Here is 16th Contest entry #6:
Sometimes You Can
By: carol biunno
"Sometimes you can't go home again."
"You can always go home, Tom."
"No! Not when they've torn everything down and made a paved parking lot of every inch that was home. Amy, you can't then."
"You can always go home, (pause) in your heart. It's always there; just have to close your eyes and remember. But when you start to remember, remember everything. Before you know it, there you are sitting on the stoop of your old brownstone. Jersey City, right in the middle of the '60's, when everything was changing."
I didn't know why, but I knew everything about him; right from the moment my eyes looked into his. It was as though we were old friends, but before we actually met, before that moment, our paths had never crossed; at least not in this lifetime. I felt every joy and all of his sadness and we hadn't spoken one word. It was uncanny, but I loved him from that very second. I knew I had to take him home, but would he let me?
It was only a few weeks since we had met that warm colorful day in September. Now, the leaves were barely on the trees and the cold biting days of January were making themselves known. We were friends and we started to share our inner most secrets with each other. There was a natural comfort when we were together. I was so in love with him, but I knew I couldn't tell him yet. There was all this fear, which he carried with him. Only going home would help him understand it.
"Take me to where you lived, please."
"Why do you want to go there? I told you, it's just a parking lot."
"But I want to go; see where you grew up. Or I'll go by myself and try to find it."
"You'll never find it, you're crazy! Ah, I'll take you."
We drove from Denville, down Rt. 46 to Jersey City, along the way we passed a big sign that read: WATER SUPPLIED BY JERSY CITY WATER COMPANY.
"Well at least you have the same water you grew up with."
"Funny, your funny. I can't believe we are driving to Jersey City on this cold day to see a parking lot! I just hope the car doesn't get stolen and we can get back to Hooterville."
"Why do you call where you live Hooterville?"
"Because it's away from everything, no decent public transportation, miles away from the city. There's nothing there."
"Then why did you move there?"
"Well, I couldn't afford to move where I wanted and this was close to where my family is."
"Hooterville, huh? I see we watched the same stuff on TV growing up!"
Now that I had convinced him to take me to where it once was home, I wondered if I could get him to remember. The wind had picked up and as we drove over the bridge, it was gusting and howling. Midday and the sky was gray and growing darker. Tom weaved his way through the streets without a thought and he pulled into a half block long paved lot. It was close to the water's edge, maybe a block or so, it was hard to judge with all the open space. The back of the old, big black Colgate clock butted the waterfront, not a building to block its view. It hung high on a steel billboard, still keeping time and facing New York City.
"Well, this is it. As close as I can be to where the house once was."
It started to drizzle, but I opened the door and stepped out.
"Where are you going? It raining!"
"Tom, you know I love walking in the rain, come out please."
With a heart full of reluctance he opened his door and got out. Looking up into the dismal sky, he shook his head as the droplets of rain showered his face.
"This is crazy, we'll be soaked."
I walked over to him and took his hand, "Show me the neighborhood, take me on a tour, go back and remember, share it with me.
He looked at me first with a hint of anger and then it was as though the rows of houses appeared in his eye's mind; as if they still were there, we walked along the sidewalk and he showed me the neighborhood.
"Here is my house, we lived up on the second floor, it wasn't always this dull colored brown, the years of soot and acid rain eroded the tawny color it had when I was growing up. We would always meet here on the stoop, when the kids were ready for a game of street hockey"
"Did you wear skates?"
"No", he laughed, "just black high top Keds. We played for hours. Those two stoops over there were the penalty boxes."
"Where was your father's store?"
"Down this way, about two blocks."
We walked hand in hand in the drizzle and as we passed familiar spots he told e all about them.
"This is where my aunt and uncle lived, my mom would call them to watch for me, I don't know if they thought I would wander somewhere or were concerned for my safety. She would open the window and shout down to me, Tommy go straight to the store."
"Were you a dawdler?"
"Sometimes, I really didn't want to peel all those potatoes and make them into French fries. My father would watch me like a hawk, yelling don't waste any potato parts."
We stopped in front of where the store was.
"Look inside what do you see?"
"A store full of cigarette smoke, the city workers sitting at the counter, sipping their coffee and stretching their coffee break. My father and mother working like dogs to serve and cook for the men and stock the shelves before the long sixteen-hour day were done. He mumbled about how the city let them get away with all their laziness. He never rested, never took one day of vacation. He was two weeks from retiring, when he dropped to the floor with a heart attack at fifty-eight. He lasted eight days and amassed a forty thousand dollar medical bill before he died. He had no insurance, so my sister and I paid it over a three year period."
Besides the rain on his face, droplets of tears rolled from his eyes and fell faster off his face then the rain.
"He worked his ass off so I could go to the prep school and St Peter's College and the hopefully to medical school, but I didn't make the cut. I think he was disappointed."
"He would be proud to know where you are now today, respiratory care manager for the most prestigious spinal rehab center in the east!"
"Most prestigious, but most backward. They're using antiquated methods of delivering oxygen and refuse to listen to the department mangers suggestion to make health care delivery less taxing to the nurses and therapists. It's all dollar driven, they don't care."
I knew exactly what he meant and for precisely the same reasons I left nursing years ago, tired of corner cutting and short changing the patient. I knew if he continued to stay in his profession it would kill him not only mentally but physically. He was driven like his father and was not only working as a full time respiratory care manager but as an associate professor, teaching respiratory therapy. He had holed himself up, never allowing himself time for a relationship. I fell in love with him and I was losing him. Inside he was dying, he had a heart attack at age thirty-one which he miraculously survived and just two month ago had double bypass surgery. I watched him the day before his surgery curl into the little boy that was deep inside, certain he was going to die on the table. I held him as he rocked and cried in my arms and we became close trusting friends. Sharing his fears with me we grew to a special closeness of which I cherished.
I touched his face and then wiped away some of the rain that had soaked his neck and collar.
"Tom, if you could be anything, if money didn't matter, what would you be?"
He looked puzzled, "No one ever asked me that before, what would I want to be." He thought and then said, "I want to teach British History to high school kids, I always loved that subject and immerse myself in it with the little free time I have here and there. I always wanted to go the England and tour the UK."
"You know I looked up your name and found out that back in the 1700's there was a Thomas Butler who was the 10th Earl of Ormonde.?"
He smiled with a tinge of excitement, "Really!"
We walked back to the car in silence. I knew I had to tell him here that I had fallen in love with him. Just as he started to open the door for me, he turned me around and kissed me. It was a tender loving kiss, yet strong and determined.
"I love you Tom Butler, I fell in love with you months ago and I wanted to take you home to tell you of my love."
He held me close for a very long time and then we got back in the car for the long drive back. When we arrived in Denville, I had to return home. "Call me, come see me."
He nodded his head positively and I started my journey back home. That was January 5, 2000. It has been nearly a year since then, I have tried to reach him but he does not return my calls. His silence is deafening. The trip back home to Jersey City did have one positive effect. He stopped the bowing down to operators of the health care facility and is teachingBritish History. I knew I might lose him with my sincerity and truth. I pray one day his silence will end, but at least part of him is doing what he desired to do.