Breaking Point

by Doc Sawzall

Did you ever have a dream shattered? Knowing what the heart wanted, as it lay endlessly across your soul? To be so close to attaining that final piece of the puzzle, that it was within reach, that you could smell the heat, the desire, the endless unsatisfied yearning so close to fulfillment? To be but a step away from finishing the race, to be so close, the words at the tip of your tongue? Only to find yourself standing alone in the cold rain of the lonely autumn's night?

Have you ever felt the crushing weight of abject failure, ruthlessly crushing the last vestige of your soul's light, extinguishing that last spark of hope? To know with absolute, final certainty that there wasn't ever a glimmer of hope? That the future wasn't just bleak, it was a promise of lonely, gray days and nights, endlessly parading in front of you? For what seemed like as far as one could see.

To understand with utter clarity, that while science will inform you that coldest measured temperature is -459.67°F, but that's a warm day in your dreary existence now. Bereft of feelings, the result of emotional termination, your thoughts other than what is needed to conduct daily life, are securely locked within the deepest recesses of your being. Shielded by a crystalline enclosure harder than diamonds. You are is secure in an impenetrable fortress of solitude, a refuge that only you can reach…sadly, there is no longer room for any passengers, not that any would go.

Your world amongst the living is a lie, a façade so to speak. Tempered with enough of social graces, that allows you to navigate a course of least obstruction amongst your peers. It wasn't always like this, but life has taught you, it isn't always…in fact rarely fair. If you are lucky, there may be food on the table, to sleep in a room that blocks the winters cold, heartless wind.

You wonder if your father has finally found a job, one that he can hold on to. The greatest war may have saved the world, but at a cost. In giving their all in the battle against fascism, not every man came back with wounds, that were easily seen or treated. For some there were deeper horrors…horrors that ate at the psyche every day.

You wonder if your mother managed to pick up an extra shift at the department store or if she will be tending to Mrs. Keen tonight, her frailties requiring someone to watch over her. Would there have been enough time to leave a meal, to heat up something found in the fridge. Will there be enough to pay the rent, you wonder, it's past due. Hoping against all odds that the sheriff won't show up with the eviction notice, it's only happened four other times. You pray that the latest appeal to the veteran's administration will successful, that they own up to your father's PTSD.

Your older brother, the light of everyone's life, the boy who can do no wrong, failed to make the grade at college and is back home. A bona fide mathematical genius, his talents are lost to the world of drugs beyond pot. Once a clean cut strapping youth of six-and-a-half-feet, his hair is unwashed like the rest of him, oblivious to the foul stench emanating from his clothing and mouth. His teeth haven't seen a toothbrush in some time. They are rotten at the edges, multiple cavities evident every time he opens his mouth.

You silently pray he hasn't found your savings bank passbook; all your hard-earned work is in that book. The countless afternoons mowing lawns, shoveling snow, and moving furniture for the Good Doctors wife, is in that passbook A shrew of a woman, nothing is ever right, her insatiable need to have everything just so. Incapable of communicating the simplest of instructions, everything must be redone multiple times. You labor at her beck and call, complete the chores, while she in her righteous indignation, wonders why she can't find 'good' help. Your thankful that the good doctor handles the finances and doesn't belabor paying the bill for your labors. There is always a bit extra, for 'yes dear' duties, the doctor winks.

No, it wasn't always like this. You pray your father is down at the coffee shop tonight fixing all the world's problems with the other regulars. Railing against those who are supposedly what he has become. You hope your brother is lost in a fog of unreality, somewhere else, medicating his bipolar issues. You simply can't take another confrontation over the money he needs to make the latest payment on his motorcycle, money he'd have if he didn't smoke, snort, or inject. The last altercation, the result of a suggestion that employment might be beneficial, nearly ended with a broken arm.

Then there's the note you found in your locker at school. In a world that has been piling it on lately, just how much deeper do you want to dig the hole? Wasn't it simply better to leave it unread, not to rip off the scab that was, them?

No, it wasn't always like this, once there had been hope despite the worst of circumstances, someone to hold his hand, to share a kiss, another boy…just like him. He still couldn't understand how it all went upside down so quickly. Plans had been made during stolen moments, a promise made to each other, destroyed in an instant. It just hurt so fucking bad. Of all the crap he had to put up with in his life, it was bearable, tolerable even, so long as they had each other.

No, it wasn't always like that. They had plans to meet at the homecoming dance a few weeks ago, to sneak off and have some fun. Of all the times he had to go to the bathroom. The first bathroom was full of smokers and a few illicit pints being shared. He knew the second would be quieter, for anyone, it was too far to walk, or so he thought. His need to go evaporated once he pushed open the door.

