Thursday, October 21, 2010

Burntcore Week 22: Redemption


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Burntcore's Choice: Both


I sat in my tub, my hair piled up in a mess on the top of my head, as I tried to figure out what to do next. Cory contacted me out of the blue, the first time since he left two years ago. At that time, he said it was for the best, that he couldn’t be the man that I needed him to be.

To me, it sounded like a cop out. If he really wanted to be that man, he just had to try.

It was the same conversation we had several times over the years when his drinking got out of control again. The same line he would give me before he would walk out on his way to the nearest bar, only to come crawling back a few weeks later. And I was the same idiot that kept letting him come back. Except the last time. The last time was it. I wanted him to get help and he insisted that there wasn’t a problem. I had enough and told him if he walked out than it was it, for good, not more crawling back.

He must’ve believed me because he never did come back. I never heard from Cory again until this morning when an message popped in my gmail. He sounded remarkably sober in the email.

Which led to where I was now: sitting in my tub, surrounded by happy bubbles that normally helped me think, trying to figure out what I should do. My mind went through Cory’s email again, trying to decide if he meant what he said.

Dear Holly,

I’m sure I’m the last person you’d expect to hear from, but I am hoping you’ll hear me out. I feel that I owe you an explanation or at least an apology for what I put you through. I’m not expecting anything. I just want to talk to you for a little bit and thank you. You have affected my life and that I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be alive, if it wasn’t for you.

Please give me this opportunity. I’ll be in town this weekend. If if you are willing, please meet me by the railroad tracks that we used to walk along at 3pm on Saturday.



It seemed pretty straight forward but what did he mean that he wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for me? Guess the only way I’d find out would be by meeting him on Saturday.

As the week went by, Cory’s email stayed on the forefront of my mind. I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to do. There was a part of me that was curious over what he had to say. There was another part of me that wanted nothing to do with him. It took me long enough to get over him, and there were some days that felt like I hadn’t completely. And there was that tiny part of me that still cared about him, that wanted to know what he was doing now, how he was doing.

Saturday morning found me soaking in the bathtub once again. I nervously nibbled on my fingernails as I tried to pretend that my bath was soothing me. Once the water had cooled and I started shivering, I gave up and got out of the tub.

“What a waste of perfectly good bubbles,” I commiserated as I watched the happy bubbles swirl down the drain.

I wrapped my robe around me and padded barefoot into my kitchen to get something to eat. My stomach was fairly unsettled but I knew I needed to try to eat something. I made a few pieces of toast with peanut butter while I idly watched some program on the TV. My mind was elsewhere the entire time and I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what I had been watching if you asked.

As it approached the hour in question, I quickly dressed in jeans, comfy boots, and my favorite sweater. Turning to walk back to the living room, my gaze stopped on an old faded photo album that sat on a back corner of my bookshelf. A thin layer of dust covered the outside. I gingerly reached out and grabbed the album, my fingers leaving tracks in the dust. I dusted the cover of the album with the sleeve of my sweater and walked into the living room.

The television was still droning on, but I didn’t pay it any attention. I sat down on the couch, curling my feet underneath me. My heart was racing as I gazed down at the seemingly innocuous red cover. I hadn’t looked at these pictures in several years and I wasn’t sure what looking at them would bring up. Taking a deep breath, I opened the cover and looked down at the first captured moments of my relationship with Cory.

There were such smiles on our faces. In one, we were laughing with a group of friends on a couch. That was when we had first started seeing one another. It was Superbowl Sunday, and our group of friends had gathered to watch the game. I was nervous that day, knowing Cory was going to be there. We had mutual friends and the last few times we had been at the same gatherings, a connection had been building between us. Shortly after that picture, Cory grabbed my hand and didn’t release it the rest of the evening.

In another, we had our glasses raised in a toast to someone speaking off to the side. Some others were posed pictures of us on vacations we took. Each one showed us at our happiest. However, as I turned the pages, memories that weren’t captured in the album came to mind, memories that weren’t as happy. The fights, the accusations, the nights where I was woken up by late night phone calls from a drunken Cory needing a ride home.

Feeling that I had enough and needing to keep the past in the past, I shut the album and laid it on the coffee table. I tried to remember the good man that Cory once was, how he was when we first met. It helped improve my mood enough that I decided to go through with the plan to meet him by the tracks.
Before I stepped out the door, I ran back over the album and ripped out a specific picture, one that to me, represented the last happy moment before our final downfall.

As I drove, my fingers tapped on the steering wheel. I still couldn’t believe I was actually doing this. Was this going to actually solve anything? Or was it just going to dredge up old feelings and old resentments? This question remained unanswered as I parked in an old parking lot near the railroad tracks. A few other cars dotted the parking lot.

