A/N: Hello, everyone! Before we get started, I just wanted to say a quick, but sincere thank you for all of the not only kind, but thoughtful responses I’ve received this generation, especially on the last chapter. I can’t even begin to explain how much your comments, and your readership, mean to me. I realize too that I’ve surpassed 25,000 views, and I feel I should do some kind of special for it, but I have no concrete ideas yet, so for now, suffice it to say, I am truly thankful for you and seriously couldn’t be happier that you’re interested in my stories!
So now, here we go again! The song for this chapter is called Hope for the Hopeless by A Fine Frenzy. Oh, and as you can surmise from the title picture, congratulations to those who guessed James 😉
Stitch in your knitted brow
And you don’t know how
You’re gonna get it out
I woke up slowly, feeling as if I was trapped inside a thick fog that was slowly suffocating me. Furrowing my brows, I became vaguely aware of a deep, throbbing pain within my skull and I tried to get up, but the wave of nausea that immediately followed my attempt to move stopped me. My entire body was sore, and I gradually became aware of the fact that my head wasn’t just throbbing—it was pounding. I suddenly wanted to fall back to sleep more than anything, but as my mind awoke anxiety began pouring into my veins. Where was I and how had I gotten here?
I opened my eyes, wincing as the intense rays of the day streamed in through the massive glass windows. I was in my house and…and…I sat up with a jolt and my stomach gave a nauseating turn. A taste of bile rose up in my throat, my heart racing as I scanned the room….
….only to see my father’s silhouette outlined against the crystalline windows.
Crushed under heavy chest
All at once memories from last night hit me like a freight train and I jumped out of bed, racing to the wastepaper bin near my desk and retching violently into it. I thought I heard my father stir, but I threw up again just as suddenly. The acrid smell of vomit and mixed drinks filled my nostrils and I choked, gagging and coughing. It was awful and it all made my head hurt even worse. I shut my eyes tightly, my body shaking as blurred images raced through my mind.
I remembered loosening my grip on the railing, hearing my father’s panicked shout, and then nearly falling before I felt his arms around my waist. He’d pulled me away from the railing so quickly that’d we’d both fallen to the hard, wooden floor of the balcony. Here, the memories became more difficult to recall as I remembered entering a state of heightened hysteria. I remembered crying, no sobbing into his chest, holding onto him tightly and only able to utter one phrase over and over as he held me, trembling: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, oh god, I’m so sorry.
Eventually, under the comfort of his soft reassurances and the warmth that he exuded, I must have fallen asleep and he must have carried me back inside. I had no idea how long that had taken.
Tryna catch your breath
I shakily stood up, tears in my eyes from recalling the events. It was difficult to support my weight so I fell heavily against the cold glass of the window behind me, one hand on my desk to steady me. I groaned as my movements caused my head to let out another sharp protest in the form of renewed pain. My stomach was churning—nauseated by the sour taste of vomit in my mouth.
“Brings back memories.”
I lifted my head to look at my dad. Although last night he’d been nothing but comforting, now he looked deeply displeased. There was no hint of a smile on his drawn features and even with glasses (when had he gotten those?) I could see the unending disappointment set in his lavender-gray eyes. I suddenly had the sensation that I was drowning—drowning in thousands of gallons of guilt.
“I’m sorry,” I said quickly.
Dad’s gaze hardened, his jaw set and the frown on his face growing ever more pronounced. I balked under his gaze, praying that the ground beneath me would give way so that I wouldn’t be burned alive by the look he was giving me now. I had never seen him so furious.
“I seem to recall you saying that,” he remarked quietly. His expression did not change.
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know if there was anything else I could say. All I knew was that if I thought I felt bad before, that was nothing compared to the feeling I had now, reunited with my father for the first time in years, and yet under such awful circumstances. What terrible timing for him to visit—or was it good timing? Why had he even come at all, especially at such an insane hour? It was all beginning to confuse me and I opened my mouth to try and say something, anything, but my father spoke again, and when he did his voice was hushed and dangerous.
But it always beats you by a step
All right now
“I thought you knew better,” he hissed viciously. “Of all the things…drinking and…and yesterday and what the hell were all those pills downstairs? Are you fucking kidding me, Jo?! You should have known better!”
