Throughout my life taking my thoughts for a walk has been the only therapy I’ve ever needed. Even as a teenager when I was struggling with exam stress or girl trouble I would shun the school counselors in favor of lunch time strolls.
There’s just something about pendulous arms and the rhythm of rubber soles on aging pavement that has always helped me put order to chaotic thoughts. My mother used to tell her friends that she knew I had something troubling me whenever I announced that I was off for a walk. She never told me though – I had to hear it secondhand at the luncheon after her funeral.
It had been a long time since I spoke about my parents with anyone – I don’t know what caused me to open up with Alex. I suppose it was possible that I felt bad about dragging up uncomfortable personal details less than a minute into our first conversation. Cara kept telling me I needed to work on my ability to small talk; I didn’t want to think about what she would have to say about that locker room incident.
I was in Chicago for a match on the day mom was stolen from us. I didn’t cry when I got the phone call half an hour before my fight – I just took out my rage on my opponent, whose name has slipped from my memory. I recorded the only first round knockout of my career that night but I remember wishing I could fight all night.
Dad was already fading away by the time I got back to Vancouver the following day. We didn’t say much to each other as we sat at the kitchen table and split a bottle of Southern Comfort, which did a poor job of living up to its name. He didn’t say much in the eleven months that followed either but I will never forget the last thing he told me.
“If ever in your life you are blessed with the good fortune of meeting a woman as fine as your mother – don’t you ever let her go. Be the man she deserves and hold on with both hands, like your life depends on it – because it will.”
Cara’s mother was not that woman – I knew it from the start but was unwilling to admit it for the year I spent in Lubbock waiting for her to return. Could Dawn be the one?
Lord, what was I thinking? I had spent an hour with the woman, I doubt I could have picked her out on a busy street. Cara was getting into my head, making me consider things that weren’t merely premature – they hadn’t even been conceived yet. Just because she was overreacting to an initial encounter with a woman didn’t mean I had to.
As I turned the corner onto Davie Street my stomach announced that it was time for lunch twenty minutes ago and it was not interested in any further delays. I pacified it with a chicken burger and salad at Bobby’s Burger Shack while ignoring the waiter’s advances. He wasn’t easily put off the hunt though – he scrawled his phone number on the back of the receipt and handed it to me with a wink that was about as subtle as a right hook to the jaw. I left a reasonable tip on top of the tab and escaped while he was busy taking an order from an oblivious old couple near the back.
My thoughts carried me down to the beach where the autumn wind off the water burned my cheeks and watered my eyes. I stalked the Seawall sidewalk back and forth, dodging the joggers, Rollerbladers and stay-at-home mothers with their screaming baby carriages.
I was searching for a way to put Cara at ease so that she wouldn’t feel threatened by the idea of Daddy finding a new companion. I had grown tired of the merry-go-round we ended up on every time the possibility arose and wanted to put the issue to rest - for good.
She was probably in need of a mother figure in her life but I knew better than to use that as a starting salvo in the battle ahead. She would probably have flashbacks to the ballet lessons and frilly pink dresses that I had foolishly attempted to introduce into her life.
Cara was an athletic, smart girl who I was immensely proud of, but I was not so blind as to not realize that she could use a little rounding at the corners, some softening in her temperament.
Without my direction or consent my feet brought me to the fence which surrounded Cara’s school. I glanced at my watch and realized that the final bell would be ringing in ten minutes so I settled in to wait. I noticed a few other parents arrive, by foot and by car, but kept to myself. I was tempted to stand with the group of mothers huddled around the gate but Cara would have seen right through my weak attempt at a peace offering.
Their happy chatting was soon drowned out by the familiar signal that meant freedom to children and stressful joy to parents everywhere. Two boys led the human wave out of the front doors before the ringing had faded away, earning them suspicious looks from their mothers. Cara was one of the last to exit the building, chatting quietly with two female friends. When she spotted me leaning on the chain linked fence her face tightened slightly before she waved goodbye to her schoolmates and came slowly walking over.
“Hi kiddo,” I said.
“Let’s go for a walk.”
“I’ve got a lot of homework to do tonight,” she said without meeting my gaze. “Can’t we just go home?”
“Nope, you and me need to get some things sorted out first,” I told her. “School work will have to wait for later.”
She sighed, shrugged and sagged. But she nodded and came around the fence to stand by my side.
And as we walked, our footfalls combining to make our shared music, chaos began to transform into order and the way forward became a little clearer.