I wasn't in the best place, the why, when and where questions although germane are not critical. Suffice it to say I was drained. Physically I was sick, hacking with a lingering respiratory invasion, and my body already rebelling from spending several hours walking in an unplanned emotion- and anger-driven march. A steady drizzle added to my already clammy state. It wasn't enough rain for people driving by to think I was crazy for walking in it, but it was enough to add to my misery. As my legs sagged, my cough worsened and my mind struggled to recall the old comic strip with the character who had a perpetual rain cloud about his head...
It wasn't only physical, I was emotionally, financially and most importantly spiritually spent.
I had left home in the same dreary drizzle the night previous, on foot in a stew of self-pity, sleep deprivation and solitude seasoned with healthy doses of anger, self-loathing and occasional sprinkles of near suicidal thoughts. The time away did little to cheer my mood or comfort my fatigued body. My soul had thrown in the towel. I was trudging back home because I had no other place to go, and believe me I tried to think of one, but it was senseless. Unless I wanted to chuck it all, everything in my life, family, job, money, career and my future, I had to eventually get home.
It wasn't easy and as I limped past a car rental place my mind scurried with the scoundrels of escape. "Rent a car, max out a credit card and wherever you land...you start new." The whispers were real as was the temptation, but I don't run away, I may shove people away but I don't run from them.
Besides if anything my night away had proven it was that I was no better for it - probably worse. My feet were swelling, I was still feverish, and I was "ripe" having not even brought a change of clothes with me. I was ill prepared to go to Sonic much less "off the grid."
I had walked a couple of miles when I realized I couldn't make it the rest of the way. My legs were giving out, my lungs ached, my feet were begging for relief and clearly announcing that no option that provided such would be rejected, quite possibly including self-amputation.
I was a mess.
I was alone.
I'd been doing it too long, carrying too much, trying too hard, sleeping too little, eating too sporadically, and trying so hard to hold it all together. I was falling apart.
Worse yet, I'd become so accustomed to never asking for help from anyone that when I needed help I didn't know anyone to call.
Sure, I could call this guy or that guy about the only two people on earth who I truly know would drop everything if I called them these days, but they didn't need my burdens and it would take them longer to come get me than it would for me to tough it out and hoof it home.
So I sat...in the gutter. Actually more of a drainage ditch... a culvert I suppose. I was sitting on the edge but I might as well have been prostrate in the sludge below, I was feeling like crap anyway.
I was talking to God...or maybe just to myself or the wind, who knows? I wasn't sure any more which depressed me further. I couldn't go on like this, I wasn't sure I could even stand up and I didn't want to die on the side of a drainage ditch...I didn't...sometimes I had to repeat that to myself or to the wind or to God...maybe.
I hadn't seen Darnell for I don't know how long. He had been the postal carrier in our neighborhood for years and he and I would regularly talk. He was a devout Christian but had not always been so and we shared war stories of God's battles for our hearts. He was a regular part of my life, not deeply involved, we weren't "friends" so to speak, but we were constants in each other's lives. My schedule coincided with his route and more often than not if we didn't talk almost every day, we exchanged waves or honks of the car horn.
Then he was gone. I knew he was unhappy with some things at the Postal Service and I wondered if he had finally said, "I've done my time, I'll take my pension please."
I wouldn't be surprised were that to be the case. Weeks passed, then months and soon we had a new postal carrier who wasn't "new" any more. He'd been on the job for a year or more. He knows our names, I don't know his. He's not as outwardly friendly as Darnell. He's younger whereas Darnell is around my age although having a job where he actually gets to walk around a bit, go outdoors and be in the sun, he's in better shape, not that that's saying much. In any case, time hasn't left as many outward signs upon him as it has etched upon me.
Darnell was quite possibly the farthest thing from my mind that day.
I took a quick evaluation of my situation. I was dirty, tired, sweating and limping but I had to get up and get moving because by my calculations the odds seemed to be rapidly increasing with each passing minute that my obit would be headlined, "Road kill turns out to be remnants of human."
I was hacking and wiping sweat from my eyes when there it was making an illegal U-turn in the middle of the street...a mail truck. Seconds later Darnell was pulling up along side me saying, "Michael? You don't look well. You okay?"
I thought, "Dear God, I'm freakin' hallucinating, my fever must be through the roof."
Here I was at a point I had never been, a depth of despair and doubt I never foresaw myself falling toward and now Darnell reappears out of nowhere at this exact moment?
"Michael?? Are you okay? You really look sick and you're a little off course from your usual walking path."
It had been years since I walked the neighborhood every day and Darnell was certainly familiar with not only the neighborhood but my walking patterns...when I used to adhere to them.
"It's been a rough 24 hours...I don't have the strength to explain, but where did you come from? I haven't seen you in forever!" I rasped trying not to sound near as horrible as I felt.
"Wrestling demons." That was all he said, and it took me a while to realize he wasn't responding to my question.
He was tersely summing up my situation.
"Let me give you a ride home."
I looked at his postal vehicle, there was only one seat and he was in it...the rest of the truck was stuffed to the rafters with mail. I said, "Doesn't look like you really have room."
He then slid open one of the side doors and said, "There's room if you stand on the running board and are strong enough to hang on. It's illegal, and I could get fired, but hop on."
Seeing Darnell made me feel more alive and I knew there weren't going to be any other offers of a ride. Plus if I turned down this offer it wasn't inconceivable to me that somehow my feet might find a way to strangle me.
I stepped onto the running board, leaned back and gripped the door handle tightly. Seconds later we were zipping down the street.
We didn't share any more words except the admonishment from Darnell, "If anyone says they saw me doing this I'll deny it."
Within minutes he had brought me right to my front door. He didn't need to be reminded where I lived, and he didn't need to know why I was in a different "place" on this particular day. He just knew what he had to do.
"Get some rest," he said as I stepped down from the running board and thanked him while trying not to grimace as my feet reminded me that even the few steps to reach the front door weren't going to be easy. I couldn't imagine how I would have made it home on foot or how long it would have taken me.
"One day, I'll explain this to you Darnell, but believe me seeing you today is a major blessing."
"I'm glad I saw you, although 'officially' I was never here."
He closed the door and then drove away somewhat stealthily, like a gang member knowing he was on the wrong turf.
I stumbled into the house, directly into bed.
I whispered a few words to God, definitely God, before I fell into a deep sleep.
"Oh Lord, forgive me. I should never have let it get this far. I should have reached out to You more, rolled these burdens into Your waiting hands. You can have them now. I'm going to get the rest I need. I will get perspective back. I promise."
"Oh, and thank you Father for Darnell. Your message couldn't have been more clear had it been etched on stone tablets. I'm so grateful for Your grace... I'm so undeserving of it too.
Especially a special delivery."
*This is a work of fiction lest anyone be confused, or the Postal Inspector go looking for Darnell.