The path had been washed clear a fortnight before by the season’s first gentle rains, and in the days that followed, the spring’s warmth absorbed any hint of dampness that would cling to her feet. She could find no fault with her path or her duties as Guardian, and though optimistic, she remained vigilant, anticipating what she could not see.
A sudden wind stirred the grass and an unmistakable rumble rolled beneath her feet. The ground shook and dread fell from the trees. Her pace quickened to match the beat of her heart, but where to turn, she did not know.
The shadow loomed to engulf her, the forewarning she knew too well. She did not have time to change her footing, as the beast came at her vicious and strong, tackling her from behind, forcing her to taste the harsh reality of her choices.
Not willing to relive yet another blow, she scrambled to her feet, but slipped.
Thick, oily, green-gray mud bubbled up from between the cracks on the once smooth path, through the seams she had spent years of her life mending.
The blue sky swirled with fear and darkened to a toxic hue, then unloosed its watery fury, pelting her with shards of wet, gleaming steel. Her shoulders hunched against the pain as each stab created divots in her armor. With cold and shaking hands, she swiped at them uselessly.
Footsteps approached. Some fast, some slow, but she recognized each one. They’d always been there, surrounding her, urging her forward. Never had they allowed her to falter or lose sight of her task. Normally she basked in their presence, but now she dare not look up, for she did not want them to see the uncertainty in her eyes. The need to run and claim to the menacing skies “Let me be! I am not as strong as you believe!” exploded from her cells, howling for release.
Wisps of light circled her, hovering only moments until she closed her eyes in surrender. Blue-white heat grazed atop her damaged armor, the depressions filling in and strengthening her with resolve. Tears spilled, but quickly evaporated in the knowing that the path before her, though flooded with sludge, was solid.
With each step her load lightened and the curve of her back disappeared. Instead of studying the ground before her, seeing only the small section of the path, she stood tall and faced the beast that now stood before her. She grasped the hilt of her sword, ready to strike it down.
Its eyes were rimmed with sadness, but could easily have been mistaken for anger.
She paused. The air stilled around her, quiet as the impending death, and with ancient eyes watching the slow movement of her thoughts, she drew her sword from its sheath and held it steady at her side. Her fingers twitched, anxious for a reason.
The great beast’s gaze slid down the length of the sword and held fast at the deadly tip. Its bristly hairs stood on end. It slowly raised its head, the sadness in its eyes replaced with venom that spilled over and trickled down its time-worn cheeks.
Her armor did little good when he looked at her in that vile way. She knew it was time. Time to leave the forest behind, lest he draw the light from within her heart that she held so close. One step back, one last look, before she turned.
“Why do you leave?” the beast roared, its pain-soaked voice ripping through the thin fabric that cloaked her soul.
She slowly turned, her hand once again tightening on her sword. Whispers penetrated her mind, a reminder of her strength.
“Why do you stay?” she asked.
“The forest is dark.”
“The meadow is light.”
They stood, face to face, bound together by time long past, a bond neither could break.
“I cannot go where you lead.” The words spilled from their lips in eerie harmony, entwining like the overgrown vines suffocating the abandoned forest they once shared.
She shook her head. There was no more for her there, and though she found a bit of relief, the sadness grew inside. Sadness for the beast who will never know peace. Sadness for herself, for neither will she.
Since Sunday night at 5:20 p.m. to be exact. For about 36 hours now.
Though I had felt as if I had no parents for many, many years, this made it a hard core reality. I had shunned both of my parents long ago, never wanting to have anything to do with them (damn, I was so proud of myself, being so independent and all). My mother had died 17 years ago, but there was still another half of the parenting duo alive, and despite the fact that we were separated by hundreds of miles, my father was always there for me to ignore.
What a hollow victory this turned out to be.
A week ago my aunt Mary called from the hospice center where they had taken my father. Apparently what the doctors diagnosed five weeks ago as a urinary tract infection, turned out to be a stroke, and his condition had deteriorated since. It’s been a bit on the stressful side, due to my oldest brother’s immoral and illegal conduct – I’m setting that one aside for another blog…or a novel…**counting on fingers how many times he has tried to screw the family**…No. Definitely a novel.
I apologize, I digress.
So, last week my aunt called me from the hospice center to let me know my father was unresponsive. She offered to hold the phone up to his ear so I could say something to him. I hesitated, because I really had nothing to say. I had made my peace on my own, so what was left? But my brother was on his way out to Arizona from California, and once he got there, I knew I wouldn’t have another chance. I didn’t know what I could say. All I knew was that I didn’t want to have any regrets.
