I sat back in the desk chair and put my hands behind my head. The screen of the computer flicked a couple of times as it went about sending off the message I just wrote. I closed my eyes and took in a few deep breaths as I tried to calm myself down and limit my over active imagination which was trying to vividly recreate Chloe's college rape.
She told me some time ago that she has many emotional scars. I wonder just how many. I thought I knew her so well, but there are many deep painful issues that reside in that woman in places no one has ever been. Places I want to go, pain I want to help heal.
I do not suppose I will get the chance any time soon, but I am hoping to take the first step at becoming a part of her life again.
I open my eyes and my chest sank when I read the following error message. 'mail to: MSG: 26, RECEPIENT NOT FOUND'
"Crap." I whispered to myself. She must be worse off then I imagined. She no longer works for Universal. I suppose I have one option left. I look at the date on the screen and realize it is only Monday. I have a week to kill unless I travel to her old apartment. I wonder if she even still lives there.
I found that I did not really have the time to ponder that thought long. Late afternoon had set in and I still had other things I needed to do before the library closed up shop. I closed the error message and hit up a map site to find the location to Mariposa. After digging around some waste management sites and landfill locations, I found the way to one of the dumps I know well and realized I was almost twenty miles away from the closet known entrance. I did not think I walked that far the first time I showed up there, nor do I remember ever walking that distance while living there. I was surprised just how much area Mariposa covers. Could there seriously be that much unused utility tunnels running underground?
I pushed the thought out of my head as I jotted directions and sketched a small map into my journal and closed the computer down. Turning my attention to the clock, I realized I was short on time. The sun was quickly setting and I had a long walk ahead of me.
I returned the way I came and eventually made it back to the half-way house. During my walk I took the time to familiarize myself with the orientation book. They had a variety of life-building exercises, networking classes and other job related activities designed to help you successfully look for work and regain a strong foothold in your life. I circled classes I would have to be around for and realized I had a three day window to return to Mariposa, but it would overlap the Friday I wanted to use to hopefully meet up with Chloe. I could skip and head out early Friday morning, but I felt I needed to at least see if she still spends the evenings at the lake. I figured I could call her first; however I decided a face to face meeting would be more meaningful.
As I walked into the main hall, the poker game was in full swing. There was a lot of tense shouting and a few whoops and hollers as players gambled what little money or possessions they had at a shot for… I was going to say riches or glory, but realized most of these people had barely anything of real value and I began to wonder just what they were playing for.
I pushed a chair into the far corner of the room and started looking for a telephone. I did not see one right away but eventually, a guy from across the room noticed my staring glances and decided to see if I needed any help.
"Looking for something?" The man said as I turned my head to greet him. The minute I saw him, I realized it was my new roommate Pat.
"Hey… you’re my bunk mate." I said as I continued looking for the phone.
"Name's Pat." He said as he waved his hand in front of my eyes.
"I know. Pat. Sorry… is there a phone around here?" I asked.
"Pay phone out front. That's it. You are allowed your own cell though." He replied candidly.
Shit. I did not have any money yet for a payphone or a cell. I suppose I will have to find some cash before I can make a phone call. Turning my attention to Pat, I decided to make amends for my previous horrible impression I made earlier.
"Thanks Pat. Listen… sorry for the brush-off earlier, I'm not the mysterious, quiet type. I also didn't mean to startle you."
"It's ok. My last roommate treated this place like a prison." He said as he took a seat next to me. "The guy was always bitching about how life owes him something and that this place was whack… I'm actually happy to have a less angry person to deal with."
"You can see I'm not angry, just bad with jokes?" I asked sarcastically.
"Your timing needs work, but what the hey… always looking for a new friend to help out. What brings you here anyway?"
"I need a place to sort some things out… a friend put me up here to help me with that." I replied honestly.
"Economy grabbed you by the balls too eh?" He asked.
"Nope… I had a great life, an awesome job with an amazing family. I just found myself torn between that life and another one I left a little while ago." My response was a bit vague this time.
"You have a great job?" Pat asked confused.
"Not in any way you might understand it." I replied even more cryptically then before.
"Ok…” he whispered as he rolled his eyes.
"I'm not trying to brush you off."
"Next thing… you'll be telling me you are married to Liv Tyler and are the ambassador to the unseen aliens that abduct only the crazy citizens."
"Pat. I did answer honestly. I'm here because I left a good life a year ago, settled somewhere new, albeit different, and now want to try to ease back into my former life. It really is that simple."
"So where'd you used to live?" He asked.
"Why so curious?" I responded.
"I'm bored. Reading only entertains me so much and I like talking to people. Your face looks like you have a million stories to tell and since I can't read faces… I thought I might chat you up for a good story or two."
"I used to live in Orlando, near Universal." I said.
"I left… moved to a nice placed called Mariposa."
"Sounds exotic; some nice island down south?" He retorted.
"Exotic? Not the word I'd use. Let's say rustic, really rustic. Not much of an island either, I'd use the word cavern."
"Mariposa is a rustic cavern?" He gawked.
"This place isn't in Florida is it?"
"It's about twenty miles from here however you won't find it on a map." I retorted.
Pat gave me a confused look but failed to respond.
"Got fifty cents?" I finally chimed in.
Pat shook his head and dug around his pocket for some loose change.
"Uh here." He said as he handed me a bunch of coins.
"Thanks Pat. I'll meet you back in the room in about fifteen? I gotta call I need to make."
