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April 1, 1989
Clara walked out of the rehab facility and into the waiting taxi. She sat there uncomfortably while the driver waited for her home address so he could drop her off. Clara could barely remember her own name and had to look at the discharge papers in her hand to get her address. Once the driver had the address, he gave Clara a reassuring smile, started the meter and began driving away from the facility where he himself had once spent a month of his life.
Clara had taken nearly a month and a half to complete a thirty day inpatient alcohol rehab program. She had spent the better part of the first three days sicker than she had ever been in her life. The withdrawal symptoms had done that to her. Remembering the pain her body had been in during those days should have been enough to keep her from drinking again, but it wasn’t. The first chance she got Clara walked out of the facility and walked into the first bar she found. Less than twenty four hours later Pat had collected her long time neighbor and returned her to rehab. Under threat of jail, Clara once again walked into the building she had left and began another agonizing alcohol withdrawal.
Now, Clara sat in the back of a taxi staring out at a city she could not remember. Clara had spent less than two months in rehab, but there were literally years of her life that she could not remember and the years she could recall were so painful to remember that she wished they could also be wiped from her memory.
The taxi stopped in front of a worn down house in an even more worn down neighborhood. Clara looked at a for rent sign sitting in the front yard of what she thought was her home and wondered where she would go if she could no longer stay in that house.
The driver of the taxi watched her through the rearview mirror and patiently gave her time to get her courage up and exit the cab. When it appeared that Clara was never going to open the car door and take the first step toward getting her life together the driver spoke for the first time since asking where she wanted to be dropped off. “You know, that facility you were in, they saved my life a couple of years ago. I had hit rock bottom, gotten into trouble with the cops, lost my family and had no where to go. One day, for reasons I can’t explain to you, I walked into that place and they took me in with open arms. I’ve been sober for two years, four months and 17 days. Everyday is a struggle, but it’s a battle worth fighting.” Clara looked at him with tears in her eyes. “Here, take my number. My name is Mortimer and you can call me any time. Maybe we can go to a meeting together sometime.” Mortimer scribbled his name and number down then ripped the paper from a notepad and handed it over the car seat to Clara. She took the paper without saying a word and tried to pay the fare, but Mortimer waved her money away. “No thanks, I always cover the fare for riders I pick up at rehab. It’s just my little way of trying to help someone else get a new start on their life.”
Clara nodded her head and tried to smile as she kept her money and got out of the taxi.
Pat had been watching the taxi from her front window and walked out onto her small front porch carrying the baby as it drove away. “Welcome home, Clara.” She called out.
Clara shrugged as she looked from the for rent sign in her yard to Pat. “It doesn’t look like I have a home any longer.”
Pat took a step to the side and opened her front door. “Well, I guess you better bring your things in here then. We can’t have you sleeping on the street.”
Clara walked slowly across the yard and stopped when she reached the bottom of the stairs looking uncertain and afraid. “I…I don’t know…”
Pat interrupted her, “Just get inside. We’ll work out the particulars later.”
Clara gave Pat a small smile that was both timid and relieved. She walked up the stairs across the porch and into her neighbors house. Clara stopped inside the door and looked around. She knew that she had been here before but she had been so drunk for so long that everything looked new. The fading wallpaper, the sagging couch, the worn out carpet, the outdated drapes and broken uneven blinds all looked perfect to Clara and she felt out of place.
Pat walked by her and placed the baby in a playpen that looked like it had seen better days with a pink stuffed animal. “Have a seat and I’ll catch you up on what’s been happening around here.” Pat kept talking as she walked into the kitchen, “I just made some lemonade and I’ve got a package of Oreos. I’ll get us some so we can snack as we talk.”
Clara looked around the room and let her eyes settle on the baby that seemed to be watching her like she knew a secret. “Have you heard from Lily? I haven’t heard from my Lily in so long.”
Pat rushed back into the room carrying a tray filled with two glasses of lemonade, a saucer and an opened package of Oreos. “No. No one has seen or heard from Lily.” She put the tray on the coffee table sat in the middle of the couch and gestured toward a chair. “Sit down. I know you’re feeling overwhelmed. I’ll fill you in on what I know, but it isn‘t much.” Clara dropped herself into a chair across from where Pat was sitting, accepted the glass of lemonade that was held out for her and watched as Pat dumped Oreos onto the saucer. “Is there anything in particular you want to know or do you just want me to start talking about everything that’s happened since you’ve been gone?” Pat popped an entire Oreo into her mouth and washed it down by drinking half her glass of lemonade in one gulp.
Clara used her glass to motion toward the playpen, “That baby, is it really Lily’s.”
“Yes. This is Harmony and she’s your granddaughter. No one really knows who or where the father is. Lily never told anyone for sure and she left that space on the birth certificate empty.”
Clara tried to fight the tears that were building up inside her. “How did I not know? How could she have a baby?” Clara gave in to the tears and her body shook as she repeated herself. “How did I not know?”
Pat placed her now empty lemonade glass on the coffee table, wiped cookie crumbs from her face and rubbed her hands together. “It ain’t gonna do you no good to cry about things now. Tears can’t change what’s already been done. Your baby had a baby and now she’s gone. You missed it just like you’ve missed everything else that’s gone on around here for years cause you were drunk. You‘ve always been drunk but you‘re not now and that‘s what we‘ve got to worry about.” Pat leaned forward as if she wanted to make a point. “We’ve got to keep you sober so that you can take care of that sweet grandbaby of yours.”
Clara sat stunned for a moment then looked from Pat to the baby and back at Pat again. “I don’t even know that baby. What if she’s not really Lily’s?”
Pat stood and covered the short distance between the couch and playpen in two steps. She swooped down and lovingly picked up the baby. After whispering some soft words into the baby’s ear she turned and placed her into Clara’s unwilling hands. “Look at her eyes. Look at that baby’s beautiful eyes and then tell me she’s not Lily’s child.”
Clara propped the baby on her lap and started sobbing as she looked into the child’s wide, innocent and beautifully green eyes. “I didn’t know. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
Pat watched and waited for the tears to subside. “Well, you know now.” She returned to her seat on the couch and picked up another Oreo. “We can’t change the past, but we can make sure the future turns out differently. You have to take care of that baby and you have to stay sober to do that.” Pat put the Oreo in her mouth and chewed loudly.
Clara was still holding the baby at a distance but she never took her eyes off of the infants face. “I don’t even know how I’m going to live. I can’t take care of a baby.”
Pat dropped the cookie that she had been about to eat back onto the saucer and raised her voice as she pointed at Clara. “That’s why you’ll stay here with me. I’ll help with the baby while you work on staying sober and find a job. You’ve got no where else to go anyway and that baby needs you. You were so far behind on your rent that the landlord changed the locks as soon as he heard you were in rehab. He let me get most of your personal things out and they’re out back in my shed. You’ll have to share a room with Harmony there, but I figure that will give you girls time to bond.”
“Why would you do that for me?”
“Oh, I’m not doing it for you. I figure you brought all the misery you’ve suffered on yourself, but that baby there she don’t deserve none of it. Keeping you here lets me keep my eye on you while making sure my precious Harmony girl is safe. You take one drink, and I mean just one drink, and you’re out of here. I will call the police and child services and you will lose this child just like you lost your daughter.”
Clara nodded her understanding and went back to staring at the baby she uncomfortably held in her hands.
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