by Donnell Ann Bell

Have a nice weekend, Mrs. Bradford.”

I took the brown bag from Jackie, the liquor store owner, before realizing that, one, he’d turned his back on me, and two he no longer called me Melinda. Jackie, like so many others, had grown uncomfortable in my presence.

“You, too,” I said softly. No one could say I wasn’t a polite drunk.

In the driveway of my Modesto home, I knew an inkling of hope. Richard had come by to cut the grass. Maybe he was still out back. But the backyard was as manicured as the front. He’d come while I was at work.

The inside of the house wasn’t nearly as kept as the outside. The carpet needed vacuuming; the furniture Richard and I had meticulously picked out together, covered with dust. I’d clean on Monday. This weekend I was throwing a party – just me and Jim Beam.

I played back the collection notices on the answering machine, glanced at the divorce papers and poured my first glass. Maybe after a drink I’d feel strong enough to sign them.

I’d just raised the tumbler to my lips when I caught sight of my running shoes peeking out at me from beyond the mudroom. When was the last time I’d put them on? To reach them, I had to move past the closed door of my daughter’s bedroom. Myriad memories threatened behind that door, and I pulled my shaking hand away from the knob before they could singe me. Swallowing hard, I glanced over my shoulder at my liquid temptation, and then to the running shoes that at one time fulfilled a different need in me.

Every day, like clockwork I put them on. Now everyday like clockwork I succumbed to the bottle.  I inspected the worn soles, and for once, was lured by something stronger than alcohol. In that instant, I knew if I didn’t get outside these walls, they would crumble around me and bury me in self-pity forever.

Breathless, I changed into my workout clothes and tied my shoelaces before I could change my mind. The counselor called what I was experiencing a panic attack. I’d known one several months earlier when the police showed up on my doorstep and ended my world.

I wrenched open the door and started walking. Faster and faster, gulping for air, picturing the dark hair and eyes Abby’d inherited from her father. Stronger than me, she forever wore me down. How many times had I ignored my husband’s warning, “You’re her mother, Melinda. Stop trying to be her friend.”

I broke into a run. I was out of shape, but the pain was like a salve. It reminded me that I was alive, and as my muscles remembered, my downward trend spiraled upward.

I raced up the trail, and upon reaching my destination, I screamed at the top of my lungs. “This is your fault, Melinda Bradford. Your fault!” Sobbing, I dropped to my knees. “Oh, Abby, baby. I’m sorry. God forgive me…I’m sorry.”

I can’t remember how long I stayed in that position. But when I lifted my head again, my pain had eased, a calm fell over me and I no longer felt the desire to blame others. No matter what happened, my husband had tried to warn me. It was now up to me to face the reality and absolve him of the guilt. My heart lighter than it had been in months, I made the decision to empty my liquor cabinets that night and move on.

Near the path to my home, my daughter bounded outside. “Mom, where have you been?”

“Abby?” The air stalled in my chest. “Abby?”

“Josh is on his way over. I called Dad at the office and he said I can’t go. Please, Mom?”

“Abby?” My awestruck gaze swept over her petulant face. “Am I dreaming?”

She returned my shock with a scowl. “Dreaming? What’s wrong with you? The hottest boy in school wants to show me his car, and all Dad can say is ‘No, I don’t know him.’ Please, Mom, please?”

I didn’t know how this was happening and I didn’t care. My fifteen-year old was alive and standing before me. I was a second away from taking her rebellious body in my arms and holding on tight, when exactly as it had on that fateful day, my husband’s Jeep rolled into the drive. Like a movie I’d seen once before, my daughter’s big brown eyes pleaded her case. “There he is. Mom, you have to convince him.”

And with the steel persona I knew so well, Richard recited his lines from the past, “I told her no, Melinda. We don’t know anything about this kid.”

No choice had ever been clearer as I smiled at my daughter. “You heard your father. Our answer is no.”

Her mouth dropped open, she stared between the two of us, and we heard her door slam all the way from outside.

Moments elapsed before my husband of seventeen years found his voice. “I don’t know what’s come over you. But…thank you.”

Inside the house, Richard pulled me into his arms and he kissed me, while I waited to wake up from this beautiful, impossible dream. When I didn’t, and he released me, my gaze fell to a floral arrangement that took the place of my glass of Jim Beam.

Richard walked Abby down the aisle yesterday as I beamed from the very front row. I run often these days and haven’t touched a drop of liquor in years. I often wonder if what happened was real or divine intervention. I don’t suppose I’m meant to know. Whatever did happen, it taught me some important life lessons. I pray often for wisdom these days, and I’m a firm believer in second chances.