Her ex was one of the only ones who understood why she couldn’t get off the treadmill.
It created a uniquely intimate connection that was arduous to break, especially in the foggy afternoons of October.
Even miles apart.
Sara did her best to say goodbye, to be serious about it when he wasn’t listening, and stern when he was joking and treating her like a kid.
She did her best to let him go gently when he blamed himself.
Derek had become the patriarch of his family at a young age, and he knew the subtle sadism of her mother because the woman was like both his own mother and his bitter ex-wife.
Though he refused to admit it, Sara knew that he felt responsible for protecting her.
One night not long after they met, she was woken by Derek who had stumbled drunk into her house and fell onto her floor.
She had kept her eyes closed for fear of this drunken man that she had only begun to believe that she knew.
How did he get in? Maybe if she was quiet, he would stumble home before sun up.
While she kept her breath shallow and as even as possible, she watched his movements through half-closed eyes.
Out of nowhere, Derek sat up and put his face right up to Sara’s. He said, “I promise to never leave you alone as long as she’s alive.”
Sara wasn’t going to ask what that meant, exactly, but she assumed it had something to do with either her mother or his ex-wife.
Both had, the week before, under the bath of a Scorpion full moon, done things to harm Sara, and threaten to make things worse if she “ran to Derek”.
At the time, Derek’s promise of protection had made her feel safe.
She’d been through so much in her life, and she had never had anyone to protect her – not anyone she could trust. Not a person who didn’t also hurt her.
These drunken words gave Sara the courage to open her heart to that man. Despite everything.
And they spent a few good years together feeling infallible.
Derek was older. Like, way older, you know. When Sara turned thirty, he was in his forty-sixth year.
Nobody, other than her mother, had brought so much chaos and drama into her life, but her mother didn’t protect Sara from the string of abusive men that she’d paraded through their lives.
Most people who met Sara saw her daddy issues right away. And because of that, they didn’t look any deeper than what that could bring them or take away from them.
When Sara and Derek parted ways, it was complicated.
Derek’s ex came back into the picture around the same time that Sara’s mother descended into an unhealthy state of mind that threatened to bring back the woman who shook Sara as a child in fits of paranoid rages.
Sara didn’t get along with Derek’s ex-wife.
After everything that Derek had taught her, Sara recognized a liquorice-wielding woman from miles away.
But he was blinded. When he came to Sara’s place with liquorice breath, Sara was distracted by her mother’s spiral.
She felt conflicted.
Her heart wanted to scoop both her mother and Derek into her arms and carry them away from every harmful thing in their minds, and homes.
Her mind wanted them to stop bringing so much drama to her doorstep.
Her mind wanted her mother to grow up and to act like the mom for once.
But Sara knew that would be asking too much.
Because Sara was distracted by her mother and the conflicting feelings about this new drama, much of what was happening between Derek and his ex went unnoticed.
Until Derek started acting like that bitter, hate-filled woman.
The things he did and said were awful.
He told Sara that he couldn’t help her with her bills anymore – even though she had just been laid off and he had promised – because his ex was struggling to afford the down payment on her retirement condo on the lake.
He threatened to tell her mother that she blamed her for all of her hardships.
He told Sara that she could take care of herself. She was a grown woman. She didn’t need a man to take care of her. What kind of feminist was she? And why was it his responsibility to protect and care for her?
When Derek told Sara that she needed to work through her daddy issues, he crossed a line she didn’t know she had drawn.
And even though she still smelled liquorice on his breath, she knew she had to let him go.
It wasn’t easy to say goodbye. Sara knew every single rotten thing his ex had done to him. The disgusting emotional blackmail. The planted suggestions. The way she used her knowledge of metaphysics to hurt him.
But, above all else, Sara believed in free will choices.
Sara saw a violation as a violation.
All we have is our blood and our choices.
When Sara left Derek, she drove over three thousand miles with nearly nothing. Barely enough money for gas.
She had no place to go but her mother’s house.
And though Derek couldn’t admit it to himself, this made him sour with guilt. A man who learned through his own experiences with his mother that the only way to extricate is to numb to guilt used as a weapon.
A man who believed that all guilt was used as a weapon.
But this guilt was different. It was the difference that tripped him up.
Instead of letting Sara go, his guilt subconsciously propelled him to grip her tighter.
He started visiting Sara the way he did when they were apart while they were still together.
She told him to go. But he didn’t trust that she could care for herself with everything stacked against her.
And there was no suitor in sight. Nobody who would take care of her the way he could.
Because he felt he knew better, he started to visit her as chipmunks and birds.
He came to her dressed as men that she’d crossed paths with at the grocery in hopes of both sparking something on the physical plane, and keeping himself hidden while watching out for the untoward things he knew existed in this world.
Sara didn’t know how to let him go. She felt a heart connection with the man, and she felt her own guilt.
She had smelled the liquorice on his breath. She knew his ex was up to something nasty. But what could she have done? He was a grown man with free will.
She could not mother him the way she had mothered her own mother and be happy or healthy.
It was toxic.
Eventually, they both got used to the hours spent apart. Eventually, the sting of guilt in response to their individual choices started to fade.
Sara started to realize that the raven who came to her window every morning was a shell.
She had been feeding the magnificent creature. She didn’t catch the twitch in his neck and the alternating murk then shine of his eyes until it was too late.
But it’s never too late.
She wrote one last letter to Derek. She rolled up the message and put it gently into the raven’s beak.
“I release you from every obligation, real or imagined, to protect me. I can protect myself now. It’s time to let go and let God, Derek.”