Precious Fate Ch. 01bymythrender©
-- Note to the reader: the very first part of this story has a strong basis in true events. For that reason, I have concealed both her name as well as my own in order to preserve anonymity. I apologize if that makes certain parts a bit confusing to some readers. --
How well I remember her walking through the doors of the treatment center, in tears and trembling, her life a mess and her marriage on the rocks due to her drinking. Her husband stood next to her exuding an aura of arrogance and antipathy, his eyes like chips of ice. He was ashamed of her and she knew it. As a unit manager, my job included doing intakes and I did my best to make her feel at ease. Her eyes did not meet mine until her husband left the building. Then she broke down, sobbing uncontrollably and trembling in fear. I embraced her and held her until the sobbing ceased. Her paperwork painted a picture of a woman who, at 32 years of age, had never been on her own. She had lived with her parents until, at age 19, she married the first (and, in her mind, only) guy willing to take a chance on her.
Beauty she had – not the stunning good looks of a woman who thought highly of herself or made herself up to be someone she was not – but rather, that simple, wholesome look of a woman that had never bothered with makeup or hairstyles much less manicures and the like. There was nothing artificial or superficial about her. One look at her and you knew that her long, deep brown hair was the same color now as it had been all her life. There was no deceptive, acquired front cover with this one either. No facade of toughness or duplicity - no mysteries to be investigated – no impenetrable defensive walls to be breached. She wore her heart on her sleeve and one look into those big brown eyes revealed any unspoken feelings. Her sensitivity and vulnerability struck me forcibly.
That’s not to say she didn’t have baggage. In addition to a history of Alcoholism, she had a severe social anxiety disorder that caused her to have frequent panic attacks. But these drew me to her rather than repelled me. She was in need of constant emotional reassurance. She wasn’t, in truth, hard to settle down when these attacks came. All she needed was to be told that everything was all right and she needed to be hugged. This triggered a deep paternal instinct in me that I had never felt before. I loved her almost immediately though I told myself repeatedly that it was just that same kind of plutonic love that a person in this field of work develops for many his or her clients – the kind of love that is based on empathy and an honest desire to help those afflicted with the disease of addiction.
I am very proud to say that I maintained this lie, even to myself, for her entire month stay at the treatment center. I had always despised those men who inappropriately took advantage of vulnerable women and I would not allow myself to drop into that pitfall. Additionally, there is the matter of professional ethics. While the fact that I was not a certified counselor insulated me from the legal trouble that becoming romantically involved with a client could bring, it would still be considered highly unethical and would undoubtedly loose me my job. Finally, there was her husband, as cold and unsupportive as he was, she married him and he was true to her despite his patronizing attitude. Perhaps he held some redeemable qualities that were hidden from me. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but think that this separation from him would be an ideal chance for her to grow as a person with an identity that was not bound to his.
And grow she did. Sure, there were times when she’d come apart … times when her anxiety would get the best of her and panic would set in. This is when she just needed to breathe, to be reassured and to be embraced. Often she would come to me at these times and, true to my conviction, I managed to keep these embraces well within limits that would be considered perfectly appropriate to any one in the field…they did not, however, feel appropriate to me. But she grew and she thrived as she learned the basics of recovery from addiction not to mention ways to manage her anxiety.
One month later she left. All the staff considered her treatment a huge success. Despite my secret grief, her leaving was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. She came to the office, checked out, gave me a spine cracking hug, kissed me on the cheek and proudly walked out the same door through which she’d so despairingly walked in just one month earlier. She was beautiful. She carried her own bags, her chin held high, and she walked right past her husband making him follow her out of the building with a perplexed look on his face. Indeed, she was not the same person who walked in crying one month before.
I took a quiet, tearful moment in the restroom and then put my business face back on and went back to the endeavors of helping the unit counselors teach addicted individuals how to live without chemicals. Her innocence and vulnerable beauty, however, remained etched in my mind and heart for a long while. Things of which I once took no notice would remind me of her: a smile from a stranger on the street, a scent of freshly washed hair unspoilt by any styling products, tears in a pair of brown eyes…the list goes on and on. The fact of the matter was that I was also no longer the same person that I was before she walked into my life. But she was gone and I could only hope that she was well. Months passed…then years and the memories began to fade.
