Flashbacks (Chapter 5)

30 03 2009

“Hello,” this is Trish. “How can I help you”?

It appeared to be busier than usual, only because Trish was unfamiliar with the new phone system. She was a little annoyed, because of the annual inspection of the facility was later in the week, and there was so much to do.

“You can help me by going to lunch with me,” the sexy voice on the other end replied. A fire immediately lit her heart, and burst out through her voice.

“Yes, yes,” she was almost embarrassed because of her quick and over-readiness to accept.

Hunter smiled. “What’s going on over there”?

“Everything,” Trish replied. “Gail is out sick today, and I decided to give a hand with the phones. That was a bad mistake. Hold on, hold on a second,” Trish said frantically.

Hunter listened to the entire Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On,” before he realized it, and was about to hang up, when Trish returned.

“What time,” she hastily asked.

“One  o’clock,” he replied.

“Cool,” Trish said as she hung up.

Trish was frazzled, when Hunter pulled his truck to the front of Hope House. He swung open the door, and she climbed in. After their greetings, they rode in unusual silence until they reached the first traffic light. As they sat in the traffic, an overwhelming urge to cry, and not just cry, but to cleanse came over Trish, like a big wave. Hunter was looking at her, and pulled over to the curb.

“Let it out, Trish,” he softly whispered.

He moved closer to her, and laid her head on his broad shoulder. Trish longed for a simpler life, but her guilt and sense of duty kept her on the job all the time, seems like 24-7.

“In seven years I have never taken a vacation, from Hope, not even a weekend,” Trish said in between her sobbing. “I don’t know what a normal life is anymore, but I want to try and find it,” she said as she was trying to regain her composure.

This was music to Hunter’s ears, he had dreamed of this day. “Can this actually be happening,” he thought.

“What can I do to help,” Hunter asked with genuine concern.

Trish’s cell phone interrupted her ready response, and she reluctantly answered the incoming call.

“Hello, this is Trish,” and immediately an illuminating smile came over her face. “Well hello stranger, I was wondering when you were going to call. Hold on, I’m here with Hunter.”

“What’s up,” Hunter said aloud,  knowing it was Bren.

 “Oh, I would love to come for a visit, in fact I need to come for a visit,” Trish responded with a heavy sigh. “You know, I’m having my usual, I know there is more out there for me, meltdown right now, but I’m better now. Look, I’m going to lunch with Hunter, and I’ll call you later tonight. I am so glad to know things are good.”

The call ended with Trish saying, “Okay, okay, later.”

Trish looked at Hunter, and for the first time, admitted to herself she was so in love with him. Tears welled up in Trish’s eyes, and she took Hunter’s warm and firm right hand in hers, and said, “We’ve both been invited to visit Bren.”

She swore she could have felt his heart in her hand.

……..
Leah was restless and she knew why. She was missing her grandkids. The twin boys always spent the afternoons with her and as much as the first few weeks without them were a welcome change, she longed for the familiar and their inquisitive minds.

The photos she had grabbed of them and the rest of the family were now dog-eared. She had touched them so much. Would they understand why grandma had to go away? She prayed they would in the future if not now. What must my daughters and son be thinking, Leah thought? What was he telling them? Except for several illnesses over the years and being away for the birth of her children, Leah had never missed preparing a Sunday meal.

“I’ve got to pull it together, because I know I can. I have no choice,” she whispered softly holding the pictures of her family close to her heart.

Leah heard Hunter’s truck pull in front of Hope House, and she thought back to the day Hunter literally plucked her from that bus stop. Leah even recalled the day she first spoke to Trish. A new resident, introducing herself, jolted her from her daydream. Leah had been the only resident without a roommate until today. Trish must have thought she was ready.

“Oh, its’ always nice to meet someone who is taking charge of their life,” Leah declared.

Monica did not know what to make of the elderly woman who opened the door. She could be her grandmother but yet she felt as if she were looking in a mirror. The same haunted uncertainty stared back at her.

“I, I’m Monica. Trish said this was my room,” stretching a hand towards Leah.

“Welcome, Monica, there is plenty of room to spare. It’s nice to finally have a roommate.”

The silence grew as Leah left Monica to her thoughts and arranging her side of the room. She had appreciated the silence the first three weeks. It was a great way to find her bearings and make plans for the future. Trish had a system and it seemed to work.

