by Aneka Bailey
“I had that dream again.” I fidget in the large, black leather sofa. The tattered white stitching reaching out, searching for any form of connection, much like I had done most of my life. However, no matter how comfy and familiar this couch was in the beginning of my weekly therapy sessions, it always seemed to turn into concrete when the conversation got personal.
“The one you refuse to tell me about?” My therapist, a woman in her mid-forties that goes by the name of Dr. Isis, peers over her metal framed glasses at me. Her eyes, which the color of seaweed, pry at the emotional door I had nailed and welded shut many years ago.
She’s expecting me to spill my deep, dark thoughts. I could tell by the way her perfectly sculpted eyebrows arched up. Her typical patient tone laced with annoyance. I know that I would have to tell her about my nightmares. “Okay, Avery” pulling her glasses from her round face, she squeezes her eyelids shut and uses one immaculately manicured hand to massage the bridge of her nose. “Let’s start from the beginning.” She slides her glasses back to her eyes and fixates on my face.
“I was an orphan.” My jaw snaps shut and my nostrils flare. Her eyes press for more information. “My parents didn’t want evidence of their affairs. Their spouses would not take me in. My birth mother’s husband would not pay to terminate and my birth father’s wife refused to raise a child she did not birth.” The leather couch, which was once my friend, sent shocks of electricity and waves of heat through my body. For a moment, I feel my breathing become restricted. ‘deep breathes’ I tell myself focusing on the inflation of my lungs.
“How did you find out about them?”
“I did my research. Special Ops and investigative techniques from the military police academy. I used my clearance to read sealed records. From there, I researched the names.” My eyes avert out the window. A seagull soars over the open water carelessly free. Letting out a deep breath, my body zones in on the motion of my house boat and begins to relax.
“Have you reached out to them?”
Shooting her an amused look, I scoff rolling my eyes. “No. What would a business executive’s wife and a high profile criminal attorney want with a discarded riff raff?”
“Is that why you left…Alita?” Her voice hesitates over the name as she scans her notes. Once she verifies that is the right name she looks at me. My eyes watching her closely. It was that moment I realized why I felt comfortable around Dr. Isis. She had features that reminded me of Alita and to avoid disappointing ‘Alita’, I avoided the topic with Dr. Isis. “Last session, you told me you left the love of your life and the unborn child you two share. Did you leave them because you felt like an unwanted ‘riff raff’? I shrug my shoulders guarded. Alita, my ex-best friend’s sister, is my soft spot. The first woman I refused to let down, but I let her down when I left her and the baby behind.
“Okay, so, tell me about your dream.” Her voice breaks the tense silence after a few minutes. “Just close your eyes and imagine the scenery. What do you see?”
A warm breeze relaxes me while the crisp, salty air takes me back to a familiar location. The gentle rocking of my houseboat reminds me of the days I often times longed to relive. Standing in the door way, a pervasive odor of seawater and mold attack my nostrils. Inhaling deeply, nostalgia warms my body. Holes in the body of the ship pour in rays of sunlight like laser beams. I raise my large hand letting the light warm my fingertips. Stepping over the portal, cobwebs assault me. Tangling their ghostlike fingers into my hair and face, while the untouched ones sway back and forth like moss in trees on an abandon, rundown lot. The sunlight fades and a bone chilling cold fills the room. My leather shoes squelch against the damp carpet. The hairs on my arm stand as my hand glides over the rough, wet metal walls covered with coarse patches of rust. The lapping of the waves, which was once delicate and gentle, became violent. The wind whistled and howled as the rocking of the ship increased like a storm was heading straight for it. Stumbling, I bump into a wet desk, which crumbles like cake against my touch. The constant rapping from the leak in the ceiling playing a sinister cadence. The full moon providing my only source of light. Just as I calm my pounding heart, a large mass steps into the door way. I panic, my body folding against my will to run. I have to escape. A squeal escapes my lips as the figure launches at me and the lights illuminate the face of my best friend. “Benny…” I breathe out. My hands quivering like an old beat up trucks engine. “I’m sorry… I just…” He launches at me before I can finish my pleading. Rolling, I manage to miss him by seconds. His throat releasing a spine numbing growl. “Please Benny! I know I was wrong, but I love her, I’ll go back and make things right for everyone!” Just as I finished, Benny’s large boot crashes into my face sending my head back into the metal wall with a loud ‘THWACK’. The metallic taste of blood filling my mouth. My heart pounding wildly causing the acidic taste of bile to fill my throat with a burning sensation. His fingers encase my neck, his dark hazel eyes glow like an evil entity, and a nefarious grin etches it way on his shadowed face. As the last remnants of my oxygen leave my body I jolt up. My eyes shoot open looking around frantically.