I slowly got out of the car and looked around; trying to see if could spot Cory anywhere. It didn’t appear that anyone was in sight. Shrugging and stuffing my hands in my pants pockets, I walked toward the tracks. My footsteps remained soft until I reached the tree-line. Then, the only noise that could be heard was the rustling of leaves as my feet moved. I kept my head down and watched my feet kick up the leaves, admiring the fall colors.

I hadn’t gone much farther before I heard a soft, masculine voice call out to me.


I turned slowly and saw Cory standing on the opposite side of the tracks. He looked different but exactly the same all at the same time. His body was still lean and his hair still dark. Cory wore his hair shorter than I remembered, but it was a good look for him. I lifted my hand and waved at him slowly without moving. Cory must’ve taken that as an invitation and quickly walked across the tracks towards me.

“Holly, I am so glad you are here. I wasn’t sure if you still used that email address,” he said softly once he stopped a few feet from me.

“I still do. Not much has changed with me,” I replied softly.

Now that he was closer, I was able to see other things that had changed about him. His face looked clearer, younger almost. He stood taller, more sure of himself. His blue eyes no longer looked watery and bleary but clear and bright.

He looked sober. Not just sober after a weekend bender, but sober sober.

Cory smiled softly and I felt my heart skip a beat, which startled me. I wasn’t expecting to have a reaction like that.

“Well, a lot has changed with me. I’d like to tell you about that if I could.”


Cory walks a little closer to me but doesn’t invade my personal space. “Walk with me?” he asked.

I nod and match his step along the railroad tracks. Memories of the times we had spent here flooded my mind. We walked in comfortable silence for a few minutes before he started to speak.

“Before I left that last time, we said a lot of things to one another. I deserved every thing you said. I was firmly rooted in my denial of my problem. I thought I didn’t need you or anyone. It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom that I realized how wrong I was.”

I ingested his first words calmly, although I was curious as to just what rock bottom was. He didn’t make me wait long.

“Two weeks after I left, they found me passed out in my car, with a beer in my lap. Apparently, I had passed out while I was driving and hit a telephone pole. I was lucky that no one was in the way. But my car was totaled and I had my driving privileges revoked… for life.”

“For life?” I gasped.

“Yep, it wasn’t my first DUI.”

“What?” This was a surprise.

“Yeah, um. I had several, but I managed to hide them from you. After it happened the first time, I started to carpool with Reggie because my license got suspended.”

My hand flew to my mouth in shock. He had been carpooling with Reggie within six months of our relationship starting. All that time since then, I thought he just didn’t like to drive.

“I’m sorry, Holly, that I kept all this from you. I wasn’t right in the head. I was addicted to the alcohol.”

I shook my head a little. I had heard plenty of apologies from him over the years. They didn’t really mean anything anymore to me.

“So what happened after the accident?”

“I was arrested and thrown in jail. It was a wake up call, of sorts. I joined AA while I was there too. I learned a lot about myself while I was in jail.”

I nodded and looked ahead, down the tracks. “How long were you in jail?”

“A year.”

Wow, well that explained why he never came crawling back.

“So what does this have to do with me?” I hated to be so abrupt about it, but I wanted to get to the point, to know why he felt I had some bearing on who he was now. He had changed, but I wasn’t certain yet to what extent and what it really had to do with me.

“I always wanted to be better for you. It killed me every time we got into a fight or when I made you cry, but I just couldn’t overcome my addition to alcohol. Until I got thrown in jail, I didn’t know have the will power to overcome my addictions.

“I couldn’t drink in jail, unless I wanted that nasty stuff some guys brew in the tanks of their toilets. I was forced to become sober. And once I had been dry for a few weeks, the consequences of my actions weighed me down until they broke me. Holly, I couldn’t get you out of my mind. I was so in love with you, and when I was finally sober, I was heartbroken over what I had done. I was filled with guilt and disgust for myself, of what I had become, and what I had done to you.”

Tears started to blur my vision, tears I did not want to be shedding. I had dealt with this already. I had put it behind me. I didn’t want to be feeling this again. I couldn’t. Angrily, I shook my head until they went away.

“At my lowest, the only thing that kept me going was a picture of you. There wasn’t much we could have in our cells, but I had your picture. I stared at that picture like it was my key to sanity. Now I realize that it was. In those dark times, I kept thinking that people could change, that I could change. I could be the man you deserved. Even if you didn’t want me anymore, I wanted to be a better person... because of you.”

I stopped in my tracks, stunned by his admission. Cory hadn’t realized that I had stopped and kept going a few steps before he noticed he was walking alone.

“Holly?” he asked softly, his voice concerned.

I stared at him. This was so much to take in. These were words I had longed to hear two years ago.

“I… I’m sorry, Cory, it’s just so overwhelming.”

He smiled sadly at me, his blue eyes full of sorrow and regret, as he ran a hand through his short cropped brown hair. “I’m sorry too, sorry that it took something like a serious car accident and jail time for me to come to my senses. If I had been a real man back then, perhaps we wouldn’t be here right now having this conversation.”

