Translation-Chapter 2

Monday, May 3, 2010 8:17 PM By crosswaysnet , In

Chapter 2 (March, Friday Morning - Rio Claro, TX):

Mitch rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and headed to the small corner kitchen of the cabin. Without a curtain, the morning light was pouring through the window over the sink. The big square of sunshine was working its way from the center of the room back toward the old pine cabinets. Mitch squinted as he stepped through the glare over to the coffee maker. Other than the electric stove and half-size fridge, it was the only other modern convenience in this little Hill Country retreat. It was also the newest. It was less than a year old and positively gleamed in comparison to the tired stove, cookware and glasses. It was also programmable and gave Mitch the satisfaction of not having to wait. He poured half a cup of his favorite Sumatran blend, added a small amount of half-n-half and stepped out to the back porch.
Forced his way out is more like it. The back door had always stuck, but now it was jammed. It took Mitch ten seconds of rattling to shake it loose. The spring-loaded screen door behind it wasn't much easier. He managed to spill some of his coffee in the process, which he just sucked off the back of his hand then wiped the rest on his sweat pants. He was practically camping, after all, so he wasn't about to make another trip just for a paper towel.
He checked the old Adirondack chair for loose nails or splinters and settled into it slowly. He put his feet up on the rail and stared at his sweat socks for a minute. It was still a little chilly in early March, but this was central Texas. On a sunny day it would warm up fast enough. Another long sip of good coffee was all that was needed for now.
Mitch looked up as the sun started to fill the bowl of limestone in front of him. Carved over the eons by the flow of the river in the horseshoe, the cliffs bent almost one hundred eighty degrees to the north, catching both the morning and evening light. The patches of prickly pear were already flowering and spots of bluebonnets had started to bloom. In a week the sandy floor of the canyon would be a riot of colors, and the kind of view that city folks from San Antonio and Austin would gladly invest a whole tank of gas to see. Not here, though. This little stretch of the Rio Claro was private. Once the center of an old German ranching enterprise, the most picturesque parts had been carved up two generations ago among the Hoffstra grandchildren. Mitch had inherited it from his maternal grandmother. His parcel was ten acres tucked into a bend in the river. Most of the dozen-odd neighbors were still distant relatives of some sort. There was a big reunion each June in the large pavilion, but the rest of the year everyone pretty much left each other alone.
Now Mitch was taking advantage of the aloneness. "It'll probably take advantage of me," he grumbled to himself. "Alone" was bound to mean "lonely" pretty soon if Mitch didn't find something to occupy his mind. And there was no kind of loneliness like the one Mitch had come here to face.
There was no chance of someone overhearing Mitch's spoken thoughts and thinking him crazy. He could rant and rave if he felt like it. His counselor had recently reminded him that it wouldn't be such a bad idea. He was here to 'sort things out' - his own words.
"You've got ten whole days to sort it out, old buddy. Better get to sortin'," he muttered.
Mitch stood up again to refill his coffee cup, finding the doors about as obstinate as before. He propped them open this time.
As he stood slowly pouring his next perfect cup, he reviewed the counselor's last comments.
"I don't know if there'll ever be 'closure,' Mitch. But there is 'going on with your life.' You've made it through the holidays and almost half way through the 'year of firsts.' You've kept your family together and haven't completely withdrawn from friends. I'd call that successful. What do you think comes next?"
"Closure!" argued Mitch out loud. The coffee maker didn't respond. Its red eye just stared at him, unblinking. He turned around and lazily carried his fresh cup back to the porch. He picked up recollection of the conversation again, remembering his outburst and how the big "Why??" still remained. His wife's death had been ruled a suicide. The absence of any brake marks at the crash scene; the straight-on impact with the rock outcropping at eighty miles an hour; and the note. It always came back to that. It just didn't make any sense. It was her handwriting, he was sure. But until that day there had never been so much as a hint that she was unhappy in their marriage or harboring some devastating secret.
"WHY, Sonja?" Mitch called out loud enough to hear it softly echo back from the bluff. "Who?" he said, much softer this time. He knew he had to change the subject now or he was going to drive himself insane, which was precisely not the reason to be out in the country this fine spring morning. He thought about the kids, Shelby and Mitchell, now with Sonja's parents somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. He'd been invited along for the cruise but had declined. He instinctively knew that it was finally time to be alone. Besides, he hated ships. Seasickness was one thing he really didn't need on vacation. He was still reeling from the events of the past few months as it was.
"What have you done to get that 'closure' you think you need, Mitch?"
Nothing, Mitch had told him. Everything is still as it was. Her clothes are still in the closet. Her home office is still untouched.
"What are you afraid will happen if you 'deal' with those things?"
