The ringing telephone startled her. She had been so deep in thought, remembering that night all those years ago when she first began writing about her life, that it took her a few moments to become acclimated. When she looked down at the blank notepad, she again felt the full weight of Dr. Nolan’s assignment.
“Take a message,” she muttered as she heard her own voice emanating from the answering machine in the next room. “I’m busy.”
She got up from the kitchen table and walked over to the sink where she poured her now-cold coffee down the drain.
“Maybe taking a walk will help,” she thought, striding toward the closet for her coat and an umbrella in case the weather report calling for late afternoon rain proved accurate.
As she got into her car and backed it out of the garage, with the notepad tucked into her bag, she knew where she was headed, but resisted consciously contemplating her destination until she arrived there. Turning up the radio, she drove dispassionately, yet purposefully. She knew this was a trip she had been destined to make, but had put off making, for many years.
When she rounded the corner and saw the entrance to the park, she considered driving by, but forced herself to continue through the main gate. The park was virtually deserted, undoubtedly because of the chilly fall weather and possibility of rain. One or two couples pushed their young children, bundled into their new winter coats, on the swings but, for the most part, she would have the area to herself, just as she wanted. As they had, all those years ago.
Just as she parked the car and stepped out of it, a gust of cold air rattled the driver’s side door, pushing it toward her as she was about to close it. The only sound, other than the voices of a couple of young children across the way urging, “Daddy, push me higher!” and laughing, was that of the crisp leaves crackling under her shoes. The swimming area had been closed several weeks ago when summer wound down and the local kids returned to school. Anyone who had been there earlier in the morning to fish was long gone by this afternoon hour.
She decided to take a walk on the path that wove around the lake — the same path that they had walked along together so many times — leading to their favorite bench near the entrance to the wilderness trails. She pulled up her collar, put on her gloves, and continued the walk back to that special place. She had only been to this park a few times in the ensuing years and, on those occasions, solely out of an obligation to attend a child’s birthday party, community picnic or similar event. During each visit, she had avoided going near or even looking at that particular spot. In fact, she rarely even drove down the street where the entrance to the park was situated. She usually took alternate routes to reach her destination. Out of sight, out of mind . . . she hoped.
But not today.
She was surprised at how good it felt to be outside in the crisp, clean air, and found the walk exhilarating. The lake was always beautiful at this time of year and time of day. The water was still, save for the occasional breeze that skimmed along the surface, stirring the top of the water just enough to spoil the perfectly glassy appearance of the water.
Before she knew it, she had walked the entire length of the path and found herself nearing the bench where she planned to sit, collect her thoughts, and get on with writing the letter. Up to this point, she had scrupulously evaded thinking about anything in particular, instead choosing to simply enjoy the process of taking this important walk. But with each subsequent step, she realized that if she could not confront her feelings and begin committing them to paper in this place, she might never be able to do so at all.
The old feelings of trepidation and self-doubt began flooding back, but she continued walking. At last, she reached the bench overlooking the water and slowly lowered herself onto the very spot where she used to love spending time. At that very moment, another gust of wind billowed through the trees and out over the water, and she shivered as the memories began flooding back, unimpeded.
To her, it seemed as though she had been sitting there for hours when she finally reached into her bag and pulled out the notepad and pen. Balancing it on her lap, she contemplated how and where to begin, but none of the approaches she considered seemed appropriate or adequate. Once again, she found herself frozen, pen in hand, unable to start writing.
“Oh, for god’s sake!” she exclaimed aloud, utterly exasperated with herself. “Do what Em told you. Just write!”
With that, she took the cap off the pen and began moving it over the paper, unsure of what she was going to say, but determined to write anything.
Four words. She wrote just four words before she again stopped, staring at them as the tears she had never cried before finally began to flow. As she studied the letters, she whispered unconvincingly, “I hate you, Dr. Nolan.” She crumpled up the paper, stuffed the notepad and pen back into her bag, and sat on that park bench for what seemed like several more lifetimes, holding the page in her gloved hand while the memories overtook her as freely and uncontrollably as the tears rolling down her cheeks.
Aloud, she repeated the four words she had managed to write. But, of course, no one heard her.
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