She slowed the car as it neared the corner. He was there again. Or still? A brown, nondescript bundle by his feet, all he had left in the world, clothes that had seen better days over shoulders that sloped forward. He was thinner than she remembered.
Would he remember?
The car was crawling now, the traffic behind her growing impatient. She ignored an angry horn, the sound reminding her of a mother goose trying to corral her gosling forward. She had time. Let them go around and hurry into the future, she only had time for the past today.
She rolled the car right up next to him, saw the sign that said simply “I’m Broke, Anything Will Help”. The passenger window rolled down in response to her finger on the button. It seemed to take years. He was looking down into the window now, his expression grim and tired, eyes vacant, his weather roughened hand out to catch the twenty dollar bill she extended toward him. This had been their routine every Friday for months now, ever since she first saw him on this corner. Ever since she realized who he was. He never recognized her, until today. She knew the moment it happened. His eyes widened the tiniest bit, the crease in his brow smoothed in surprise, he opened his mouth as if to say something, but what was there to say? He remembered and if he remembered her, he remembered all of it.
Did he remember the day they promised themselves to one another? Their little blue house with the irises out front and the birdbath painted sunshine yellow? Did he remember the kids, grown now and on their own? He looked so old. She was old too, she supposed. Maybe not as worn. Maybe not as bruised. He remembered everything, she could see that now. The memories of what they’d had lightened him a little and then weighed him down again as he remembered what he’d lost. What she’d taken from him. She still saw it that way.
Granted, she didn’t tell him to lose himself in a bottle but she never asked him why he did either. Of course, she had tried to get him help, get him to stop. She couldn’t make him stop but if she’d stayed, if she’d tried one more time, maybe he wouldn’t be on this corner now. It didn’t make her feel any better that she had flourished in his absence. Without the constant distraction of him and his demons clawing at her, pulling her this way and that she had created a successful, stable, comfortable life for her and their kids. A life that couldn’t have happened with him there. He couldn’t help it, she was sure. The nagging voice remained, the one that told her she owned at least some of the blame.
He lifted the bill from her fingertips at last, the edge of his mouth curling up ever so slightly, barely noticeable. A smile that said, it was always going to turn out this way. It’s ok that you set yourself free. That you set our children free.
She nodded her head, offering the barest hint of a smile in return. He remembered. He remembered choosing his demons over her, over them. There was never anything she could have done. It changed nothing. She would be there next Friday with a twenty dollar bill, looking for redemption.