Family Fiction posted December 10, 2012


Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
About a former drunk who seeks forgiveness.

Redemption Road Part II

by forestport12

It had been four years since the accident or manslaughter, depending on the point of view. I think the judge saw it as vehicular homicide, because I still remember the scowl on his face when he gave me the stiffest sentence allowed under law. After the penitentiary, I finished my parole in Watertown, New York, and was more than ready to experience true freedom. Standing in front of the parole officer, as if he had x-ray vision and him pretending to read my mind, was something I could live without.

I had one place in mind that I had to visit before I could start a new life. After that, I was determined to travel the countryside on a journey of self-discovery. Prepared to camp beneath the summer stars, I loaded my gear into a greyhound bus, bound for northern New York. The bus only took me as far as Malone, a small river town near the Canadian border. If I was going to get to my first destination, I'd have to walk the rest of it.

Stepping off the bus, I knew I had about twenty-miles to walk. Freedom was invigorating. I took deep breaths and marched with a purpose. I just had one thing left to do, so that I could free my heart and really live. I had to take that final step and ask the ones I hurt the most to forgive me. Like Nicole said, "If you don't free what's locked inside, you will never truly be free."

Beneath a deep blue sky and radiant sun, I walked with purpose. Then an elderly man pulled along the gravel of the road and waited for me to catch up. When I got to the passenger window, he said, "I spotted you at the bus depot. Figured you were headed for the mountains."

"Thanks, but I'm good for a walk."

He looked dejected. "You sure?"

I felt sorry for the old man, who looked like he could use someone to chat with. He reminded of a bald eagle with a white crop of hair on his head and a beak-like nose.

"On second thought, I could use a ride. I wanted to camp in the foothills, but I need to stop and pay my respects to someone who used to live this way on a farm. Not sure exactly how to describe the place, but I can tell you when we get close enough."

"Okay then, throw the pack in the back and hop in. Just give me fair warning when to slow down. No tuck and rolls allowed."

"Thanks."

"Name is Jimmy." He shook my hand and drove on.

"My name is Andy."

"Pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Jimmy surveyed the countryside with a broad smile. We passed healthy cornrows higher than man's shoulder. Then the mountains came into view, casting a shadow over the deep green valley.

"God's country. If life is an accident waiting to happen, then this valley is about the best mistake I'd ever witnessed."

"You don't believe in accidents?" My mind catapulted to the day on the road when I killed that farmer.

"Nope."

"Don't accidents happen all the time?"

"I suppose. Sometimes, I think it's like an accident on-purpose, to get our attention."

"What you said doesn't make sense. I'm sorry, sir, I'm not trying to be disrespectful, just honest."

"Well, he said as he gripped the wheel and stared ahead, his Adam's apple went for a ride up and down his throat as he spoke. "It's kind of like a test for an exam; we are free to make mistakes. We learn from those mistakes. We call them accidents, maybe? Maybe that's what we see with our natural eyes, only the mistakes. Like this valley here, if I were to look close enough, I'd find a broken twig, a scar on a tree, something to pick at. I can blind myself to how it all works together. Sometimes we need to step back and look at the majesty of it all."

I contemplated what I would say. Prison taught me how to be careful what you said. You don't just tell a rank stranger you served time in prison for ending someone's life. But I saw the mountains, the same ones I wasn't able to appreciate when I was drunk, and how they rose like jagged spears in the sky, like nature's monuments or holy cathedrals to be revered.

"I need to level with you," I said.

He gave me a suspicious eye and slowed down.

"I'm working my way through a twelve-step program. I had a bright future until I got behind the wheel of my vehicle drunk. I was a student at Potsdam University."

"Oh, I see." He nodded and then resumed an average speed down the road. "Say no more. You're on a journey bigger than those mountains can manage."

"I guess so."

"Trust me on this, when the time comes, step back and look at what it all means."

"Are you a pastor or something?"

He almost laughed, "No, no just a man who likes to hug mountains and tell stories."

"In my program I did the step about believing in a higher power than me. Still, I'm no different from most people who question why bad things happen to good people."

Jimmy sighed. "I suppose time in jail can make a man think, maybe even pray a little. You got yourself an unfinished story, I'd say."

"What's your story, Jimmy?" I really want to know what you think"

Tears glistened in his eyes. He got choked up. "I married young, her name was Penny. I had to marry her because a shotgun wedding was a reality back in my day."

Suddenly I forgot about the beautiful scenery around us, and I was absorbed with every word, every detail.

"She...she was the love of my life. I was all for marriage. She was seventeen and drove up an icy road during the winter. She lost her traction and suddenly started sliding backward until she careened into some trees. They said she died on impact cause her neck was broken. By some miracle, they were able to save the baby after they flew Penny to a hospital on a chopper. For years I lived in a prison of guilt. It took some time, nearly my whole life, but I've come to grips with it."

I turned away, trying desperately to hide my tears.

As Jimmy drove past familiar surroundings etched in my tragic past, he finished the story.

'I became the father of a healthy baby girl, named Hannah. I'm going to visit her in the next town. She's forty-two now, happily married with five kids. They call me Jimmy Pa. There's not a day goes by, I don't thank God my daughter lived. I could have been the loneliest man in the world."

"You never re-married?"

"Nope. I told God straight up, she was the one meant for me and there would never be another. I will die, never having made love to another woman."

Suddenly I saw the crop of trees where the hawk circled that fateful day, and a farmhouse on the horizon.

"This is it. STOP! Here!"

Jimmy screeched to a halt. He craned his neck, looked around. "Why there's nothing out here son, but that...that cross..."

I looked at Jimmy and then he knew, he knew it was where I needed to be. The cross was held together by two slats of wood and a nylon rope, leaning on the edge of a ditch near a cornrow.

"This is it. The place where a man's life ended and mine got put on hold."

Jimmy dabbed at the tears in his eyes with his knuckles. I dove into the backseat for my gear.

"Hope you find what you need here on this road. I have feeling this is your crossroad. Everybody has one. Take care, Andy."

I shook his hand with a firm handshake. "I'm glad I took that ride with you. I won't forget this, Jimmy."

He nodded and pulled away, leaving me on that desolate road, to linger near the cross, a memorial to the man I murdered. I swallowed a softball-sized lump in my throat and approached the weathered memorial.






Recognized


I meant for this to be two parts. But it has morphed into a much bigger short story. Let me know if you think his journey is a worthy read. I promise to stop on the third installment.
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