A man with a city unto himself, walking at first, turning into a jog, beside the calm waters of the river, smiling as the pain kept him from his thoughts.
Stopped for a moment. The cold removing the feeling in his fingers and the feeling in his chest and the thoughts in his mind. Footsteps following behind.
Cars rumbled across. Lights of the city flickered. The city moving toward night and Adam clenching his hand and gripping nothing and gripping fleeting seconds. How different it felt to be alone now that he was gone.
Gone. The brother who had stood next to him at the graduations ceremonies, celebrated his promotions, and stood next to him at the aisle, first to answer the phone with the news of his child, first to ask him to come home when Dad got sick.
The footsteps gaining closer. The sound of angry heels striking the earth behind him, tear filled eyes rushing into the cold.
Ran away from the times Adam felt like he had failed his brother. Could he have done more? Well you could have always done more and that’s what led us to this point and you ignored the warning signs because you had to take a call or you had to go on a trip and if you had just been there perhaps things could have turned out differently.
The walkway across the river leading to statues of angels. But Charles wouldn’t be among them. Couldn’t be among them. Yes even though I could have done more as a brother, doesn’t Charles deserve some responsibility. Deserve some blame. He’s the one that made those decisions and not me so why am I the one that feels guilty?
If Charles was with God, well that question has been answered already. Did Charles do enough? The times he watched over your daughter when you told your wife you were gone but you were in an old hotel not a mile from your away house. Those times. Did you even deserve that brother? What about all those times he took Dad to the hospital?
But that was too much for Charles. Seeing Dad die. Yes, Charles did enough, regardless of the way he went out.
Lungs burning. His mind not in the present moment. And no matter how you wish there are no do-overs. The thoughts bringing Adam to his knees. He stopped and knelt and wept beneath the statues of angels. No, Adam, there are no-do overs.
Jumped in. Feeling himself sink. The water filling his mouth. But no, he wouldn’t end like this. Just wanted to know what it felt like. To be on that side of desperation. In the cold and in the dark and alone, drowning.
Is this what Charles felt?
Fighting the urge to come out of the water. Hands and fingers growing numb. His body cold, his mind, and his thoughts like a heavy stone, bringing him closer to the darkness of which no one leaves. And apart of him embracing the cold, embracing the invisible status adopted in the lake. For beneath the lake he could hide. And there would be no judgement and in the cold there would be no pain. Looking up to the surface.
A willful prisoner to the cold and to the darkness. Sinking further. The cold like chains around his hands and chains around ankles. Bounded himself in the shivery dark water.
Stopped moving. Not feeling the cold anymore. Thoughts slowing, pausing. Remembering Charles as he had pulled him out of a lake when they were kids. And Charles was much bigger to him back then, pulling him out with ease, wiping him off with a towel, not telling Mom and Dad what had happened.
Raised his hand again. Willing an open hand, but feeling himself fall. The water taking him somewhere else and burying his cold body, but his hands still outstretched. But this time there would be no one to save him.
And who had chased him into the water. I guess that wouldn’t matter now. An investigation perhaps, but what does that matter to my family. If I am gone, then I am gone. And if life there are no do-overs.
His hand fishing for something. Shaking his legs but knowing his legs aren’t moving. And if he screamed the water would fill in his mouth. How long had he been underneath he would never know. How long before hypothermia sets in. Perhaps someone would see his clothes. Think he was in the water. Knowing that thought would only torture to him. There is no exit. This ends only one way.
Closing his eyes. Remembering what his brother had whispered in his ear. His mouth now repeated that whisper. And he felt a hand clench his. And how this could be possible. For he imagined the angels coming down to save. But the hand felt familiar, but the burdens had sunken him like a stone down so far, how someone could have rescued him he didn’t know.
Getting out of the water. Putting his clothes back. Heading back on the walkway. Beneath the angels. Stood there. Exposed to the cold. Beneath the gaze of angels. This is who I am, he thought. Broken. There is not much that matters now.
On the train the next day. And at home his wife and kids. Feeling perhaps guilty about enjoying them because Adam was here in this world and Charles was not.
Getting out of the train station and deciding not to go home. Drove instead to a place that he knew Charles would go if he were still here. A place that Adam wished he had went more before Charles had been murdered. And Charles had always tried to talk to him about it, but it had never gone anywhere. Life had gotten in the way and Adam had left it happen and he had pushed Charles away.
Opening the wide and transparent doors. The door looking heavy but feeling light. Dark at first, as all churches were, and if you looked down you couldn’t see your feet. But ahead, the tabernacle and the cross and the lights.
Sat in the last pew. Staring at the cross. Looking at the crucified hand and thinking of Charles’s hand. And yes, we are all broken, Adam thought. And Adam knelt. We are all broken, indeed, And Charles felt the calm waters of the lake. The arms of Jesus outstretched, like an invitation.