The Tuggles

Episode 13: The Darkness

November 29, 2017
darkness

April 1996

The sound of the rolling cart approached his cell for what seemed like hours, stopping at 30-second intervals for each inmate to make a haphazard selection. He hadn’t accepted a book yet in his few weeks at the penitentiary, but a sense of solace beckoned to him today from the squeaky wheels. The cart came into view in front of his entrance and Tim glanced up at the scruffy attendant, his hand on his hip, belly hanging out of his blue button-up uniform. With no words exchanged, Tim rose from his bed and slowly walked the few steps between them. The unorganized cart was picked over. Having never been much of a reader, he moved uncertainly from title to title. The bottom shelf held only five books: The Catcher in the Rye, and four copies of Holy Bible.

Staring at those titles, the world seemed so far away. Those last few weeks contained the most intense loneliness he had ever experienced in all of his 36 years of life. All his failures, his accomplishments, his desires—separated from him by concrete walls and barbed wire. The defeat within his spirit left a humbling resolve for whatever lay in front of him, and right now what lay in front of him was this tattered hardback, blue Bible. He grabbed the one out front and the cart rolled out of sight. Nestling back into his bunk, the book fell open and he began to read. Returning the book an hour later, Tim climbed into bed and ruminated on the words he had just ingested. A feeling of fresh life coursed through him and tears filled his eyes. He knew the resounding echo in his spirit could only come from God, the One he hadn’t spoken to in years, but was now speaking to him.

There are going to be a lot of things that are going to hit you and knock you down, but don’t stay down. Get up right away, because you’re a warrior. Warriors don’t lie down and just lie there, they get up and they continue to fight.

The contrast in tone from all his other thoughts briefly threw him off guard, and this gentle fierceness only made him cry harder. An invasion of presence swept over him in waves and the coupling of such intense emotion seemed to cleanse his deepest parts. As he fell asleep hours later, he knew his deepest certainties were being countered with a greater intensity than his fears had known.

He was not finished. And he was not alone.

 

February 2011

Tim jerked awake as the front door slammed shut, the windows rattling. He moaned at the ache in his legs as his puffy eyes blinked over and over, gazing up at an unfamiliar ceiling fan. Sunlight streamed in through swaying sheer curtains near his head. He rolled onto his side and chunks of foam spilled out of the torn, faded leather couch in the middle of a 1950s-style living room. Temples throbbing, he pursed his dried, cracked lips and moaned in contempt at the assault on his senses. He slowly climbed off the couch and attempted to examine the room through puffy eyes. His tool belt lay beneath the windowsill amidst empty beer cans, pizza boxes, and soiled napkins. He retrieved his shoe from the other side of the couch, scattering used needles and crack pipes in the process. Wherever he was, he had no memory of getting there.

Slinging the tool belt over his shoulder, he started for the door, groping his pockets in search of his phone and keys.

Neither.

A surge of panic shot through with his next heartbeat. The unfamiliarity of the place now coupled with missing articles of paramount importance sent his former state of numb apprehension into all systems go for a total panic attack.

What time was it? What day was it?

He stared at the hallway behind the couch and listened intently for a moment for any sounds in the back of the house.

Nothing. The furnace hummed and rattled.

Tim scurried around the room with neck craned and eyes racing across the floor. He scattered trash with his feet, frantically searching beneath the debris littering the scuffed hardwood floor. After several, long minutes he came upon his cell phone, overturned near an overflowing garbage bag.

Dead.

Continuing his search for the keys, he heard stirring from the back of the house and his heartrate quickened. Unsure of who he might encounter, he glanced out the front window in search of his vehicle.

Nothing but a 1996 faded blue Chevy pickup in the driveway.

Where was his truck? And how did he get here?

An old familiar feeling was settling over him. The confusion. The chaos. The missing memories. How long had he been here? He recognized the dread rising up in him as the shame of his former self surfaced and lingered. The hangover screamed behind his eyes as if his muscles were being squeezed and wrung out.

A door opened. Tim froze.

Footsteps came down the hall and he looked up to see a short thirtysomething with pale white skin wearing a wife beater tank top and gym shorts.

“Sup, man,” the guy casually greeted him as he opened the refrigerator.

“Uh, hi,” Tim stuttered. “I’m looking for my truck keys. Any idea where they might be?” feebly attempting to keep things nonchalant.

With his head still in the fridge, “Nah, man. Haven’t seem ‘em.” He took a swig of orange juice out of the carton. “Oh, wait. You didn’t drive here, did you?”

Tim could feel his blood pressure rising. The chaotic confusion of this moment was pushing him over the edge from feeling completely out of control to completely enraged at being out of control.

“Oh, wait. Sorry. That’s the dude in that back room.” He motioned down the hallway. “My bad.” The man smirked nonchalantly.

“Where the hell am I and how did I get here? Who are you?” the words spilled out tersely before Tim could think. Suddenly a series of hazy flashbacks streamed across his mind like ticker tape. Fading in and out.

Coming in the door… Passing drinks… Heating up the crack cocaine.

His face fell at the sudden remembrance.

The man lowered the carton from his mouth and stared at Tim for a moment. “You’ve been here three days. It’ll come to you in a minute.” He returned the orange juice to the fridge, unfazed by Tim’s slight outburst.