I am a firm believer that few things, for good or ill, happen in this world by accident. I am not religious, but my own twelve years of recovery from addiction (not to mention eight years of working with other addicted people) have taught me that there does indeed seem to be a greater power at work in the cosmos. Atheists and skeptical agnostics may say that what happened was coincidence. Perhaps they are right, but I choose to believe that my walking into that recovery convention some five years later on a cool September Friday afternoon was fated.
The typical workshops and meetings were similar to the countless others that I had attended. In fact, nothing about that afternoon struck me as out of the ordinary. I arrived one hour before the first workshop; I checked into a room at the Convention Center Hotel; I registered for the workshops I intended to take in; and I attended these workshops with a attitude of patience, despite the fact that I wasn’t really hearing anything new. I had resigned myself to the monotony of these conventions that had once, some ten years back, excited me beyond my wildest dreams. I was numb to them. The dance that inevitably followed dinner was likely to be no different…the novelty of these functions had long ago worn off. I longed for the thrill of early recovery, when everything seemed new and exciting--when just being alive and drug-free was an epiphany.
I attended the dinner and was not even planning on going to the dance but reconsidered when I heard that there was going to be a live band instead of the usual DJ. I went back to my room, showered, shaved and dressed in slightly more presentable clothing. I walked into the dance and discovered, to my disappointment, that while the music was indeed live, the band seemed to be playing slightly mangled versions of the same dance music I had heard at these things a thousand times before. I cursed under my breath, “They could have at least gotten an amateur blues band or something.” I stopped just a few steps from the doorway; meaning to turn, leave the hall, and seek the quiet of my room, when someone ran into me from behind. I turned, annoyed, only to be struck dumb. A woman with a familiar face stood there blushing and trying in vain to stammer out an appropriate apology. When she recognized me, she fell silent.
It was her…but then again, it wasn’t. It was her, with her same innocence, her same vulnerability, her same revealing brown eyes, her same natural hair, her same genuine beauty, but there was a glow about her that had not been apparent five years back … not even on the day when she left treatment. I recognized that aura immediately. It was the light that illuminates a woman who is at peace with herself and her life. It was the light that starts at some point in the recovery process and continues to grow as the person becomes aware that there is life after addiction. It was the luminescence that only shines from a person who has found joy in life’s victories and pleasures, all the while demonstrating acceptance of its sorrows. She was there…standing in front of me with that same warm smile that had pierced my heart so many times during that one short month five years prior. I had found her and I had found her doing well. It had been years since I had felt so alive.
Without uttering a word, in fact, without even thinking, I took her hand in mine and led her to a nearby empty table. Her friend, whom I hadn’t even noticed until that moment, gave her a sly smile and joined a rowdy group of dancers on the floor. For a moment that seemed like an eternity, neither of us spoke.
She was there, her long brown hair framing her soft innocent face. She was there in a gorgeous blue satin, strapless dress that revealed her delicious shoulders and neck while accentuating her soft curves to perfection. I hadn’t noticed how tall she was – perhaps because when I had known her she never really stood to her full height. She had lost none of the qualities that had endeared her to me but her newly found confidence and self-esteem shined forth from her dark eyes. If anything, the years in recovery had nurtured her more humble qualities thereby intensifying her beauty.
She spoke first and when I looked up into those honest eyes I saw tears trickling down her cheeks. However, unlike with the tearful woman whom I had admitted to treatment, she was completely unabashed by her display of feelings. There was no apology for her tears. There was no shame in her eyes.
“I wanted to tell you how grateful I am for all that you did for me…I don’t think I would have made it through treatment without your support,” she said in a soft voice that grabbed at my heart.