I gasped and averted my gaze as hot tears of shame slowly slid down my cheeks. He had never talked to me like this before, but I understood why he was so livid. I should have. I should have known better. And yet…god, it all almost felt inevitable, didn’t it? Life seemed to like sick, twisted irony and I was another of its victims.
“I-I was doomed from the start!” I exclaimed, feeling defensive. “I mean, look at me! I’m the product of an anxiety-ridden alcoholic and a suicidal depressive! It’s like…it’s like there’s no point in even trying!”
As soon as I said the words I knew I shouldn’t have said them. This was not their fault—this was my fault and mine alone, and yet I hadn’t been able to stop myself from uttering them. I supposed, in some way, I was trying to make myself feel better about it because, quite honestly, I should have known better.
I forced myself to look at my father again, wincing as I saw the look on his face. He looked like he’d been slapped, but then just as suddenly his anger returned, seething within him like fire.
“Is that so?” he asked quietly, his voice surprisingly cold given the angry heat he was exuding. I took a step back, afraid for the first time in the world of this man standing before me. I felt like in that moment, he wanted to hit me…and that was perfectly understandable. I closed my eyes tightly, bracing myself. After all, I’d never seen him like this…but then I’d never done anything like this either.
“Well, if that’s the case, I guess you won’t mind if I take this, right?” I heard him ask in a strangely upbeat manner.
I opened my eyes, confused, only to see him pick up a half-full glass of vodka that I’d left on my desk.
“Wait—what are you doing?” I exclaimed, taking a half-step forward. I paused, panic pouring swiftly into my blood stream and rooting me to the spot. Seriously, what the hell was he doing?
“What do you mean? There’s no point in trying, remember?” he said with a shrug, and then lifted the glass to his lips.
“NO!” I shouted hysterically, and darted forward, slapping the glass out of my father’s hand. It flew into the window and shattered—room temperature vodka and needle-sharp shards of crystal raining all over my desk. I couldn’t help it—I started to cry in panicky, pain-ridden gasps. I was so, so afraid in that moment. I covered my mouth, trying to stifle the violent sobs that escaped me. Was I dreaming still? Was this all just some horribly vivid nightmare? Oh, my god, my god….
“Why did you do that?” I heard him ask calmly, and it took everything in the world to force myself to look at him, still trying to control my frightened sobs. If my head and chest weren’t hurting so much, I really would have thought I was dreaming. I couldn’t believe that any of this was happening.
“Because” I cried, taking in a sharp intake of breath, “I can’t let you do that! Why would you do that?!” I wailed through my tears.
“You said there was no point.”
“There is! Just—”
“JUST NOT FOR YOU?!” my dad snapped loudly, allowing a tendril of the fury he was feeling loose. I cried even harder, but he continued speaking in that horribly loud and furious tone. “My life isn’t worth any more than yours is, damn it! I’m no more ‘special’ or ‘deserving’ or anything than you are! If there’s a point for me, then there’s sure as hell a point for you too!”
I looked away from him again, feeling despair enveloping me in its cold, wet embrace. He was being so harsh right now, but I vaguely realized now that he was trying to make a point, and I knew that everything he was saying was true. I knew it, and it all made me feel that much more ashamed. “It’s all just …so much,” I managed to choke out, hugging myself.
Making the best of it
Playing the hand you get
My dad sighed tiredly, pinching the bridge of his nose by his glasses. It was as if all his anger had suddenly dissipated, leaving him an exhausted shell of his former existence. He’d clearly had enough of seeing me like this, but I could hardly blame him—I had had quite enough of myself as well.
“Maybe,” he started softly, “it wouldn’t be so much if you just started being true to yourself.”
I had no words with which to respond to him. My body was shivering despite the house being warm. He sighed again and then moved to turn away from me.
“Wait, you’re leaving?!” I asked, feeling panicky all over again. Fresh tears beaded up in my eyes. Even if he was like this I didn’t want him to go. Not now! No! He couldn’t leave me like this! He couldn’t leave me alone.