“What ifs are pointless, Cory. What’s done is done. It’s what you do afterward that matters,” I retorted, stuffing my hands in my jean pockets. All the wishes and what ifs in the world wouldn’t have changed what happened between us. He chose the bottle over me, over our life we had built together, every time.

“That is very true, Holly. Can I tell you what I decided to do with my life after that?”

I nodded and continued walking with him.

“So, I joined AA while in prison. I acknowledged that I had a problem and that I needed help to fix it. I gave my life over to God and let Him lift me up. Through the meetings and the counselors, I was able to start putting the pieces back together. My sponsor really helped me a lot in the beginning, when it seemed hopeless. He reminded me every time I started to give up of the picture of you I had hanging in my cell. It worked. Every step of the way, you were my guide, my reason to keep going. I knew I had blown my chances with you, but I prayed that one day, once I was out, that I would be able to talk to you again and thank you. I knew that if I didn’t change where my life was going I would never get that chance because I’d be in jail again or I’d be dead.”

We walked silently for a few moments as I absorbed what he told me. A part of me was genuinely happy for him that he had turned his life around and was sober. Was all he wanted from me was to thank me? Thank me for what? I realized that I was his “guide” while he was incarcerated but it wasn’t like we were still together.

“When were you released?”

Cory looked over at me from the corner of his eyes. “Six months ago.”

“Do you still live around here?”

“Yeah, I have a small place of my own around the corner. It isn’t much, but I can afford it. Plus it’s close to my new sponsor.”

“Your new sponsor?”

“Yeah, my old sponsor was serving time too, so when I was released, I had to find a new one.”

“That sucks.”

“It did, because I had a great rapport with my first sponsor but it just wasn’t possible. He did help me find my new sponsor out there.”

“So how has it been since you’ve been out?”

Cory thought a moment before responding. “Enlightening? Eye-opening? Shameful? Some of my old drinking buddies tried to get me to go out with them, but I put my foot down. I had already lost so much and I didn’t want to lose what I had left.”

“What did you have left?” I asked, softly.

“Hope,” Cory replied simply. “I had hope that tomorrow would be a better day and hope that eventually I’d be able to be here with you.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that so I just kept walking. I wasn’t sure if Cory expected a response from that admission, but I wasn’t ready to provide one yet. He continued telling me his story, letting me off the hook from forming any kind of response that I wasn’t prepared to give.

He told me about how he adjusted to life outside of prison again, how even though he’d only been in jail for a year, things changed. When he was released, it was like looking at the world through brand new eyes, brand new sober eyes. It made the realizations that he made in jail that much more profound when confronted with the reality of his prior poor judgments.

Cory realized that the majority of his old friends were traveling the same path that he was. In order to rise above what he was before, he ended up being quite lonely. Finally, he started to make new friends. Some were from his new AA group, others were from his new job, there were even a few who had been friends when he was much younger, before he got into alcohol. He realized that he hadn’t done much in his past life that didn’t involve drinking.

We continued to walk by the tracks after Cory finished catching me up on the past two years. The silence was comfortable, much to my surprise. I had expected things to be awkward between us. It was still a little weird to be here with him now after everything that happened, but if I had to be honest, I derived some comfort from it. As much as I liked to tell myself that I was over Cory, I still thought and worried about him during the past two years. It was comforting that he was straightening his life around. Quite simply, I realized I was proud of him.

“What about you, Holly?” he asked quietly, his voice disturbing the peace that surrounded us.


“What about you?” he prompted, turning his face towards me. “What have you been up to these past two years?”

“Um, not much,” I replied, slightly caught off guard to be asked about myself. “I’m still working at the Center, but I moved shortly after you left. Our lease was almost up, and I couldn’t live there anymore.”

“God, I’m sorry. I should’ve sent money to you or something so you wouldn’t have to move because I was such an asshole.”

“It wasn’t because of the money, Cory. I made enough to live there on my own. If you remember, that was my place before you moved in with me. I couldn’t live there anymore because of the memories. They haunted me.”

“Oh.” His voice sounded so defeated and so sad.

“My new place is closer to work and a little bigger. It’s nice. But I still do a lot of the same things. I still talk to my parents every week and go out with Eileen for lunch and shopping with Joanne.”

“Are… are you… seeing anyone?”

I looked down at my feet and slowly came to a stop. My fingers twisted into one another as I tried to think of a response.

Cory stuttered nervously, toeing the gravel with his foot, “D-don’t-don’t answer, it’s none of my business. I shouldn’t have asked. I don’t have the right to ask.”

“No,” I whispered, my heart pounding in my chest.


“No, I’m not seeing anyone. I’ve gone out on a few dates but that’s it,” I admitted softly.