No woman had ever repeated her time at the center. Once they left, they were brand new women ready to start over without fear of repeating the same mistakes. Was it too late for Leah to be starting over? It wasn’t as if she was dreaming of getting married again. She had grandkids and a pension for God’s sake.

“This is not my life,” Leah thought.

“That’s what every woman thinks. They think they are too old, affluent, Christian, you name it,” Leah recalled Trish saying to her over the phone, the very first time they met. “Get it out of your head, that you can not and will not become a victim of this type of violence. You need to know the signs, precautions and put in place safeguards for an escape if you fall victim.”

Leah could hear Trish’s words through her tears, while listening to her during that frightening, embarrassing and confusing day. “You need to come in, and let us help you,” she heard before quickly hanging up, because of angry footsteps approaching the bedroom door.

Leah dropped the phone into the cradle as if it were hot coal and, at once, flinched at what would walk through the bedroom door…. She never tired of seeking prayer and “wasting” wishes in hopes of a better day, so she silently prayed, “Jesus wept,” hopeful she would be spared today’s ire.

She was tired – mentally, physically and emotionally and she was in such a weakened state for she had been beaten down in so many ways on so many days. Still, the footsteps grew closer and angrier — she, unconsciously, braced herself for the assault that was sure to come, either by hand or word.

She tried to look unaffected as she busied herself wiping imaginary hair from the nightstand …next to the phone. That phone… that lifeline… She knew the routine well. The cuss word that always followed Jerry bumping into the footstool he insisted needed to be at the foot of the bed; the groans and his expletive-ridden promise never to drink another whiskey; and then the vehement anger at Leah for not straightening the corners of the bed, or picking up his dirty laundry off the floor.

Today would be different Leah vowed to herself. Today was the day she would break that routine, the spell that had her entranced for all of her adult life.

“What made you decide to come here?” Monica’s question jarred Leah from her memories. “I don’t mean to sound rude but aren’t you too old to be in a place like this?”

Leah smiled at the questions. She had asked herself the same ones a thousand times from the moment she began to pack her bags as Jerry slept off his drinking binge.

“You are never too old to change your life and decide you want more from it than what it has been giving you,” Leah replied. “It took me some time but I finally believed it and walked away.”

When Monica didn’t immediately respond, she continued. “I realized that I suffered from a degenerative disease… the worst disease,” she reflected. “The disease of hate; and I didn’t know if it was hate of my husband, hate of the disease of alcoholism or hate of me. I had to leave… ‘Old’ or not, I had to make a change.”

Almost as an afterthought she added, “You know, music stills me… so when I heard a song by Chris Sigh I listened to the lyrics and I heard:”

Lord, empty me of me so I can be.

Lord, empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

Change had come….

“I ran away. I had to. Not because he was killing me but because I was already dead! I couldn’t feel anything. My mother passed and I didn’t even cry. I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel relieved that she was no longer in pain. I felt nothing,” poured out Monica. “I had to run or else I would have let him kill me just so the deadness would be over. Does that make sense?” She asked turning to Leah who had come to sit beside her.

“It makes perfect sense,” Leah replied as she laid a comforting hand on her back. “As clichéd as the phrase may be — the battle is not over, it has only just begun. It takes a different kind of strength to follow through with your decisions. And that’s why you are here.”

Leah gave Monica a moment to absorb her words before reassuring her that she wasn’t alone. “We will be each others strength; you have that in me and I need that in you.”

Leah shuddered, she felt like a mere babe in this process so how could she help another, she wondered… but she knew she would. Her strength would come from knowing she was being depended upon. This was an opportunity to rise and not fail another human being as she often felt she’d failed her own children and grandchildren. The nagging presence of feelings of failures made her welcome her decision to seek help. She needed to release the guilt.

Leah decided to lighten the mood. “Let’s have coffee! I make an absolutely fabulous caramel latte – rather my Tassimo machine does but who cares, it’s good! We can toast to sane moments and plausible deniability!”

She caught Monica’s confused expression, “Let’s just say I wasn’t always so reassuring, comforting and ‘sane’… I was a broken woman and had some terrible thoughts…”

They laughed as they stood and started out of the room.

……..

Bren’s day wasn’t going as planned. The copier broke in the middle of a major run and the phone had not stopped ringing since she got in that morning. A latte would brighten things up and Bren wondered whom she could find to get one for her.

The phone was ringing AGAIN. Before she could get the greeting out, Grey’s voice was making an invitation “Come have a latte with me.” The coffee gods had heard her plea.

“Yes,” she answered without hesitation.