Well, you’re not alone in this
There’s hope for the hopeless
“Not yet,” he said tiredly, his shoulders seemingly hunched with the weight of the world. “I’ll be downstairs. Just—go clean yourself up for god’s sake. I can’t stand seeing you like this.”
I watched him go, slowly becoming aware of what I must look like in this moment. Eyes red, hair matted, makeup smeared, tiny wrinkled dance club attire, dirty bare feet, and reeking of alcohol and vomit. It was probably a most nightmarish scene for him to see his daughter in.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered again, but I was so quiet that I didn’t think he heard me, or if he did, he was just tired of hearing it.
Once he disappeared down the stairs I padded weakly into the bathroom, my eyes burning. My head was still spinning from my hangover and what had just happened. He was so angry, so angry, so angry….I felt my stomach lurch again. I fell quickly to my knees, vomiting one last time into the toilet. It wasn’t nearly as much as before. It seemed that my stomach was running on empty now. I had nothing left to give.
I moved toward the shower, taking off my clothes with shaking hands and making a mental note to burn them as I tossed them aside. I stepped into the shower then and turned the knob as hot as it could go without scalding me. The sickly sweet strawberry scent of my body wash made me want to gag, but I lathered my bath pouf up anyway, furiously scrubbing at every inch of my body to rid myself of everything that’d happened yesterday. No amount of soap could possibly ever rid every trace though and as I showered, nightmarish images from last night kept flashing through my brain.
By the end I was shaking, trying to make sense of it all—trying to make sense of the sick swoop of nauseating fear and shame that roiled in my stomach when I thought of Brandon, trying to make sense of the overwhelming guilt I felt when I thought of Gabriel, and wondering how I could have been so insane as to try and lean that far over the railing of my balcony.
I thought I vaguely knew the reasons behind all of it though, and when I realized that, I cried again, feeling wholly lesser and weak. I was damaged, I felt it–felt in my very bones, and I felt too that it was all my fault.
I let out a sob, but eventually, despite my continued agony, I had no more tears to shed, and I was forced to accept the fact that all of this would remain with me like a new, poisoned skin, and there was nothing I could do but wait until it finally shed.
There’s hope for the hopeless
I felt heavy with the weight of my unendingly horrible decisions, but I did at least feel a little better now that I’d showered, brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and changed into clean, comfortable clothes. It made me feel almost normal again, if it weren’t for my newly contaminated skin.
I made my way downstairs, half expecting to see that my dad had left after all since he was clearly so mad, but he was in the kitchen, making, it seemed, a pot of coffee. Any bottles of alcohol I’d had were gone—the pill bottles too, and I felt that if I walked out to the trash can sitting on the curb, I’d find all of it there.
It can stay there, I thought to myself. I wanted nothing more to do with any of it. Even the idea sickened me to the core.
I stood awkwardly by the stairs; unsure of what my dad’s mood was now, but when he glanced back at me I didn’t see the white hot fire gleaming in his eyes anymore. I bit my thumbnail, the habit returning to me like an old familiar friend.
He turned to face me, his hands in his pockets as he leaned against the counter. His face was lined with exhaustion. I wondered if he’d slept at all last night. God, I was so stupid.
“You look better,” he pointed out softly.
“I feel a little better,” I admitted, but I also felt so small just then. I wanted to curl into a tiny ball and disappear.
Dad sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair. He suddenly looked so sad. “Joanne,” he began quietly, “I’m sorry I scared you like that and I’m sorry I yelled at you. I was trying to make a point, but I went too far.” Deeply set remorse crossed his features, leaving him looking even sadder.
“It’s…it’s fine,” I said quickly, feeling startled.
“No, it’s not. I shouldn’t have done that,” he insisted. He paused, thinking for a moment, and then met my eyes. “Jo…I know that if you resorted to all of that…then you really must be hurting and that…that hurts me too.” I pressed my lips together tightly, the tears returning again even though I thought I had none left to shed. “I know that, but seeing all of it,” he shook his head. “And last night….Jesus, you really scared me.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. I realized it must have been the millionth time I said it, but I couldn’t stop saying it. I truly meant that I was sorry—meant it so much that it hurt.