“No, it is I that should be grateful for it is the ones that make it…the ones like you…that make working there worthwhile,” I stammered. “I certainly don’t stay there for the lousy $9.00 and hour,” I added, vainly attempting to take some of the cheesiness out of my response.
She blushed and smiled. The tableau of silence broke and we talked and laughed and cried. We reminisced about her stay in treatment. I explained the few changes that had occurred in the place since. She told me, with relish, of her new friends she’d made in recovery. We discussed the revelations that recovery offers and the evolutions of our own emotional and spiritual selves. She told me of just about every aspect of her life that had been positively impacted by her recovery.
She still suffered from the anxiety but her friends were understanding and supported her through the panic attacks. Indeed it occurred to me that even just her being in a crowded dance hall was evidence that she was managing her anxiety with ease. It was then that our eyes met and I noticed that there was some trouble there. She never could hide her feelings; her eyes gave her away every time. It was also then that I realized that there was a very important piece of her life that she had intentionally left out of conversation. I held her eyes in mine and could tell she knew that I was onto her.
I didn’t have to ask. Tears brimmed on the edges of her eyelashes as she tumbled head long into the story of her doomed marriage. The story was typical. After a few months where it seemed that everything was fine, her husband became resentful of the time she spent at recovery meetings and functions. Despite her very honest pleading that there was nothing going on with any of them, he became jealous of the men at the meetings and the hugs they gave her. Most of all, he became angry that his primary purpose in the relationship…holding her together emotionally…was not as necessary as it once had been. He resented her newfound independence and, when she would not relinquish it, he left her. The divorce was finalized 3 years ago.
My heart leapt into my throat but I had to be careful. I knew enough about love and relationships to realize that rebounding a woman off the demise of a 15-year marriage was dangerous. Three years had passed since the divorce but there was still pain in those lovely brown eyes. I fumbled around in my mind for a sensitive, non-offensive way to word the question that I needed to ask.
“That was three years ago…do you still have that many bad feelings about it?” Needless to say, I wasn’t pleased with the way this came out. She, however, took no offense.
“Oh…it took some time...maybe a year or so…to get over the fact that he was gone. But that’s not what is bothering me now. I’ve actually come to view the divorce as the best thing to happen to my recovery, even though it was hard,” she said in a matter-of-fact sort of way, “Its just that…I’ve…well…sort of been having…some trouble with…you know…finding anyone now that I’m over him.”
At first I was astounded. She was looking down at her lap and, for a minute, I was reminded that same sorrowful woman that walked into the treatment center—shy and insecure. I let my eyes take in her delicate, sad face; her soft shapely curves; her modest, yet perfectly rounded breasts; her entire simple, elegant, unadorned, beautiful figure. Why, I asked myself, would this gorgeous woman have trouble finding a man? I looked at her again. She was not at all petite, being a bit too tall and having a little too much flesh. Nor did she have this voluptuous or athletic look that seems to be in style these days. Though she was not an ounce overweight, she had just the beginnings love handles that she, thankfully, did not try to nip, tuck, or hide in some torturous control top. Her abdomen was not perfectly flat, but rather had the very shape that you would naturally expect on a woman of her age (37 now). She was in no way overlarge or flabby or in anyway unattractive to me. She, in my eyes, was perfect—soft, simple, curvaceous, lovable and very real. Above all else, she had that beauty that could only emanate from the inside.
But then it occurred to me. It was not due to any unattractive quality in her that she had trouble finding a suitor. It was her lack of confidence in herself as a lover. Sure she has gained some self-esteem. She felt alive and useful and confident in her recovery but had never come to see herself as desirable to men. Her divorce most likely destroyed what little romantic self-image she had ever had. She wordlessly transmitted a signal to others that she was not approachable…unworthy…that she would probably dissolve into tears or would turn tail and rocket off like a deer if approached. It was her underlying fears and insecurities that stood in her way--fears and insecurities that undoubtedly were escalated by her anxiety disorder. I had this insane desire to lean over the table and kiss her full on the teeth, but I was saved from that folly by the approach of her friend.
