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Friday, October 21, 2011

The Story of me, part 11

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December 24, 1989

More than four months had passed since Harmony’s first birthday and the AA meeting Clara had attended with Mortimer. Clara had sat silently as Mortimer stood up and introduced himself. He talked about his son that had died from cancer. He told of his struggles with alcohol, the DUI that came after he drove his car into one of the local canals, the day his wife had moved out and filed for divorce, the morning he had woken up in downtown Miami wearing nothing but his underwear and one sock. He told of his fight to stay sober and how he tried to help others by offering free taxi rides to and from rehab. He talked about his friend Clara and how she had invited him to a birthday party for her granddaughter. He said that he respected her strength and prayed for her everyday.

Clara sat there listening and felt the strangest movement inside her chest. It was almost as if her heart was waking up after sleeping for way too long. Tears slowly rolled down her face as Mortimer took a seat and she stood to share her story for the first time.

The room fell into complete silence as Clara told of her Harvey and his murder. Her daughter, Lily and how she had left ten months earlier. Then Clara talked of the shame that came from being so drunk for so long that she had completely missed her own daughter’s pregnancy and the birth of her granddaughter. She talked about Harmony and how much she wanted to love the baby, but how she felt removed from her. As if she were watching from a distance even when she held the baby girl in her arms. She talked of Pat and how the woman had scared her and threatened her with jail if she didn’t get sober. She talked about Mortimer and how they had met when he had given her one of those free rides home from rehab.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when Clara finished her story and walked out quietly. Mortimer had followed her out and caught up with her in the hallway. Clara threw herself into his arms and cried uncontrollably. He slowly eased the sobbing woman to the floor and sat there holding her until she cried herself to sleep.

That day changed everything for Clara. It was as if she had finally woken up from the nightmare that had been her life. Instead of just going through the motions, she started living. She laughed and played with Harmony. She got her hair fixed and bought new clothes. She listened to the radio and sang along. She spoke to the people she passed on the street instead of lowering her head and trying to go unnoticed.

That day was also the day Clara fell in love with Mortimer. She was still newly sober and forming a new relationship was discouraged this early in sobriety, but Clara couldn’t stop herself once she fell for him. Over the last four months, the two had become virtually inseparable.

Now it was Christmas Eve and Clara was listening to Christmas carols as she wrapped the last of the presents she bought for Harmony, Pat and Mortimer. Pat had taken Harmony out to see Santa Claus and the Christmas lights so that Clara and Mortimer could share dinner alone at the house.

Clara heard footsteps coming up the front steps and ran to open the door before Mortimer could even knock. She was surprised to see two uniformed police officers standing on her porch.

“May I help you?” Clara asked timidly.

“We’re looking for Clara Van Ingen.”

Clara tightened the grip she had on the door and leaned into it for support. “I’m Clara. What can I do for you?”

Both officers removed their hats as the older of the two spoke. “Ma’am, I’m Officer Anniston and this Officer Chase. May we step inside and speak to you for a minute?”

“No, I’m expecting company so I don’t have much time. Please, just tell me how I can help you.” Clara said sounding much stronger than she felt.

The two officers exchanged an uncomfortable look. “I’m sorry, but I think it would be better we could come inside and sit down…”

“What do you want from me?” Clara raised her voice in fear and anger as she cut them off.

There was another uncomfortable look between the two officers and a shuffling of weight as the older officer formed the words he needed to say inside his head. “Ms. Van Ingen, do you know a Mortimer Gomez?”

“Yes. I’m expecting him for dinner any minute now.”

“I’m sorry to tell you that Mr. Gomez has been killed. His cab was found out in the everglades. You were listed as his contact person. Ms. Van Ingen, we’ll be happy to come inside and stay with you until you can call someone to come over.”

“No. I don’t want you to come in. Just tell me what happened to Mortimer.”

“We’re still looking into it, but it looks like he was robbed. He probably picked up the wrong customer. Ma’am, can we call someone for you?”

“No.” Clara closed the door on the two officers and walked slowly back to her bedroom. She crawled into bed and under the covers without getting undressed.

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