I feel it coming on – strong, like it used to. The anxiety rushes over me, and it feels as though I am dying. The most terrifying sensation that I have feared my entire life. It was a mistake. It must have been a mistake.
He looked back to the stone steps. They once provided him comfort, their solid backbone ascending him to some peaceful place, full of harmony. But now they were cold and wet. A barrier that no longer carried him. Instead, they blocked him from it.
He zipped up his old coat and began walking away. As he did, his pace slowed, nearly to a crawl. He stared forward, an odd scowl plastered on his face.
Breathe. Breathing is what helps. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. It triggers a reduction in cortisol. There is no lion. There is no lion.
He shuddered once and began walking again. He looked to the end of the street and saw a bar.
The brain wants it. To cope. To cope with what I have done. But I needed to do it. I needed to step away from the fix. I somehow knew it was always unreasonable. There was always something unreasonable about it. It didn’t matter though. The procedure of eating the cracker is what soothed me. It kept everything in check. It kept my brain from breaking.
He hadn’t noticed that he had entered the tavern.
I convinced myself it was raining, so I was just coming out of the rain. But there was a bus stop. There was the library two blocks away. I’m here. It won’t hurt. I deserve it. I can do this.
He sat at the bar and shook his head, draining the water from his hair. He took his jacket off and folded it gently on the stool next to him. His eyes were worn and he looked up at the mirror across, staring at himself.
“What can I get ya?” asked the smartly dressed bartender.
He looked at her and stared for a moment.
He watched the yellow gold fill the goblet. She slid a napkin in front of him and placed the glass on it.
He stared at the drink. The too familiar look of the ripples in the tissue, distorted from the liquid above was like an elusive flower. Even the reflections of light in the whiskey resonated something wondrous.
I’ll drink it. I can see myself drinking it. I’ll lift it to my lips, and it’ll go down my throat. A warm feeling will slowly begin to take shape inside. And slowly, this storm will subside. I’ll smile, and it will be a real smile. An untainted smile. A celebration of something.
He clasped the glass in his hand. The liquid shook as he did.
Wonderful. So beautiful. Just a flick away.
He stared at it.
Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong with this. Once I drink this, I am saying something. I will say something. Right now, I’m saying one thing. But after I drink this, I’ll be saying something else. And it isn’t my friend. She isn’t my friend. I’ll need it. I’ll need it like I needed the cracker. And I don’t want that anymore. I can’t go back to that anymore.
He thought of his daughter and the conversation they had. It was nearly a month ago, and seemed so regular and irrelevant at the time. She blasted him for his beliefs. She explained that it was impossible that the world was only a few thousand years old. He had explained that certain things are not derived scientifically, but that one believes in them based on faith.
He explained that whether the Earth was a few thousand years old or not was not relevant. What was intensely relevant was the feeling he attained by being faithful. He could see the unease in her – and told her so. She scrunched her face, lifting her glasses, and the anger came out.
“Unease is normal when you’re living life!” she screamed. “How are you supposed to help me when all your answers are bullshit?”
“I’m at your disposal… what do you want from me? Tell me what you need and I’ll help you!”
She shook her head and grabbed her bag.
“You can’t help me. You don’t believe that things can get as bad as they do. You don’t know what it’s like to be alone… like, truly alone. So how can you help me? I’m the only one who’s alone!”
“You’re not alone!” he replied. “I’m here. I’m right here!”
She stared at him.
“You’re not here. You’re somewhere else. I’m here. You’re selfish, because you’ve left me alone.”
Her voice began to break as she spoke. Then she left his apartment, closing the door behind her. He shook his head and un-paused the TV, resuming his program.
What did she mean when she said “alone”? I was right there. I was always right there. Even when I drank I was there. I never abused her. I never even hit her. Why is she so angry at me? I think she blames me for her hardships. Maybe she broke up with her boyfriend and wanted me to make it better. But I can’t do that. All I can do is be there for her. Which I was. Which I am. She doesn’t take it. She doesn’t grab hold of it.
He grasped the drink again, reminding himself that it was there, that he had lasted this long, meaning the pleasure of it was ahead of him. It was still there, like candy, waiting for him.
I can figure this out. I can get to the bottom of it. She thinks she’s alone, but she’s not.
He imagined her face. Her beautiful, lovely face. She had the whitest, roundest eyes he could imagine, and hidden behind her glasses he loved them even more. He loved her wavy, brown hair, and didn’t care that she rarely wore makeup. He stood by her when she rebelled against those things.
Alone? My faith doesn’t make her alone. It doesn’t hurt anybody. It kept me from here, from this place. It kept me from holding this unholy vessel in my hand. It’s poison, but now that I’m alone, it’s like medicine. How the hell did I get here?
He thought of the stairs again.
Something has shifted inside me. There is no reason to it. I thought it would make the unrest lessen, but I feel worse. I could go back. I could go back.
He turned his head and looked to the door. He imagined the walk back. They would still be doing it. There was still time. He shook his head, wide eyed.
