Her parents’ townhouse felt much smaller practically the first time she had visited after going away to college. So when Sarah got home from her internship every afternoon that summer, she would sit in the park across the street and read until dinner time. The park was the best thing about the old neighborhood; a small playground and field surrounded by townhouses on all four sides. It had been a wonderful place to grow up.
Someone was already in the bench she always sat in. As she approached, she realized with trepidation that it was Mark. She had heard that he had returned a few weeks ago, but this was the first time she’d seen him. She stood there, awkwardly for a moment, unsure of what she wanted to do.
He had been staring in front of him; whether at the kids playing in the playground or simply into space, she couldn’t say. He glanced at her and recognition was in his eyes, and then guilt. He looked back away. “Hey Sarah,” he said quietly, his voice hoarse. He glanced at the book in her hand. “Want me to leave so you can read?”
She looked him over as she considered this offer. He was unshaven and uncharacteristically pale. She had no desire to talk to him, after the way he had treated her and his family. But she had heard bits and pieces of what had happened to him, and part of her did feel sorry for the guy.
“No…you can stay, don’t worry about it,” she sighed. She sat across the bench from him, and began to read. Or tried to. They sat there in silence for what felt like an eternity but was probably no more than ten minutes before Sarah decided it was pointless to keep trying to read the same page over and over. “How are you?” she asked tentatively. He seemed mildly surprised that she had spoken.
“I’m OK,” He replied in a valiant but failed attempt to seem sincerely fine.
“Needed a little air?” she prodded.
“I needed to get out,” he conceded.
“It must be tough being back with you parents after so long,” she said. It must be hard living with people who know how badly you screwed up, is what she thought, but she hoped it didn’t come across. She wasn’t sure what she thought of him any more, but she didn’t really have any desire to antagonize him.
“No, they’ve been great,” he said, and this time his words had the ring of actual sincerity, “it’s more like…I need to start getting back out. I can’t hide behind them for the rest of my life.” Now she felt guilty. The guy was going through something. It was true that it was a situation of his own making, but he seemed to be really facing it.
“I get that,” she said, feeling herself relax a bit, “I’ve been coming out after work because these houses just don’t seem as big as they were when we were kids.” She smirked a bit, and was pleased to get a polite chuckle from him.
They sat in silence again for a few minutes, though a more comfortable one than the last.
“I’m sorry,” he said at last, his raspy voice barely above a whisper. She didn’t say anything to that, so he continued, “I’m sorry for the way I was to you.”
“What do you want me to say to that?” She asked coldly, suddenly remembering that he had been an asshole and he did make the stupid decisions that brought him to his present pitiful state.
“You don’t have to say anything,” he said, “I just want you to know that I know what I did, and I know it was shitty. And that I’m sorry. I’ve known you my whole life, and I treated you like a nuisance when you were trying to look out for me. I blew you off like you were nothing, when you’re the only good friend I’ve ever had. I’m not asking for anything, I just want you to know, I haven’t forgotten that I treated you like shit.”
She let out a long sigh, not looking at him.
“You fucked up,” she agreed.
“I fucked up a lot of things,” he said seriously.
“How did you think it was going to end?” she found herself asking in spite of herself, “How long did you think you could keep living like that?”
“I didn’t think,” he answered honestly, without missing a beat, “I ignored things like the future entirely. When I couldn’t ignore them, I drank until I could. But I was drunk most of the time, so it usually wasn’t a problem.”
“Oh Mark,” she said, sounding more sympathetic than she had meant to.
“You and my parents have always had your heads on your shoulders,” he went on, “mine was always somewhere up my ass. You know that!” she smiled in spite of herself.
“Now I feel like I’ve woken up and everything everyone else was seeing is so damn obvious,” he said miserably, “it’s like I’ve opened up a set of eyes that I didn’t even realized were closed, only it’s too late because we already crashed the…” he choked on his words and stopped.
“I keep crying,” he told her, looking away and blinking back tears, “even at the stupidest, most random moments. My sponsor said that that’s pretty common, at moments like these.”
She put her hand on his. He looked at her, surprised. She wanted to say that he had fucked up, but she was still his friend and she still cared. But she couldn’t quite find the words.
Fortunately, she didn’t have to.
“Thank you,” he said quietly, and meant it.