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Fictional Short Story About Overcoming Trauma and the Formation of Healthy Relationships

Justus' own tumultuous yet heartfelt relationships have inspired him to create stories with complex characters that relate to his own life.

We All Seek Love and Acceptance

A father holding his son's hand

A father holding his son's hand

Compassion as Our Guide

  • Chapter One: I Found My Way Back to You

It’s a deathly calm spring night and the school year is coming to an end. A rugged, middle-aged man with long eyelashes draped over piercing blue eyes cruises past Donnie’s Fine Wine and Spirits. As his son slides back and forth in the front passenger seat of a battered hunter-green pickup, they veer over what may just be the eighteenth unremarkable pothole on the east side of Arcadia. Warren unhooks a dusty leather visor and unsteadily gazes into his chapped lips, unkempt brows and rosy cheeks. He seldom questions the integrity of others but obsessively criticizes his own appearance and character.

Silence ensues as the vehicle reverses toward the entrance of a narrow, dimly lit garage. And while the car is parked, Warren notices the trembling of his father’s coarse and calloused hands. Glances are exchanged between two familiar strangers and an almost impenetrable tension erupts between driver and passenger. A father scolds his seventeen-year-old son unmercifully.

“Getting Rachel pregnant is the worst thing you could ever do,” Nelson asserts in an authoritative voice, like a warden delivering a reprimanding speech to an assembly of prisoners.

“You shouldn’t be having sex and when you made that call, I don’t know what, in your right mind, you were thinking. But honestly, I might’ve let things pass if you’d actually gotten out of bed this morning.”

Nelson’s eyes open wide. His head jerks as he slowly annunciates his next rebuke:

“You. Are literally. The most. Self-centered person. I have ever met in my entire life. And you don’t even realize it because you have no concept of the word, ‘responsibility.’”

Now, an intense feeling of uneasiness engulfs the teenager, and as he stares blankly ahead at the dusty dashboard, he develops the sickening sensation that his stomach acids have reached their boiling point.

“From now on, get your act together and start putting everyone else’s well-being before your own. Because, Warren? If you were to have a kid, you’d make the worst father in the world.”

As Nelson channels his rage through his unforgiving predictions, expressive hand gestures, and the incessant tapping of his feet, he declares that he has never met any person as lazy or narcissistic as Warren. Enraged by his son’s lack of discipline, he insists that Warren obey obligation, regardless of circumstance.

Once fresh air has gone stale. Once vibrant colors have lost their luster. And Warren’s acceptance of his predecessor’s cold and manipulative actions has dissipated into the downpour that breaks the stillness of the night.

As menacing clouds of emotional detachment form from within an otherwise unremarkable garage, caustic raindrops eat through an aging vehicle’s jagged exterior and scorch its already agitated passengers.

Nelson’s face writhes in disgust. Then, he chuckles in disbelief and says:

“I feel no compassion for you. You’ve always been sheltered by your mom’s side of the family, and since you literally punched me in the face, all I can do is replay that scene in my mind. I know they’re worried for you, but Warren, you just don’t have the guts to commit suicide. And even if you did? I’d feel no guilt because I’ve done all in my power to prevent it. Giving one hundred percent even when you don’t want to? That is the meaning of ‘responsibility.’”

Nelson inhales deeply, removes his key from the ignition, and calmly exits the scene. Amidst the tension, eye contact was never made.

Now, as Warren sits alone, he too trembles. Tears stream down his face.

Seventeen years ago, Nelson abandoned his son at the age of seventeen; he too has been labeled as “the worst father in the world.” While Warren knows that he should have never hurt his dad (even when cornered and in the heated passion of a mental breakdown), Nelson has failed to recognize that his son is an individual and more than just an object to be repaired. In addition, Rachel was not only on birth control, but Warren’s diagnoses have, and always will encompass chronic symptoms (some of which have led to multiple hospitalizations). Despite Nelson’s attempts to twist his son into submission, the young adult understands that to suppress his demons, he must surround himself with those who unconditionally love and support him.

  • Chapter Two: To Bear the Same Burden

On Warren’s eighteenth birthday, he moved out of his father’s house and into his grandmother’s home. He was faced with a choice: the same choice his father was faced with eighteen years ago – to walk away or to accept the imperfections and misgivings of those who had devastated him: to come to terms with the past despite an uncertain future. Warren reached out to his father at the age of nine because he has always known that life is ever-changing. Now, nearly twenty years later, Warren has found the care and support from his father that he never knew existed. In the present, Nelson understands that he should have never scolded his son (even when overwhelmed and in the heated passion of an emotional outburst), and that truly, Warren’s struggles to maintain stability were not of his own volition.

It’s summer on a breezy but sunlit and humid day. Far from Arcadia, Warren sits in the backyard of his father’s new, wood panel home. In contrast to the aggressive pigeons that frequent Nelson’s apartment complex by Donnie’s Fine Wine and Spirits, the latter now enjoys the odd comfort (or perhaps discomfort) of wild turkeys which climb his decorations, fences and trees. By a decrepit shed and upon freshly cut grass, the father and son pick pears as they talk of Warren’s accomplishments; he is an English tutor, aspiring author, licensed driver and somehow overcomes depression (even in the winter).

“Have you talked to Rachel?” Nelson asks.

“Well, no, not really. But I might text her soon. I mean, sometimes I react to her posts, if that even counts. I know she really appreciates your help though,” declares Warren.

“It’s honestly no problem. I’m just less thrilled about the pets.”

Glances are exchanged as Warren forms a sly half-smile and asks:

“Could an unassuming cat or two-pound, tired hedgehog possibly put your apartment in worse shape than the last tenants had?”

Nelson curls his brow and stares menacingly at his son with wide, keen eyes. Yet despite his efforts to maintain a frightening façade, he giggles and playfully shouts:

“Yes!”

Now, the two take their pears inside to be washed, where they discuss anime, video games and college tuition (and where Warren notices that his hands, though scarred, are steady just like his father’s).

  • Epilogue: And No One Can Ever Replace You

Nelson has become wary of the dangers of condemning others and knows that through medication and therapy, his son has been saved (even if having been “cured” was never an option). Warren has simultaneously learned to value his own accomplishments, especially when interacting with those who do not wholly accept him.

Warren no longer believes that his personality is more like his father’s than those who had raised him, but is no longer unsure of how Nelson truly feels towards him. He seldom questions his father’s intentions, despite the mistakes that were once made, or the wounds that may never heal. Two men have allowed compassion into their lives and understand that with patience and perseverance, comes change and acceptance (even among the most complicated relationships). Warren is thriving not in contempt of his father, but because Nelson has inspired him to love unconditionally.

A father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he meant to be.

— Frank A. Clark

© 2022 Justus Reinhardt

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