“Don’t be,” he said softly. Dad turned around then, pouring out two mugs of coffee and looking exhausted once again. It made me feel awful. “Do you want to try to eat something?” he asked gently.
“Maybe just some toast,” I answered quietly. “I’ll make it.”
As Dad prepared the coffee, I quickly made a slice of toast for myself, putting just a thin layer of jam on it because I didn’t think my stomach could handle anything too sweet right now. He brought the mugs to the table and I joined him there. Again, it felt almost normal…except there was an awkward tension between us now that had never existed before. It made me sadder than ever—we used to be so close.
I broke off a piece of the toast to nibble on, but it felt dry and scratchy in my throat. Even the coffee didn’t help much, but it was prepared perfectly. Exactly the way I liked it. I felt tears well up in my eyes all over again, but I blinked them back hastily, forcing down another bite of toast. I’d been crying far too much lately.
“Can I ask you something?” my dad said, breaking the tense silence.
I looked at him, feeling a certain sense of dread. “Sure….”
“Last night…what were you yelling?”
Cold in a summer breeze
I stared down at my toast, feeling my heart beating hard. I had expected him to ask “why?” or “what happened?” but this question I was not prepared for. My stomach churned. I felt cold. “I-I’m not…sure,” I lied quietly, for despite the fuzziness of my memories since I’d burst through my front door yesterday, I remembered that moment quite clearly, and I was ashamed that I did.
“You were talking to your mom, weren’t you?” he asked. I looked up at him, despite myself, and I knew that he didn’t mean Candice. I looked back down at my half-eaten toast, and I realized that, strangely, I wasn’t hastening to correct the fact that he hadn’t referred to her as my “biological mother.”
I took a careful sip of my coffee. I could feel my father watching me…waiting for me to respond. I put down the coffee…looked at my toast instead.
Yeah, you’re shivering
On your bended knee
“Yes,” I whispered finally. I continued staring at my toast, and then took in a shaky breath of air. “Dad…do…do you think…that she ever loved me?” I asked stiffly. I heard my dad let out a soft breath of air and he leaned back in his seat. I felt my heart sink a little, thinking that his reaction must have pointed in the negative. Of course she hadn’t—if she had, how could she have left us the way she did?
Well, you almost left everyone too; a voice in the back of my head reminded me. Does that mean you don’t love anyone either? I grabbed my coffee mug, desperate now for something to hold onto—something to keep me grounded in this moment. Of course it didn’t mean that.
“Yes, I do,” he said firmly, surprising me. I couldn’t help but look up, meeting my dad’s gaze and trying to figure out if he was lying. He must have noticed, because a small, sad smile kind of pulled at the corner of his lips.
“I know it doesn’t seem like it,” he conceded, “but I think that she did…as much as she could. I mean…she did try, you know? She could have given up when she was pregnant with you, but she didn’t. She kept moving forward because she wanted to make sure you were born healthy…and, to her credit, you were. 7 pounds, 3 ounces…a perfectly healthy baby girl…albeit a really difficult one,” he admitted with a ghost of a smile.
I smiled a little as well and took a proper bite of my toast, feeling a bit more relaxed now for reasons that I could not explain. “Hey,” I said suddenly, meeting Dad’s gaze again, “was…was she the one who named me?” I asked, encouraged by the thought. I couldn’t explain it, but in that moment what I wanted more than anything was some positive connection to her—some proof that she did indeed care for me, but Dad’s face fell a little, and so did my hopes.
Still, when your heart is sore
“No,” he admitted, and he sounded regretful, realizing what I was looking for. “She asked me to, but she did try to take care of you, at first. It just…all became too much for her.”
“Oh.” I had to admit, I was a little disappointed, but I wasn’t sure what exactly I’d been expecting. I looked up at my dad, suddenly worried about the fact that we were talking about this at all since I knew it was a difficult subject, but he didn’t look upset…just pensive. It encouraged me to ask more—to learn what I’d never bothered to before.
And the heavens pour
“So…it…it became too much and she just…killed herself? Out of nowhere?” I asked.