Actually, it was always like that, leastwise when it came to school and his peers. Peter Bench delighted in always lording it over him. Once they had been the best of friends, playmates from kindergarten up thru sixth grade. Puberty is never kind at the onset. Throw in going from a single elementary school to a four-town regional, introduced a plethora of new students into the hormonal soup that was seventh grade. New friends made along with old friends, some discarded as the need to become one of the 'in-crowd.'

Peter had gone from friend to tormentor, always pointing out the clothes, the hair, and other magnified faults. Things went from bad to worse in ninth grade. Projects were due in Western Civilizations class. Everyone was tasked with either a model or posterboard of some aspect of colonial life in the early 1700's. Hours spent in woodshop saw the creation of a cut-through model of the first floor of an early American house. Showing examples of the framing, cladding, flooring, and finishes.

It was all for naught, Peter stuck his foot out and the model went flying as he walked up to present it to the teacher, much to the amusement of the class. Things went from funny to serious, when he needed to go to the nurse's office, the result of his chin meeting the floor, the cut needed several stiches. No one ever thought Peter was the brightest bulb in the bunch, the class teacher witnessed the entire event. When the dust settled, Peter faced a two-week suspension, barely escaping expulsion. Moreover, his family were saddled with the medical bills and the cost of replacing the ruined clothes.

While he was able to avoid Peter for most of the remainder of his high school years, there were a few occasional run-ins. For the most part harmless, a shove here, a push there, or a slapping at the books he carried, and on a few occasions some choice words tossed his way. What really riled Peter was the fact all of this was not reacted to and ignored.

Once again Peter Bench managed to find a way to ruinously intrude into his life, to destroy the last vestiges of hope. So close, just a handful of months from graduation, and a chance to leave this hellhole for a chance to make a life far away from the manure pit he was trapped in. How does one explain away the lip lock, the opened pants, hiding the grasping hand of Peter on what you thought was yours?

You pray not to run into either the following Monday at school. Luck is with you for most of the week, you neither run across or see them for most of the week. You don't hear the scuttlebutt, locked away in your studies. They are reinforced as your reason for being. Your GPA is as important as breathing, it's your ticket out. College applications are due.

You need to have a conversation with your mother about college. While it may seem unfair to the rest of the family, you are going. You will be giving thanks to Great Aunt Lottie. Her bequest will fully pay for four years. There's pressure to take the money and stay home as a commuting student, to support the family finances and your brother's habit. It ain't going to happen. Papers need to be signed and notarized giving you access to the trust fund when you turn eighteen in a few months.

Grades are the one thing you have control over, and that is where he finds you the following Monday. Your pain has dissipated somewhat over the past week. You are a pro of compartmentalizing, locking away untoward feelings. You have your head buried in a textbook, cramming for a major test in the library, when he sits across from you.

It wasn't always like this, the anger…the rage so close to the surface when prodded, poked, or disturbed. You don't have to look up to know it's him. The hand on the table is all you need to know. Molten magma of fury is on your lips, barely held back, the reins on your temper are perilously close to snapping. There's a vortex of choice, cutting to the quick comments, struggling to succinctly coalesce as you look up, and those words fail you.

The chair falling to the ground behind you, isn't quiet, neither is the voice across from you commanding you to calm down. That you need to listen and not react, asking, didn't you read the note?

Tears run unabashedly down your face when his story comes out. He never saw the door open or you. In his struggle with Peter, he gave as good as he got as best, he could. The black eyes, the cracked ribs and the separated shoulder will heal. Peter has been expelled and is in jail for assault and attempted rape. A teacher on patrol managed to break up the fight, there wasn't any doubt who the instigator was.

You tell him what you saw, how you reacted, retracted against the world, withdrew deeply. What a fool you are, how incredibly stupid he must think you are. Words of anguish pouring forth stop when he places his good hand over yours. His crooked smile sears away the anguish, burning away the blackness and fills you with hope.


It wasn't always like this, he thought, as they stood there holding hands. Not giving a damn for what his classmates might think. In a short while they each, in turn, would walk across the stage for the formal presentation of their diplomas. As valedictorian he had a speech to give. Someone once said that diplomacy was a tool of the wise. He had much to think about as he wrote the danged thing. So much he wanted to say and so little time. Never one to belabor a point, he wasn't about to start.

Looking out at the assembled parents, brothers, and sisters, he was at once humbled as he spoke to the crowd, realizing no one is an island. Leaving the stage to polite applause, he eagerly sought the eyes of the one person that mattered. They had a camping trip to get to, skipping the traditional parties.

As they were leaving his mother gave him her blessings. It had been a few rough months for them and they survived. His brother in jail for dealing hard drugs, his father in the VA hospital as the result of an incapacitating stroke. Great Aunt Lottie was finally feeling her age and his mother would be providing the needed in-home care.

Great Aunt Lottie's car was given to him along with additional funds for a summer spent in exploring the national park system, proving their love to each other, as many times as it took to get it right.

It wasn't always like this he thought with the certainty of being, knowing…it does get better.

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