Death is a process, a very personal journey, and I wanted to respect that. So instead of taking the stance of daughter-to-father and get in his face, I decided to go toe-to-toe, soul-to-soul. I could see no other way.
Later my aunt would tell me that when I first spoke to him, with her cell phone to his ear, his labored breathing had slowed, as if to hear me better, and as I spoke, his eyes moved behind his lids. He had heard me.
I opened my heart up as wide as I could and tried to see the playing field for what it was. Completely off kilter. I was strong, healthy, with at least another 50 years with which to make good with myself. His body was shutting down. His life was coming to an end. Another soul, another incarnation, just waiting…waiting for whatever moment souls wait for before they let go.
I couldn’t even begin to question his life’s plan, because I don’t really even know my own. All I knew was that moment was not the time to speculate. That would be his job…once he had passed. Neither was it a time to judge, condemn, or hold a grudge. That never did any good anyway – in life or death.
So I said what I needed to say and told him good-bye, feeling as if there was so much more to say, regretting that I didn’t say more. But it didn’t matter. My brother had arrived at the hospice center, threw a hissy fit as only my 50-year-old brother can, and my aunt, my only connection to my father, left the hospice center for the last time.
A week had passed since then and each day my father did what he had to do to complete his life. I wish I knew what went on inside his head – so different, I’m sure, from what went on in mine.
To everyone who might ask, “Are you okay?” My answer is: I think I am. I feel a touch of sadness, perhaps for what never was and never could be – at least with any sort of normalcy. I feel cheated, like…This is it? Is that all I get? Born into a dysfunctional family, growing up in an abusive environment, separation, and then death? What the hell was that all about?
I’d released the hold he had on me, but his passing truly severed it. Now there is no going back. There is only moving forward.
You may be wondering what I said to him and, as always, my friends, I invite you into my head.
“Whether this was a part of the plan we agreed upon in Soul Place, or you just made really poor choices and went way off course, we both ended up in a place I wish we hadn’t. I’m sad for the years that could have been, happy for the years that weren’t.
I love your soul, but not your heart, because it never was with me. I trust you will find your lessons learned and the time here well spent. For now, Godspeed. I wish you well.
Say hi to Mom for me. I’ve tried, but with all the voices in my head, I can’t hear her say anything back.
I don’t know what else to say, so I guess I’ll say good-bye for now.
I’ll catch you on the flip side, Dad. I’ll catch you on the flip side.”
“You’ll be all right. I know you will,” I whispered, but even as the words slipped past my lips, I knew it was a lie. I didn’t know if she would be all right and the uncertainty plagued my thoughts, even as I slept.
Each time she called, her words would peel layers of my heart away, leaving it raw and exposed, and inviting a whole new intensity of pain. We sat on opposite ends of the phone, each of us suffering in our own way. She desperately reached out. I desperately pulled back. Yet overcome with guilt, I would offer CPR, breathing life into her and willing my heart to beat for two. Later, exhausted and torn, I would hang up, praying my efforts would sustain her life force for one more day.
The months passed, coated in stormy grayness, with the bullets of her despair pelting onto my shoulders, until it was too much effort to stand up straight. I would drag my feet underneath me, forcing my body to go through the motions, attempting without much success to allow myself the smallest bit of joy. Those days were long, and I went under more often than not.
I finally decided I had to let her go. After too many months of trying, saving her wasn’t an option anymore. I finally admitted things would not get better and she would slowly pull me under until I could no longer breathe for either of us.
What hurt me more? Hearing her desperate and pain-drenched words or fighting my determination to once again protect her from herself? She was being pushed to the very edge, possibly to slip over into darkness, but I wrapped my arms tightly around myself instead of reaching out.
My decision was a long time in coming, and it was not one made lightly, but no matter how painful letting go was, I knew her life was not mine to live. Her challenge now was to find her footing on the horribly rocky path before her, and whatever decisions she made, they had to be hers.
We met on the street some time after that. She told me that the sun had finally broken through the clouds. Not much, but enough for hope to take hold. And everyday that hope grew until she saw that the storm had passed and her path was clear.
Only then, after what seemed like forever, I could say that I knew that she was going to be all right after all.
How about you? Have you ever had to walk away from a dysfunctional or co-dependent relationship? At what point does our generosity become a crutch for others? Where do you draw the line? Please leave a comment because I love hearing from you!