What would you say, if I should let you speak?
April 10, 1999
Jim Frayne glanced at his watch and swore. While he zippered his briefcase he wondered if his girlfriend had purposely set him up. Peri found many of his obsessive-compulsive tendencies endearing, but not his fanatical punctuality. She frequently told him he should loosen up, relax, and learn to go with the flow. He failed to see how missing an appointment was a sign of good mental health.
He set his briefcase down in the entryway while he went around the apartment, running a last-minute check to make sure all the lights were off and nothing hazardous had been left on. Once he was assured the premises were secured, Jim stopped by the hall table to load his pockets with his keys, wallet, and cell phone. Just then there was a timid knock on the door. Frowning again at his watch, he realized that if he wasn’t in a cab inside four minutes he was going to be late for his meeting with his advisor.
When he flung open the door, he froze. For a moment the world seemed suspended in time. The abstract thought that Peri was usually right crossed his mind. There was a reason to be flexible. The sight before his eyes was enough to make him ready, willing and able to miss his meeting altogether, even if it cost him his degree.
Trixie Belden stood in the hallway.
She was chewing her lower lip in the nervous habit she’d had as long as he’d known her, rubbing her hands on her pants as if trying to dry off sweaty palms. She offered him a tight, half-smile and said simply, “Hi.”
Caught off guard, his brain having trouble processing her presence, Jim could do naught but step back. The silent offer to enter was accepted and they moved into the living room. As each moved to their separate corners, they seemed more like two wary combatants gauging the enemy’s weaknesses than two once-best friends.
Jim studied her. From what he’d been told by a number of people, she’d hit a serious low point in her life around Christmastime. Through counseling and support, she had been regrouping, reaching out and rebuilding friendships. Each step healed her a little more.
Was that why she was here? A part of him hoped so, and another hoped she wanted a final confrontation with all the fire and fury in which they had refused to indulge.
Still, he was shocked by the sight of her. For all the talk of her getting better, he had expected to see the bright, bouncy, healthy girl he had once known. Instead, he saw a pale, thin, quiet and reserved shell of a young woman.
No matter where they stood with each other, he couldn’t wish that on her. And she was the one who had come to him. He would hear her out, at least.
Trixie’s big blue eyes fastened on him. “There’s this huge chasm between us. I don’t know if it’s even possible to bridge it. But… I need to at least tell you a few things.”
She turned to the picture window overlooking the Chicago skyline, as if the words she had to speak were too difficult to say face-to-face. She began in a quiet, unsteady whisper.
“Some of the reasons why I got angry with you were valid. And some were stupid, and not your fault.”
As she spoke, her voice slowly gained strength. “I’m not going to apologize for getting angry with you over not coming to say goodbye to your mother. It’s not something you can change, and holding onto the anger doesn’t help either of us, but I can’t say that I was wrong to be upset at the time.
“However, many of the reasons I was angry weren’t about her; they were about me. I had put you up on this really high pedestal. You were the hero who could overcome any obstacle; my knight in shining armor who always rescued me. I thought you were perfect – the most wonderful boy in the world.
“You’re not perfect. You can’t overcome every obstacle. And when you couldn’t overcome your own fears and insecurities to deal with Maddie’s illness the way I thought you should, you shattered my illusions.”
Trixie turned to face him, trembling and fighting back tears, but determined to finish. “You turned out to be only human. And I had no right to get mad about that.”
He stared at her for a long time. Somewhere in his dreams, he’d imagined her falling on the ground, groveling for forgiveness for how terribly she had treated him. This almost-an-apology she offered didn’t come close to his fantasies. It was a hell of a lot more real – which was, perhaps, the reason it felt right.
“If life were a fairy tale, I’d have been Cinderella and you’d have been Prince Charming,” Jim said wryly. “When we met, you barged in, fixed things, and made everything better. And you were always, always there for me.
“This time it seemed like you weren’t there for me. It took me a long time to realize that helping Mom the way you did was your way of helping Honey and me. At the time, I felt like you cared more about Mom than me. I felt like you had taken her side and had abandoned me… and that hurt.”
His voice was raw with emotion, and it hurt to speak the words, but he had to go on. “Then you started nagging me about coming to see her. I knew I should do it, but I just couldn’t. Every time I even thought about it, I’d hyperventilate. And every single time I would think, ‘I could get through this if Trixie were here.’”
She grimaced, as if he’d flung a particularly stinging arrow. He moved one step closer to her and continued speaking. “Life’s not a fairy tale, and you’re just as human as I am. And even the heroes don’t always win. You couldn’t just waltz in and make everything better, because you couldn’t save her. Any more than I could save my real mom or she could save my real dad.”
Trixie closed her eyes, every muscle tightening as she fought off the recurring pain and nightmare that plagued her. In a strangled voice, she moaned, “I tried. Oh, God, I tried so hard. And I failed you.”
Suddenly there was a bridge, wide and strong and steady, across the chasm. Jim crossed the room in two steps and snatched her up in a fierce hug. “You didn’t! You didn’t fail. You gave her more love in one year than she’d known in her entire life. She died peacefully, and unafraid to tell the people she cared about how she felt. You made a huge difference in her life, and a bigger one in her death.
”And you’re still my hero, because you did what I didn’t have the strength to do.”
As Trixie stood in his arms, she could feel the pain and bitterness melting away from them both. A big wall had just disappeared from her fortress. For the first time she could see more than just a sliver of light.
She lowered her head onto his shoulder and rested in his embrace. They had a lot to talk about and a long way to go. But from right here she could finally see a future that held something other than darkness. She finally felt hope. And, as they had always been, the hope and light in her life were embodied in Jim Frayne.
|Posted for my 9th
Jixaversary. Thanks to my editors, Bonnie and WendyM. Photo
is one of mine from St. Kitts.
The title is from Titus Andronicus, Act IV, Scene II, line 192