“Was it out of nowhere for you last night?” my dad asked quietly, and although by no means did he say it sharply, I couldn’t help but feel rebuked.
“I-I didn’t mean—I didn’t actually want to—” I tried to say, but my throat kept getting tighter, my remorse for everything that had transpired threatening to consume me.
Dad sighed, reaching up to run a hand through his hair again. “Sorry…I shouldn’t have said that,” he relented, looking briefly frustrated with himself. “Look, I…I honestly don’t know what was going through Maddie’s head in those last days,” he explained, “all I know is that right before it happened, she seemed to be getting better, and then she just…left.”
I took in a shaky breath, trying to relax again, but I didn’t blame him at all for being upset. After all, I had almost made him relive the worst nightmare of his life. The nightmare that, I felt, broke him in the first place. I covered my face with my hands. I could have broken him again. The thought sickened me, and I felt for a moment that I was going to throw up again.
I uncovered my face, hugging myself instead as I tried to stay focused on the present. “Dad, I—I can’t say this enough. I’m really sorry. I didn’t—I don’t want to die,” I whispered, hearing my voice break.
“I know,” he said softly. “You just wanted to stop hurting. …it’s what she wanted too.”
I furrowed my brows, feeling suddenly strange. All of this time, I never understood how she could do something so selfish, so…so horrible, and no matter how many times people told me it was a desperate act to get rid of pain, I always thought that that made no sense. But now….
I placed my hand shakily to my mouth. There were other ways of dealing, surely. Better ways—ways that I suddenly found myself desperate to find, because although I felt I understood now, I still never wanted to put my family through that. I loved them too much. Why couldn’t she see that? Why couldn’t she love me enough? If I had been less difficult as a baby, would she have loved me more? Would she have stayed? My shoulders shook with renewed sobs.
“Why wasn’t I enough?!” I cried out loud.
Dad winced. “You should know now that has nothing to do with it.”
I groaned, pushing away my empty plate and burying my face in my arms. I hated how correct he was right now. I hated that I knew now too—hated that I understood. It made me feel guilty for all the anger I’d been holding…it made me feel guilty for all the hate I’d been holding.
“What?” I asked hoarsely.
“Did I ever tell you that she left a note?”
I lifted my head away from my arms, looking up at him in surprise. “I—no. ….what…what did it say?” I asked, sitting up a little straighter.
Dad shook his head slightly, looking down at coffee, which by now was getting cold and he hadn’t taken a single sip of it. “It just said ‘I’m sorry’, so I never thought about it much, but….” he hesitated, his fingers tracing the handle of his mug.
“But what?” I asked, my voice hushed.
He looked up at me. “I don’t want to make assumptions because I really don’t know about your mom’s last moments alive, but…now that I think on it she left that note in your room. It…it makes me think she meant it more for you than anyone else. ….it…it also makes me think that…that she probably said goodbye to you, Jo. Our room was on the first floor…and your nursery was up on the second. She could have easily just left, but she didn’t. She went upstairs first…to you.”
Like a willow bending in the storm
You’ll make it
I stared at my father in surprise, fresh tears falling down my face, but I didn’t bother to wipe them away this time. There it was—some tiny connection, some miniscule item of proof, and even though my Dad wasn’t sure if it was true, I somehow felt that it was. Why else would she have bothered to go upstairs? Why else would she have left the note in my nursery? I closed my eyes, covering them with my hands. I wished that I could remember. I could picture it vaguely…this tall, blonde woman leaning over the railing of my crib to give my forehead a soft, tearful kiss, but the image, I knew, was more than likely a creation of my imagination.
Still, I took comfort in it because it was the first time I’d ever been able to even pretend up an image, and with that comfort, I allowed myself to finally mourn the loss of the woman who had given life to me…a woman who, despite the dark cloud she found herself entangled within, probably still loved me as much as she could.
“Why didn’t you tell me before?” I asked, wishing that I had known this long ago.
