Take the Stairs

Frank sat on a bench looking out at the Hudson River. He was in rehab, again. The facility was just north of Beacon in the Hudson Valley.

His first time was around twenty years ago. He had fallen into the life of booze and coke with the late eighties Wall Street crowd. Down to the seaport for a gallon of beer than a few lines for the drive to the Hampton’s.

Soon enough he started to miss the ride to the island. Choosing to stay behind to drink and snort alone. Hang out at the local pub. The girlfriend went first. Then the job, then the life savings. He woke up one afternoon strapped to stretcher at Mount Sanai hospital. A week of his life a blank slate. His brother took time off during his leave from the Navy to check him into Smithers. He walked him in the front door and left without a word. His disgust a palpable presence.

Frank didn’t fall this time. He jumped. He knew exactly what he was doing. Frank prepared the descent. He purchased expensive tumblers, silver bar supplies and the finest vodka. He drank to attempt to wash away the past. He convinced himself that the vodka could erase the memory of her, his one love dying in his arms. The pain would fade with each drink, but it didn’t last. He could never drink enough he knew, but he damn well tried.

Her memory became his companion. Always there. It had been years since she died but the memory had grown stronger with time. He could smell her, imagine the feel of her skin. His answer was to drink until the bottle was empty. Then he bought another.

He was lucky to have people in his life that loved him. It was those people who brought him here.

Frank sat watching the Hudson ease by on its way back to the New York City. The town that he could no longer handle on his own. He rose this morning in a sweat, dressed in running gear and came down to this bench to stretch. Having abused his body for months, Frank needed to rest after stretching. He wondered how he would feel after an actual workout.

He laid his head back and thought of the dream. She came to him, his Daniella, Danny, the past three nights. In the dream. The first morning upon awaking he was convinced that he died the night before to be with her in the dream, he was heartbroken when he realized that he was still alive, alone.

He wondered how a dream could be more real than anything he had felt in months. Maybe it was a hallucination from the alcohol leaving his body? The dream was so real that he could smell the air and feel the ground beneath his feet as a he slept.

This was the first morning that he had a sense of clarity. It was only a dream. Devised in his mind. There was no mystical thinking. He was trying to tell himself something. He decided to delay his run and try to go back to the dream. To search for his truth.

He closed his eyes and took a deep long breath. As he exhaled he concentrated on the dream.

He was in Saint Patrick’s cathedral on Fifth Avenue walking in a processional towards the altar. He trailed the priest and altar boys. The air smelled of incense. The priest chanted in Latin and the sound echoed through the church. The pews were empty except for his two best friends. The friends that drove him here as he slept off a drunk.

Frank knew that he didn’t want to get to the altar so he slipped into a pew. As he sat there on his bench he could feel the hard oak of the pew on his back and seat. He realized that he was starting to slip into the dream and allowed himself the indulgence.

Frank turned to his friends and motioned that he would meet them outside. Suddenly he was in front of Saints Pat’s. Before him was a rolling green hill. Roc Center, Fifth Avenue, the tourists and the taxis were all gone.

He started down a path and could feel the gravel crunch beneath his feet. The air was so clean and fresh it felt as if he was passing through a thin curtain of fresh mist. The mist dissipated on his touch. He looked ahead and could see a tennis court off in the distance. Two men dressed in formal whites were hitting a ball back and forth.

Frank felt a presence beside him. It was Brogan, his former boss and the only father figure he had ever known. Frank showed up drunk to his funeral. Made a scene. The next morning, he was taken here. His friends knew how he felt about Brogan. Showing up drunk to the funeral was rock bottom.

He expected to be scolded by the gruff old man. Instead Brogan placed a hand gently on Frank’s shoulder.

“You can go back now” He said.

Frank turned to see an elevator bank in front of him. He was in the art deco lobby of the Empire State building. There were only three buttons on the wall; only three floors. 222, 99 and 1.

Frank pressed one and the door opened. A moment after they closed the doors opened again. He looked up and the floor said ninety-nine but he could see Saint Patrick’s so he jumped off.

As he walked towards the Cathedral he saw her. Danny. She was waiting for him wearing a white dress. She cocked her head and smiled as he approached like she always did. As if she was pondering him in some way. He loved that smile.

She reached out her hands to him. He didn’t hug her. Frank took both of her hands in his. At their touch a feeling of fulfillment, enlightenment came over him.

He was lifted. He knew then in the dream, that he had never felt this way in is wakened life and never expected to.

He was so overcome that he didn’t know what to say so he recounted his experience.

“I was at an elevator bank and there were only three buttons. Two twenty-two, ninety-nine and one. I pressed one but the elevator opened at ninety-nine and it led me to you. That must mean…”

She raised a finger to her lips and shushed him.

“Next time take the stairs” she said. Then she was gone.

He woke up with a jolt on his bench by the Hudson. He rubbed his eyes and pulled up his t shirt to wipe away the moisture. He knew.

“Take the stairs.” She was speaking for him, to him. He allowed himself to let her go. She was the past now. He will never feel that way again about another person. He let go as he looked at the deep brown water of the river from his bench.

It wasn’t a dream at all. It was his call to action, his new words to live by. Frank always knew that he led a smaller life than he could have. The heights he should have attained remained beyond his reach. His days hopping on the elevator, taking the easiest path, has denied him his worth. He knew now that he will never feel that sense of fulfillment in his waking life if he continued to take the elevator. It will only be fleeting like Danny’s presence in the dream.

“Take the stairs.”

He stood and stretched out his arms and breathed in the fresh air. He would start this journey from the basement. He was underground. There were a lot of stairs to climb. He walked over to the running path and starting jogging up the hill.


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John Nuckel

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