“It’s okay. You’re safe.” Dr. Isis’s voice coaxes me back to reality. Her soothing, repetitive phrase causing my cheeks to flush and my heart rate to slow. “You are safe.” Her voice articulates while her eyes search me like a broken child.
“I hate when people look at me like that…” My voice mutters out as I drop my chin to my chest.
“Like what, Avery?” Her voice still soft, but now understanding.
“Like I’m some broken child that needs to be fixed. I’m fine the way I am.”
“If you were fine the way you are, Avery, why are you fighting with your subconscious over your decisions?” My eyes shoot up at her while my brow knits itself together. “Avery, this dream, you have mentioned bits and pieces since our sessions started nearly a year ago. Now, I understand that you have come to terms with the decision you made, but deep down, you are still deeply hurt by it. I’m here to listen and help you work through it, but you can’t mask it. Now, in this dream, who is Benny? And who is this ‘her’? Is it Alita?”
My hands roughly rub my face. “Benny is…was my best friend since I was a kid. Alita, is his sister.”
“The love of your life?” Dr. Isis adds on for me. I slightly nod my head. “Okay. When did you meet Benny and Alita?”
“I met them when I was ten. I had just ran away from one of my foster homes and had been on the streets for a few weeks. I thought he was a privileged kid so I wanted to use him.”
“Why did you think he was privilege?”
“Because, I always saw him with his mom or dad. I thought I could pretend to be his friend, steal a couple bucks to get on a bus to find someone, anyone…”
“You were jealous? Was it because he had the love and affection you longed for?” My guarded eyes roam over her relaxed, yet curious face.
“Yeah…” I clear my throat, “My parents walked past the alley I lived at every day. EVERY DAY!” I pause, my leg bouncing rapidly. I notice that Dr. Isis’ hand is up palms towards me.
“That emotion right there… I need you to feel that emotion. You’ve been shoving it back in this box you keep inside you. That dream is not only the reality of the anger you know your best friend is filled with, but you’re filled with it from years of betrayal you’ve experienced and anger with yourself for hurting your best friend and the love of your life. You are allowed to be angry, Avery.” She pauses, looking at me before clearing her throat. “I also want to add, you hiding your anger is an example of how you ran from Alita and Benny. You’re steering clear from him, but when it comes to Alita and the baby, you have to address the situation in order to make things amicable.”
I release a tentative breath. My eyes wide with amusement and realization. “That’s all I know…”
“And how has that gone for you?” I blink at her rhetorical question. I knew she was good, but I didn’t know she was this good. “Okay, so, tell me more about meeting them.”
“I met Benny first. I can’t remember all the details, but he came to the alley and left food for me. From there it progressed. He’d bring me food with clothes, random necessities. Eventually, I met his parents and sister. At first, I didn’t really think too much about Alita as anything more than my best friend’s older sister.”
“Okay, how did you feel when they took you in?”
“Ecstatic. His grandmother had just moved so they had a spare bedroom. I remember Benny walking in and telling me to go play his new video game and he’d be back. I didn’t think much of it because he’d always come back with food. So, I’m sitting there playing this game when he comes back in and nonchalantly tells me his parents want me to move in.”
“How did you react to that?”
“Benny has always been a serious person. So, I stopped the game and looked at him. He didn’t know that he and his family may have potentially saved my life and he was sitting there like someone had just told him he was eating meatloaf for dinner.” My fingers trace the stitching of the leather sofa and I’m reminded of the soft cotton blankets on my ‘new’ full size bed. The posters I put up with my favorite ball players on the pale blue walls. How I cried myself to sleep that night because I was so happy to have a place to call home and a family. The only time I enjoyed the salty, sweet taste of happiness. Somebody wanted me and they loved me ugly past and all.
“Is that why you feel the way you do about falling in love with his sister? That you betrayed a good friend that viewed saving your life like a dinner option?”
“You make him sound heartless. This guy has a heart of gold. He befriended me when I was all alone and practically starving. He didn’t have to.” I look at my hands.
“I don’t mean to make him sound that way and Benny has helped form you into the man you are, but if he has a heart of gold, why run?”
“Because I’ve seen what he can do. You don’t just forget what you learn in any type of service job. It stays with you. I felt bad because it wasn’t just me having my own bed, my own spaces. It was the fact that his parents also helped me get emancipated when I turned fourteen. That’s the type of friendship most people dream about…”
“So, how did they bring up helping you emancipate yourself?”
