Read Christy: A Journey Tale Online

Authors: Michael Thomas Cunningham

Tags: #love, #loss, #friendship, #life, #death, #journey, #redemption, #meaning, #purpose, #waffle house

Christy: A Journey Tale

BOOK: Christy: A Journey Tale
Christy: A Journey Tale


Michael Thomas Cunningham


Published by Howeling Dog Press at


Copyright 2009 Michael Thomas Cunningham


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Chapter 1


“There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.”


─ William Shakespeare


The sodden ground and fallen leaves squished
beneath her feet as she passed the moss covered head stones. She
shivered and stiffened her arms, pressing the Salvation Army jacket
around her body as she braced against the wind. The dank mist of
mid morning seemed to take her breath away, as she countered the
effect with a long draw from a menthol Tahoe. She grimaced at the
taste, but she liked the warm feeling it gave her deep inside. She
held the smoke in her lungs for a long moment and then released the
drag slowly as it mixed with the steam of her breath and she
watched it briefly as the white plume rode the breeze. She took the
half finished cigarette from her mouth and rolled it around in her
fingers looking at it with disappointment. There wasn’t very much
of the paper left dry and she flicked it to the side in

“How long had it been?” she mused. “Eight
years, ten years,” she tried to calculate back through all the
memories that seemed to melt together into one big pot of things
she would rather forget. The distance between now and their last
encounter was if it had been in another lifetime. The regrets and
mistakes and foolishness of her life made her feel even older than
the premature age the rough living had made her. The moisture was
heavy in her long stringy hair and she ran her hands through it to
get some of it out.

She stopped to take a break by an oak tree
that looked like it had been there longer than the rows of small
marble stones across from it. They were all blank, but she noticed
a few still had miniature confederate flags stuck in the ground in
front of them. The red was all but faded and their far edge was
torn and tattered. History is as kind as the elements and the
thought of their futile efforts brought her own experiences into
perspective. It had all been welling up in her far longer than
before she had found out he had died. The paper had said it was
heart disease. It was a shock especially since she had tried to
forget all about him. That was her way of dealing with it. At least
that was the subconscious lie she tried to convince herself, but
when she had the obituary staring her in the face there was no
denying it. It was easier of course when she was younger. Things
are always easier when you’re young but now at 35 her whole
situation just seemed ridiculous. She couldn’t keep herself from
crying. Her chest heaved as she sobbed, trying to regain control of
her body. She cursed herself and wiped her face with the cuff of
her jacket. She breathed in exaggerated breaths in an attempt to
compose herself. She wiped her face again and looked around to see
if anyone had seen her. Her outburst had been brief, but it was
still embarrassing. Not that she cared what other people might
think. She didn’t like anything that made her feel weak and she
didn’t like anyone having control over her even if that someone was

She took another deep breath and thought that
it must be just over the next rise. She had taken the long way
around for her own reasons, and she had even thought about skipping
this part. Then again the curiosity of it kept her moving forward
when what she really wanted to do was go back and have a decent
smoke in peace. She looked up ahead and imagined them gathering
now. Just over the rise they would all be there. She wanted to see
them and wish them well even if it was only going to be from a
distance. She had heard Jack talk about them often and she could
remember the stories with even more clarity now. She looked down at
her feet. She couldn’t keep herself from focusing on the last time
she and Jack had spoken. She sighed, unable to banish the thought
from her mind, and pulled another smoke from the pack and tried to
light it with her hands cupped around her mouth. She savored this
one and smiled as she exhaled. She could never bring herself to
contact him again, but that didn’t mean she could keep herself from
following his life. He was well known and well liked and the
funeral was one of the largest the funeral home had seen in a long
time, but the interment was going to be a much more intimate
affair. She was proud of his success and a man as decent as he
deserved a good life and good fortune. It had been 20 years since
they had met and it was only because he had a weakness for

He was gone now and that thought stuck in her
mind like sand in an oyster. She looked down at the Wal-Mart
special on her wrist and then plunged it down to her side in
frustration. She still had several minutes to kill and she turned
around to put her back against the tree. She wiped her eyes again
with the sleeve of her jacket and did her best to will away the
pain, but it was not to be. She struggled like she had for so many
years. Now she struggled to define herself by her own will, but
will itself is a fast burning fire. She finally let her shoulders
slump and her body lost the tension that she had desperately clung
to. The tears, the emotions, the pain all flowed out of her as she
at last let herself begin to feel. She didn’t care anymore. She had
denied for so long that the times she had spent with Jack were the
best she’d ever had, and now there would never be a chance for them
to reconcile. There would never be another chance for her to say
I’m sorry. The finality of the moment hit her like a 12 gauge. In
her eyes he had been a saint, a true saint, miracles and all. He
helped her when she needed someone most and introduced her to a
world where people really cared and love was more than a catch
phrase. She laughed through her own tears at her own naiveté. There
was a time when she thought people like that didn’t exist. Her mind
rolled through the years. It all unfolded before her crisp and
fresh like a suppressed memory newly discovered. It was a weird
feeling, though, like remembering someone else’s life, a happier

