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Suzanne Beecher

Dear Reader,

I received a text "SOS" from a friend the other day. It read:

"I'm home and on the phone--call me and interrupt--please!!!"

My friend and I had been trying to hook up on the phone for a couple of days, but it wasn't for any urgent matter, so I couldn't imagine why she would be texting me this message of distress. I felt kind of funny calling her and interrupting her in the middle of her conversation with someone else, but one thing I learned in school was how to follow directions (at least when the spirit moved me), so I immediately dialed her number.

I heard relief and delight in my friend's voice when she took my call. "Thank you for rescuing me," she said. "I was talking to my mother-in-law, whom I love dearly, but if I try to end a phone conversation by telling her that I have to go, she's offended. But if I tell her I hear another call coming in (yes I know I could pretend, but I feel less guilty if there's actually a call), she's satisfied and she willingly says good-bye. Thank you, thank you, Suzanne."

Hey, that's what friends are for.

Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.

* I'll be baking for these three November Chocolate Chip Cookie Giveaway winners: Anna B., Sherri E. and Nina M. Get ready to dunk and much.

Suzanne Beecher

P. S. Congratulations to the winners of last week's book giveaway: Linda R., Jessica Tucker., Kaylynn R., Courtney M., Debra C., Amy I., Susan C., Beth W., Michelle W., Alisa S. You could be a winner, too, but you have to enter for your chance!

(continued from Wednesday)

"Wh—what do you mean?" I almost fool myself with the validity of that question.

"I don't know—we were going to grab the ballroom at the Holiday Inn, but they're closed for the weekend because a pipe burst. We were gonna do it in the yard, but Nick offered. It's beautiful, Liz. Just beautiful—"

"I understand, but I—"

"Please don't tell me you're gonna run?" Her voice gets tight with emotion.

I choke back my laugh. Too late.

"I didn't mean that," Mel backtracks.

"Yes, you did." Mel is the only reason I survived Johnstown. I know what this wedding means to her. "You are so lucky—" I start.

"Thank you!"

"So lucky," I repeat as I walk toward the station.

Because everything here is on a hill, the station itself is a ways from the tracks, down two flights of suspiciously steep steps. I stop at the top. Before I confess something to Mel that she already knows, I look over my shoulder, checking that I'm alone. "It's,'s just me. Okay?"

"I know." Mel brightens her voice, instantly adjusting to the pain in mine. "I don't want that asshole here. I want you." After a beat she adds, "I need you here. Believe me." As much as she can read me, I can read her. Something's wrong.

"What's up—"


A loud sound cuts through the air. It's something distinctly natural, like the breaking of a massive branch or a tree. I whirl around, nearly dropping my phone.

"Liz, you still there?"

I scan the train tracks. In the corridor between mountains, I see forest on either side. The sound doesn't return. It must have been a branch on the tracks. Or my imagination. It wouldn't be the first time my mind has birthed something out of fear. Or boredom.

"Yeah. I'm—I'm here, Mel."

"All right. I'll see you tomorrow."

I hang up. We don't need to say hello and we've never said goodbye. This conversation is an extension of the one started in middle school when we'd tie up the internet connection talking about boys and the depth of our feelings. No matter what, we can pick back up without ever missing a beat.

I descend the steps to the station. There is a kiosk at one end and bathrooms at the other. Straight ahead of me is a set of doors leading to the street. A few passengers go through them to meet their rides. The conductor climbs the stairs behind me and locks the exit to the tracks. Now there's only one way out. A bottleneck.

Sweat pools in the kitchen of my hair. I push my nails under the back of my wig and dig through my short, thick curls. My fingers find the hollow where my skull joins my spine. I massage it. The bruise that was once there is gone, but the tightness and tenderness remain. Instead of giving me any release, my muscles tense and wetness trickles down the back of my neck. I give my scalp one last good scratch and fix my wig.

I sit on the metal bench near the door of the station and call a cab. If I could stand being in an enclosed space with my mother for more than five minutes, I would have had her pick me up. Another reason I've spent so many years away. I need protection from every aspect of "home."

I'm here for Mel's wedding and to answer a question:

If I can't trust myself, then who?

One thing any breakup does is make you doubt every part of yourself. A bad breakup? A nasty one? The first few weeks I mismatched my shoes. The second month I skipped meals because I couldn't tell when I was hungry. After almost fumbling a major account, I had to do something. I was planning to cancel on Mel. But Mel, this wedding, and this town are the only certainties I have left in my life. The last person I trusted was Mel. The last right choice I made, beyond any doubt, was leaving this town. I'm here to confirm that. This weekend is going to be uncomfortable. Awkward. Painful. And it should be. I can't wait. Because once I remember how to trust myself, I will start to mend.

Waiting for the car, using the pad of my thumb, I search the underside of my left wrist. There, I find a thick, shiny melanin relic of my childhood trauma in the woods. The scar blanches under the pressure of my fingers. It was roughly made and badly healed. I search it for the uncomfortable spot where the nerves go awry. Depending on the day, it's either too sensitive or strikingly numb. I prefer numb.

I look out. On the wall across from me is a massive topographic map of Johnstown. Another bottleneck. Built in the bottom of a valley, layers of mountains jut out at the edges and everything spirals open from the Conemaugh River at its center. When I first saw this map in fourth grade, I said, Whose idea was it to build a town in a ditch? I can already hear my therapist wanting me to unpack that statement. What has this town ever done to me?

It's a wonder it didn't flood immediately. It did eventually. Three times. When we visited the Flood Museum in elementary school-because it was a disaster, of course there's a museum—I don't remember who, but someone (not me) asked: Where are all the Black people? My teacher, Mrs. Kohler, replied, Look at the pictures, sweetie. They weren't here yet. Like every small-town citizen in America, my teacher believed Black people were an alien anomaly in white suburban perfection. She never questioned where the photographer focused their lens or the history of this town. I should have. I didn't stay long enough to start.

The sun dips in the sky, sending the first traces of orange rays through the station window. For a sunset, it's bright and rich. I can't help but trail my fingers in the amber of it. If there's one thing you don't get in the city, it's this: unblemished nature. I push the door to the street open and step outside.

(continued on Friday)

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