A soft smile plays on my face much like the day my fourteen year old self had when Benny and I ran through the park after school. A football tossed between the two of us as we laughed carelessly through the busy sidewalks just near the oceans coast. We stumble noisily in the house cackling when his father’s deep, raspy voice beckons me. Exchanging a timid look, Benny and I walked into the kitchen. Both his parents staring back at us with unreadable expressions on their faces. “Have a seat, Avery.” Benny’s father shoots him a dismissive look, but Benny sits beside me. Benny’s mother squeezes her husband’s hand urging him to let it go. “We were discussing somethings last night and wanted to see how you felt about the idea…” My breathing catches as the older man searches my face. “You can stay with us for as long as you like. You know this, but how about we help you become emancipated?”
“We thought about the adoption process, but there’s a lot more paperwork in that process then in the emancipation process… we just want you to be happy…” His mother rambled on placing her soft warm fingers on mine. A large grin painted itself on my face. I see tears forming in her eyes as I vigorously nodded my head yes.
“Can I still call you mom and dad?” They exchanged a look before laughing amongst themselves.
Dr. Isis slides a box of tissues beside me and I wipe my fingers on my face feeling moisture. “So, you had lived with them for four years?”
“Yeah. Even though I was emancipated I still was given rules, chores, everything. I appreciated them so much that I followed every rule. As we all got older, things started to unravel.”
“Did you start to get closer to Alita then? Did the relationship start from your need to protect her from possibly living a life similar to the one you had before meeting them?” My eyes shift back and forth quickly while my hand idly scratches at my head.
“I never paid much attention to it.” My eyebrows knit together as I rack my brain for clarification. My shoulders shrug as I look up at my therapist. “I guess? I do remember one time though…”
“YOU LET THOSE KIDS DO WHATEVER THEY WANT AT ANYTIME” Benny’s father yelled as we stood in the shadows of the hall. “THEY SNEAK OUT AND ALL YOU DO IS COVER FOR THEM!” A loud bang startled us as Benny and I peeked around the corner with Alita shielded behind us. My hands keeping her secured behind me. Her small hands placed themselves on my back as she peeked over my shoulder standing on her tip-toes.
Our mother stood, defiant, but cautious. The kitchen reeked of vodka. Benny and I shoot each other a knowing look, if his father took one step too close for our liking, we’d stop him by any means necessary.
“Look, you’ve been drinking more. The kids are always cooped up in this house. As their mother, I want to protect them from-.” His father laughs bitterly, while rolling his eyes. His body stumbles over to the opened vodka bottle on the counter. Throwing his head back, he downs what once was a full bottle this morning. Over the years, dad’s drinking had gotten worse and our parents had been fighting more. “Mi amor. What is it?” She stared at his staggering body. “It’s her isn’t it?” The blood drained from my face. My dad looked at her, his eyes blood shot red and partially open. He mumbled his answer incoherently before nudging past her towards the garage door. I stood stunned, in the same space I had been with Benny and Alita staring in disbelief. “Ay dios!” Our mom hissed as we made eye contact with her tear stained face. “Babies…” she waved her hands and opened her arms wide. We rushed over to her burying our faces into her. “Your father is just stressed.” She kissed the tops of our heads and smoothed them down. Her intoxicating scent sent goosebumps down my arms. Her love filled me over and over like the rain replenishing a draining pond. She deserved better.
Alita sobbed silently. Her fingers tightly curled into mine as her body leaned against mine. Pulling her into my chest, I rubbed her back soothingly while Benny and I stared at our mother with concern and frustration. “We could leave.” I suggested looking in her bright gray eyes. She chuckled and placed her hands on either side of my face and kissed my forehead.
“We don’t need to run. You are safe here and will always be safe. He’s just stressed.” She gave us each a small smile before walking over to the cabinets. “How about I make you all something to eat.” Her small smile turned into an infections grin. Benny went to assist her while I help Alita sit in her seat. Squatting before her, I looked deep in her eyes giving her a small smile and a gentle rub on her leg before standing to get my own seat.
“Why did you want to leave?”
“I’ve seen rage first hand. I’ve seen the way it can consume someone and take over. No matter how loving he was sober, he had a mean streak when he drank. He never took it out on us directly, but we knew it was in there.”
“Does your own contained rage scare you? Is that why you left, Alita?”
“I already told you.” I scoff, “Benny would kill me.”
“I think you’re just using Benny as a shield. You aren’t afraid of him. You know what you’re both capable of. I sit here looking at your file seeing that you both were special ops. High ranking special ops. You are just as qualified of protecting yourself as he is attacking you. What if Alita needs you?”
