I found myself on the edge of the valley-induced mountain, looking out upon the darkness-induced lights. I’d never walked up here before—a new view of the city below. The wind was playing gently with my hair. I could hear the trucks on the highway below me, carrying their passengers far, far away. What is so safe about here? Up so high? Hidden in the dark? Sitting above, apart from the twinkling lights before me?
Kevin drifts back into my mind. Sitting on the bed. Tan work boots. Faded jeans. Plaid, flannel shirt. Ripped cap. He leaned over to talk to his father. A Marlboro pack was peeking out of his breast pocket—anything to take off the edge of stress, I suppose. He reached out his hand to his father; calloused fingers, tainted black.
Kevin asked me to stay an hour longer than expected. The prospect terrified me. The last time had depleted my strength. His father had at first held me suspect out of dementia-induced paranoia; then he had held me captive out of loneliness-induced beggary. Kevin asked me to stay an hour longer than expected. I couldn’t say no. “Are you sure you’re okay with it?” His father had fallen twice today. I couldn’t say no. “Yes, I’m sure.”
Kevin reached out his hand to his father, but his father didn’t take it. Kevin was held captive by loneliness-induced beggary. I studied Kevin’s face. Stress cut canyons and sleep-deprivation painted black-bagged eyes. Kevin was held captive. He couldn’t say no. “Sure, Dad, I’ll stay a little longer.”
His father became occupied, but Kevin couldn’t leave. He stood with me at the doorway. “So how are you handling all this?” I asked. I doubted he would give me a genuine answer. Here I am, probably half his age, someone he’s only met once before, and will hardly ever see again. Why would he trust me? “I’m handling,” he replied. Bull shit. Don’t trust the little girl. I let him be. More captivity. More empty chit-chat.
Finally, “So how about you? What are you going to do?” I could have answered empty. Could have returned his distrust-induced shit. But he’s someone I’ve only met once before, and will hardly ever see again—I don’t have time for the vague niceties. I told him how I’ve been burned-out before. I told him that I’m scared. I told him that I feel weak. I told him how easily I get drained.
And that was all it took. “I’m burned out,” he said. “This place is a shit-hole,” he said. “I can’t do this anymore,” he said. “I’m watching him fall apart, and it’s tearing me apart,” he said. “I get drained too.” He paused. Then he said, “So thank you for doing this.” I wanted to say to him, “I’m doing it for you.” But I didn’t.
He went to check on his father again. Twenty minutes had passed since he had first tried to leave. He was held captive. He couldn’t say no. I wanted to say to him, “Give me your chains for a bit. I can handle them. Sure it may tear me apart, but it will only be for a few hours—you’re getting torn apart every day.” But I didn’t, and he still didn’t leave.
It was dinner that saved him. Once more the Marlboros peeked out of their pocket and the calloused, blackened fingers reached out for his father’s hand. “Bye, Dad. Bye, Jaime.” And out the door he went. I hope the chains fell off—even if just for a few hours. I felt them settle around my wrists and ankles. “I’m doing this for you,” I thought after him, and then turned toward his father.
The darkened heights called to me when I finally left. I didn’t want to go home. So I climbed. I crossed over the highway, where I paused to watch the trucks speeding by into the night to who-knows-where. “Take me with you,” I thought. Then I climbed farther and higher than I ever had before. I found the edge: a guardrail at the end of a street. I sat alone. The lights twinkled before me. Why do I feel so safe up here? Up above and hidden in the darkness?
Kevin was only one of the many people who drifted through my mind. “So many,” I thought. So many to love. And I feel inadequate. And small. And weak. And scared. Maybe the darkened heights are a refuge. A reprieve from the daunting task before me. Hadn’t I just prayed the night before that Christ is enough? Maybe I don’t believe it. Or maybe I do. He has to be enough—because I’m certainly not.
And then there is that other nagging question: who will love me? Or maybe it's, who will I let love me? Yes, the darkened heights are safer. Then a dog barked behind me. Loud and threatening--I'm trespassing on his territory. I guess my reprieve cannot last forever. Back into the lit valley I descend.