Based on a true story. A "What A Character" Entry
|The Fading of Julia
The incandescent lights flickered, momentarily hiding the dinginess of the walls. At one time, they had been painted taupe but now they had faded to a dirty, smudged grey. The small room was lined with hard benches on one side, facing a barely transparent glass window crisscrossed with wire.
The non-descript officer glanced up. “It shouldn’t be long now.” It was a female voice.
I waived my thanks. No, not thanks. Acknowledgement. I wonder if Julia is now faded like this room, like the officer? I shook my head at the absurdity of the thought.
I recalled a time when the colors were vibrant: Julia’s graduation from high school. The world was bright then.
“Today’s the big day, kiddo. Rise and shine,” I warned as I knocked on her door.
Unlike most mornings, Julia was already up and dressing. “I’ll be right out, Dad.”
“Uhhh, Uhhh …” I started making sounds.
“If you’re going to have a heart attack, can it wait until after graduation?” She laughed.
“Well, since it is a special day ... Hurry on down, breakfast is ready.”
Julia came into the room, all brilliant pinks and whites. All I could do was stare. Her shoulder length blonde hair caught the morning
light, shimmering with sun-streaked highlights. She looked like a copy of her grandmother. At five-foot, her slight frame glowed with the
simple beauty of youth. “Your Mom would be so proud of you.”
“She is, Dad. She is.” Her words buoyed up the brightness of the morning.
“They’re bringing her up now,” a disembodied voice said, breaking my reverie.
Startled, I looked around and saw the officer looking in my direction. I nodded an acknowledgement. I wonder, can she can even see me?
“Bringing her up …” The words took me back in time again to a warm summer day filled with yellows and greens.
Julia placed a pile clothes neatly in her backpack. The thought of her roughing it, knowing how organized and neat she had always been, almost made me laugh.
“You’re only 18.”
“But, Bruce is 20. You know him. We’ll be fine. When you were my age, you were flying helicopters in Vietnam. I don’t think going to
Colorado for a Grateful Dead concert is living dangerously,” she joked.
“I’m your Dad. I get paid to worry.” I looked around her room. A bed, a desk, a few of her favorite stuffed animals. Has she really grown
up that much? She was always headstrong and once she set her mind to something, she wouldn’t stop. With a sigh, I said,
“Promise to call at least once a day.”
“Every other day. We’re going to be driving a lot.”
I gave in …
The lights flickered again, this time with a familiar buzzing sound. I grinned ruefully. My tax dollars at work. The clang of a metal door echoed in the confined space and then silence.
The noise and silence brought back a strand of memory. “How old was she then?” I questioned myself. “She couldn’t have been more than 6.”
We were driving from Alabama to Georgia to my new assignment. Julia and her brother, Aaron, were bored. We’d run through all the
variations of “Wheels on the Bus” that we could remember or invent.
“I’m hungry,” Aaron complained.
“We’ll stop soon,” I promised.
“I’m starving!” he continued.
“I’m going as fast as I can,” I assured him.
The fussing continued, grating on everyone’s nerves.
Finally, I heard Julia say, “I have some candy left. If I give you a piece, will you be quiet?”
In the rearview mirror, I saw her open her purse and pull out the promised reward. She held it up, showing him. “Do you promise?”
“Yes, give it to me.”
She handed it over and peace returned.
At the time I was amazed at how mature she was. Now, I saw it for what it was – manipulation.
I first noticed her begin to change in her freshman year of college. The vibrancy seemed to dim. She had moved in with Bruce but soon, he moved on and she dropped out, taking a job as a waitress.
I recalled the last real conversation we had.
”OK. I give up. You were doing so well. I understand breaking up with Bruce is disappointing but that’s no reason to quit.”
“You don’t understand. It wasn’t Bruce. It was me.”
“So, explain it. We’ve always been able to talk.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
After that, she disappeared for a year. I tried contacting all her old friends. Nothing. Until – late one night I got a call from the police informing me that Julia had been arrested for solicitation and possession with intent to distribute.
I saw her briefly before her trial.
The county jail was a fairly modern building. I gave them my driver’s license, signed in, went through a search, and waited. Finally I
was escorted to a long, narrow room with seats and telephones. I saw Julia sitting about half-way down and took the seat opposite her.
She pointed and I picked up the phone.
I didn’t know what to say. “Hi, honey,” I finally managed to get out.
“I’m sure you’re mad at me. Thank you for coming.”
“Mad? No. Disappointed and confused. I don’t understand.”
“I made a lot of mistakes. I’ve done things …”
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is tomorrow and the day after. I’ve spoken to your lawyer. There’s a chance we can get you into
“I swear, Dad, if I get a chance, I won’t disappoint you.”
I looked hard and saw glimmers of my daughter shining behind the tears. “It's not about me. It's about you and, regardless of what's
happened, I’m here for you.”
Three years’ probation contingent on successful completion of a twelve-week rehabilitation program.
She was to be released into my custody but disappeared soon after arrival at rehab. It was the only reason I wasn’t in trouble. Within a month, she had been picked up and tested positive for heroin. There was no additional discussion – she would serve out her sentence.
Here I sat, two years, eleven months later, waiting for her release. The door buzzed and an officer led her out.
She stood there in a baggy sweat suit, her hair braided in corn rows. Her face looked gaunt; her blue eyes were a shadowed grey now. I noticed the tell-tale color of a tattoo peeking from under her collar. She saw me and a smile – the one I remembered – appeared on her face.
Maybe there’s still hope, I thought. I smiled back at this faded version of my daughter. Maybe.
An entry for the November round of "What a Character! : Official WDC Contest"
Prompt for November 2013: Tell a story about your character from a family member's point of view.
Word Limit: 2,000
Word Count: 1081