not to pursue it.  He grabbed his plate and plodded back to the TV.

“What are we going to watch tonight?” She shouted to him from the kitchen.

“I don’t care,”  came the reply.

I don’t either, she thought as she set the plate down on the stack of papers in front of Torrie.

She went back into the kitchen, emptied the bottle into her glass, took a few gulps and grabbed her plate.  She liked the dinner ritual of watching TV together.  They usually watched comedies and laughed.  Lately Torrie had not participated.  She seemed too preoccupied with school, which was good, Bridgett guessed.  At least she was staying busy.  If that was her way of coping with her father’s death, then it seemed like a constructive one.

Better than my way of dealing anyway, she thought as she took another sip.

After dinner she took the dishes to the kitchen and put them in the sink.  The dishes from last night were there too, but she didn’t feel like doing anything about them at the moment.  She grabbed another bottle of wine from the fridge, uncorked it and took it with her even though she really didn’t want it.

“I’m going to my room for a little while, kids,” she said.

“Okay,” they responded in unison.

They all knew she wouldn’t be back down tonight.

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The Choice

In the cavernous room there was a single, flickering light bulb swinging from a cord. It buzzed occasionally with small energy surges. Completely covering the walls, floor and ceiling were thousands of graffiti-like words, each word pulsing and twisting to its own rhythm and each making its own sound. DEATH and GRIEF appeared in huge black and red letters that scrawled, intertwined, as they keened across the wall and melted, sobbing, into a puddle on the floor. MONEY flashed and fizzled like a neon sign, hanging sideways and covering an entire wall. The big, puffy letters of KIDS and the more mature, practical FAMILY laughed and danced together. ADDICTION slithered like a snake, whispering it’s evil lies, causing SHAME to writhe and swell and PLEASING PEOPLE to cower and quiver. FAITH and LOVE were in ethereal puffs of blue and white, swirling with the faint tinkle of wind chimes from the ceiling. RELIGION bellowed its condemnation in rigid, hard, sharpness while HOPE and HOPELESSNESS wrestled close by.

Threading through the spaces in and between the larger words were smaller ones in various sizes: TAXES, SEX, PLANNING, RELATIONSHIPS, KINDNESS, CLEANING, TUITION, HEALTH, CAREGIVING, EMBARRASSMENT, INSURANCE, RETIREMENT, FRIENDSHIP, FUN, COOKING, POLITICS, NEWS, CARS, HOUSE, VACATION, HYPOCRISY, and thousands more. Some were painted in brilliant colors, while others were more muted and dull, but each had its signature sound and movement. Small neon signs and theatre marquees dotted the room, their garish, flashing lights reflecting off of every surface in a sinister, Burtonesque display. The woman standing in the center of the room was colorless, clear, flat by comparison.

Suddenly, without warning, RESPONSIBILITY popped out like a jack in the box and she started and scrambled away from it. As she turned back around to face RESPONSIBILITY, she noticed CHOICES in flowing font, repeated again and again, weaving in and out of words around the room like a spider web holding it all together. She ran to the window and tried to look out, but the window was shut tight with the oppressive, foreboding FUTURE mocking her as it blocked her view.

Suddenly, they all seemed to call out to her at once in a cacophony of color, movement and sound.  Her eyes darted in panic at the display. Confused, she spun around, glassy eyed, attempting to take it all in at once. But she couldn’t do it! OVERWHELMED flashed red and grew on the ceiling, devouring FAITH and HOPE and filling itself with air from the room. She couldn’t breathe! She closed her eyes and fell into a ball on the floor, clamping her hands over her ears. She screamed as OVERWHELMED exploded with a thunderous, ear-splitting boom and the shards of it rained down around her.

Finally, there was the blessed relief of deafened silence. The high pitched ringing was all she could hear as, after a time, she uncurled herself and slowly rose to her feet.  She squinted her eyes and tensed her shoulders as she again noticed the flashing lights and obscene words that coated the walls like a thick layer of grease.

As in a dream, she stumbled over to a wall and blankly began to trace with one fingernail the web of CHOICES that held all of the words together in the strange tapestry. With each of the CHOICES she scratched, choices were made. CHOICES led to more CHOICES, but she continued to move along in her plodding pace, following the line beneath her finger.

After a long while, she looked over and noticed that the window was cracked and there was fresh air and a ray of light streaming in. As the time passed and she continued tracing along the line of CHOICES, she noticed more and more light from the window as it opened wider. THE FUTURE, dark and foreboding, that had once blocked her view, was now bathed in light. Each of the CHOICES drew her closer and closer to the window until finally she was able to see out.

At first she was devastated by the view. The web of CHOICES led out the window and stretched as far as her eye could see!  There were words that dotted the landscape, though they were not as concentrated or insistent as those in the room.  She turned her head away to look behind and saw all that had been done, one choice at a time. HOPE bubbled up from deep within her soul and STRENGTH seemed to wrap around her and lift her a few inches off the floor. She turned back around, climbed on the windowsill, and stood on the ledge, surveying the huge expanse of CHOICES in front of her.  They glowed, golden and sparkling in the sunlight.  She was so very tired of CHOICES, though!  I could stop here, she thought, as DISCOURAGEMENT plopped down onto the ledge beside her like a childhood friend, I could just sit and rest on this ledge forever.  But she knew that could not be. Though her memory was clouded, she knew she had been on that ledge before. She would eventually be drawn back and become trapped again in the chaotic room. Would there be more rooms like this in the maze ahead? At least she knew this room, would others be even worse?  FEAR and UNCERTAINTY pulsed and inched toward her, reaching out with smoke like tendrils that began to slowly wind around her in an effort to snatch her back.

But as she gazed over the CHOICES in front of her, she finally understood the freedom they contained. The freedom to make each choice was hers, but so was the choice of whether to turn back and give her freedom over to the room.  She took one last look behind her, and with a deep sigh, remembered again how far she had come. She turned toward the endless stretch of CHOICES in front of her. Then, taking a long, slow breath, and with her finger still outstretched to touch the web, she closed her eyes and jumped from the ledge.