Finding Lizzie by Damien Pardow by Damien Pardow - Read Online

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Finding Lizzie - Damien Pardow

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Some joggers stretch before they run. I read somewhere that it is better to stretch after a run. I do a little of both. Normally, I perform a pre-run ceremony that includes a few warm up stretches, an adjustment or two of my headphones, and the act of tying and re-tying my shoes until they are nice and snug. Rituals are more about mental preparedness than the acts themselves.

I read elsewhere that stretching is more important than running, which makes perfect sense. My stretch begins at the top, working my way down to my ankles and toes. I turn and twist my head until I feel a strong pull or hear a popping sound from the arch of my neck; I stretch each arm out as straight as I can and as far as I can in front of me until I feel a tingling sensation from my elbows; I lift my arm up, angle my elbow towards the sky, leaving my hand to fall over the opposite shoulder, and gradually sway my torso left, then right; while keeping my legs straight and with my hands on my hip, I bend to the side a few times, left and right again; then, I spread my legs a little past shoulder-width and rotate my hips in a circular motion until I have built the courage to lunge forward and place both hands on the ground – this particular stretch is good for my lower back and legs. Like I said, I do not do much before I run, just a light stretch to wake the tendons and muscles.

As always, I will run six miles today. I run along the Shoreline; down a typical path that many others enjoy. The path is not free from potholes, loose rocks and shells – I know them all well. Occasionally, tiny snakes, mice, and squirrels pop in and out of view, but the scenery is to die for. With that said, still, others have enjoyed this path for years; and not just ordinary people, some were famous. A movie star started her career here. She made a documentary of the town which won a few awards. She married a well known Olympian who lived a few blocks from me. He trekked the very same loose rocks and sand as I. And, a national congressman grew up just across the tracks. The older residents of this area say he jogged along this very path three to four days a week. Can you believe that, a congressman? I should mention to you that I am headed down a similar path – Politics. Many people who follow my career believe that I am destined for the national stage. I enjoy politics about as much as I enjoy morning jogs. For me, it is interesting, like a board game or puzzler. Yes, there are challenges and hurdles, but the reward for my team’s efforts are well worth it.

Some of my friends believe I was made for this life. I cannot agree with them one-hundred percent, but for my first ten years of life, which I will call my formative years, I was definitely steered in this direction. This is all due to my father. While he never forced his political views on me, per se, he did remind me daily of what and how I should think. The Moral Right was a common lecture topic that my sister, I call her my Lizzie, and I received from my father. For the most part, the lectures worked, and even to this day I cannot say that I disagree with any of them. I may disagree with the length and timing of the lectures, but hey, what’s right is right, right? Who am I to debate that? And now that I write this passage and re-re-evaluate my life, in retrospect, as a young boy, I can clearly see how I was molded into a particular kind of person that my father and mother wanted me to be. For heaven’s sake, they named me, fed me, and clothed me; so, I guess they felt they had the right to pass down their beliefs as well. Plus, I, as well as others, needed structure and lessons on how to be a contributor in this world, and they were given the privilege to do so.

We all need these lessons from our parents to become model citizens, and to share and get along with others. I think it is not a stretch to say that this very passage is somehow influenced by my parents and others close to me. And with that said, I can elaborate further by stating my character does not only stem from my parent’s ideals, slash, beliefs, but my mere identity is a by-product of their creative forces working together to mold a person who they wanted to respect, admire, and cherish. So, I became that person: respectful, honest, caring, loving, studious, etc., etc. I was constantly cognizant of this and I was perpetually aware that I was a mere student in the learning process, never a teacher. I convinced myself of that fact, many-a-time. But there had always been something missing, something slightly awry on the inside, and I cannot for the life of me identify the problem. So, I run. I run to figure things out. I run to clear my head. I run to think. I run to become more human.

Funny thing about running, it’s very similar to life. Starting out is very difficult. Sometimes it takes my body a considerable amount of time to simply warm up, and sometimes not. The run is generally rewarding but can be frustrating if I do not focus on proper breathing at a comfortable pace: There are fundamentals in everything, right? I can distinguish you what works best for me, and that is the incorporation of the aforementioned rituals plus freeing my brain of all the cloudiness that comes to life. Then, and only then, do I generate new ideas to questions or concerns that at one time posed difficulties. It took me a while to understand that I had to ‘enjoy’ the run, and not fight it, to garnish a cloud-free state of mind. Peace comes from the understanding of commonality and adversity, and after my blood begins to flow regularly and my head is clear from contorts, I find that center of peace within myself that is calming and soothing. Knowing my mark, I can exist in that mode well into the midpoint and later on in the descent. Finishing the run is the ultimate high as I feel accomplished, with the energy to start the day.

I invite you to follow me on this path. But, I must warn you, I am not perfect, nor do I attempt to be. My past is riddled with errors, just like some of you, and all I can do is my best under certain conditions. We all have made mistakes, but it is what we accomplish after those mistakes that define us. I made a grand mistake that haunted me for years. It was a mistake that cannot be retracted or reversed – an assumption of the worst kind. Correcting that mistake is what drives me today.