It wouldn’t be the same. It will never be the same. Something has shifted, and all I can think about is Rachel. Some love within that I can’t quantify. Will she even have me? Is this what she always wanted? Did I do it for her?
Pastor Young’s voice had been dulcet as ever that morning. His gentle optimism resonated throughout the church as he spoke of faith as the fire that would melt away sin. His red draperies were clean and crisp, littered with crests.
The place was filled with people, all staring forward, their necks taut to attention, listening to the pastor speak.
How I wish I was there right now, as I was, moments before, listening to him speak. Hearing his words, feeling them caress me.
After some singing, the pastor had spoken of the lamb of God. He placed the cracker in his mouth, wholly, then drank the wine.
I sat there as I always had. I watched as the music began again and people started getting up, approaching him. I sat there, however. I sat there, and did not rise. At first, I didn’t think much about it. But as if attached to the bench, I could not get up. A physical dysfunction. I weighed a thousand pounds. And something old and terrible started shaking inside. I stared at the pastor’s hand. He would reach into his chalice and pick out a Eucharist, placing it into the next person’s mouth. I yearned for the flavour and taste of it. I wanted the thin wafer to provide me another week’s calm, to settle my nerves. I wanted to taste the wine and feel filled with the love of the Lord, to be a part of him.
But my body would not rise. Sweaty palms and chattering teeth. An attack, so old and long forgotten, suddenly happening now. But why? I began to breathe. I calmed myself. I told myself that this was good. That this was normal. That what demons had invaded me would not return. That the cracker and wine, and the loving acceptance of the pastor would fight them for me as they always had.
I arose and covered my face in my hands, but the darkness was frightening. I breathed. I breathed then as I am breathing now. I walked forward, but the line was long. The music resonated around me, and my body began to heat up.
Rachel. When she came to me and said that she had lost her textbook. We prayed for it. We kneeled together, father and daughter, and prayed that God would help her find it. Then we looked everywhere for it. Everywhere in the house, under her bed, even outside. But it was gone. She cried that night. Not because I would scold her, but because she hated losing things. She hated making mistakes.
The next day I woke up early and drove to her school to get another copy. I made sure it looked used, like hers did, and sped back home. I hid it somewhere… I can’t remember where. But when she found it, we hugged, and I thanked the Lord. I told her that our prayers were answered, and somehow, that morning, she was happier than she would have been had she never lost the book in the first place.
I had felt good that day. I had been the answer to the prayer. We prayed, and the Lord had worked through me.
He suddenly got up and stumbled in place. He picked up his jacket and placed a ten dollar bill on the counter, speedily running outside.
“Rachel…” he said under his breath. “My darling baby… where are you?”
He wiped his face and ran to his car, jumping in.
With each step forward, my condition became worse. My heart began to palpitate. As I neared the front, I felt dizzy. But when it was only the pastor in front of me, I froze. I stared up at him, and at the crisp in his hand. I stared at the white beauty of it. It was perfect and round, thin as paper.
As he sped around the corner, tears began to flow from his eyes. He wiped them quickly, trying to stay focused. The rain was getting worse, and with each passing moment his urgency increased.
“Rachel… I’m sorry,” he practiced. “I apologize. I… I know I was there… but I wasn’t there…”
He shook his head.
“Rachel… I know… I know that you prayed with me, that day. And you didn’t want me to get another person’s textbook. You wanted yours. You prayed for yours.”
He banged his hand against the steering wheel.
“Rachel… if miracles happen… if you believe in them… and they don’t happen… then you’re alone… I know what you mean. You’re not alone anymore.”
He screamed at the top of his lungs and suddenly pulled the car to the side.
“It’s not for Rachel. She doesn’t want me to apologize.”
His voice began to break.
“She loves me. She adores me.”
He took a deep breath in and covered his face with his hands.
As he resumed driving, he did so at a more tepid pace, breathing methodically, looking numb.
“I don’t need to compose a dialogue to my daughter.”
Having parked, he walked to her building and pressed the intercom.
“It’s dad. It’s me.”
The intercom sounded and he pushed the door open. He walked the old, carpeted stairs, up to her floor. Upon reaching her door, he knocked.
When she opened it, he remained fixated, staring at her familiar face. It was always welcoming – open to the touch. He had never realized it before. There was compassion and understanding, and he believed the whole time it was some form of conscientious obligation that had forced him there. But at that moment, like a bolt of lightning, it struck him that his desperate need was of her, because she was the only one that could help him.
He began to cry and fell to his knees. She immediately followed suit, grabbing him, hugging him.
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong, dad? I’m here… tell me…”
He cried hard, the angst ripping at him.
“I… I didn’t eat the cracker… I didn’t eat the cracker.”
Tears began to well up in her eyes as she squeezed him, kissing his balding head.
“You’re not alone, Rachel. I’m here now. I’m here.”
“I’m here too. I’ll always be here.”
They remained locked in position as he continued to cry, saying nothing, together.