Mitch had shrugged. He knew the answer. I'll know for sure she's never coming back.
"Well, you're a counselor too - You tell me what comes next."
Pick one thing, and start from there, Mitch had admitted, standing up to leave the counselor's office.
The next day he had chosen that 'one thing,' finally putting away the empty place setting. The act had been a genuine relief to his son and a horrifying reminder to his daughter. Shelby had gone off to her room to cry into her giant teddy bear, the one her mother had won for her at the amusement park five years ago. She was a teenager now, but when it came to grief she was eight years old again. Thankfully, Mitch hadn't stumbled across this little scene. It would have guilted him from trying anything else, anytime soon.
Mitch intended to spend the rest of that day deciding what to decide. He didn't think he could handle any more of the memories, so he resolved to put the house on the market as soon as school was out. Maybe it was time to finally get some property and a horse for the kids. He had the money to do it. Amazingly, Sonja's life insurance policy didn't include an exemption for suicide. If it had, they'd have been in a world of hurt.
Mitch had just opened his counseling practice and had all of two clients when Sonja died. These were now being serviced by a more established agency affiliated with a group of churches in the area. Mitch had been able to dedicate the time necessary to settle his wife's estate, take over all of the parental chores and be there for his kids. He knew what to look for, and they would survive the tragedy. There was no self-destructive behavior or debilitating depression. Their grades had slipped a bit, but they were still applying themselves. They had promised each other to spend time this summer putting together a scrapbook on Mom.
What Mitch didn't know how to cope with was the specter of suicide. He felt he could only disclose so much to his children. Even as he found himself wanting to unburden himself completely to them and truly grieve together, he didn't dare risk turning them against their mother, even after her death. Keeping the secret had only been possible with the help of discreet friends and a lawyer who managed to keep the contents of the note private. The small town local paper hadn't been aggressive enough to pursue any conspiracy and Mitch's friends at the fire department hadn't disclosed any damaging details about the accident. Still, the facts were bound to come out eventually and it stood to reason that the children deserved a new start in life as much as he did. He began to consider where he'd like to move. He wished he'd brought his Texas atlas with him on this trip.
Thinking wasn't coming very easily, at least the productive kind, so Mitch switched gears and found things that needed fixing, including the railroad tie steps that led down to the little pebble beach below the bluff. By the time the steps were all leveled, the right side of the cliff was turning red and shadow had overtaken him. A grumbling reminded him that he hadn't eaten today. He decided that starving himself wasn't very vacation-like and headed back to the cabin.
A minute later he was pulling on a sweatshirt and grabbing his car keys. He didn't bother to lock the cabin, start a fire or even shut the porch door. His life had been full of details for months. He didn't want to deal with any more, no matter how practical.
It was last twilight when Mitch pulled his Austin Mini onto the state highway. It was about ten miles back to the nearest town and he drove it in silence. He really wasn't hungry, but he reasonably concluded it was the depression causing it. He really should eat. He understood that his internal spring had been wound tight for almost five months. Finally, it was beginning to unravel like a rat's nest of bailing wire. Mitch was now experiencing that strange, pit-in-the-stomach sensation that goes along with it.
And to think, most people go straight for the chocolate when they're depressed... Don't think I'll have to worry about getting fat on my brand of the blues.
He pulled into the Sonic and ordered a toaster combo. He managed to eat half of it while he continued to drive east.
The Mini handled really well, and Mitch found himself taking the old familiar and winding route back toward home. It was forty five minutes away but he didn't think he'd go that far. He was in the zone, just reacting to the road conditions. Sonja's face would come to the front of his mind causing him to blink hard to see the road again. He just kept driving. It all just seemed a numbing dream. The whole day had, yard work around the cabin notwithstanding. It just seemed that every time he tried to get his mind in gear it just ground to a halt.
You've still got nine more days, Mitch. Just stick with it - something'll break.
Thirty minutes later, he saw the signage for the county cemetery. He was surprised to realize how far he'd traveled. Mitch rubbed his hand over his face to shake himself more alert. He hadn't been back since the funeral and until now had absolutely no desire to watch the soil settle over the love of his life. However, he remembered the shoe box still sitting on the passenger seat and decided now was as good a time as any to deal with it. There was no good place to open fresh wounds, but if he was going to conquer his fear and finally open those old letters, he might as well kill two birds with one stone.
That's sick irony, Mitch.
He parked the car a few yards away from the gravesite and left the lights on to illuminate the area. With a sigh, Mitch grabbed the box of letters and walked over to the new headstone.

