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Station 2. Sheila takes up the cross
Wood carving by Susan Hagen, story by Mike Walsh
Sheila felt a bit overwhelmed. Her life had changed almost completely during the past few weeks. Besides starting a new job and moving, she had broken up with Paul, her boyfriend for the last seven years.
She got to downtown at 5:30 p.m. She had worked all day at her new job in the suburbs and had taken the train back to the city. She walked in the direction of her new apartment, but the walk didn't seem right. Her natural inclination was to turn south toward Paul's house rather than head east toward her new neighborhood.
She had three thick rolls of drawings in her bag. She had brought the drawings with her so she could work at home and get a few days' break from the long commute. Her bag also contained some leftovers from her lunch, the aerobics outfit she always carried with her in case she had enough time to go to the gym, several notebooks, a few drawing pencils, and a three-foot wooden t-square.
The extra materials made her bag heavy, and she switched it from one shoulder to the other every couple of blocks. The top part of the t-square, the cross piece, stuck out of her bag at an odd angle. Every time she turned or moved her bag, the edge of the cross poked her in the back of her head or scraped her shoulder.
As usual, the downtown sidewalks were extremely busy. She had to dodge rush hour commuters as well as homeless people who stepped in front of her and asked for money. She also had to stay alert to be sure no one tried to rip her off. She would've felt safe if Paul had been with her, but he wasn't with her, and he wouldn't be, and she was determined to get by just fine without him.
The move had not gone smoothly. She had used the car that she and Paul owned and had made close to a dozen trips with it in a single day hauling her belongings to the new apartment. She was completely exhausted by the end of the day and completely enraged at Paul as well. If it hadn't have been for him, she wouldn't have had to move. He hadn't even helped. He had offered, but she had told him she wouldn't need his help. Nevertheless, he could've plainly seen how much she was struggling and how exhausted she was. Not only that, but her cat had not adapted well to the move. It had cried and thrown up for three days, which made Sheila all the more angry at Paul.
Five years ago she had moved halfway across the country to live with Paul. It was obvious that he had slowly lost interest in her. Their relationship had eroded to the point where they couldn't tolerate each other's presence. It made her miserable to think how awful everything had gotten. Now she was stuck in a different part of the country by herself. She had made many friends in the area during the past five years, but it wasn't the same as living near her family and lifelong friends back home.
Sheila had been on unemployment for almost a year, and her father had died a few months earlier from cancer after a slow deterioration. She had flown home and visited him many times during the past year, and now she had several thousand dollars debt on her credit card for airline tickets. All in all, the past year had not been a good one. In fact, it had probably been the worst year of her life.
Luckily, she had found a job. She hadn't wanted to take a job way out in the suburbs, but her unemployment was running out, so she'd had no other choice, even if it was a ridiculously long commute.
Her trek started each morning with a thirty-minute walk to the train station, followed by a forty-minute train ride to the suburbs, and then a ten minute walk to the office. With so much of her day taken up commuting, she had much less free time and she hardly ever got to the gym.
Sheila suddenly realized that she had turned south five or six blocks too soon and had started walking towards Paul's place. She let out a sigh, tripped on a crack in the sidewalk, and dropped her bag. The t-square scraped her shoulder. She stooped, bent her head, and rubbed her shoulder. She was on the verge of weeping, but she fought against it. That bastard, she thought. If only he had continued loving her as he'd promised. He had never put anything on the line, as she had, and consequently she had lost more when the whole thing had fallen apart. Why had she moved out here to be with him in the first place? She felt like a fool, but she pulled herself together and turned at the next intersection toward her new neighborhood.
She needed to stop at the grocery store to pick up a few things, but she knew she couldn't carry a bag of groceries as well as her heavy bag for the remaining seven blocks. If only she had the car, her life would be so much simpler.
Paul had kept their car and had promised to pay her for her half of it, but he didn't have the money to pay her. She had put a lot of money into that car, but she had nothing to show for it, and he still had transportation. He probably used the damn car everyday. He had always used it more than she. It wasn't fair. Besides that, he was always broke, which had been a real strain. She couldn't remember what she had ever seen in the guy.
By the time she got home she was thirsty and tired. She sat for a moment on the front step of her apartment building and took several deep breaths. She knew that she didn't really hate Paul. She also realized that their problems weren't just his fault. She had to accept some of the blame. It felt strange to admit it, but she missed him. He had been the center of her life, and now he was gone. Accepting her father's death was just as difficult, although they had never communicated very well. It was as if they had both died, and she were in mourning for both of them.
She breathed deeply one more time, and as she turned to go inside, she pulled the t-square from her bag and carried it in her hand.
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