“Be there in five minutes,” he responded.

She didn’t take the regular phone calls and text messages for granted. Grey was seriously wooing her and she loved it. This would be their first meeting since a disastrous first date that left Grey with a black eye and a busted windshield. The fact that he had called her more than once to see how she was doing and to make sure she was settling in at the new job was a miracle.

Bren forwarded the calls to the answering service and headed for the ladies room to freshen up her makeup. Thanks to Trish she had toned down her colors, learned to apply makeup to enhance her looks rather than cover up black eyes, and busted lips.

Grey was waiting for her when she got outside and the busted windshield was nowhere in site. In fact, Grey was driving a sports utility and not the tricked out Porsche he had used on their golf date. She blushed at the memory of her inability to control the golf club; hence Grey’s black eye and the golf ball with a mind of its own.

Bren presented Grey with a subdued smile that looked more like a smirk, completely betraying the fact that she was dizzy with excitement and expectations of … of the possibilities! Hmmm, she cautioned herself … expectations — she would need to be careful with that word. Grey seemed great but she everybody had a story. Bren was wise — a Porsche, a SUV…. Grey, indeed, had a story to tell.

Wait! She panicked, was this just her defense mechanisms haunting her happiness? She decided she would be open to the possibilities — after all, she couldn’t possibly be the only phoenix rising….

Bren’s smile widened as she approached Grey and he sent her a knowing smile. Ever transparent, Bren just couldn’t contain her excitement — smile smirk or scowl, so she released herself into the moment…

Grey was as excited… giddy even! He tempered that feeling as he worried and wondered, “What time was the right time to share secrets?” He knew secrets to be so very divisive, but sharing too soon could ruin a budding romance, he countered…. He needed time — timing is everything, right? Besides, that’s how they met– Bren’s forgotten journal… and he could have read her most intimate thoughts — learning her before she was ready and without her knowledge….

Bren headed straight for Grey’s open arms. She needed the hug he was offering and hugged him right back.

“Thank you for reading my mind,” she said raising her head to look at him. “Or was it my journal that gave me away?”

She regretted her words the moment they were released. Darn she knew how to ruin a good thing.

“Actually Bren, I only scanned it to find out how I could return it. When I recognized your sister’s name I stopped. Please believe me. The hug, the latte invite, me standing here right now is because I like being with you. No hidden agendas, I just want to spend time with you.”

Pre-Hope House Bren was telling her not to trust him. Jai had been hinting at his checkered past and the flashy clothing and cars seemed to support what it. Was she ready to know who he was and was it too soon to reveal her own darkness?

“Maybe we need to talk and clear the air about who we are and what we are doing. I can’t date you without a purpose and we both need to know where we stand,” she said moving out of his arms.

“Come back here, Bren,” was his only response.

She hesitated, told Pre-Hope House Bren to take a hike and returned for the rest of her hug.

“Meet my, not so welcome, alter ego — Pre-Hope House Bren,” she blushed and whispered into his neck. “She tends to intrude every now and again — but I expect that will change soon.”

Grey busted out with a laugh and squeezed her tighter. He looked at her with intensity and declared, “You are so welcome in my world, and you are such a welcome presence in my life. I…”

Bren quieted the moment by softly putting her finger to his lips and said, “Let’s enjoy this feeling, live in this moment and oh, ummm, can I get my coffee please?”

The lunch hour went by much too quickly but it was just what Bren needed. By the time she got back to the office, the phones were quiet and the repairman had saved the copier from further abuse. She grinned for the rest of the afternoon, looking forward to the movie and dinner date later on. Grey had promised to be open about his past so they could move forward. She prayed she would be able to handle the truth and he could do the same for her.

Leah remembered Bren’s warm hospitality and hoped her own gesture, a coffee break, was a refreshing comfort and effective segue into the group meet she and Monica were about to attend. Leah, both, looked forward to and dreaded the hours long confessional/motivational/therapeutic meeting of women in various stages of recovery and acceptance; the dynamics were intriguing, indeed, but it sometimes weighed heavily on her soul.

As one of the older members at the home everyone looked to Leah as the most experienced and adaptable. The pressure was difficult for her to shoulder and sometimes she just wanted to go home go to sleep and wake up — healed. But where is home? Abuse was all she knew and had been “home” for so long… and here she was home less — in residence, emotion and comfort. And, yet again, having to maintain an image…. Would this facade ever really end? She was always hiding something. She had her days — some days were strong some days… others, no strength at all.

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