Charlie leaned back in her office chair in deep thought. She was struggling with putting down the words that would finish her essay that she had hoped to publish. Books by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Joan Didion, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Virginia Woolf, sat on her bookshelf. All her inspirators and favorite works sat, collecting dust, something she hoped this essay would do for someone else’s bookshelf.
Is it strange that I want my own work collecting dust on someone’s shelf? She thought as she attempted to figure out how to sum up her hard work. Charlie had been working on an essay on niche culture and how social media helps and hurts. She’s worked through a crazy amount of hours for research and gathering intel from countless experts. Sleepless nights contributed to her writing. You could say she’s put her blood, sweat, and tears into this body of work.
Now she was stuck. It was the last few pages of her essay and she couldn’t figure out how to close it.
Frustrated, she slammed the laptop closed and got off the chair. She wasn’t sure how long her body had been in that chair, but the stiff joints and painful movements gave away signs that it’s been more than just a few hours.
She grabbed her smartphone that lay sadly on her desk and checked to see if there were any notifications. Unfortunately, there were several… all from her mother.
She decided that calling would be the best way to respond.
“Charlotte Anne! What the hell, I’ve been trying to contact you for hours!” Charlie cringed; her mother used her full name. She tried to wrap her head around her mother’s sudden need to catch her.
“But, you didn’t call me…”
“That’s because I didn’t think you’d answer.”
Charlie reflected on that and agreed, “You’re right. What’s the matter? Where’s the fire?”
“Charlie, it’s your dad… He had to go the hospital. He’s okay for now, but the doctors are running tests to find out what’s going on.” Charlie’s heart stopped for a few milliseconds, she didn’t hear the rest of what her mother said.
“Charlie, you’re almost done with your essay…”
“I’m finished. I’m coming.” Charlie lied as she started running into her bedroom to collect her belongings.
“Honey… I don’t want you to come out here if this just happens to be a fluke thing.”
“It’s okay, I need a vacation after working on this for so long. I’ll be there first thing in the morning. Love you, bye.”
Charlie hung up the phone before her mother could say anything else. Her mind was racing. She knew she needed to finish that essay, but being with her father was more important. If she didn’t go see him and something happened, she’d never finish that essay.
She ran back into her office and stuffed her laptop and its charger into her bag and out the door she went. Maybe she could get some writing done while at home.
It was going to be an all-nighter drive. Charlie lived four states away from her family. In retrospect, it wasn’t the best decision to move out to New York, but she thought she’d have more inspiration and a better chance of landing a publisher if she lived closer to them.
Her father never understood why she majored in sociology and cultural anthropology. He felt like those degrees wouldn’t make any money and she’d be stuck teaching. Her father wanted Charlie to excel in life and live better than they did.
Charlie had to prove to him that being a sociologist was so much more than teaching. She wanted to write essays and journals to help improve and change the societal discourse that’s been happening as of late. When she wrote her thesis paper for her master’s degree on mob mentality and it was published in her professor’s online journal, her father finally softened on his idea of her career path.
Everything she worked for was all thanks to her father. He was just a simple manufacturing technician. It was the only job he could get out of high school. He always spoke to Charlie about work and the people he worked with. He would complain about his bosses and wondered why they never listen to him or his other coworkers whenever an issue arose. He would voice, “If I could just get into their heads to understand.”
Charlie would sit and listen, because what else can you do as a little girl? She was curious, too. But she wasn’t really interested in getting inside his bosses’ head. She was more interested in the environment he worked at and the mentality behind his bosses and coworkers. Why was there an established divide? Who decided that the bosses would always be right?
By the time she was in high school, she discovered sociology and from then on she pursued that path, much to her father’s dismay. He really wanted her to be a lawyer. Charlie was always very good a debates and he felt that her talents would be lost if she kept going down the humanities route. But, she proved him wrong and he was once again flabbergasted about how brilliant his daughter came to be.
As Charlie neared hour six of her nine-hour trip she knew she needed to take a break. But, it was nearly eleven o’clock at night and not a lot of places would be open.
“I just need to get coffee.” She said out loud. Hearing her voice actually caused her to jump. She hadn’t realized she’d been driving in total silence for the past two hours when her Pandora station stopped playing.
She decided to pull into a Waffle House, because those places were always open and getting something to eat wouldn’t be so bad either. Her stomach growled as she turned off the car.
When was the last time I ate?
She checked her messages to see if her mother had left any news, but so far it’s been radio silent. Charlie texted her mother, but no response meant either her mother was too preoccupied with worrying over her husband or she went to sleep because she couldn’t handle staying awake. Charlie always said her mother was an anxiety sleeper. Whenever something made her mother anxious it would put her right to sleep. That was how she coped. For Charlie, if she were anxious, she would be up for a week.
For the rest of the drive, Charlie reflected on her time spent with her father. She was already preparing for him to leave her even though her mother mentioned several times that he was okay, for now. Charlie knew that her mother tended to fake how severe things were.
One instance was when Charlie had broken her arm playing outside with her friends. Charlie couldn’t look at her arm because she was in so much pain and her mother, the nurse, just told her it’s fine; it was just a minor break. It was broken in three places.
Charlie remembered one time when her father came home after injuring himself at work. He was in so much pain, but he had to go back to work the next day. She remembered her mother telling him to take the day off and rest, but insisted that he go back. He never asked for workman’s compensation. He just returned to work, persevered, and finished out the week.
That weekend they were supposed to go the batting cages so Charlie could practice her softball swing. Her father looked so defeated when he told her they couldn’t go. Charlie didn’t cry or put up a fight. She understood and spent the weekend by his side, reading her books. She wasn’t sure if he enjoyed her commentary on what she was learning about, or if he was even listening, but she did enjoy that entire weekend of just the two of them, learning together.
She neared the final stretch to her home. She saw the signs pointed for her town and her heart began to pound. She looked at her phone again for any signs from her mother and she got nothing. As she rolled up to her family home she felt a sense of nostalgia. Everything looks the same as it did when she was ten years old.
She entered her home to find it empty. Her mother must have stayed the night at the hospital. Charlie made her way into the living room and crashed on the couch. She couldn’t bring herself up the stairs to her bedroom… she was too tired and too emotionally drained.
In the morning, she felt a soft touch through her hair. She jostled awake to find a blanket had been laid over her and her mother was sitting beside her.
“How’s Dad?” Charlie asked as she pulls away from sleep.
“You know, he’s a fighter.”
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