“Er, well,” my dad began awkwardly, “if you remember, you didn’t exactly want to hear it,” he said gently. I looked up at him once more. I could still feel tears falling down my cheeks. He was right, of course. I’d spent the majority of my life suppressing so much anger for my mom that I’d always shot down any new information about her, simply not desiring to hear it. Thus, I’d obviously never thought to ask about her either. Never thought to think that maybe she did care for me, contrary to what I had always assumed. My throat felt tight again, and as I remembered the words that I’d shouted out to her last night, I felt guilty all over again. This woman who cared for me…my mother…she never would have wanted that for me. Never. I knew that now.
“Could you tell me more about her?” I whispered hoarsely. “Please?”
He looked at me, surprised, but then nodded slowly. “Yeah…of course. What would you like to know?”
My dad ended up staying with me that day and for the first time in years we just…hung out. We watched TV and as we watched, we talked about my mom and he told me stories about her. He told me sad stories about her past and what happened, but also funny stories about how she used to get up in class and go on long tirades whenever there was something chauvinistic or sexist in the books they were reading, or how when they’d first met she practically stole fifty dollars from him just to go buy chips and beer.
At some point we even fell asleep and when we finally woke up my dad made fun of me and laughed because he claimed I was drooling, which I so very much was not. Still, I hadn’t been able to help but laugh too, and if I wasn’t so entirely sick of crying, I could have done so in that moment—not because I was sad, but because I was so incredibly happy.
“You look different, by the way,” I said as we munched on some pizza that we’d ordered after we’d woken up. Man, it was so delicious. I hadn’t been allowed to have pizza in years. Still wasn’t allowed to actually, but oh well.
“Yeah, it’s called getting old,” he pointed out, distracting me from my worries over whether or not I should be indulging.
I laughed a little, shaking my head. “You’re not old. And besides, I mean like, your clothes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you not wearing jeans, except maybe your wedding day.”
“Ah,” he said, flushing a bit. “My agent says I should be a little more ‘cleaned up’ in public, what with all the success I’ve been having or something like that. I kinda like it though—picked it out myself,” he remarked, lightly snapping one of his suspenders. “It’s….swanky.”
“Swanky!?” I laughed before taking a huge bite of my pizza. I chewed a bit and then added, “Oh, I see. Is that why you have the glasses now too?”
He reached up, adjusting them self-consciously. “Er, no. They’re because my eyes are shot to hell after decades of staring at a laptop screen,” he admitted sheepishly.
I laughed, shaking my head a bit. “Well, I like them!” I decided with a nod.
“Glad you approve,” he replied with a sarcastic smirk, and then chomped down on his own slice.
Running against the wind
And so it went, until the night grew old and Dad turned away from the television to look at me seriously. The movie we’d been watching had just ended, and now the credits were slowly scrolling upward, an instrumental rising with the words.
“Jo,” he said gently, and I felt my heart sink, because I had the feeling that I knew what he was going to say.
“Yes?” I said uneasily.
“You know that I have to go back now, right?”
My heart sunk even more, my suspicions confirmed, and though I knew that I could technically go back with him, I also knew that, honestly? I couldn’t go back. Not yet at least. I didn’t want the others to see me like this.
I bit my thumbnail, feeling my eyes beginning to burn as the prospect of being alone again began to tear away at me. It made me want a drink…it made me want my pills…and those realizations, made me just want to cry. “Yeah,” I said tightly, unable to say anything else through the frog in my throat.
He paused and I continued to stare at the television even though it was just the credits. I chewed on my thumbnail so much that I could feel the acrylic begin to break away from the real nail it lay plastered to. I could taste blood.
Dad took my wrist then, pulling my hand away from my mouth and not allowing me to have it back. I pressed my lips together, really trying not to cry again in front of him. I didn’t want to give him cause to worry about me—not after I’d worried him so much already. I wanted him to think that I was fine now, so he could go home feeling peaceful, and not as awful as I felt right now.
“What has you so afraid?” he asked quietly.
“I’m not afraid,” I answered quickly. “Just…tired.”
Playing the cards you get
Dad sighed, letting go of my wrist and rubbing his head, perhaps to fend off an oncoming headache. “Joanne…you think that I don’t see when you’re putting up a front, and maybe once I didn’t, and I’m so sorry for that, but I see it now and you can’t do this anymore. You can’t keep lying to me—to yourself.”