Sonja Michelle Blackman
Beloved Wife and Mother
"She Loved, Served and Gave
and was gone too soon"
May 1, 1964 - November 7, 2006

Above the lettering was a small porcelain portrait of Sonja on their fifteenth wedding anniversary. The picture captured one of her frequent smiles that came out of a hearty laugh. Her long, soft brunette curls spilling off her shoulders. Two strands of bang were out of place, blown across the bridge of her nose in the breeze. She could not be more beautiful.
Mitch's eyes moved to the box of letters in his hands. He placed it on top of the stone and removed the lid. Each letter was laying unfolded, face up, the most recent on top. In her precise script, he read:

Sept 14, '06

Dearest Mitch,

I'm so proud of you tonight - my heart is full. I feel I need to commit this to paper. Perhaps our grandchildren will read this and know what a gift from God you are.

Tonight's home group meeting confirmed for me what I've known for a long time - you have a profound gift of spiritual discernment and vision. After what you were able to share with Jim and Connie, I'm convinced that it could only have come from the Lord. When you let yourself, you have a truly tender heart full of real compassion. It was as if you were God's voice tonight, helping them through the grief over Brian's addiction. The things you said, the encouragement you gave, the vision you shared - it was as if you were right there with Brian, helping him to hang on till spiritual rescue would come.

Mitch, I know you have a hard time believing it, but God has a special purpose for you. I'm proud to be with you on this journey as you discover it.