She looked around her and to her left the
head stones just seemed to go on for acres. Her current life now
played out before her in sharp juxtaposition, so much so that she
clenched her eyes closed in an attempt to throw off the memories.
She knew at that moment how right Jack had been about her. He
always did seem to know her better then she knew herself. She had
denied certain truths for so long the lies became real, but now in
this place she couldn’t hide. She had allowed herself to be drawn
into the labyrinth of apathy. She had been lost for so long that
she didn’t realize another way could even exist. It had defined
every part of her existence. As she absorbed the scenery the damp
grayness around her seemed to seep into her bones. Everything at
once became heavier. She looked down at her left hand and tried to
imagine the wedding band that had once been there. Her freedom was
like ashes in her mouth. She was a walking corpse. She wasn’t worth
more than anyone else that surrounded her six feet under. It was a
stark realization for her to understand what she had done and more
importantly exactly what she had lost. She had tried desperately to
find acceptance and what it means to really live in the back rooms
and dingy slums of vice and drugs. It was about the moment. It was
always about the sheer pleasure of the moment, the subjective
reality of an altered conscience. It was all smoke and mirrors.
When she pulled out another cigarette to light, it was the first
time in her adult life it had made her feel ashamed. The addictions
held on to her like chains and she could feel the manacles tighten,
as she couldn’t stop herself from taking the first drag. Jack told
her all this many years before, and she couldn’t help but think
about how different things would have been if she had only
listened. “If ifs and buts where candy and nuts,…” she thought as
she sighed and hung her head. It was still a week away, but this
was quite possibly the worst Christmas she had ever endured.


Chapter 2


“Dearly beloved we are here to today to
celebrate a life, not to mourn. Jack Randall was a devoted husband
to Mary Beth and devoted father to Jennifer, a committed church and
community leader, and active in many organizations,” the pastor
said as he read from a piece of paper and then laid it on the
podium in front of him. “What these sentences don’t say is what
type of man Jack was and the kind of life he led, because to tell
you the whole story would take all day. Jack was a man who wasted
nothing. Every minute was precious to him and he spent it all in
the pursuit of helping others. I had the pleasure of knowing him
for over two decades and was fortunate enough to spend many hours
talking with him, listening, and sharing his experiences.” The
pastor could see tears forming in the eyes of those in the crowd
and could recognize that they had shared similar experiences. This
only made him feel the loss of his friend even deeper as he tried
to hold it together. He paused, composing himself for a moment, and
then took a deep breath and looked down at his notes. He found his
place and was about to continue when he decided to change his mind.
He felt the urge to just wing it and speak from the heart. He
looked at the swollen eyes of Mary Beth and at others in the crowd
and thought that what they needed most right now was the same thing
that comforted him. “Jack had a spirit…” he said, his voice fading
as Jennifer’s attention began to drift. Her mom brushed against her
arm as she dabbed at her tears with a Kleenex. Jennifer looked over
at her mother compassionately and reached over taking her hand in
support. She then dabbed at her own tears that were there more out
of expectation than as a reflection of her own emotion. She looked
past the pastor and the metal coffin beside him toward the mound of
earth and the large hole just behind them. Her mind fixated on the
strangest thoughts as she drifted in and out of reality. She would
never see her father again. He was the one in that aluminum box and
they were going to put him in the ground. She said this over and
over again to her as the realization of his passing began to truly
sink in. “What would it be like in there?” She thought as she
envisioned herself being locked in the coffin. She winced as the
darkness and claustrophobia enveloped her mind. How will he get
out? He will be so terrified if he can’t get out. She closed her
eyes and banished such silly thoughts from her mind. They were
getting too ridiculous. She had seen way too many movies, but if
she couldn’t imagine him still alive then that left only one stark
truth. He was gone and there was nothing she could do about it.

A white hot rage suddenly exploded within
her, consuming all emotions of loss and tenderness. “Devoted
father, my behind,” she thought as she seethed. He had left them.
He had abandoned them. In that moment Jennifer was six again and
standing on stage in all her beauty pageant glory. She latched onto
the memory to support her feelings as those events replayed
themselves in her mind.

Jennifer had not even been all that
interested in the pageant when she brought the notice home from
school. Her mother even asked her if she would like to get dressed
up in a type of play with the other girls. She couldn’t remember
exactly what her response had been, but it couldn’t have been more
than a half-hearted shrug. That is, until the pageant became a
competition. The defining moment came when one day she noticed a
group of the ritzier girls had asked to stay in the classroom
during recess. The conversation had been low and muffled and from
where Jennifer was sitting she couldn’t hear exactly what they were
asking permission to do, but she did hear the teacher giving them
her blessing. Not to be one left out of a crowd, Jennifer had faked
a slight stomach ache so that she could stay in as well with her
head laid down on her desk.

Jennifer watched them through half open eyes
and up to this point this was one of the oddest scenes she had ever
experienced. There were four girls in all and they each proceeded
to take turns walking across the back of the class room and then
stopping with one foot out and the other placed horizontally to
form a 90 degree angle in a pose the girls called pretty feet. Then
they would reverse the process walking back across the room and
pausing in the same pose before apparently exiting the runway.
During this parade each girl would also try to outdo each other
with the largest, silliest grin that each could contort their face
to produce. Jennifer watched every move they made trying not to
smile. It all seemed so silly and she couldn’t imagine why in the
world they were wasting their time to produce such a spectacle.

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