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Martha Fletcher

I couldn’t sleep. I must have lost it somewhere along the path I didn’t mean to take. Maybe I left it up in a tree I just couldn’t wait to climb or buried it in the dirt I kicked up in my pursuit of something extraordinary.
I looked over at the clock — 5:06; I reached over my head and felt the glass on the window with the back of my hand — taking the temperature of the world outside. I lay there for a moment as nausea
set in and my smothering thoughts mingled with the cloud of cigarette smoke lingering above. I held onto the last puff with hesitation and finally decided to get out of bed.

“That’s it, I’m done. No more cigarettes, right Charlie?” I folded myself to my knees and let him give me one good lick before I threw on a pair of faded, torn jeans and an old black sweater. Every day seemed a little longer than the last, bringing on a new symptom, a new battle that could only be won for the moment. But I knew I would lose the war — eventually. I grabbed Charlie’s leash and called his name out once before nearly tripping over him on my way to the front door. I buttoned my coat as I started down the four flights of stairs. It was much colder than it should be for April, but I was warmed by the thought of the season’s late snow and the idea of just standing there, letting each flake dissolve into me. As I nuzzled my nose into my coat collar I wondered if I would be around to see it all again next year. The stale perfume and smoke permeating my coat soured my thoughts, reminding me of who I had become. I used to reason that life left me no choice. When the road you’re on comes to an end, you either jump or make a new one. So I made a new one.

Highlighted quoteMarried at 17, I wondered what life was like on the other side of cutting coupons and spending evenings watching reruns of sitcoms. In a small town, that’s all there is to do. By 21, I discovered true loneliness
in coming home to a boy I realized I never really loved and a paycheck I was never allowed to cash. I played by all the rules, but the rules left me with nothing with my name on it. By 26, I had reached the end of the earth and fallen off the universe. In my plight to keep my sanity, I found my independence in a city where no one was watching. I made up for lost time and found my eyes locked on the beauty of freedom. Anger gave me permission to fly, but what does anger know?

I walked to the corner of 2nd and 79th, heading toward Central Park. There was something strange about living in the absence of chaos. I longed for the warmth of a familiar face; I longed for my back porch in Long Island where I spent many summer days losing myself in play. I felt suddenly like I was 6 again — tucked away in bed, my room darker than the other side of the world. In the silence of the night, from beyond the nightlight illuminating a small corner of my room, I could hear that ominous acorn suddenly falling on the roof. It, of course, was not an acorn, but a monster with teeth lurking outside my window. I cried for mama and she’d come running. She was beautiful, her smile like a warm blanket, her blue eyes patient and kind.

“There’s no monsters here, sweetie,” she said as she took me into her arms.

“But it’s on the roof, mama,” I cried.

“It’s just an acorn or a twig from a tree,” she tried to reason, but I wasn’t buying it.

The next morning we went outside to the backyard after breakfast; she picked up an acorn and brought it over to me.

“You see? No monsters here, just an acorn,” she said. I nodded, not meaning a single nod. “Next time you’re scared, I want you to do me a favor; I want you to laugh. Think of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Those monsters don’t like silly girls. Okay?”

“Okay,” I smiled.

That night when I went to bed mama tucked me in. It was our routine to watch Love Boat reruns over a couple of sugar cookies and chocolate milk. Then she would tuck me in under those flannel sheets, turn my fan on high, and kiss me good night.

“Remember what I told you now — about those monsters?” she asked.

“But I can’t think of anything funny,” I whined.

“Well let me think.” She put her fingers to her chin, her eyes to the ceiling, like she was thinking of some great idea for one of our adventure days. Then she started tickling me — making me laugh hysterically. When she left the room, door half opened, I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

In retrospect, that made no sense at all, but it worked for me, and not just when I was scared. When my 8th grade boyfriend dumped me for my best friend Lucy, I just laughed — I put his head on a little tiny bee and had him flutter above me, and suddenly the ridiculously painful became just ridiculous. I sealed the thought with a handful of Reece’s Pieces and moved on with my life.

My nostalgia turned to nausea as I thought of her smile lost in my discretion. She would never let herself believe anything other than what I told her. This I couldn’t hide, not forever. I tried to call her right after I found out, but with every number closer to her voice, I convinced myself to wait a little longer — there had to be a way out or an opportunity to make this right. I thought of justifying my actions, but justifications were like multiplying one times your mistake — you always ended up with your mistake. Every time I would see her, my heart would break at the doorstep. My job was to keep her safe from fear, as she had done for me. And I did for years.

I let the morning frost numb my thoughts for a while, losing myself in the meanderings of a city waking to a new day. Charlie barked, bringing me back to a reality I had no choice but to face. I knew my frailty would betray me. I sat at the fountain in front of Alice and her Wonderland and looked down at the face I had given my fear, and broke her heart.