The DandelionBy: Michelle Leighton
In every ending, there is also a beginning. This one is for you, Tiffany. I hope you find a beautiful beginning.
The human heart is a funny thing. To be such an important organ, it’s a smallish one, roughly the size of a fist. Mine, being that of a female, only weighs about seven ounces, but as I flick on the blinker and steer my car to the right, toward the rectangular sign at the end of the ramp that’s welcoming me to Molly’s Knob, South Carolina, population 17,621, it feels as big as a horse and twice as heavy.
I haven’t been back to my hometown since I was seventeen. The last time I saw that sign, I was watching it grow smaller and smaller in the side mirror of my mother’s beat up Ford LTD as we drove away. It was the summer before my senior year. She couldn’t wait another year to leave. Not one more. She said she wanted a better life, but it wasn’t until later that I understood that what she needed was peace. So she ran. And she took me with her. That was Momma’s one and only coping skill—running. When all else fails, or when it gets too hot in the kitchen, run.
Run far and run fast.
That’s what she taught me, too. And I learned from the best.
Back then my instinct to flee hadn’t fully developed, though. When I left with my mother, it was because I had no choice. I didn’t want to go, but I had to. For her. I rode away with her, even though I left a big piece of my heart lying on the side of the interstate that afternoon.
I’ve wondered almost every day of my life since then what would’ve become of me if we’d stayed, or if I’d come back.
But I didn’t.
I couldn’t leave Momma.
Even though I now understand what she was feeling, much more than I did back then, I still have to fight the wave of bitterness that swells in my stomach. I push those memories down. Deep, deep down.
Thoughts like that don’t do me any favors.
They never did.
They just make the present a little more painful.
They always have.
Now, almost twenty years later, here I am, back where I started. Only this time, it’s me who ran. It’s me who needs peace. It just so happens that my running shoes, as Momma always called our propensity to bolt, brought me back home. Of all the places on God’s green earth I could go, I ended up back here.
Back where I left my happiness.
Back where I left my heart.
At the foot of the reflective green sign that announces Molly’s Knob is three miles in the direction of an arrow pointing left, stands a man. He’s wafer-thin, dressed in rags, and his face is more haunted than a cemetery. And I should know. I’ve seen enough cemeteries to recognize the look.
Within the grip of his pale, gnarled fingers is a sign. It reads HUNGRY VETERAN. WILL WORK FOR FOOD.
I stop short of the red light at the foot of the ramp, rolling down my window with one hand as I dig into my wallet with the other. My fingers feel for the first slot. Inside it, there is a thin stack of paper. I know there are six fifty-dollar bills there, lying neatly side-by-side. My travel money, or what’s left of it.
Without hesitating, I grab one and hold it out to the man. Slowly, as if every bone aches with the effort, he steps forward to take it, nodding his thanks and muttering something about God blessing me. I smile, but I don’t respond and I don’t dally. I find myself anxious to get away from the look in his eyes. Something in them reminds me of what I see when I look in the mirror, something that very closely resembles hopelessness.
I glance at the bright blue numbers of the digital clock on the dash. It’s four twenty-one on a Thursday, and I did something good for someone else. It makes my heart a little less heavy.
For a while.
I’ve lived with the pain inside my soul for so long, I just want to think about someone else. I’m tired of me. I want to pity someone else. Hurt for someone else. Help someone else. Because, at this point, I’m beyond helping.
But maybe I’m not beyond redemption. I wouldn’t mind finding a bit of that while I’m here, too.
As I turn left, on toward my destination, I wonder for the millionth time if there is a going rate for the redemption of a soul. How much might that cost? But I wonder, too, if some souls are beyond redemption.
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