Many years ago, on a rainy night in Sterling, Colorado, I gave in again. I let my habits overcome and undo all the good things in my life. On that night, my wife knew it was coming; she hadn’t even bothered cooking dinner. I remember the way she looked at me when I walked out. I can still feel the sharp-as-ice wind I felt that night as I pulled out of the driveway, with her shattering blue eyes watching me in my rearview mirror. Many miles after they disappeared, I could still feel them watching me. Her glassy blue eyes stayed with me everywhere I went, both as a punishment and a blessing. Laying here now, with my eyes peeled open in the dark bedroom that I once called home, I can remember it all like it was yesterday…
The outskirts of Sterling, Colorado replaced her knowing eyes in my rearview mirror. Then somewhere between the pine trees and black night sky, I felt a mixture of relief and guilt; I was getting closer to what I wanted, yet further from what I needed. I was weak and ashamed, but not guilty enough to stop myself. My skin itched, and I knew I had waited too long this time. I longed to be with Ellen another night, but I wasn’t strong enough to fight this, and I wasn’t man enough to tell her. Though, a part of me knew deep down that I didn’t have to tell her; a part of me knew that she already understood. Her wise blue eyes knew all too well the demons that overpowered me; for she once had demons of her own.
As I drove along the black road and into the black night, I recalled the even darker memories of my past. It wasn’t easy being raised by a single mother who was addicted to drugs. I grew up sooner than I had to, and was forced to become the man of the family, despite the fact I was the youngest of three sisters. Yeah, it was tough, but no one’s life is perfect. I actually didn’t realize how dull my life was until I met Ellen. It was like seeing a bright delicate rose among a black and white garden of monstrous weeds. She breathed life into me, and I’ve been enamored by her ever since I met her in college. It was her soft feminine features that first caught my eye, but it’s the fierce strength and passion within her that fascinates me to this day. She became my new addiction; she was the drug that filled me with purpose, and a craving for life. The years have gone by so fast, and yet I haven’t changed a bit. My feelings for Ellen are just as passionate; and my bad habits never left my side.
Hours passed, as I recalled years of my life. I finally pulled into a truck stop diner just outside of Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Can I getcha cup o’ coffee, mister?” said a woman with a crooked nametag that had ‘Nancy’ scribbled on it.
“Black coffee, please,” I said to the eyes I’ve seen a million times in a woman I’ve never met. A different town, a different woman, but the same shade of blue that always finds its way back to me. I couldn’t look into a pair of blue eyes, without seeing Ellen, the love of my life. I would’ve given up my life for her, but I couldn’t be man enough to give up the one thing she needed me to.
I shut my eyes and tried to picture what Ellen was doing now. Maybe she cried herself to sleep again, like countless nights before. Maybe she finally gave in to her own demons, and poured a short glass of dark liquor; but Ellen was stronger than I was. She no longer sought comfort in unhealthy things, the way she used to, and the way I did too. Yet ironically she found some sort of comfort in me, no doubt the unhealthiest thing in her life.
I slowly drained the black coffee, and made my way to an empty motel, just a few blocks away. It’s a two-story, broken down joint that has been around since the 70s. It’s like an old familiar friend that knows my darkest secrets, and accepts them with disgust. I walked into room 202; a small, cold, and dank room. My addiction awaited me there. I breathed it in like a baby breathes in life for the first time. I shut my eyes and let it overtake my vision. I stopped listening to the silent world around me, and let it give me sounds of its own. I hallucinated the life I wanted to live, and the drug laced through my blood as well as my imagination. I didn’t know what time it was and it didn’t matter. The drug filled every cell in my body, and all the painful things that happened in my life were forgotten. My dad never left when I was fifteen. My mom never went through depression. My sisters never picked up on her drug habit, and I never picked up on theirs. My father was never empty, and my mother was never broken, because none of that happened; because in that moment, everything was perfect. My wife was at home, alone, but happy, and knew I’d be back, without a worry in the world; because in that moment, the world was perfect. The drug resonated through every heartbeat, every thought, and every movement; and I was still.
More days slipped through my fingertips, just the way my addiction said they would. Try as I may, I couldn’t keep the sun from falling into the night. I knew it was time to make that call. I scrounged up the last quarters I had, and stood inside the dust blown phone booth, waiting for her to answer.
“What now, Jackson?” She said coldly, but I knew she was more hurt than angry. There was a long pause, and I thought I heard her sniff.
“Ellen, I…,” my voice trailed off as I tried to find the right words to say. “I’m sorry. I’m coming back soon, but I can’t today.”
“When then? How many times are you going to do this?”
“I can’t go anywhere in this weather,” I said, pretending I didn’t hear her. Pretending she didn’t already know what was really holding me back.
