Guiltless

“No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.” – Alan Watts

Spiraling? That didn’t come close to what was happening in her life. Chris resented Dr. Wendy’s “professional” opinion for what was going on with her.  She didn’t need anyone telling her that she was grieving Erica’s death either. Of course, she was grieving her friend’s death; who wasn’t? The entire team and even the other teams were grieving…knee deep and drowning in grief.

Guilt. That was the other thing that was consuming her. No one wanted to speak on that. It was as if saying it out loud, would make her and them weak. Hearing the word out loud and releasing it into the air, meant it had power over her.  Chris was guilty and no hours on Wendy’s couch being forced to hear all of the positive shop talk would change the fact that Chris felt strangled with guilt because there were times that she hadn’t been kind or supportive of Erica’s presence. She’d refused opportunities to be the late woman’s mentor and perhaps even her friend. Nonetheless, Erica had brushed off the rejection with a nod of understanding and awareness and the thing that hurt Chris the most was that Erica never held it against her. Guilt, that’s what it was. Guilt for saying no and guilt for lost time that the two could have been a source of strength for each other. Now she was gone and neither of them had been allowed to say goodbye. Chris never had a chance to say she was sorry even though Erica had already forgiven her.

There was a crater where her soul used to be. She needed to fill it somehow but no matter what she consumed or touched or allowed to touch her she was still empty, cold and lost.  Work should have been a happy place especially with wining the competition that had been her focus over that last four months. It had meant everything, it was all-consuming, more important than relationships and teamwork…and she had won. So what? What did it really mean in the end? The hole was still there, in fact, the walls around her soul had begun to erode during the time when she had decided to prove to her male counterparts that she was bigger, badder and better than they were. And she had, and again so what? What did it mean and how would it bring Erica back?

Hondo had been under the microscope from the moment Erica’s body hit the ground. His decisions and ability to lead were examined and dissected with a fine-toothed comb. He’d run the day, the chase, the shootout and Erica’s death through his mind over and over and he was confident that he had made the right calls. He wouldn’t admit that he was responsible for her death, at least not out loud. Somehow the Mayor and her review board had managed to clear Hondo and his team while still leaving doubt in the minds of those with the ability to read between the lines.  Hondo’s choices while good, were not the only choices that could have been made but it was enough to send the team back to work; it wasn’t enough for him, not by a long shot.

He wasn’t sure how his team would come back from this, SWAT didn’t lose officers, it was a badge of honor to be able to say that. Things had changed and on his watch; he could almost hear the voices of his detractors saying, “I told you so.”  Hondo couldn’t close his eyes to the fact that Chris was suffering; her stubborn pride would now be a stumbling block and he was afraid she would be the next casualty. He couldn’t lose another one…he wouldn’t lose another one.

Words of wisdom and comfort had always come easy for Deacon. It was what he did, and who he was.  The others looked to him for that solace, and no one ever asked who he sought out in times of need like this.  Hondo’s confidence was shattered, and the pieces were dangling like chards, barely holding together under his steel armor of self-pride and determination. The man who had been gifted with Deacon’s promotion, one he’d worked for and waited for, now desperately needed something from him too. It would be so easy to use this moment to jump on the bandwagon like the others who were looking for a reason to confirm that he wasn’t qualified, that he was an imposter, and for a brief moment Deacon considered his opportunities. But it wasn’t who he was, he’d accepted his place as second as God’s will and no matter how easy it would be to use this moment, to go to the mayor and turn Erica’s death into something else, he continued to be an honest ally and friend.

Then there was Chris. Deacon was positive that he had smelled alcohol on her breath. Her eyes refused to meet his and she avoided conversation with him, which was not like her. She’d always come to him, freely and honestly but things had changed, and everything was at risk. Deacon felt responsible for his younger friend somehow, but he felt powerless to help her.

The Blue Nest Bar – Evening –

This was the third night this week that Chris found herself here.  The bartender waved as she came in and she waved back.  This was the last place she needed to be, but she had made the short walk from her apartment without giving it a second thought.  Erica had turned her on to this place and the two of them had toasted their new living arrangement here a few weeks back. Mike had already memorized her order and placed a shot of Patron in front of the empty stool that had now been officially deemed, her spot.  Nodding she swallowed it even before taking her seat.

“Rough week?” He asked refilling her glass.

“Yeah, you could say that.” She answered.

“Trust me, it gets better.” Mike assured her as he moved toward the other end of the bar.

Chris wondered if he really meant that or was it just something he said to all of his customers who seemed to need more than alcohol to pick them up. It gets better, it gets better…It had to get better, Chris knew she couldn’t take much more.

It was a light crowd, no more than twelve people sprinkled around the room, so it was easy to spot her at the bar.  Hondo stood at the door for a moment watching the bartender refill her glass. He could tell by her body language that this was not her first drink, or her second…or third. He’d gotten there just in time. Chris saw him before he made it to the bar. He was the last person she expected to see, the last person she wanted to see; not here and not tonight. She rolled her eyes and gulped the drink down.

“Chris?”

“What are you doing here, Hondo?”

“What are you doing here, Chris?”

“Were you looking for me? Because I don’t need a babysitter.”

“I’m not here to babysit but to answer your question, yes, I was looking for you.”

“How’d you know where to find me?”

“You’re not that hard to find. I mean, two blocks from your apartment, c’mon really?”

Chris signaled for the bartender. Just as Mike was about to refill her glass, Hondo blocked him placing his hand over the small glass and then waving the man away.

“I’m off duty Hondo! I can do what I want on my own time!”

“What’s going on with you, huh? What would happen if we got called in right now?”

Chris couldn’t answer him because he was right, and the last thing she wanted was for Hondo to see her drunk off her ass. Yet here she was drowning in alcohol, and anger, drowning in self-pity, grief and guilt. 

Before she answered, Hondo saw everything he needed to know in her eyes. Her feelings were his too and it was as if he was looking at his own reflection. She didn’t need to answer, and he had no right to judge her. 

“Let me take you home.” Hondo pleaded.

Mike had been listening to the exchange and so, without prompting, he brought her check and slid it next to her. Hondo grabbed it and placed several bills on top and slid it back toward Mike. Without another word, Hondo gently took her arm and helped her off the stool. Her first step was more of a stumble and Hondo caught her in his strong arms before she hit the floor.

“Hondo…” Her voice slurred.

“Shhhh…It’s going to be okay you hear me? It’s going to be okay.”

Chris nodded and slid her arm in his and leaning her head against his shoulder, the two walked out the door into the cold black night.

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“Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor. You get used to the weight, how it holds you in place.” – Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever

THE END

(Photo credit: CBS)

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