“I-…I’m not,” I said, forcing a small smile.
Dad took his hands away from his face, adjusting his glasses and then shooting me an unimpressed look. The smile slid from my lips. Was I that bad at pretending now that anyone could see through it, or was it that my dad knew me too well now to fall for it? My heart beat hard with anxiety. The feeling reminded me even more that I had to stay strong—anxiety was so paralyzing, and I knew no one that suffered from its grasp as much as my father did.
“You’re not helping me by doing this,” my dad continued, and my heart clenched as I realized he knew what I was thinking. “You’re not helping anyone actually—you’re only hurting them…and for no one is that more true for than yourself.”
Tears beaded up in my eyes once again.
“I’m going to ask you one more time, Jo. What has you so afraid?”
Something is bound to give
Unconsciously, I lifted my thumbnail to my mouth once again, but Dad, exasperated, grabbed my hand again, and I finally cried out in a panicked yelp: “Being alone!” before collapsing into uncontrolled sobs. Hysteria was eating me alive again, and this time I felt that I could not be saved.
Dad grabbed both of my hands so tightly that it hurt. I looked at him despairingly, wanting him to let go—not just of my hands, but of me. I wanted him to just leave me alone, because I was not worth any of this pain. I was not worth any of his time. I was a person who had made one awful decision after another and now I had to suffer for it. I deserved to suffer for it, and I needed him to let me do that.
There’s hope for the hopeless
“Joanne,” he said softly, and I forced myself to look at him, my entire body trembling. “There exists in this city a house filled with people who love you and care about you. It is the same place that you are always welcomed to. It’s the same place where you will always be welcomed, no matter how long it’s been, no matter what you might have done, and because this place exists, you are never actually alone…nor will you ever be.”
I cried harder and Dad sighed, releasing my hands and then pulling me into his arms like a little kid again. “Joanne,” he started gently. “I know that you feel…ashamed right now. I know that you feel…unworthy…undeserving of any of this. I know that because I’ve been there too, way too many times, but I also know, because of this, and because I know who you are, that you are worthy. You are more than worthy, and you are smart enough, and good enough, and you are definitely strong enough, no matter what you might think.”
I took in a shuddering breath, trying desperately to get a grip on myself. “I have made so many stupid decisions,” I whispered through my tears. “So, so many stupid decisions.”
There’s hope for the hopeless
“So did I,” he admitted, “but it is never too late to start making the right ones.”
I thought about that. I thought about the fact that I’d casted everything aside in the struggle for my own personal utopia, only to find, of course, a dystopic reality that tore away everything, everything that was good, and true, and me.
I thought this, and then I thought, god, what kind of fucking thinking is that?! I had not lost everything! I was here and I did have people who loved me, and even though I felt like a warped, lost version of my previous self, I knew also that I could find myself, because she was never truly gone—lost, yes, but not gone.
I may have been like a puppet now, held hostage by the strings that retained me and the puppet master who manipulated them, but I was not an actual puppet. I was a human being…and, as such, unlike the actual puppet, I could break those fucking strings.
I stood up, adrenaline suddenly coursing through my veins. “Could you take me to the store? I don’t trust myself to drive,” I announced quickly, looking around for my purse.
“What?” my dad asked, clearly alarmed.
“The store!” I said loudly, finding my purse and snatching it up. “I need to go to the store now. Will you drive me?”
“I—yes? Okay….” he said, more confused than ever as he stood up, and maybe just a little bit frightened too.
“Where’s my phone?” I muttered to myself then, searching through my purse. I had my wallet and that was what I needed, but seriously, where was my phone? Now that I thought about it, I hadn’t seen it all day. It was probably exploded by this point with missed messages and calls.
“Oh, your co-worker has it,” Dad said, grabbing his keys off the coffee table where he’d set them.
“Wait, what?” I asked, now the one to feel confused.
“Yeah, the one who used your phone to call me last night? He probably looked at your speed dial or something. Anyway, he said that you dropped it, but that wasn’t why he was calling.”
“Then why did he?” I asked absently, trying to figure out what ‘co-worker’ could possibly have my phone.