What I wouldn’t tell him was that no matter how great the guy was, he wasn’t Cory. Cory, when he was sober, was a wonderful, kind, loving man. It was that man that no other could hold a candle to; and it was this man that I realized was really standing in front of me.

He gasped and looked down at me in surprise. Hope burned freely in his eyes now. At that moment, I knew that I still loved him, but I still wasn’t positive that I could trust him, that I could allow him back into my life again.

“Holly, I-“ he stopped, losing the words that he was trying to say. He ran his hands along his scalp before knuckling his eyes.

I turned my head away from him, I wasn’t ready for this yet. I wasn’t sure what I was ready for.

He took a deep breath, which seemed to center him and still his nerves. He dropped his hands to his sides and turned fully towards me. Cory reached out and tentatively took my hand in his as he prepared to speak.

“Thank you, Holly. Thank you for loving me when I didn’t deserve it. Thank you for being my friend when I didn’t deserve it. Thank you for being everything I needed when I didn’t think I needed it. Despite all the hurt and pain I caused you, you were the one who helped me finally rise above it. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

The last words came out in a reverent whisper as he gazed at me, his blue eyes so full and earnest.

I couldn’t help the tears that fell from my eyes. Before I could wipe them away, Cory’s thumb gently brushed them away.

“Cory, I- I don’t. I c-can’t,” I murmured softly as I pulled away. It was all too much.

Cory’s face fell, but I tried not to feel bad about it. I couldn’t. I loved him, but I wasn’t sure if I could just let him walk right back into my life like no time had passed. I may not have done much in the past two years, but I had changed. He definitely had changed.

“I’m sorry, Holly, I’m so sorry.” He shoved his offending hands into his pockets.

“I know, Cory.”

“So what do we do now?”

“What do you want?” I asked.

“I want you back in my life, Holly. I want more than just memories.”

I squeezed my eyes shut and wrapped my arms around myself.

“What do you want?” he asked softly.

I shrugged as I turned and started to walk back towards the parking lot in the distance. Cory followed without saying a word. We walked in silence all the way back to my car. I stopped outside the passenger door, keeping my eyes downcast. Cory’s nerves were starting to get the best of him; he started to fidget. My brain swirled round and around as I thought about the possibilities, the real possibilities about having Cory in my life again.

Taking a deep breath, I opened the car door and dug into the glove box. After I finally touched what I was searching for, I closed everything up and leaned against the car, keeping my hand and what it contained hidden from Cory’s view.

“Cory, I don’t know if what I want is possible.” His head whipped up when I spoke. “I never stopped caring about you but I can’t go back to where we were at. I can’t go through that again. I won’t go through that again.”

“Holly, I’ve been sober for nearly two years now.”

“I know, and I think that is awesome. But how do I know that you’ll stay that way? You weren’t drinking when we first started dating. If it’s not alcohol, what if it is something else? Something worse?”

Pain was etched deeply into Cory’s face.

“Holly, I will always be an alcoholic, but I will always be a recovering alcoholic. I won’t allow myself to become a slave to that kind of addiction again.”

“How do I know that?” I asked, my voice rising. He just didn’t get it. Him saying he’s recovering doesn’t make everything all better again. “What proof have you ever shown me that you can say no to a drink?”

He nodded a few times, comprehension finally sinking in. “I understand, Holly. I haven’t given you any reason to trust me. But...I would like the opportunity to show you that you can trust me again, that you can let me into your life again.”

I looked away, unable to decide one way or the other. After several minutes of deep introspection, I slowly reached out my hand and showed him what I was holding.

“Do you remember when this was taken?” I asked softly.

Cory nodded. “We were right here, walking along the tracks.”

“In this picture, I thought we were perfect. Little did I know that you were hiding a secret that would eventually drive us apart. This picture will never change. Show me that people can, that you can, that you did and you will.”

Hope glimmered in his eyes again as he tried to fight a smile. “Holly, can I email you again?” It has hard not to hear the desperate hope in his voice. “Maybe we can chat a little bit and meet up again the next time you are free?”

I smiled, wide and warmly for the first time since arriving. “Sure, I think I’d like that.”

Cory’s face broke into the biggest smile I had ever seen.

“I should go,” I said as I walked over to the driver’s side of my car. Cory looked a little disappointed but nodded and walked over by me.

“Thank you for coming out to meet me, Holly.”

I got into my car and rolled down the window, looking up at Cory’s handsome face. “Thank you for not forgetting about me.”

“I could never forget about you, sweet girl,” he murmured, reaching out and cupping my face.

I blushed and started up the car.

“I need to go.”

“I know.”

Cory removed his hand and took a few steps away from the car. He smiled softly as I pulled away. The last thing I saw as I pulled onto the street was him waving goodbye.

It was a goodbye to the past, to the pain and sorrow. It was a hello to the future, to love and to trust.