“I can’t keep doing this. You can’t keep doing this. What’s going to happen to you? To us?” Her voice cracked as her protective wall faltered against the swell of the pain inside her. I knew she was holding the phone with both hands, with her eyes closed hard, willing herself not to cry.
“Ellen, I want to see you again soon” I said, and I meant it. “But the weather is much colder out here in Lincoln than it is in Sterling. Can I please just call you tomorrow?” But only silence and uneven breathing responded to my voice on the phone.
My body felt like I was driving fast, downward, on a winding road. As if the road of my life was winding downhill, as my wife had finally and inevitably reached her breaking point. My life had reduced to a worn-out, used garment that phased in and out of the lost and found. When I’m home, I’m found, yet always lost on the inside. When I’m lost in a city of strangers, I close my eyes and see her; then I’m home, and again I am found. I could still hear her breathing on the other line. When I shut my eyes, I could see her clenching the phone, with her back to the wall, retaining every bit of strength she had to not let herself break down.
I wasn’t prepared for the words that shot out of my mouth like prisoners that had been wrongly locked up for too many years: “Ellen, listen to me. You know you’re the only one for me, but you’re a lover, and I’m a runner. And there’s nothing I can do to change it. I love you, but I’ll leave you. I don’t want to hurt you, and I need you, but I need the drug too. I wish I could change for you, believe me I’ve tried,” I choked as my voice broke into a passionate fury, “if I could change for anyone you know it would be you. You know if I didn’t love you, then I’d never come home, but it’s you that calls me back home every time, Ellen, because I need you.” I felt myself calm as I heard her breathing steady. “I’ll see you again soon. I just can’t go anywhere in this weather. Everything will be better tomorrow. Can I call you then?”
Her voice had given up; defeated. “You aren’t ever gonna change, are you? I thought that one day you might, but now I know the truth. And this has just as much to do with your leavin’ father as it does the drugs, Jackson. He was a runner, and you were born for leavin’ too,” she exhaled, barely audible through her faint voice, as delicate as the body that emitted it. The phone clicked.
Yes, I can remember it all very clearly now, as I replayed my life’s regrets over again on another clean, sober, and sleepless night. It was always the same memories; it was always the same regrets.
Suddenly I recalled another dark memory; another regret from my past.A few days after that phone call, I returned to Sterling Colorado, only to find my house abandoned and cold. I waited for hours, but still no sign of Ellen. For some reason, I had an uneasy feeling, but I knew Ellen would never leave me. Then the doorbell rang. It was my neighbor, Gloria, an older woman who lived down the street. She was carrying flowers, balanced over a large pot of stew. She looked surprised to see me when I answered the door, and she greeted me with a pained expression.
“Oh, Jack. I’m so sorry.”
“Gloria? Wait—what are those flowers for?”
“Jackson…” her eyes widened, and she asserted herself inside. Putting the flowers and stew down on the table, she told me to sit down. I shook my head. I knew something was wrong, but I refused to face the truth, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to sit down.
“Something terrible has happened, Jackson.”
“No. No,” I choked, shaking my head, backing away.
“Ellen is gone. She died early this morning. I’m so sorry, I thought you knew.” Tears formed behind Gloria’s eyes. “I’m so sorry, Jack.”
I looked at Gloria with intensity, waiting for her to tell me that Ellen wasn’t dead, that she was okay, but she looked back at me with eyes of disbelief and sympathy. “Her heart failed. Premature cardiac arrest. They tried, but there was nothing they could do, Jack.”
My face went pale and twisted in pain. I let the tears rush down my face. I let my body give out, as I fell to my knees with my head in my hands. I screamed, cursed, and cried myself into a numb oblivion. The old woman sat down on the floor, held my hands, and let me. It was the beginning of sobriety.
If I had known that phone call with Ellen was the last time I’d hear her innocent voice, I would’ve made the change immediately. If I had known Ellen’s heart would fail sooner than it was supposed to, I never would’ve wasted the time that I should’ve spent loving it.
But I can’t stop the sun from falling into the night, and I can’t turn it around to bring me back to years before. So I shut my eyes; and just like I knew it would, her sweet smell came back to me with the wind through my open window. And it wasn’t a drug-hallucination; it was love. I could envision her hair flare like tangible rays of sunlight. It was a stronger sensation tonight than it had ever been before, and I let my senses take over as the words came out like the chorus to a sad song, “Ellen, when I close my eyes, I see you. No matter where I am. I can smell your perfume through these whispering pines; I’m with your ghost again. It’s a shame about the weather, but I know soon we’ll be together. And I can’t wait ‘til then,” I kept my eyes closed, imagining when one day I’ll see her again in Heaven, “I can’t wait ‘til then.”
yesssss, it's based off the song.