Chapter 22

Returning for the third time to Bradley’s home lifted my spirits. It truly felt like a sanctuary in the city. Green, yellow and orange leaves blanketed the long driveway. Barley, the old dog, greeted us with his tail wagging.

I opened the red door and followed Caitlin in. Bradley called from upstairs, “Hello, come in. Come right upstairs.”

We ascended the stairs and found Bradley cleaning brushes under the tap.

“I thought we would start in the studio today to do painting. Would you like that Caitlin?”

Caitlin nodded and sat on a round stool at the table.

“Would you like your mom to stay, or to leave and come back later?”

“She can come back later.” Caitlin smiled at me.

“Okay, Caity-Cat. I’ll return in an hour.”

“Bye, Mommy.”

I descended the stairs and took my time leaving the play place. Once outside, I decided not to leave the beauty of Bradley’s grounds but instead I strolled around. Seeing me walking towards the backyard, Barley lifted to all fours and came chasing after me. I looked at everything in Bradley’s yard with new eyes. How I would love to create such an oasis some day in my own place. Plants of every color overflowed the gardens. Rocks lined a supporting wall, stuffed full with moss. A stone formation stood in the middle of the yard, next to a bench constructed of old barn wood. Birdhouses hung in trees and a footpath of creeping ground cover wound through the gardens. A swing covered with a dark green canopy invited guests to sit and relax. I sat at a bench but then stood again to examine it. It would be easy enough to make; there were two fieldstones a foot apart with a large stone slab on top.

I continued walking. Rounding the house, I found a small trail made of crushed stone that led into a thicket of woods. Following the path, I came upon a beautiful pine wood hut. It was obviously a place for solitude and meditation. Grape vines hung on the outside, long-dried and picked.

Entering the hut, I found it warm with a scent of lavender. The smell took me back to a memory of washing my hands with pale purple soap after spending the day fishing with my father. I remembered how Dad would load me into the old gray truck and drive to a secluded woods. We would carry our rods and tackle box along a thin path until it opened onto a small stream. Here we would sit for half a day and fish. Dad always surprised me by producing an apple or pear from his coat pocket when I got hungry. We chewed gum and chatted about nothing. Dad put the worm on the hook for me and took off my fish, usually a small sunfish. It was a magical time for me to spend with my dad all to myself.

Barley scratched on the door and pulled me from my reverie. I stood and stretched and then continued on my walk, noticing stone creations along the path. It was a wonderland. Staring down at the path, I asked out loud, “Where did it all go wrong?”

Barley stopped and cocked his head to the side as if listening. I crouched down and scratched behind his ear. He dropped to the ground and begged for me to pat his belly. Sitting beside him I rubbed his rough fur. “Barley, where did it all go wrong? I mean, what happened to my fairy tale life? I wanted to find my knight in shining armor, get married and live happily ever after. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be separated in my thirties, defending my daughter against abuse from her father.”

Barley ignored my questions. He shifted on his back begging for more rubbing. I continued. “I thought Rod was that knight. I thought he would make me happy and take care of me like my dad did. How could I have been so blind?”

Barley’s ear twitched and he lifted his head. A rustle in the leaves brought him to all fours and he bounded into the trees after a squirrel.

I put my elbows on my knees and rested my chin in my hands. I remembered how good our marriage had been in the beginning. How it contrasted with the last few months of living together. Rod’s mood swings were frustrating. I remembered how Rod threatened me one night that he would sell all his assets to friends, go on long-term disability and then “forget” to make child support payments. But then the following morning, he said he wanted to ensure that we had a year before actually divorcing just in case he wanted to patch things up and work on our marriage. I didn’t know what to believe. One day he would slew a profanity at me but then the next day he’d dedicate a song on the radio to me. I remember feeling like a seaman trying to patch the leaks in a sinking ship before it went down completely. But, with all our marriage difficulties, I never imagined that he could do this to our only child. That he could do it at all. I fished a tissue from my pocket and dabbed my eyes.

I heard the crunch of gravel from Barley’s paws on the path, glanced at my watch, and realized that the hour was almost over. I retraced my steps and returned to Bradley’s home.

“Hello, I’m back,” I called stepping inside.

“I’ll be right down,” Bradley replied. Caitlin stayed upstairs. I could hear the water flowing as she cleaned her paintbrushes.

Bradley stood before me with a large grin, “Heather, your daughter is a very contented child. She obviously has the support she needs from you, your parents and the babysitter. In our session today, I learned that she is feeling safe with the arrangement with the supervisor.”

“Oh, thank goodness.” His words were like balm to my soul.

“I would like to recommend that I only see Caitlin a couple more times. She seems to be doing fine now and coping very well. Perhaps we could change our appointments to a monthly basis.”

“Really? You think she’s okay already?”

“Of course, as she grows older she’ll probably need to see me again; around puberty, and as a preteen. That sort of thing.”

I cringed. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead. Somehow I thought that once we got through this we would be able to put it behind us forever.

Bradley sensed my apprehension and added, “Caitlin is a very resilient girl, with an extremely optimistic outlook on life. Her recovery has been outstanding. It’s not usual to see this but it’s not unheard of. I really feel that she is on her way to being a healthy, happy young girl.”

As if on cue, Caitlin skipped down the stairs. “All done!” She presented me with her masterpiece. Tears of joy wet my eyes as I looked at her artwork. It was the scene from our apartment window – a huge tree, green with life, and a beautiful blue lake behind it. The sun shone down on two people holding hands. Caitlin pointed to the picture, “That’s you, Mommy. And that’s me.”

Meeting Bradley’s eyes, I gave a small nod. I agreed – she was on her way to being a healthy, happy girl.