“Because,” my dad said, glancing over at me, “he said he’d seen my daughter and that he didn’t think she should be alone right then.”
My breath caught in my throat, blurred images from last night sweeping past my eyes and the memory of hearing those exact words spoken in soft, subdued tones: you shouldn’t be alone right now.
“Gabriel,” I whispered, wide-eyed.
“Uh, yeah. I think that was the name….But yeah, I figured if he was willing to call up a stranger in the middle of the night…and if he was saying something like that…well…I raced over here as fast as I could.” He looked at me then, raising an eyebrow. “How else did you think I knew to come?”
“I didn’t really think about it at all,” I admitted, but now that I did think about it, it made so much more sense. After all, how had my father, who I hadn’t seen in years, suddenly shown up right when I’d needed him the most? Of course, the revelation that Gabriel had been the one to call didn’t clear up everything. Although I was more than happy it was my father who showed up and it was obvious that he was exactly who I’d needed, some small part of me couldn’t help but wonder, well….
If he was that concerned, why hadn’t he followed me himself?
He couldn’t have known my father would have been helpful—it must have been a gamble. So what made the gamble worth more than the certainty of seeing for himself? Or was he not actually all that concerned, but it made him feel better to call someone? But then, calling someone in and of itself was surely an act that only someone who cared would carry out anyway, right? And, I realized, because he cared, I was still alive. I owed this man my very life thanks to his concern.
The thought warmed me for a moment, but then I felt seized by feelings altogether different.
I wasn’t deserving of such care from him, even if I wanted it so badly that it hurt. I wanted this man’s care, and I wanted this man’s kindness, but I had…I had ruined that, hadn’t I? I was someone lesser now and completely unworthy. I was weak and I was stupid and–
“Jo!” my dad snapped just then, looking alarmed, and I wondered what my face must have looked like for him to be so frightened. “Whatever thoughts just went through your head, stop. It’s one of the first things I had to learn to do, Jo, and it’s one of the first things you need to learn too. You can’t let the dark thoughts gain strength because that’s when they take over, but instead of chasing them away with…with drinking or…or pills or whatever, you have to chase them away yourself.”
“How?” I whispered tearfully, hugging myself. Dad put his arm around my shoulder, but I barely even noticed, still feeling too lost and helpless.
“You do it by not just knowing, but believing that no matter how much you may feel otherwise, you are stronger than them…and then you prove it,” he stated firmly.
“I am strong enough,” I repeated absently, remembering my dad’s words from earlier.
“I…I forgot what I wanted to do,” I whimpered.
“Er…something about the store?” he said uneasily, as if he were uncertain whether he should be reminding me or not.
I looked at him in confusion for a moment, feeling still lost, feeling still small, but then I remembered. I gritted my teeth, clenched my fists: I am strong enough.
“We’re going to it,” I affirmed with a nod, and then strode out the door.
“So, how do you feel?” my dad asked later that night, the two of us long returned from our trip. He was getting ready to leave now, and this time, my little mission completed, I felt neither hysteria, nor the cold grip of loneliness bother me at all. I was determined to not let them either. After all, I was strong enough and if I needed help, there was a house full of people willing and able to lend me it—and maybe even someone back at the studio too.
This wouldn’t be easy though. I knew it wouldn’t be, but at least I knew those things—at least I had those people. I planned to face my family again as soon as I could because I knew now, no matter how ashamed I’d been to face them before, none of it mattered because they loved me…and I needed them.
“I feel a lot better. Brave even,” I said with a careful nod, “but…somehow…still scared,” I admitted with some difficulty.
“That makes sense though because you can’t be brave if you aren’t afraid first.”
“Thank you, oh wise one,” I said with a roll of my eyes, but there was still a smile on my face, and inside, my heart felt…warm.
Dad smiled too, a genuine smile that reached his eyes. “I missed seeing you like this.”
“You mean happy?” I asked, perplexed.
“Well, yeah,” he admitted, “but what I really missed is seeing you…like you.”
I looked over my Dad’s shoulder, glancing at my finally familiar reflection in the mirror on the wall. The smile on my face only grew stronger. “Yeah,” I said softly.
“I missed that too.”