A soft click signaled the release of the lock as Carl swiped his card through the reader. The metal handle felt cold as he pulled the door open. He used his foot to hold the heavy door open while he pushed his cart over the threshold. The sound of shouting caused him to pause.
Light piano music fused with nature sounds floated softly through the short hallway. The emergency fluorescent light reflected off the hardwood floor. Carl listened carefully and heard the ghost of an argument again.
The “Retreat” was broken into four wings that stretched out like the ends of a snowflake. This wing housed the executive offices and Carl had never seen a single soul in it. His heart beat quickened as he stood motionless in the near dark. As his heart slowed to normal he shook of his silly fear and continued forward. The wheels of his cleaning cart squeaked light protests as he edged closer to the muffled shouting.
Carl shuffled to the office at the furthest end of the hallway. The nameplate mounted next to the door read Michael Jenkins P.H.D. Executive Director. He knew that it was the largest office in the wing. If he remembered correctly from the pictures, Michael was a tall man with silver hair. He had a thin frame that he had passed on to two of his three children. Standing just outside the door, Carl could hear the argument more clearly now.
“That’s irrelevant! I am the Director and as such my signature is required before any release.”
The other man inside was not yelling, but his voice was no less firm.
“I understand that, but I think once you read…”
“These people are liars Jim! It’s what they do. They lie to themselves. They lie to their families. They lie to the public. You can’t trust the words of a liar when they say ‘I’m cured.’ That’s why we spend years learning how to get to the root of the issue and see through all those lies.”
“That’s right. I have spent years learning to do that. That is why I think you should trust my judgment. I know the signs. I know the lies. And I know when someone has changed.”
The sudden silence made Carl nervous. The thought of one of them leaving to find him standing outside reminded him that he still had a job to do. Using his security card, he opened up the office across the hall and propped the door with his cart. Carl started the light cleaning as he listened for the conversation to continue.
“Jim. You are a great doctor, but we protocol for a reason. You can’t just make decisions without someone to verify your conclusions!”
“It was a unique situation. But if you will just read the…”
“I don’t care about the letter! I care about the integrity of this facility and the people we are trying to help!”
“Stop! You can’t just throw that away! It belongs in his file!”
“You seem to have forgotten who is in charge around here Jim. You are the one who needs permission, but I can do whatever I want. You are just a doctor that is on suspension effective immediately.”
“Michael, I understand you are upset, but…”
“Get out Jim. I will see you in two weeks. You can come and explain it to the board. And try to convince them that you still belong here.”
Carl heard the door open and the high-pitched clap of dress shoes bang their way down the hallway. Some not so professional words could be heard fading into the distance. A few moments later the door closed with a thud and more footsteps clapped towards the exit.
The office Carl was in did not take long to finish cleaning and when he was done he eagerly made his way across the hall. A powerful mix of curiosity and fear filled him as the phrase ‘You can’t just throw that away’ echoed inside his mind.
Carl had always felt a little odd about working at the “Retreat”. He had never quite conquered his own demons. The only difference between them and him was that the people here had told someone about their struggles or had been caught.
Cleaning the same places night after night can become automatic and Carl found himself beginning his routine before he could think about checking for the letter. He let his body go through the motions it knew so well as his mind fought the battle over what to do when he got to the trashcan. Deep inside Carl already knew what he would do. The forces of desire inside of him had many victories over the will to do what was right.
Carl changed his routine and saved the small metal trashcan for last. As he stood over it, he noticed only one item inside. A single sheet of wadded up paper lay at the bottom. Carl reached in and held it in his hand for a moment. Whatever it said had been enough to grant a man his freedom. It was also enough to possibly cost a man his job.
He sat down in the leather chair behind the desk and flipped on the small light that sat next to a picture of Dr. Jenkins family. Carl uncrumpled the paper and used his hand to press out the wrinkles against the desk. What he read hit him like a hammer.
I know I am a coward for ending it this way, but I don’t know if I am strong enough to face you one last time. No, that’s not true. I know for sure I’m not strong enough. In fact that’s the whole reason for this letter.
You tricked me. Well, that’s not entirely true. There is power in the truth so I must be honest. I tricked myself. I made myself believe that I could control you, that I could use YOU. I modeled these chains to show how they would look on you. You just smiled and gently closed the lock. I never even heard a sound. I hate the fact that I have gotten used to the weight. I can’t remember what freedom feels like. Being with you has become second nature, but deep down I was saving every bit of strength for the fight that starts today.
You may think that this is just another one of those times when I proclaim my freedom, struggle for a day or two, and then give in, but this time is different. What I imagined as pleasure was really just a kiss of fear from your Judas lips. It has never been a question of whether I could live without you. You’re not that great. The question you held over me was if I could deal with life without you. Could I handle the tough things without your so-called “comfort”? This is the question that has gone too long unanswered.
You made one mistake. You got greedy. You stole everything from me so now I have nothing left to lose. You were not satisfied with my attention, my emotions, my protection. You dug deeper until you tainted my heart. You turned my life into merely existing. BUT I WANT TO LIVE! For the first time in my life I am more afraid of not living than of being without you.
I wish I could say that “I once was blind, but now I see”, but the truth of matter is that I could always see. I just didn’t like what I saw so I learned to look away. But I no longer have that luxury. I know I am broken and that more breaking is necessary before I can be fixed. The price of life is pain, but I am willing to pay it. In the end it is worth it.
I have so much more to say, but you have stolen too much of my time already. This is goodbye. It is not “see you later” because even if you did, you would not recognize me anymore.
With All I Am,
The Real Me
Carl stood and folded the letter several times. Sliding it gently into his pocket, he left his cart beside the desk and walked out of the office with a strength he had forgotten he had.
Copyright © 2012 Adam Drake