He cradled his chin in his hand and when he smiled his whole face lifted the darkness he had been swimming in for the last six months.
He owned the General Store in a small coastal village I passed through. I had been camping in the sand dunes and came looking for water. He was looking for light.
I asked for directions at the local store in town. Maggie, an elder woman who met her cigarette with her tongue before consuming the entire filter into her mouth asked me to have a seat on the porch. I never made it to my destination. I spent the day visiting with Darryl.
"I didn't realize I was addicted. My wife and I used to do it together, then she quit before I was ready." He began sharing his story with me when I joined him for a cup of coffee.
"When did you quit?" I asked.
"The day she left."
He sat back in his chair and his jaw began to move about as if searching for something to grip to hold back his emotion. His fingers softly rubbed through his short beard, a strong dimple in his chin still visible.
He spoke softly with wide and hungry eyes, a hunger to be seen. He carried strong shoulders, the kind of shoulders that have thrown punches in protection and supported children climbing and wrestling as they test their body’s strength and agility. These shoulders were his own support when he began going through withdrawal.
With a conviction that he could let go of his affair with amphetamines and rejoin his family with a clear head and committed heart, he laid in the dark of his empty house facing his inner darkness. He watched shadows grow on the ceiling that formed faces of defeat and shame. His greatest pain was the feeling of letting down his children. He spoke of them with pride and admiration.
Darryl grew up a cowboy on a dairy farm and spent most of his career working as a laborer on farms, mines and anywhere he could play in the dirt. His callused hands still showed his hard work and the sun had long caressed his face.
He slept in the living room in the back of the shop. He couldn't bare being in the empty parts of the house where his children's laughter once reverberated through the thin walls. He had everything packed up in a garage and ready to take back to the town where his kids were anxiously awaiting his return home.
That night we drove to the water, using the sand bed to chase after the sunset.
We sipped Scotch as we shared our grief and our greatest hopes.
We shared thoughts on addiction.
“My addiction is the story of abandonment.” I continue on.
"It is the story I have carried my entire life, one I have danced with in every relationship. The addiction to feeling abandoned. But nobody has judged me for my addiction the way they may have with yours.”
We carried on for hours talking about the kinds of addictions we all have that are only visible when you're willing to look deeply into another's patterns and stories. It is easy for most to judge someone for having a drug, food or alcohol addiction but we leave unnoticed the stories about ourselves that we have spent a lifetime addicted to. I have quite a few addictions I've been working with that don't have such a bad withdrawal but the pain of looking at it could be easily compared. My Not-Smart-Enough, Not-Pretty-Enough, Will-Always-Be-Abandoned, Not-Loveable and Not-Worthy stories have been my escape and have caused me suffering and make me smaller than my true potential.
Darryl’s determination to overcome his addiction and devote his energy to his family was the medicine I needed: strength of mind and heart.
When I looked into his eyes I could see the battles he’s fought with only determination by his side.
"I left such a wonderful life behind to follow this calling. My heart has become an even greater mystery to me since I started walking. I don't know why I'm here. It's exciting and frightening." I stared out into the vast blue of water like I had spotted something, or perhaps just searching. Tears were gently born and wriggled their way down to my chin. I had flashes of the faces of men I have loved and the feelings that I had let them down by not loving them more fully and openly.
Then images of people and memories exploded in my perception. My best friend tending to her garden with her son paddling behind her with a watering can. My mother eating ice cream on a hot afternoon in only her bra and underwear. Snow falling on Christmas Day and trying to slip my feet into rain boots while laughing at myself for not getting snow boots after two years in a ski town. I smelled the tomato sauce my friend made for her homemade Stromboli.
Darrly put his hand on my knee, inviting my eyes to meet his, "Would it be ok with you, if one of the reasons you're here was to find me and bring me back to life?"
A smile grew on my face as the tears turned into weeping.
He drove me back to my camp, filling my bags with bread, fruit and a cream soda.
"Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with a stranger." I said as I began piling the bags onto my back and arms. "You know, I occasionally like to walk without Athena if someone can drop me off and pick me up where I left off. I hear you have three days left before heading back South."
A sarcastic smile grew on my face as he had already offered to help me with rides and store Athena in the back of the shop while I gained momentum without pulling her behind me.
He met me with equal humor about it and simply said, "I'll see you tomorrow afternoon."
I walked with freedom and ease those three days, striding briskly along the gorgeous landscape of The Coastal Highway with wide strides and carrying only a hip pack. He would find me on the side of the road bearing fruit and a cream soda.
We spent our sunsets heading into the bush with binoculars. Darryl and I shared an affinity for bird watching. He would stop midsentence to name the bird and what the call was insinuating.
I called my God the skies and he called his the Earth.
The morning came that he was dropping me off at my last stopping point on the road so I would continue my walk up north and he'd head south to be a devoted father.
He grabbed my cheeks with both hands and with wide eyes he spoke softly, "You woke me up. I feel human again. Thank you, dune girl."
He stepped back and opened his empty palms upwards towards me as if they held something within them.
"What is it?" I asked with a youthful curiosity.
"A cup of concrete for when you need it. It is 2 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon concrete (preferably the Tough Shit Brand) and a half-teaspoon of determination. Then fill the rest of the cup full of love. Option to sprinkle kindness on top."
As gracefully as possible, I grabbed the imaginary cup, making sure not to spill any of it and took a sip.
"Wow, this tastes awful!" we both laughed as we embraced each other.
As he tipped his hat to me in a farewell, I whispered back, "Thank you, for sharing your strength with me."