“Caroline, you promised!” Richard cried over the phone. “It’s New Year’s Eve after all. You are always wrapped up in your work. Can’t you just spare at least a few days for your family? ”
The hurt and pain in his voice tore at my heart and if I could, I would have flown to him in that moment but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
“Richard, you don’t understand. I have to be here. I have to do this. I love you and the girls, but my clients need me.”
“Even on New Year’s Eve?!”
“I have to set up all the paperwork for the sales and it takes a lot of time.”
“Well, if it is going to take so long, why not just delay it for at least a few hours?”
“Richard, please don’t make this any harder for me. You know I would come if I could, but I can’t. Please I am un-”
“What I know,” he said cutting in, “is that you never have time for your family. You never care about anyone or anything but yourself and probably your job. I know not to have faith in any of your promises. I know you hurt all who have the misfortune of loving you. I know you are selfish and unbending, unable to love fully. You know what? Just forget about it. The girls and I are fine without you. You never cared either way. Bye.”
“Richard! That’s not what I–”
Before I could finish, he hung up. Exhausted, I fell into my chair with a sigh.
“He’s always making things so hard for me!”
Looking at the papers scattered across my desk, I realized that I had no energy left to do any more work.
Some days when I bothered to think, I wondered why I kept doing this to myself. I pushed everyone I loved away. At first, thought it was for the best. I couldn’t afford distractions. I had to get it right. I had to succeed. I had to make money. I could never suffer the shame of poverty again. But now, I don’t know anymore. Years ago, it was my academics now, it’s my job. I pour all of me into it. I have cars. I have a nice penthouse and a holiday house by the ocean but it’s not enough. Nothing’s ever been. With each success, I just want more. I search and search but I don’t even know what I am searching for anymore.
Sighing again, I stood, picking my way through the mess that was my office. I headed listlessly towards the kitchen to grab something to eat. As if everything the world had conspired against me, I found nothing in the fridge except a miserable block of cheese. There wasn’t even bread!
Tired, I slid down to the floor. Drawing my legs to my chest, I rested my head on my knee. I don’t know how or when the tears started flowing but suddenly, I was sobbing. I was sobbing so hard, my body shook with the effort. In that moment, I let it all pour out, all my pent up emotions- the hurt, desperation to be seen, the tiredness, the loneliness, the frustration. I let the memories flow.
For the first time in years, I allowed myself to remember my childhood. I allowed myself to remember the hunger and cold. I remembered the kicks and slaps of bullies. I remembered my father’s drunkenness and my mother’s feebleness. I remembered having to steal just to survive. I recalled the daydreams of food and a warm bed. I remembered the taunts of other children and the hurt of my parents’ rejection. I remembered my fight against invisibility. I remembered my struggle to achieve academic excellence, my struggle to impress.
In a way, I succeeded. I graduated from Harvard Business School with honors. At twenty four, I was a top accountant at Berkshire Hathaway. I was married with two beautiful girls but it still wasn’t enough. That desire to impress that once propelled me was now destroying me. I kept working, searching for some ultimate satisfaction and in the process, pushing everyone away.
By now, I had stopped crying. I had no more tears. I was exhausted. Stretching out my legs, I let my arms fall to my side. Without realizing it, I had been staring at a framed quote by St. Augustine. It read:
“You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there I searched for you. In my unloveliness, I plunged into the lovely things you created.”
In that moment the realization hit me. Moving with the speed of lightning, I ran to my laptop. I searched frantically for a flight leaving for Maryland that night. In the span of five seconds, my greatest goal was suddenly to spend New Year’s Eve with my family. I had two hours and I was going to get to them no matter what.
However, New York wasn’t simplifying things for me. No single airline had a free seat! On any other day, I would have waited and taken a morning flight but not that day. Acting against reason, I still went to the airport hoping with all of me that someone would cancel a reservation or some other sort of miracle would happen.
To my dismay, I found that providence had once again refused to smile on me. No one had cancelled a reservation and no sort of miracle seemed in a hurry to occur. For the second time that night, I broke down into tears. I must have cried for a full ten minutes when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw one of the ladies from the counter behind me.
“Ma’am,” she said sympathetically, “it seems we have one free seat left. Someone just cancelled a reservation. Hurry, your flight is due for departure in five minutes.”
Never had words sounded so sweet. I was so happy that I wasn’t even processing what was happening around me anymore. All I remember was that by 11:40, I was in Maryland and on my way home.
In all my life, I have never experienced a drive as nerve-wracking as the last part of my trip home that night. I was ball of nerves. I kept shaking the passenger seat as if my nervous energy would make the car move any faster.
Finally, after fifteen minutes of misery, the taxi pulled up at my house. I hardly waited for the car to stop before I flew out and tore up the stairs to the front door all the while screaming Richard’s name. The moment he opened the door, I flew into his arms. Dazedly, he tapped me awkwardly on the back. I didn’t care. I was in his arms, I was home and it was 11:59. That was enough for me.