I wrote this a few months ago, but I like to put some distance between when I write something and when I share it. I feel it’s one of my stronger pieces. Enjoy.
He could not believe he was doing this all over again. Once again Ronny was gone and once again he, Steven, had to find her. He got off at exit 143 and pulled into the parking lot of a grime looking motel. He had found her here once before. He turned off the engine and looked at his watch. He had last seen her at around six the previous day. Thirteen hours wasn’t long enough to file a missing persons report, but it was plenty of time to steel Steven’s ATM card and find a dealer. The door to one of the rooms on the first floor had been left wide open. It was as good a place as any to start looking.
Steven looked down at Ronny on the floor; her unkempt long blond hair forming a crude frame around her ghostly white face; the needle still in her arm. She had done so much to prevent this from happening yet here she was, again. If Ronny were awake she would feel the sting of her cousin Steven’s eyes and the pure shame would cause her to make those promises all over again.
It wasn’t that Ronny didn’t mean it when she said those things. She wanted to stay clean, she wanted to get her life on track, she wanted be able to hold down a job and above all she wanted to be able to raise those two little girls she loved so much. She just never had a way to keep those promises she kept making. Once she actually managed to stay clean for 748 consecutive days. It was the best two years of her life. She had a job she didn’t hate, she got out of debt and her body even started to recover from the years of abuse it had taken. She made it eighteen days past her two-year mark, longer then she had dared to hope for. But then Howard showed up the same week that her best friend and sponsor Margaret died. It was more then she could handle. Since then the longest she had been able to stay clean was 146 days; 146 hard fought hellish days of torture and agony.
Steven was at a loss for ideas. They had done everything they could think of for Ronny. Steven and his wife were raising Ronny’s daughters in addition to their own three children. They had scraped together the money to send Ronny to rehab but nothing seemed to work. Once again Steven had had to go out and find her unconscious on the floor of some sleazy motel.
He had a thought that sprung up from the back of his mind; one that scared him to acknowledge but was tempting nonetheless. He could just leave. He could just walk off and go to work. Let someone else find her. The thought scared him for two reasons. The first reason was that it was such an awful thought. For all of Ronny’s faults she was his only living family member and she needed him. A year ago he never would have had this thought; he would have stayed and helped her for as long as it took. The second reason that this thought scared him so much was that it would be so easy. All he would have to do would be to walk out the door and not look back. No one would ever know and no one would ever doubt. She would die and everyone could start to move on. They could live their lives and start to be a little bit happy. And Ronny, this would be the way it ended for her eventually, it would just be sooner rather then later.
Ronny rolled out the dough on the flower coated cutting board and reached for the star shaped cookie cutter.
“Have you started working on step four yet?” Margret asked.
“Kind of, it’s a lot harder then I though it was going to be. And with all the work I’m getting piled on me for the holidays…”
“I know it’s a lot of work, but I also know that you can do it.” Margret cut her off in her kind sweet voice. “Making excuses won’t solve anything. Are you ready to speak tonight?”
“I think so,” Ronny said nervously “I’ve put a lot of thought into what I want to say. I’m going to talk about my reasons to stay clean.”
“And what are they?” Margret already knew the answer.
“Well Liz and Beth of course, and you and Steven and Patty and everything that my relapsing would put all of you through. Did you preheat the oven, Beth needs these this afternoon.”
Steven was sick of helping her; sick of the two A.M. phone calls from the police, sick of paying for her detox because she didn’t have health insurance, sick of her being gone for days at a time a worrying about where she was and if she would find a way back this time. This had been going on for over a year now. Why did he do it? Why did he put up with it? Is this what you do for family?
He thought back to those two girls he was raising. This wasn’t fair to them. They needed parents, real parents who are stable and dependable. Steven and Patty could provide that for them. Legally. Actually. They were the ones that could be looked to for support, for help, for guidance. Not Ronny, and certainly not Howard.
Steven saw two options before him; the right thing to do and the better thing to do. The right thing to do would be to call 9-1-1. Take her to the hospital. Pay for the detox. Start all over again. But the better thing to do, the thing that would improve all of their lives, would be to leave her here. Leave her to face the final conscience of her actions. Steven took out his cell phone with his left hand and fingered his car keys in his right hand. Out of everything he had done in his life this was by far the most difficult. Steven was a good man. Why was he being faced with this decision, this burden?
“Shit, shit shit shit shit shit. This is not good. I think Howard just pulled up, Steven Howard just pulled up. Steven do something.”