Your Loving Sonja

Mitch stood there, still mystified by the letter. It angered him. He had no idea who the man was as described in the letter. He hardly remembered the evening. It was a blur to him. He vaguely recalled joining in prayer with those other families. He was certainly no pro. He wasn't even sure he believed like these other Christians gathered in the living room. The whole event was foreign and unnerving to him. But he wasn't about to shrink from something as simple as speaking a few words. He didn't expect much, but figured he could say something by way of encouragement. Who knew? Maybe this God person might even answer.
And yet, once he actually opened his mouth to pray, he seemed to be transported somewhere else. He saw a frightened eighteen year old kid, staring down his demon in a crack pipe, hands shaking. Mitch had opened his mouth to call out to the young man to stop, but the voice didn't seem to be his. The next thing he remembered was Connie squeezing his hand very tight and weeping. It scared him though he'd never mentioned it to anyone. And he hadn't opened his mouth to pray since.
What angered him even more was this stranger who went by his wife's name. It was the same handwriting as that crumpled note in the destroyed Camry. Which one was the real Sonja?
"How could you do this to yourself? To us?? Isn't there Hell to pay for committing suicide? I thought you were supposed to be God's 'temple' or something like that. Did you hate Him too?"
Imaginations of his wife surrounded in a stereotypical backdrop of fire and pointy-eared devils brought on a new wave of anger and rage shooting up all the way from his legs.
"Dear God, please tell me she's not suffering like that now. Whatever she did, I still love her."
Mitch didn't even realize he'd just prayed again. It just flew out of him of its own volition. His ears were red and the burning type of tears were welling up again. He saw something ahead through the blur. Wiping his eyes hard he saw Sonja standing in front of him. The real, live Sonja. She was beaming and peaceful. A gentle smile mixed with bemused concern played warmly across her perfect face. She was clothed in - beauty - it was the only way to describe it. It completely took Mitch's breath away.
Instinctively, the man buried so long in profound loneliness reached for the vision. It seemed to be beyond his grasp yet as close as his arm's length. Mitch's heart was racing. He was starting to get dizzy. More than anything, he was now convinced he was beginning to lose his mind. But he was willing to risk it to have Sonja right there, in front of him.
Love conquered his anger and fear as he dared to speak to the vision just four feet away. "Sonja, I failed you. I didn't keep you safe. I didn't save you. Please forgive me."
The tears were flowing again, but for the first time, they were cleansing tears. Somehow he understood that she was 'saved.' A wave of forgiveness flowed over him. It weakened and thrilled him at the same time. He had no idea from where it came but he was powerless to refuse it. His soul spoke the first un-conflicted 'thank you' of his life. He struggled to say one thing more to the apparition still standing in front of him, afraid she would disappear again.
"I couldn't help you. I don't know how to make it right. What can I do now?"
The eyes of the perfection brightened with intensity and projected total seriousness at the same time. She pointed past his shoulder. He looked behind, following.
Mitch found himself falling as if he was tripping over his own feet. He reached for the gravestone he thought was behind him. Instead, his hand and the side of his face hit sharp cinders. At the same time, the sting of a rock splitting his temple open almost blacked him out.
The sound of traffic was roaring in his ears. He could see the sideways flashers of a vehicle close by. He sat up with a groan, startling a woman who was kneeling at the side of a minivan. She was changing the tire. By herself.
Mitch was slowly gathering his wits about himself. He seemed to be sitting on the shoulder of a major highway. The woman was approaching him, holding out the tire iron for protection. The lights of a passing car flashed across their faces. The woman with wide eyes could see blood trickling down the man's forehead. She dropped the weapon and kneeled quickly beside him. Without a second thought she gently touched his face.
In a flash, Mitch had another vision. There was no beauty in this one. He saw a tractor trailer plowing through the minivan, this woman's lifeless body being thrown to the side. His eyes flashed toward the oncoming traffic where he spied the headlights he had just seen in his vision. Without wasting a moment he grasped the woman around the shoulders and pulled her away from the road. She screamed.
Moments later the crunch of large tires plowing through loose gravel preceded the sickening screech of crushing metal and glass. What was left of the minivan went spinning down the embankment, just feet from where the two strangers had fallen. The smell of gas burned their lungs. A clattering piece of metal lit a spark that followed the ragged path of fuel leading to the wrecked vehicle.
Mitch heard the woman yell something about 'for the children.' He looked up to see the outline of a form still in the minivan, strapped into the middle seat. He was on his feet racing the flames. Twenty feet from the side door the whole mess exploded. Mitch was going too fast to stop. He flew right into the fireball.
In a pile of sweat and tangled sheets, Mitch Blackman crashed to the floor of his cabin bedroom. He was panting. A smell like burning plastic seemed to sear his nose. There was dirt on his hands and dried blood on the side of his face.
When he realized where he was, he sobbed. He didn't want to go crazy. He just wanted his life back. He had come to this familiar, safe place hoping to find the security that had evaporated when his wife died. Now it was turning into a uncontrollable nightmare. More things were evaporating now - like his sanity. He had no idea where the dirt and blood had come from and he feared for what he had done during the night.
He sat there for what seemed hours in a numb shock. With the first light of day finally coming from the kitchen window around the corner, Mitch pushed himself up to the bed. He struggled to the sink, scrubbing his face, neck and forearms frantically. He was shaking uncontrollably. After he finally calmed down he decided that he was going to have to check himself into a residential facility, and soon. He wasn't sure he could trust reality anymore. It was a two hour drive back to San Antonio. He didn't want to waste a minute. He reached for his keys.
They weren't there.
He searched the cabin for twenty minutes before giving up.
"You dolt. You probably just left them in the car," he scolded himself.
He started toward the front door remembering that there was a spare key under the bumper anyway. Keys or no keys he was going to get moving. He stepped outside and turned to where he'd parked the car.
It wasn't there.
Now the car's been stolen??
Mitch howled his frustration.
Back in the cabin he shakily fixed some coffee and calculated how far he'd have to walk. It was a couple hundred yards back to the mailbox. From there about two miles to the main road. He didn't know if he wanted to try each of the cabins. Only a few had phones and he couldn't remember which. He could spend the rest of the day trying that and still get nowhere.
A half hour later Mitch was dressed in walking shoes, long khaki shorts, a serviceable shirt, hat, sunglasses, holding a large water bottle. At the end of the driveway he spotted a fresh newspaper sitting next to the mailbox. He'd forgotten that he'd called in a subscription for the week. It was the only way he could get his news fix out here. He read the headline:
"Woman escapes fiery crash on highway."
The photo showed the mangled wreckage of a minivan. Mitch's world was spinning again.


cindy said...

on to chapter 3!

May 12, 2010 at 2:54 PM

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