Long Caged Wild Heart (Short Story)

She had waited a long time. So long in fact that she had grown tired and started to believe that maybe it was not in her cards. Years earlier, decades even, she had attempted it, but this was well before she met Philip.

She was a well-raised Southern girl with the right mixture of good Christian values and an unrelenting sense of adventure. By the time she was 17-years-old she was convinced that this small town was holding her back, and thought that going away to college would be the best way for her to see more of the world. Her parents loved her dearly. They knew she was special, and they were certain that she would accomplish great things out there in that wide world, but to them, she was still their little girl, and they felt compelled to hold onto her specialness selfishly. Her mother insisted that she attend a state school, and better yet, a community college just outside of South River. Her father agreed that this would be best and even offered to sweeten the deal with the promise of a new car should she decide to stay close.

Catherine appreciated the gesture, especially considering her parents week-to-week income, but in her chest there beat a wanderer’s heart that was starving for the chance to venture across those dreaded imaginary lines that divided her home state and the world around it. She followed that heart and applied to the University of Miami, the University of Colorado, and even the University of Southern California. 3 different regions, 3 different cities, 3 different ways of life, all of which were nowhere near the place she called him.

The goal was to receive a good education, see more of the world, and perhaps find someone to marry. She would do all of this while on a pursuit to becoming an educator. The summer before her senior year of high school, while she waited to hear back about which colleges accepted her, Catherine’s mother developed a blood clot that was not noticed soon enough. After a quick and painful stint in the hospital, Catherine’s mother passed away, leaving behind a devastated family. Of those, the one who took the loss the hardest was her husband, Walt, who for some unknown reason blamed himself.

Walt, was a wonderful man when he was sober, but having battled a near-lifelong addiction to alcohol this sudden tragedy caused him to fall off the proverbial wagon once again. His severe grief, combined with the financial stress of hospital bills and losing his wife’s supplemental income, resulted in Walt giving up on one of the things he once loved, being a father.

“I failed your mother. I just don’t want to fail you girls too,” Walt said to his daughter as he dropped her and sister off at their maternal grandparent’s house to live. “I just can’t do it anymore, Catherine. You look so much like her, I just can’t let you see me like this. I can’t fail her a second time.”

Catherine was left to not only cope with the loss of her mother, but now the abandonment by her father, all while trying to protect her little sister, Anna, from as much of the pain as possible.

The tumultuous events also overshadowed the big news of acceptance letters to all three of the colleges that Catherine had applied to. In what should have been the happiest moment of her life, Catherine felt guilty, and instead of sharing the good news with her sister and grandparents, she resealed and hid the letters in her diary. She wasn’t quite sure what would take place over the course of this next year, but for some reason she highly doubted that these letters would be the rescue that she had so desperately hoped that they would be. Unfortunately, Catherine’s lack of optimism was prophetic. She did not attend any of the three colleges on her list, nor did she attend anywhere else. It appeared that education just was not an option for her.

Shortly after Christmas, Catherine’s grandparents were visited by a Cedar County officer, who brought with him the sad news of her father’s passing. “Yes, he hung himself up at the old Sunshine motel. No note, nothing at all except a few empty bottles of Jack,” the officer said in a very somber and apologetic tone. Her grandparents didn’t have to relay the message. Catherine had heard the news from around the corner, and held back her tears with an unbelievable amount of strength. Later she would say that the only reason she held it together was because she knew that Anna would be coming down the stairs for dance class any moment. “I had to be strong for her.”

After the funeral life was different. Catherine began working as a bank teller, a job that her grandfather set up for her. With it, all of her grand dreams were left behind in that leather bound diary that she dare not even open.

Catherine’s time at the bank was not ideal, but it certainly was productive. Not only did she earn enough money to move out on her own, but she also met the man she would marry there, Philip. Philip was a few years older than Catherine, and worked hard. He had dropped out of school early on to join his father in the family business. Together he and his brother, Wayne, worked selling furniture at Robinson and Sons, until the later death of Phil senior. The two brothers viciously fought over who would inherit and run the business, until Wayne finally left.

Philip was a kind and gentle man, especially to Catherine. Despite this, he had no interest in her dreams of learning new things or traveling. To him, if it didn’t help the business grow, and it didn’t help put food on the table, it wasn’t worth bothering with.

Catherine found this out during the planning of their honeymoon, when she suggested that they take a plane ride somewhere exotic. Philip politely dismissed his future wife saying that, “there’s nothing out there in the world that’s worth spending that kind of money to see.” When his wife persisted, he looked at her sternly, changing his tone, and said, “Catherine, its not reasonable. Drop it.” Catherine did drop it, and she never brought it back up. Even though her heart cried out to see the world she silenced it for Philip’s sake and instead focused her energy on trying to enjoy what she did have.

She did have a good life. Despite Philip’s firm stances on avoiding unnecessary expenditures, which included college (he would say, “I kept this business afloat without school, there’s no need for it. It’s unreasonable.”), he did love Catherine dearly and took good care of her. They eventually had children, and those children grew and gave them grandchildren. Catherine loved her family more than life itself, and she quickly asserted that a quiet life filled with love and family was plenty enough for her.

When Philip came down with his sickness, Catherine remarked that it was the first time in over 50 years that she had been nervous about anything at all. That’s how good Philip was to her. He took away all her fears and gave her a life of peace. But now, her one source of stability was dying in a bed at the same hospital she had lost her mother. Pacing around those hospital corridors brought back difficult memories that made her feel overwhelmingly lonely, sad, and scared. She dreaded what was coming, but her experience at this place told her that it was inevitable. The following day, with her children around her, and her sister holding her hand, Catherine received the news from a young doctor that Philip had peacefully transitioned into the next life. She knew it was coming but it still hurt. She held back the tears as best she could, until Anna leaned over and said, “you don’t have to be strong for anyone. We are here to be strong for you.” After hearing this Catherine cried deeply. After all of the years of being strong for others, there was a flood of tears ready to be released, and released they were.

The next 6 months were tough. Catherine transitioned herself into her son David’s guest house. It was exactly what she needed. It was quiet, peaceful, and close to the grand babies. Still, she felt something was missing. After a few weeks experiencing the odd feeling of longing, she discovered exactly what it was. When digging through her final unpacked box of items, she came across and old leather bound diary. Her eyes began to swell with tears as she opened it up and looked through the time stained pages. Near the back of it there were three still stiff envelopes, each addressed to someone she had not been in over 50 years. Opening them separately, she read the same words, “we are happy to inform you that you have been accepted…” Tears rolled down her face and she knew then, that what she had been missing is the only thing that Philip couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give her, her education.

She loved him, she really did, but this next phase of life was for her, not for him. She was ready to unleash that long caged wild heart, and be the person she had silenced so long ago. Her eldest grand daughter finished a few clicks on a laptop at the kitchen table, and said, “Mimi, it’s ready for you, all you need to do is type out your personal information and your application will be ready to be sent.” Catherine looked at the computer screen and said gently to her grand daughter, “Thank you darling, these forms sure are different these days.” With a few overly cautious– and somewhat clumsy– typing motions Catherine Robinson completed the college application and clicked submit.

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