NDJ:7 Martha Blechar Gibbons

A Bitter Pill

I will always wonder what he was seeking when he eloped to a tiny town buried in the coast of Oregon. Perhaps he believed that the jagged rocks, jutting from the surf, would shield him from sorrow. Perhaps he imagined that the bracing sea air would strengthen his spirit, and the foaming salt water would cleanse wounds that had never healed. Was he searching for a refuge from his life? Did he hope to discover a more benevolent society there, and is that why he disappeared?

He would argue that I was the first to flee. Armed with an undergraduate diploma, I assembled everything that I valued, stuffed the motley collection into my pale blue Ford Pinto, and advanced east from California. By the time I entered Texas, my shocks had expired, and my journey was temporarily deferred. Once the mechanics had performed their magic, I reclaimed the driver’s seat and completed my mission, arriving at a destination three thousand miles from what had been my home.

It never occurred to me then that I might have abandoned him. I had fed him, bathed him, played with him, washed and ironed his clothes, made his bed, packed his lunch for school, and helped him with his homework. Of course, what he really needed was a mother, but that was not my job. When I left California, he was twelve years old, clad in a Boy Scout uniform. By the time we met again in person, he was a husband, sporting a fishing jacket, expecting a child.

We lost each other in our respective efforts to recover from the harrowing experiences of our youth. Yet now, summoned by memory, in haunting images he returns.

Standing in the steam of the shower, I watch as beads of water forming on a glass curtain merge into rivulets. As I examine the trails of water, the curtain seems to convert to a screen, framing the reflection of a boy’s tear-stained face.

Through the mist the child appears as a toddler, sobbing as he struggles to reassemble a plastic truck, shattered by a raging adult. The image gradually transforms to a school age boy struggling to complete his homework while nursing a cheek blotched by a brutal blow. As the fog begins to clear, the boy reaches adolescence, retreating to his bedroom, crushed by constant criticism. His relentless efforts to gain approval are stifled, and he succumbs to defeat.

Another figure shared this tragedy, for he was not alone in his plight. Together as children we endured piercing screams and menacing indictments issued by adults who called themselves parents. We dodged splintering glass and witnessed blows that broke bones. Standing side by side, we unlocked the front door to police alerted by neighbors who had been alarmed by disturbing sounds exploding from our house. United by adversity, we were trapped in a never ending nightmare. Unable then to escape the prison of our home, we were forced to invent ways to cope with the cruelty that threatened to destroy us. Yet despite our improvised strategies for survival, we could not avoid the impact of incarceration. Depression shadowed my day while anxiety agitated his night.

In departure from our demons, we chose separate paths. I craved the company of mentors, while privacy offered him peace. I traveled east to the city; he journeyed west to the sea. I never knew, until it was too late, that in his flight, he fell into an alcoholic abyss.

Before the sun rose on a midsummer morning, alone in his bed in the tiny Oregon town that he chose, he swallowed the pill that dissolved our connection and severed our sibling bond.

Could he find no relief from the harsh winds that plagued him? Would nothing sustain his solitary soul? Did he surrender the dream that his life could hold purpose?

Now that his tears have fallen, mine have just begun.

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