The friend had obviously noticed my close observation of this woman’s features and I prayed she wouldn’t think I was some kind of pervert for my desires far transcended simple sexual lust. But my fear seemed to be unfounded. The friend smiled warmly at me as she informed us that she was turning in for the night. I thought that I had caught a wink of her eye as she turned to leave the hall. I looked around to find, much to my surprise, that hours had past and that the dance was starting to wind down. As if on cue, the band took up a love ballad that sounded as though it might have been a horribly tortured attempt at “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton except without lyrics as the singer, thankfully, had stepped off for a break.
All the proverbial chips were on the table and now was the time to play my hand. She was easily far enough along in her recovery to allow for romantic involvement (indeed the ethical and legal standards only demand 1 year). Furthermore, she was single and the slight trembling in her hands spoke volumes about her needs. She needed to be held and now there was little need for me to mask my own feelings toward her. She started and looked up as I abruptly stood and walked around the table to her.
“Please, dance with me,” I said, holding out my hand for her.
Her trembling increased slightly as she looked up at me and mouthed voiceless words of protest.
“I never dance…I…don’t know how…to dance…really.” She was finally able to stammer.
I took her hand, bent down and whispered in her ear, “I’ve always loved you and I just want to hold you. You can do this. It would be good for you to take this risk. Trust me as you did five years ago.”
At this she smiled and her eyes misted over. She stood slowly and I marveled again at her height. She placed both her shaking hands in mine. With teary eyes looking into mine, she whispered, “I’ve always loved you too.”
I started to tremble myself as her soft words washed over me. Almost involuntarily, I placed my arm around her shoulders and led her out onto the nearly empty dance floor. Her shaking increased dramatically once we were on the floor. Her breath was becoming shallow and fast. I could tell her heart was racing. She was nearing a panic attack, not due to me, but rather, in response to so many eyes being on her. I bid her to close her eyes and I embraced her there in front of everyone, holding her close and tight. “Nobody is judging you or I right now, and, if they are, their verdicts are irrelevant,” I whispered in her ear, “There is nothing wrong with what we are doing…nothing at all. This is our moment and the only people who matter are you and me.”
As I whispered we slowly started swaying to the sound of the music, my hands around her shapely waist and her hands around my neck. Her head was on my shoulder, tucked softly into the nape of my neck below my ear. Her soft, warm breath started to slow down, as did the desperate beating of her heart. The sweet scent of her long soft hair and her light perfume were mesmerizing as she gradually relaxed with a sigh. Her body was lithe against mine. She was soft and warm; vulnerable and fragile; and, most of all, completely open to me. Never before had any person been so precious to me as she was at that moment.
She lifted her head as if to speak but no words came and she started to look away. Tears sparkled in her eyes as I reflexively took my right hand from her waist and placed it softly on the side of her face. My fingers twined into her soft hair and, with my thumb, I gently wiped a tear from her cheek. Slowly but irresistibly, I turned her head back until our eyes met. It felt as though a hand had reached into my chest and clutched my heart. Her eyes, her mind, her face, her body, and her sweet tears: all her attributes and liabilities worked in flawless unison. She was perfect.
As the song ended, we embraced and I held her closely. As we parted, I gave in to the inevitable. I leaned into her and, before she could recoil, I kissed her softly on the lips. A sudden fear of her reaction came over me but she responded with that kindhearted smile. She blushed as I took her hand and led her off the dance floor and out the door, both of us heedless of the audience we had drawn in the dancehall. I felt a warm sensation radiating from the very center of my being.
Out in the hallway we stopped and faced each other, both her hands in mine. Thoughts raced through my mind. I certainly did not intend to ask her to my room. Pushing a premature sexual encounter with this woman would be highly unwise. It would also be totally unnecessary; at the ripe age of 33 my sex drive, while still healthy, was not the raging storm of hormones that it was some 10-15 years back. But if I could just finagle one more kiss my dreams would be sweeter that night then they had been for a number of years.