“Calm down I’m on my way, OK? I’m going to call the police just lock the door and pretend that you’re not at home. I’m going to call the police now so I need to hang up, but I’ll be there in five minutes, less, ok?”
“OK, just get here soon”
Ronny locked the front door and ducked behind the couch. Please god don’t let him see me. Let him not have seen me.
“I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE YOU BITCH!!!! LET ME INTO MY GOD DAMN HOUSE OR I WILL BREAK DOWN THE DOOR!”
He would to, she knew.
“I JUST WANT TO SEE MY GIRLS. I JUST WANT WHAT’S MINE BITCH.”
Howard kicked the door so had that Ronny felt the whole house shake.
The door swung open.
“I know you’re in here, come out now bitch, you can’t hide from me.”
Howard took a few steeps into the room and saw Ronny on the ground behind the couch. “WHERE ARE THEY? WHERE ARE MY GIRLS???”
He was wearing his studied cowboy boots. He walked slowly toward her.
Ronny didn’t remember anything else.
Steven walked over to the sink and looked at his reflection in the dusty mirror. What kind of person did he see? Was he a man who always did the right thing, or was he a man who made the difficult decisions that no one else could? He studied his square jaw line; his high set cheekbones, his deep brown eyes. The top of his head had lost its glory over the years and his face was covered in course unkempt brown hair.
He heard his father’s voice echoing in the back of his head. “Never leave a man behind” it said. His father had been in the military. In his father’s world view the only course of action was to do what other people told you to do, even if you disagreed or didn’t understand. Steven was not his father, thank God for that. But his father did have a valid point; Ronny was his family and family… but why did it feel like Ronny was destroying his family.
“It was a beautiful service.” Ronny said to Steven. She was trying to be comforting; it wasn’t her strong suit.
They were in the parking lot of the funeral home. If there weren’t so much sadness in the air it would have been a beautiful day.
“I suppose.” Steven replied. There was a small catch in his throat. “I spent most of my life hating him and now he’s gone.”
“The Major may not have been the best of fathers, but he was your father Steve. That’s the only thing that matters.” There was a small pause but it may as well have been a century. “Is Patty still around?” Ronny asked, she thought a new topic of conversation would be better for both of them.
“She had to leave for work. Hey Ronny, if Howard was to propose to you, how would you want him to do it?”
“I hardly think that Howard is the proposing type, why do you ask.”
“Just, if someone were to propose to you how would you want them to do it?”
“Are you planning on proposing to Patty? Oh My God Stevie, that’s wonderful!”
“Will you just answer the question Ron, please?”
“Do you have a ring?”
“Yes I have a ring, can you pleas – ”
“Can I see it?”
“I am not going to take out a diamond ring at my father’s funeral. Just tell me what I should do.”
“Ok, ok. How long have you had the ring?”
“Why does that matter?”
“Because it does.”
“I’ve been carrying it around for a few months now.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me!”
“Never mind, I have guests.”
“No no, wait. Do you want my help?” Ronny was being genuine, she wanted to help her cousin.
“Yes, I do.”
Veronica took a moment to think about how exactly Steven should go about doing this. “Be waiting outside the hospital when her shift ends, just stand by the car OK? And when she comes out just ask her not to say anything until you’re done. Start by telling her all about you father and how you never got along but you still loved each other and now that he’s gone you’ll never have the chance to fix that relationship. Then talk about living life fully and taking nothing for granite and not waiting for anything thing. Do you follow so far?”
“Do you know what you’re talking about?”
“Yes, just keep listening. OK?”
“Then tell her about how much you love her and all the reasons why you love her, girls hate it when you tell them that you love them but can’t tell them why. So tell her why you love her and that the thought of spending a moment of your life without her in it is just too much. And after that look deeply into her eyes, get down on one knee, take out the ring and pop the question.”
“And you think I should do this today?”
“Can you imagine spending another day of your life without her by your side?”
He paused, but they both knew the answer already.
“No. I can’t”
“Then you need to do this today.”
“That’s actually kind of beautiful Ron”
“No, really thank you. And not just for the advice, thank you. I never could have gotten through today without you.”
Steven looked at Ronny again. He knew what he should do, and he knew what he wanted to do. He just couldn’t decide which option to take.
He sat there for some time looking at the choices in front of him.
He ran his keys through his fingers. The cool jagged metal felt southing between his fingers.
His phone felt rough and hard and empty.
This was not a decision he should have to make.