Chapter 1

I returned to my seat to finish the interview. I sipped the last of my third Apple Sparkler and quickly ordered another, along with a glass of white wine for Marissa. Blindly, I fiddled with my napkin by folding it in small squares as I listened to the three piece band. The piano player was a friend of mine from college. We had first met on the subway, but I had seen him several times before at various functions around campus – he was quite popular. He sat across from me on the train as we rode back from a Youth Get Out & Vote rally on the Upper East Side. A tamale lady sat next to him to rest her feet and the sweet aroma baited his will. I watched him scrape the inside of his pockets for loose change only to come up short, so I loaned him fifty cents and I tease him about it to this day. I have gotten to know Brisky fairly well over the years. He was from a small town – such as I. He needed to escape that town to define his self – such as I. So here we are, in this big city, defining ourselves with a few million other folk: each of us with a different story, each of us with a similar tale.

I sat straight and took notice of Brisky on stage as he embraced each note with a parenting passion; I bet his old town missed him after they woke up that awful morning of his departure and discovered he was no longer a part of them. But, it is common for people like Brisky to yearn for something more than what they have. Brisky was tall and thin and had a deep, brassy voice. He sounded like a jazz musician, if he spoke much. His cigar-stubbed fingers were not a match for his thin frame and they sat tightly in between the black and white keys, oddly perfect. He was in deep concentration, I could tell. His large swan-like eyes were loosely shut – slightly fluttering – and his chin rested on his chest, sometimes moving over to his left collarbone for a brief encounter. As Brisky caught the moment, the drummer eased up and kept a soft cadence with a ta-ta—teee, ta-ta-teee-tee—ta groove. The guy on the horn took three steps back and just stood there, as he should, slumped over, letting his loosely held cigarette burn at the tip of his fingers as if he was contemplating over something of importance. Brisky’s solo was immortalized by the tens of handheld recorders that captured the session. The smile that forced my ears high atop my head showed the pride I had in just knowing him. The room lengthened as Brisky introduced everyone to jazz. The audience lost their speech and that piano carried on the hundreds of conversations about what each of us had felt that night.

Earlier that day the news reported a large fire across town that laid a well-known homeless shelter to rest, coincidentally, at the same time, a reported shooting occurred in the lower part of the East Branson Basin. A prominent figure of the community who stood out for social justice was apparently murdered in front of eyewitnesses who could not identify the shooter. People did not know what to think of the recent rise in crime that straddled the city and the silence in the club lingered past sullen faces. A small part of my job at the time was to comment on such issues, if asked, on behalf of my team of investors. The reporter, Marissa, was from a small local newspaper on the West side of town. She had interviewed me before regarding my volunteer work in her neighborhood and we occasionally rubbed elbows at various functions. We had first met during our college years. We were youth counselors at a center for troubled youth. I worked on and off there for several years. Depending on my financial situation, many times I had to seek work outside of volunteering. Marissa was fortunate, as she received a full ride scholarship at her school for Journalism. So, we have known each other for some time now, and I was always happy to see her.

I could tell she was special, but that would simply generalize her existence. She did, however, have an air about her that seemed to engage everyone the same, an air of promise and conviction, and I could tell that one day she would become someone of importance. She was extremely intelligent, attractive, quick and assertive, but way too chatty that night as she derailed off topic and burrowed into my private life. We sat and talked for a couple of hours before she asked me about my childhood. No one knew much about me, or they knew very little. But Marissa’s eyes opened a door to my past and brief ballads of the joys of my youth unconsciously trickled out, leading to more questions from her. I said something unimportant about a former teenage crush and Marissa quickly took advantage and asked a question that stumped me – a question that had always caused confusion.

Love? My eyes bounced about the room, searching for an answer. I paused for as long as I could without indicating my irritation. Love is for romantics I guess… a priority for some – maybe wanted by all, or not. I don’t know how to answer your question, Marissa. I raised my heels forcing my weight on the back of the chair. Dissatisfied with my reply and feeling uneasy about the direction that the conversation was going, I sighed deeply. These kinds of interviews tend to be one-sided with only one benefactor.

The smoke in the lounge seeped into our lungs and overwhelmed the mood. I gasped a fake cough and excused myself to the restroom. Before Marissa had noticed, I made my way down the aisle, which veered an awkward left, placing me in a shoulder length line created by the watered-down drinks the bar is known for. Love? … What a question! I couldn’t shake it. The damn thing was like a torment of some sort that only a war-medic rooted deep in the trenches could fix. The men in the line grunted as if they listened in on my soliloquy of doubt.

What is love? I know I can love someone when we’re together, in the moment; but as soon as they’re gone, I put them and that feeling away, far back to that lonely corner of my mind where memories are lost in recurring dreams. That’s when I wonder if I ever really loved them at all. Love is unbreakable and timeless, or it should be. But if that is the case, why do I doubt it all? Maybe I should start with myself? Or, maybe I can’t love a woman like I should, and simply accept it? Maybe the only people that I can truly love are the people closest to me, like my parents. They both died young – too young. But I was lost back then: Lost in the sense that I did not recognize their existence, or mine.

I wonder if I really loved them. I questioned it all.