"Sure." He said as I walked toward the payphone.
I eventually made it to the payphone and lifted the receiver off the hook and slowly inserted the coins into the slot. Once the last coin clanged at the bottom of the tank I began to dial my parents’ phone number. As I hit the last number and listened to the ringing I wondered what their reaction would be when they picked up the phone.
"Hello?" I heard my mother’s voice break in.
"Hi mom." I said quietly.
"Who is this?" Her voice suddenly shrieked.
"I know this is a bit of a surprise, but it's your son John."
I heard some muffled shuffling going on in the background and it seemed an eternity before she finally processed what I said and managed to stumble out a reply.
"Yes Mom. I'm alive and fine, I'm sorry it's been so long since I have called…" I wanted to finish my apology but found that I was too emotionally choked up to do so. I simply started crying.
I imagined that my mother simply listened quietly to my sobs, probably overwhelmed that her little boy was not dead. I tried to regain my composure and speak again, but I found talking rather difficult. I was not sure what to say.
Finally my mother broke the silence and asked… "Where have you been?"
I was rather surprised at the question because I involuntarily laughed when she asked it. I am not sure what stunned me it was a perfectly logical question. Perhaps my reaction was more akin to the fact I did not want to answer it, or maybe I was not sure how to answer it.
"I've been around Mom. It's not the kind of thing I want to explain over the phone." I finally managed to say.
"I don't understand honey… it's been over a year. What happened to you?" She asked concerned.
"I needed some time to myself. I'll explain everything, I promise. I just wanted to touch base with you and dad and tell you where I am."
My mom started moving around and I heard her dump her purse all over the table. "So where are you?" She asked excitedly.
"In Orlando, the Tyler Hawks building off W. Colonial Drive; the address is 2400 Livingston Court, Orlando, 32818. I'm not sure how to drive there from home."
I listened as my mom frantically scribbled down the information. When she finished she blurted out… "Dad and I are coming to bring you home."
I quickly cut in… "No mom. I'm staying here. It's a halfway house. You can visit me, but I'm not coming home."
"What? Why?" She asked the pain of rejection readily apparent in her voice.
"It's complicated. I will explain when you come to visit. I have some free time this Wednesday afternoon. Can dad bring you up here? He will probably have to take time off work."
"He damn well better", she replied sternly.
"Good. I can't wait to see you again mom. I love and miss you."
"John?" I heard her cut in quickly.
"We carried out your funeral a few months ago." She replied sadly.
"Everyone thinks I killed myself don't they?"
"Not everyone." My mom replied softly. "But… I suppose a lot of people will be surprised you are alive."
"Do you want to make all the calls, or should I?" I asked sarcastically.
"Let's discuss that when I come up to see you."
"So who thinks I'm still alive?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
"Who do you think?" My mom retorted back.
"Is she ok?" I asked concerned for Chloe, knowing that her life has been rough the past year.
"No." That simple one word response tore through me worse than buckshot would have.
"How bad?" I asked, not entirely sure I wanted to know the answer.
"She's without a job and living with some friends in Orlando, but I hear she's wearing out her welcome. She drinks a lot and is hardly ever sociable anymore. We haven’t seen her for almost four months now. However, Jean calls us and lets us know she is still alive."
"Is she seeking any help?" I asked.
"Jean said she was talking with a counselor… but I don't know all the details. Have you spoken to her?" My mom asked.
"Why not? That girl has been out of control since you left… you are probably the only person who can help her."
I listened to my mom rant a little more but I kept quiet. I did not want to accept responsibility for Chloe's downfall after I left, mostly because I honestly believed she needed time away from me as badly as I needed time away from her. However, I also knew that if Chloe was truly in bad shape I would probably be the only person capable of bringing her back to a good place.
"I know mom. I plan on contacting her soon… I just need some time to sort through what I am going to say."
"Well don't wait too long." My mother sternly ordered.
The payphone started beeping indicating I was running out of time. "Look mom… I gotta run. Please don't tell Chloe I'm back yet. I want to tell her myself."
"Ok. But don't dawdle. I can't keep this secret safe forever."
"I love you mom."
"I love you too Son. See you on Wednesday."
I heard the payphone disconnect us shortly after our goodbyes and I gently hung up the receiver and made my back to my room.
Pat was silently reading on his bunk as I tossed my shoes off and slowly climbed into my own rack. I drove my head into my pillow and tried to hold back the tears that were swelling up and busting out uncontrollably as I began to bang my fists angrily against my bed and wailed out in hysterical emotional outbursts. Pat took notice of my rather unusual demeanor and tried to calm me down.
"Hey… hey…" I heard him say calmly.
"Ugh." I finally managed to say as I lifted my head off the pillow and tried to wipe the tears from my face.
"What happened?" Pat asked quizzically.
"Nothing", I said stupidly.
"A typical nothing reaction 'round here", he joked.
"My best friend, I hurt her. Bad." I said.
"How bad… she in the hospital?"
"No. What?" I asked confused.
"You said you hurt her…"
"Not physically… although I might as well have, I need to get away for awhile. When is the next required meeting?"
"Tomorrow, 10ish", he said.
I got up off the bed and slipped back into my shoes. I threw some stuff into my bag and started to race out the door.
"Where you going this late?" Pat asked.
"I… I…" I stuttered.
I failed to answer him. I just turned away and ran out the door.