Fifteen years ago
Thunder crashed overhead and I huddled underneath the bridge, wanting the rain to stop.
But it never stopped. It was wet, dreary, and miserable with no end in sight.
I was cold.
A deep in my bones, never get warm cold. I wrapped the frayed edges of my coat around my too thin body. My dark hair hung down my back.
No one would glance at me twice. I kept my chin tucked into my chest, careful not to look at anyone.
Life had taught me hard lessons. Don’t give away what you can’t afford to lose. A smile. A glance. Your tears.
Things had been different the day I had met him.
He looked at me and I was trapped.
It was too late. He held me prisoner with his green eyes and soft smile meant only for me.
He sucked me dry and laid my heart to waste.
I wanted to run, run, run.
Far and fast so no one could find me.
He said we could run together. He smothered me with promises that he meant to keep. I trusted his intentions.
Last night when our skin was bare and we were open wide, he gave me everything. I didn’t think about what he did with others when the lights were out. In back alleys and seedy motel rooms.
When his hand found mine in the dark, he was mine.
I was his.
We were going to run, run, run.
I’ll be there, Imi. Wait for me.
The harsh light of day was different. I couldn’t ignore the things I didn’t want to see.
I should run. Run. Run.
But I couldn’t. He held me captive with his aching, painful love.
So I waited. And I waited. Lost and alone. Waiting to be found.
Until the sun slipped away and my clothes had dried.
Into the night I stayed, hoping. Hoping.
My heart turned to stone and I knew.
I would never see him again.
I had thought myself content with my unassuming existence.
I had spent the last fifteen years force-feeding myself lies that made the endless days more palatable. Reality was easier to face when it was painted with dishonest fantasy.
I was content. Not happy. There was a distinct difference between the two.
It started like the worst kind of day.
Because I was late.
And I was never late.
I was the kind of woman who made it a point to be thirty minutes early for everything. Doctors’ appointments. Dinner dates. Root canals.
Not that morning.
The universe seemed to be working against me. Everything that could have gone wrong, did. My alarm didn’t go off. I ran out of shampoo. My car wouldn’t start.
Bad days began with bad mornings and it seemed this one was no exception.
“Im! There you are!” Bright red dye job. Too much lipstick. A smile that stretched and strained uncomfortably. Tess Finley click clacked down the hallway, hands flapping and shirt slipping dangerously low on her chest.
I wiped at the brand new coffee stain on the front of my shirt, feeling self-conscious. “Hey there, Tess. You’re looking decidedly frantic this morning,” I said, pulling my purse up on my shoulder and heading towards my office.
“Jason wants those reports that you promised him last week. He’s been hounding me already,” my co-worker huffed, her short legs struggling to keep up with my longer strides.
I fumbled through my purse, trying to find my keys. Breath mints. Check. Band-aids. Check. Two-week-old power bar. Check. I found my keys buried under a mountain of gum wrappers and napkins from the hospital cafeteria.
I unlocked my office door and stepped inside, turning on the light and taking off my jacket. It was cluttered yet mostly organized, just as I had left it. I stepped over the piles of old files and dropped my purse on my desk next to my collection of cartoon character paperweights and ceramic farm animals.
I felt better surrounded by lots and lots of things. The more useless junk the better. My ex-husband, Chris, called me a hoarder. It was one of the nicer names he used to describe me towards the end of our marriage.
“I have them. I was working on them before I left last night,” I told her.
I smoothed out my shoulder-length brown hair wishing I had time for a cut. I knew my split ends were reaching a critical point.
I shuffled through the papers, knowing exactly where I had left them. To anyone else the haphazard piles would have seemed like disorder. But everything had its place and had been put there with care.
“How you can find anything on this desk, is beyond me,” Tess paused, squinting her overly large blue eyes at my blouse. “Did you know you have big stain on your shirt?” Tess asked, pointing at the noticeable wet spot.
I sighed, handing her the reports she asked for and picking up my coffee cup, a giant purple monstrosity with a chip on the rim. I grimaced at the cold liquid still inside. I must have forgotten to wash it out before leaving yesterday. Gross.
“I need coffee, you coming?” I asked, quickly walking out into the hallway, knowing chatty Tess would be hot on my heels. The woman had never met a conversation she couldn’t dominate.
“The coffee machine in the breakroom is broken. I had to go up to ICU and raid their supply,” Tess warned and I bit down on my frustrated groan.
Tess stared pointedly at my ruined shirt. “But seriously, Imogen, I have another blouse in my office if you want to change. It’s my spare in case I decide my day requires a wardrobe change.”
“What sort of day requires a wardrobe change?” I chuckled, amused. Tess, even though she was a bit overbearing, could be counted on to make me laugh.
Tess flipped her hair of her shoulder in an exaggerated gesture. “Oh you know, if the sun comes out, or I decide to eat with the doctors at lunch. Or if I need a quick pick me up.”
“Makes total sense,” I conceded.
“And you, my friend, need a day changer, stat.” Tess raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips.
I walked with Tess down the narrow corridor. The hospital was buzzing with its usual cacophony of emergency and chaos. It was draining. It was exhilarating.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I had been working as a social worker at Lupton Memorial Hospital for almost seven years. I had been hired just out of college and had been there ever since.
I was a firm believer in roots. In establishing them. In maintaining them. It was the same with my collections of knickknacks. I needed the scheduled, the familiar, in order to feel settled.