"Maybe I loved my parents the way all kids love those who provide for them? Maybe I had to love them to survive, or at least to feel alive? So, which is it? Did I really love my parents? Did I love Ashley, my first girlfriend, or was it just a young man’s crush? I thought I did. She believed I did. Did I love Lizzie?

Lizzie! I tried not to let her out again, but there she was, soaking wet, stomping her bare feet in a mercurial puddle. Innocence held her to a candy red smile. Are you happy, Liz? A dry tear quickly crusted just below my eye. ‘Liz, if I had one wish, if I had one chance, if I had that day back again….’ A short man gave me a push from behind and my lament was temporarily disturbed. In a few short steps I reached the bathroom door. The knob was aged with that color of green that thrives only on brass. Time has not healed me yet. In fact, time has been a burden that has grown into a festered sore. I can do better, I thought to myself, ‘I can do better’.

I hurried back to the table to pay my share of the tab and end my commitments for the night. Marissa packed her case, stood up to my height and gave me a farewell hug. With her right hand, she squeezed my left forearm just above my wrist assuring that she was sincere. Her round, brown eyes gave all the affirmation I needed. As I watched her walk away, I thought to myself, ‘I will love her one day’. I stood there for a few seconds and wondered why I felt the way I did.

I waited at the end of the bar for Brisky while the band settled up the tabs and packed their gear. They each left with $19 in their pocket and a belly of booze – not bad for them. I joked with Brisky about all of the pretty girls that came to see him, commenting that the club was usually filled with ‘heads’. Heads was a term we used for males; chickens were females. We were still young.

Yes, but heads pay the bills and appreciate my skills, said Brisky in a bee-bop fashion. He was definitely not sober. He had reached that familiarity only when liquor had coated his speech. And you? How goes the campaign?

I laughed as this was a typical greeting from Brisky. He had a way of making the simplest of remarks funny. Brisky was much taller than I, but as we sat on the bar stools, we were equal. His back was straight and I noticed his narrow frame formed a perfect letter ‘h’. He wore a black blazer that had been washed maybe four or five times, but never pressed. The sleeves were too short resulting in exposure to his worn shirt cuffs and thin wrists. The room remained warm even after the set, and the crowd sifted past us towards the freshness of the outdoors. A young couple told Brisky that the night was special for them as that day was their one-year anniversary. Brisky was genuinely happy to be a part of the memory, maybe more so than they. One of Brisky’s favorite sayings was, ‘Always leave your mark, Man’.

A young lady sat behind us and admired Brisky’s backside as the remaining few patrons stopped and thanked him for the performance. She was alone and had been all night. Ruffles were in season, again. The popular dress of the time had a low-cut V-neck ruffled collar that trickled down to the midsection, exposing the greatest amount of cleavage possible. She wore that particular dress for that particular night as it accentuated her best features, leaving the rest behind. Her green dress complimented the earth tones in her eyes very well and she chose a ruby red lipstick to cover her thin lips. Her face was a faint pink, and the little bit of glitter on her cheeks sparkled from the soft lights above her. She wore very little make-up and just the right amount of blush and eyeliner that proved she did put in the effort.

She had done this before, many times, and experience had taught her to remain sober and aware. The only glass at her table had a trail of lipstick marks around the rim. A few drops of white wine rested as a stain just above the stem. Age did not matter to her and she preferred her men tall and slim with any shade of dark skin. Brisky was of that dark, even, tourmaline complexion that women craved, either secretly or in the open. Women like her appreciated the contrast, the smoothness, the way the sweat beaded and dripped down the darkened back. She did not appear nervous though she should have been.

The bar was left with just a few patrons now. The smoke that smothered the average lung had dissipated and the last call for alcohol was made 30 minutes ago. She stood, finally, and was rather short and a little pudgy. Her calves were milky white and thick and round; she had been that size for a while and had learned to accept it. She barely tugged at her dress before grabbing a small white leather purse that was rather new, or rarely used. It bulged at the bottom and she grabbed it not by the strap, but by the kiss clasp. She wobbled ever so slightly and yet had an energetic bounce to her; she was happy about something. Her shoes were the only thing not well kept. The soles were frayed and the shoes seemed more fitting for daytime wear than for night. Never taking her eyes off the target, she walked around the wide tables gently pushing in the chairs that separated us. There was some effort involved, but her smile never broke. She approached her mark, clicked her heels, gave me a half-smile and Brisky a full one. She was cute, not pretty, and was probably very shy as a young girl. Her hair was shoulder length, strawberry blonde with subtle highlights, and curled outward slightly at the ends, attractively. She introduced herself as a fan of the music and even called the work an art. I got a whiff of her alluring perfume as she leaned in to Brisky on his right side. Separating us, she spoke softly next to his ear. Brisky was an inanimate character at times, so he barely acknowledged her, but she was persistent. I had to work in the morning so I asked Brisky if he wanted to share a cab. He shook his head no, as the young woman continued on. I looked at her sadly and excused myself. She replied with an agreeing smile.

I walked up the narrow stairs into the passing night and passed the parked cabbies in front of the venue as they scanned my face for some type of sign. I was still very much awake so I veered down Madison Avenue and took