The shapes that come into view when eyelids, long since closed, open for the first time held a strange appeal to Richard. Lifting his eyelids slowly after slumber, light would seemingly pour in over a valley of unseen structures in the distance as it bent in so many directions, distorting the spectrum of colors over and over again. In this ooze of color and shadow were peaks, splotches, snowflakes, angel wings and water drops, all with a lifespan of less than a second. Soon enough, his eyelids would be far enough apart that his brain could no longer imagine what his eyes were seeing, for they would be dutifully reporting to it the contents of the world around him, recorded in precise color and depth. But not this time.
Magda was accustomed to long hours in the OR and coming home at hours most people label ‘ungodly’. The work she did, however, was anything but. In the years since she became a surgeon, she had loosened death’s grip on the souls of those who came to her with gunshot wounds, stab wounds, collapsed lungs, swollen brains and bleeding hearts. She even undid the will of those who meant to end their own lives. For all the goodness the fruits of her labor made her feel within, they also left her with a question that she could never seem to reconcile – a question that she most often pondered behind the wheel of her BMW as she drove home in the stillness of night, just as she was right now. “If I can save so many lives, why can’t I create even one?”
The weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting Nicole attended in the basement of the Presbyterian church on Chestnut Street was her place of solace – an escape from all of the things she hated about her life and herself. It was in the meeting that she confronted truths about herself, accepted that she needed a new way of living, and discovered her higher power. Still, the specter of alcohol haunted her dreams and reality alike. She didn’t miss waking up in strange places next to even stranger people or having no recollection of several days at a time. Instead, she craved the sweet fiery feel of liquor as it slipped past her lips and onto her tongue for the first time, and the freedom it gave her to be someone very different while it stirred in her blood. In spite of those wants, the meeting allowed her to stay sober for the past five months. But it wasn’t the Big Book, the speakers, the testimonials, or even her higher power that kept Nicole clean. The truth of the matter was that the meeting had given her an even more powerful drug to put in place of alcohol – Jordan.
For the first month of meetings, Jordan sat quietly in the corner of the room – eyes fixed on the floor, staring off into some deep chasm of hurt that existed within. No one seemed to notice Jordan, so Nicole assumed things had been this way for quite some time. Nicole always took note of Jordan’s whereabouts whenever she entered the meeting room. Despite the silence, Nicole found herself drawn to Jordan’s brooding gaze, auburn hair and lean physique.
During one of Nicole’s testimonials a few weeks later, she was shocked to find Jordan looking intently at her as she spoke to the gathering of her battle with alcoholism. To the best of her knowledge, that was the first time Jordan had looked up at anybody. For the remainder of her testimony, her eyes never left Jordan’s. Drawing strength from those intense blue eyes, the words in her heart left her mouth without her mind’s permission for the next several minutes. When she concluded, she peeled her gaze away from Jordan long enough to make her way back to her seat and allow the meeting leader to end that night’s session. Nicole stepped out into the cold night air afterwards and noticed Jordan leaning against a battered old Chevy, taking a deep drag of a freshly lit cigarette. In the cold, the smoke gathered and hung in the air like a fog, slow to dissipate. But when Jordan looked in Nicole’s direction, those icy blue eyes cut through the smoke and seemed to peer right into her soul once more.
Jordan tossed what remained of the cigarette into a small murky puddle of water that formed on the road. The cigarette hissed its disapproval before disappearing into the puddle entirely. Nicole stepped in Jordan’s direction with a mix of trepidation and curiosity spinning through her mind. Before she could get much closer, Jordan’s words sliced through the air and stopped her in her tracks.
“Why did you get those?” Jordan asked while gesturing toward Nicole’s forearms.
Uncertain about what the question was in reference to, Nicole glanced at her arms awkwardly and thought for a moment.
“Faith and fear.” The impatience in Jordan’s tone was tangible.
Nicole then realized that the object of Jordan’s interest were the words she had recently tattooed to the undersides of her forearms. “Faith” on her right forearm, “Fear” on her left. “How did you-”
“You had short sleeves on tonight,” Jordan said with an outstretched index finger aimed at Nicole. The heat in the church basement was turned up unbearably high that night. Nicole had taken her sweater off before she got up to speak, exposing the short sleeve t-shirt she had on underneath. A strange feeling of self-consciousness and delight washed over her when she realized Jordan had noticed her.
Nicole stepped in closer. “They’re the two things that seem to be keeping me in check these days,” Nicole said cautiously, trying hard not to bare too much more of her soul to the pair of blue eyes that stood before her. “Two extremes of the same scale, but both keep me from using.”
Jordan seemed to measure Nicole’s words carefully then stood up straight, no longer leaning on the car. Nicole felt heat rise in her cheeks as Jordan exposed a tattooed hip. Amidst the twisting bodies of red Chinese dragons, Nicole read the words, “Faith” and “Fear”.
The smile they exchanged there in the cold four months ago was the beginning of an uninterrupted string of post-meeting rendezvous. Much to Nicole’s dismay, that string was broken tonight.
Jordan did not attend tonight’s meeting.