Tim’s jaw clenched down tightly. The buckle on the tool belt was starting to dig into his shoulder blade.

“Maybe you parked your truck a few houses down. Go out there and look.” Leaning up against the counter he crossed his arms and gave Tim a look of resignation.

“Do you have a charger I could try to use for my phone? It’s dead.” Tim’s breathing slowed and he, too, resigned himself to the current of amnestic circumstances. A few moments later the guy brought him several phone chargers from around the house. To his glory, one worked. 41 unread text messages and 13 voicemails.

Minutes later Tim climbed into the driver’s seat of the borrowed truck and slammed the door behind him, breathing a sigh of relief at the sight of the keys in the ignition.

Lifting the phone to his ear, he listened to the first voicemail of Lynn’s confused questions—each subsequent recording full of worry, fear, and restrained anger. As the final one played back, the first five seconds were only breathing. Then a low voice.

Leif.

His words were flat, tumbling out crisply just above a whisper.

Tim blinked, frowning. He swallowed past the lump in his throat, unsure whether to return the calls or to just drive. The weight of the recorded words lagged several moments and then sank down like a heavy boulder now resting on the lungs of Tim’s spirit. The fog of guilt and shame extended three feet in all directions from him and his anger came bounding up to defend him from any brokenness.

Tim stared ahead at a fire hydrant down the street, stifling his anger from morphing into remorse. His resolve grew more and more hardened like a brick wall resisting demolition in the face of a wrecking ball.

He numbed himself against the undertone of hurt in Leif’s voice, residually reverberating as the last echo of the collective voices calling out for him in his darkness. Shoving the tool belt onto the floor of the truck’s passenger side, he angrily grabbed the seatbelt and buckled himself in, securing his pride, and jerking the truck into reverse. He exited the neighborhood and turned onto the main road, recognizing his surroundings once again.

Whose house was that and how did I end up there? he questioned himself forcefully through the bars of his prideful imprisonment.

Tim shifted in his seat, disturbed that he couldn’t even remember the last time he saw Lynn or Leif. He retraced the steps of his memory as the truck bounced softly down the road.

He searched and collected all fragmented memories—sneaking out of the house after everyone was in bed. Driving to the projects in search of the dealer he had seen on the street corner earlier that day. Going from beer to beer, crack pipe to crack pipe. Random, faded, unfamiliar faces. His next thought pierced his heart and he struggled against the flood of worry, panic, and rage amidst his fog of confusion.

Lynn.

He dreaded the thought of her. Her state of wondering. Of disappointment. Of abandonment. Previous memories of this same routine came bubbling up in his memory and he diverted his attention to avoid facing them. The droning of the cycle of his addiction filled his ears and whispers from a prison cell some fifteen years past began fluttering up in his distant memory.

Warrior?

Continue to fight?

Turning into Kenny and Vivian’s neighborhood, he wiped away the profuse sweat in his palms. He swallowed again.

Suddenly he was in the driveway. He pulled the nose of the truck up next to the garage and pushed the gear into park. Rubbing his eyes and his temples, his dry throat burned with every swallow. He took a deep breath and heaved a sigh, numbness rising again to envelop the cloud of his emotional confusion.

Tim climbed out of the truck, unsure of this intense ache in his legs when several tools fell out of his tool belt onto the driveway. He slowly bent over to retrieve them into his arms and swung the belt back over his shoulder. As he rounded the truck, Lynn appeared around the corner of the house in her gray sweatpants and slippers, wearing her usual mauve suede coat. They both halted and locked eyes, nearly ten feet apart.

She slipped her hands into her coat pockets and stared at him unflinchingly, examining his ragged, disheveled state—greased hair sticking to his shining, pink forehead, cracked lips with dried blood in the corner of his mouth, plaid shirt unbuttoned beneath his unzipped Carhartt jacket, boots untied. An old, familiar sight she hadn’t seen in years. “Hi,” she said softly.

Tim stared numbly into his wife’s big, hazel eyes. They took turns breathing out intense, foggy breaths in the 15-degree February air. The bitter cold of the New Mexico winter hadn’t quite reached the depths of their hearts until this moment. Like the Titanic on its maiden voyage of such glory and magnitude, in the hushed hours of the night while horses sleep and stars twinkle, they had unsuspectingly broadsided a glacier. Scraping off the seal of strength and invading with an intent to sink.

It was all Tim could do to keep from a total breakdown right there when his wife’s eyes began filling with tears.

She looked down at his armful of tools and stepped towards him. “Let me help you with that,” she whispered, extending her hand towards him.

“I got it,” Tim quickly retorted. He clutched the hammer and wrench closer into his chest, hoping they would hold him together. She slipped her hand back inside the pocket and a tear slipped out of her eye. She gazed into his eyes, a low rumbling of anger coalescing with her pain.

“No, I don’t think ya do got it.” With that, she walked away from him and turned the corner towards the front door.

He felt a break in his spirit. The rush of tears spilled warmth over his cheeks and the bitter cold smacked against them with a bitterness only known in the dark night of the soul.

 

 

 

 

READ MORE:

Previous–Episode 12: The Dump
Beginning–Episode 1: The Funeral

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