“She doesn’t.” Dr. Isis raises her eyebrows at my protest.
“Really? Is that why you confessed last session that you two talk every day? You told me she tells you to ‘come home’”
“It’s not complicated, Avery. You’re just making it that way.” She looks at her watch before looking back me. I knew it meant my time for this session was becoming more limited. “How’d you two figure out you were in love?”
“We had been flirting for a while. That’s what promoted Benny to tell me not to date his sister. I stayed away for a while, but one night, there was just this… pull in my heart that told me she was worth the risk.”
The stars in the sky winked at me as I leisurely walked the sidewalks. The arousing aroma of funnel cakes danced around my nose and tickled my taste buds. My hands carelessly shoved in my pocket and the breeze slid through my short cut hair. I had just returned from my first overseas tour and realized the magnitude of how life really does have a way of changing you. “Hey Gordo!” Alita called from behind. I chuckled and stopped for her to catch up.
“You’re still going to call me, Gordo?”
“Yes. Because you will always be ‘Gordo’ to us. Have you seen, Benny?” I shrugged looking over at her tiny frame. Her small heart shaped face framed by her long, curly brunette hair. Her grey eyes glowed from her face and her full lips looked soft. “You don’t know? Or…” She looked at me as she sarcastically asked again. This time, I capture her attention causing her cheeks to flush.
“I don’t know where he disappeared to. You know our Benny, a man of few words.” She snorted rolling those beautiful eyes. “Come on. Walk with me, baby doll.” I pulled one of my hands out of my pocket and lazily draped it around her shoulder.
“I’m not your baby doll.” Despite her disapproving tone, she moved closer to me as we walked the path. “How was it out there?” Her was voice soft and tentative.
“Like a walk in the park.” she nudged me stifling her laugh. “It wasn’t home that’s for sure.”
“Well, you know where ever we are you’re always home.”
“You’re calling yourself home for me?” Quirked an eyebrow, my eyes search her face.
“Yes.” Her smile stopped us in our tracks. Before I could say or do anything she pivoted and walked off with a careless wave. I scratched at my head before heading back towards the house. There was a strange energy filling my body. There were no words to explain it, but I knew that I was addicted to the natural high her presences gave me. I needed more and I did whatever I could to get another dose.
“And the rest is history?” Dr. Isis’ cuts into my memories. I nod my head swallowing hard. “So, why did you leave her and the baby?”
“Because I don’t know stability. How can I provide stability for a woman and a child when I never had it?”
“You have had stability. Her family, your friend, and her. You didn’t understand the concept of love, but you learned what it was. You didn’t have your biological family, but you had them. Why do you feel the need to have all the answers and connections when what you have is enough?”
“Because I’m not enough.” The involuntary brokenness in my voice startles me. I clear my throat nervously, “Alita was the first person I didn’t want to run from when she gave me affection. Her soft kisses removed every broken memory. The way her eyes stared at me… through me, I felt like she was repairing the damage I didn’t know was there, but in my eyes, I’m not enough for someone as amazing as her.”
“Avery, you are enough. She tells you that every day, you are enough. That with her, you’re home. I think, based off of the time I’ve had listening to you, that you’re searching for home, acceptance, and love beyond where you already found it. Take it one step at a time. If you want to be with Alita, be with her. Then, when things go well enough for you to go and make things right with your friend, then talk to him. I also want you to start allowing yourself to feel all the emotions you’ve been bottling up. Because they’re important for you to heal, grow, and care for you, the baby, and everyone else that comes in contact with you. You have to believe that you are good enough.” She stares me deep in my eyes searching for my understanding. I nod my head before standing. “You have work to do and if you ever need to talk, do not hesitate to set up more sessions.”
“Thank you.” Grasping her smaller fingers in my larger ones, I shake her hand before watching her make her decent out of my life. The first door I let close willingly. Walking back in, I make my way through my small living room to the back deck overlooking the sea. The warm wind blows past me as I digest the information from my session. I know I’m not healed, but I felt whole much like I did the time I had been taken in and the time Alita and I had fallen in love. Reveling in the moment, I knew that Dr. Isis was right about all that she had said. My fingers idly dial a number I grew fond of calling. My mind repeating a new mantra ‘you are enough’. When she answers, her voice sets free a thousand butterflies inside me. “I’m coming home, baby.”
“We’ve been waiting for you, my love.” I close my eyes feeling a smile spread itself across my face. It was time for me to be the man my father couldn’t be. There was no point in searching for something I already had in a woman that would have done anything for me.
I, Avery Del Monte, am enough.