Heavy rain pelted the windshield of Nicole’s car as she raced down city blocks heading toward Jordan’s apartment. The thoughts going through her mind, however, raced much faster. She feared the worst, but tried to keep herself composed as she navigated her car through streets that were beginning to flood. She steadied herself by praying, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can…” Saying the words aloud seemed to make the miles go by faster. Nicole hastily parked her car across the street from Jordan’s apartment, and ran out into the rain.
The apartment sat above a flower shop and dry cleaner on a block lit by a series of old street lamps – remnants of the city’s former glory. Though she had never gone inside, Nicole had met Jordan outside the apartment enough times to know which door to enter from the street. Once inside, she climbed the narrow staircase that led to the apartment’s front door. She knocked at the door a few times before she called Jordan’s name. A moment later, Nicole heard the sound of door chains and dead bolts coming undone and the squeal of rusty hinges as the door opened.
What Nicole saw on the other side of the door made her eyes go wide and her heart break.
Jordan stood there crying. Her long auburn hair was disheveled and hanging aimlessly about her shoulders – not pulled back tightly in a ponytail the way Nicole was used to seeing her. The fitted T-shirt she wore was damp and stained in spots. Nicole did not need to guess what was on the shirt – the biting scent of whiskey filled her nostrils the moment the apartment door opened. A near empty black labeled bottle sitting on the kitchen counter in the background only confirmed her suspicion. All of this Nicole could handle. What unnerved her, however, was what Jordan held in her quivering right hand. The slender tattooed fingers of that hand were wrapped around the handle of a handgun.
“I let her go,” Jordan cried. “Today is her birthday, and I let her go!” Her tears pulled the mascara down her cheeks like streams of black water.
“Who?” Nicole asked calmly. She wanted to reach out and touch her, but she was too scared to move. “Who did you let go of?”
“What kind of sick monster carries a human being inside her for ten months and lets her go without even giving her a name?!” Jordan flailed the pistol about the room recklessly as she hurled the question at Nicole. “I didn’t even give her a name!”
Jordan turned and retreated into the kitchen behind her, sobbing intensely. Nicole took the opportunity to step further into the apartment and close the door behind her. But a fleeting moment was all she had. Just as quickly as she retreated, Jordan came back towards Nicole with what looked to be fury, but what Nicole knew to be the pain of a love lost before it was fully known.
“I’m a monster!” Jordan roared. “A devil who traded away the life of her daughter just so nothing would get in the way of my next fix…of my next mindbender! And I didn’t even give her a name!” With that, Jordan pressed the gun into her temple.
Tears filled Nicole’s eyes. Seeing the woman she had grown to love relapse and falling apart made her heart hurt. But in that hurt, Nicole discovered a courage that welled up inside her. She stepped towards Jordan slowly and deliberately. Jordan’s blue eyes began pulling the words out of Nicole’s heart once more. “Then name her. Right here and now. Name her!”
Jordan looked at Nicole for a long lingering moment, then closed her eyes and spoke through sobs, “I…can’t.”
“I’m not going to let you run from your fears and give up on yourself.” Nicole closed the distance between them and placed a hand softly on Jordan’s cheek. With her other hand, she gently lowered the gun away from Jordan’s head. Jordan’s eyes opened and met Nicole’s. “Name her. Don’t let her continue to be the object of your fears. Make her real.”
Jordan took a deep breath and looked at the person who was desperately trying to bring her back from the brink. She dropped the gun onto the floor and held Nicole’s forearms with her hands instead. With her gaze fixed on Nicole’s arms, Jordan found the strength to give the daughter she gave away years ago a name. “Faith,” she’s said. “I’ll call her, Faith.”
They embraced tightly and held each other for several minutes. In that embrace, Jordan cried some more, then fell silent, and eventually, smiled for the first time in years. She allowed herself to think of Faith in a positive light for the first time in her life. While she would never get to go back and rewrite her own history, she realized that she could spend the rest of her life trying to make amends for the wrongs of her past.
“I often wonder how I ended up so…broken,” Jordan said in a moment of reflection.
Nicole smiled. “Have I ever told you how I ended up in recovery?”
Jordan shook her head. “No. I don’t think you ever have.”
There in that small apartment, Nicole told Jordan about the stranger she ran into a few months ago when she had hit rock bottom and the conversation they had. “One thing he said inspired me to get help,” she said. “He told me it’s the broken people of this world that he has the most hope for…because only broken people can heal.”
Sydel was all too familiar with the clinking of glass. In the last seven years of bartending at taverns and pubs across the city, she had become fluent in the different types of glass clinking sounds and their meanings. There was the high pitched and resonating clink of the Chardonnay glasses, commonly heard at tables with groups of women getting their ‘girls night out’ started. There was the sharp, brief and muted clink of full pint glasses, heard at the bar during Happy Hour as the construction workers from the nearby site congratulated each other on a job well done. There was also the annoying stinging clink of shot glasses slammed down and slid into one another by a wannabe Romeo, not man enough to shoot whiskey, throwing back several fruity shots to impress the ladies at the bar. But the clinking Sydel was most familiar with was the sound all the different types of glasses made when she gathered them into her hands and brought them over to the sink to wash them and dry them, so they could be clinked by patrons of the bar once more.