“You can’t know what it’s like to be me, to be able to do the things I can do. I can’t talk about it. It’s not safe.” He’s shaking from fear and tired from holding it all in for so long.
“Show me.” I plead with him softly.
“I don’t know how.”
“I do.” I reach out and touch his forehead. “Close your eyes. Think back to a time before the fear. Bring the memory to the front of your mind, just outside the barricade. Please.”
He took a deep breath and I could see the permission he was giving in his eyes before he closed them. One deep breath, two deep breaths, three deep breaths, and there it was, playing for me like a movie in high definition.
Only five more papers to deliver and then he could call it a night. Then there was that stupid math assignment to finish. But his hard work would be rewarded at dinnertime. Tonight was stroganoff night, and Jack loved this mom’s beef stroganoff with fat mushrooms and tons of noodles. He was getting hungry just thinking about it.
Then he saw it, up ahead at the Hammond house, his next delivery. The color blue seemed to hang in the air, laced with heavy ribbons of gray, it shimmered and shook. The color of sadness.
Molly Hammond sat on the porch, tears stained her small round face. The little girl was maybe seven years old. “Oh, hi Jack.” She glanced up at him and wiped at her cheeks.
Jack handed her a newspaper. “Here you go, Molly. Will you give this to your folks for me?”
She took the paper and hugged it to her chest like a security blanket. “Thank you.”
Now normally, a 15 year old boy wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with a girl who was only in first grade, but Jack couldn’t ignore the blue sadness that swirled around Molly. “You wanna talk about it?”
Molly bust into a fresh set of tears. “It’s my kitty cat, Mr. Pickles. He ran into the street today and forgot to look both ways, first. He got run over and went to sleep forever.”
The blue and the gray began to grow. Jack had to act fast before the sadness took over him, too. “Hey Molly, you know what I like to do when I’m feeling sad? I go someplace the sadness can’t reach. Some place happy. Can you think of a place like that?”
The little girl shook her head no, “All I can think of is poor Mr. Pickles.”
“Then let me help you.”
Molly stopped crying for a moment. “How?”
“I’ll show you.” Jack put his hand on the side of her forehead. “Close your eyes. We’ll go there together.”
Molly closed her eyes.
There she stood with the paper boy at the edge of the most beautiful, wonderful field. Butterflies were everywhere: orange and red and blue and pink and purple, each of them seemed to glow as they flew and dived and surrounded her with a flutter of color and joy. And then there was laughter, and Molly realized it was her own.
Time melted away and the blue and gray faded. The little girl lit up with orange smiles and Jack knew his trick had worked. He smiled and squeezed her hand. “It’s time to go home now, Molly.”
“Do I have to?” She pleaded him.
Jack’s energy was slipping. He couldn’t hold the illusion for too much longer. “You can always come back when you need to. All you have to do is close your eyes.”
Tears ran down my checks as I opened my eyes. “Do you have any idea how amazing that is? Your gift…”
“My curse is more like it. Gift? My parents sent me to a shrink who wanted me committed to the psyche ward! How is that a gift? My family thought I was a freak! So I lied. Told them I had made it all up. Then I shut up about it. Tuned it out. Turned it off. It was easier that way.”
The anger rolled off him in waves, but I pressed my luck anyways. I tried to keep my tone gentle. “Is that what you’re willing to settle for, the easy way out? Think of the possibilities.”
“Possibilities? Not all of us are looking to save the world, Grace. And don’t you dare start with some crap lecture about the difference between choosing to do what is right instead of what is easy. I know that. And guess what. I choose to survive. If that makes me a coward, then so be it. Go ahead and say it out loud if it makes you feel better. I’ve been called worse.”
And then he turned and stormed off leaving a wake of hurt and anger behind him. The room practically shook with it. The room would settle and so would he. He wasn’t angry at me. He was angry with himself for letting someone in, for letting me see so much of his true self. Some days, letting yourself be vulnerable really sucks.