Searching within, I could not see any value. Each of my steps was worth less than the marred and barely identifiable penny I could not get myself to pick up from the curb at my side. My worn shoes, with a dirty sock showing through a hole at the top of one, and a jagged big toenail sticking out the tip of the other, were more valuable and needed more care than the feet hardly sustained within them.
I continued walking, wondering when I would reach the Boulevard Bridge I knew was coming up.
After taking one more step and feeling my toenail scrape against the hot cement sidewalk, I stopped. Not knowing why, I turned around and returned to where I noticed the penny. I became frantic trying to find it. I remembered it hardly resembled metal, it was so gnarled, looking chewed by a small dog with sharp tiny teeth or dragged along a highway too long. I ran my hand through my hair as anxiety soared through me.
Almost to the point of hyperventilating and pacing back and forth like a pent up hyena, I tripped over my feet and landed on my hands and knees. I felt done in. My eyes closed, trying not to focus on the sharp pain shooting from my knees. When I opened my eyes, the penny was there, glinting in my eyes, which should have been impossible considering its griminess and the amount of dirt caked on it.
I reached my hand to lift the penny from the trash it sat on. When I grabbed it, a silky thread of hope wound its way in my gut. Before lifting my hand, a speeding cyclist brushed against me, the tires of the bike scraping my fingers, and knocked me over onto my side. The cyclist gave a quick turn of his head to see that I was moving, smiled, and continued on even faster.
My hand still held onto the penny, and I clenched it against my chest. Tears beaded at the corners of my eyes, but I cut that out. At that moment, something changed in me. I remained on the ground, no longer harboring the desire to find the bridge. Although my heart still stung from the berating I received from Valerie, the desire I had to wipe myself out faded. Clutching onto the penny, I sat up. People walked past me, some looking at me curiously, while others asked quickly and quietly if I was okay. Dismissively, I nodded, and they continued on. Soon, a different crowd, which did not witness the hit-and-run, looked irritated at me as I took up too much of their walkway.
I meandered myself up, suddenly self conscious of my appearance. I had not showered since leaving Valerie’s almost two weeks ago and could not remember when I had last eaten a full meal. Ignoring the stares my way, I stood and walked back the way I had just come, retracing my steps, only with the air of determination and not desolation. I had no idea how I would do it, but I had to return to Valerie and let her know that grace and mercy would be hers.
Thinking back on my days with the dwindled family, I remembered speaking to her with a self righteous confidence that I had no cause to have. When I explained to her that my father had accepted God in the end, I expected that she would see the importance of that, not just for my father’s sake, but for my own and anyone with whom I would have contact. How ignorant I had been to think that she would want to know about any forgiveness given to my father, even by God. How assured I was that she was understanding the same as I that forgiveness was a blessing to the one who gave it even more than the one who received it. How utterly stupid I was to believe that she even wanted to know that the murderer of her first child, who was the cause of the destruction of her second child as well as her marriage, had fathered a child himself. How selfish I had been.
I failed to see why her anger was so strong that it was as hurtful to me as hatred. Only, I was sure she did not hate me. Her anger resided within her for so long, it was a like a parallel consciousness she no longer had to acknowledge for it to strike out at whomever it wanted. Her anger was a second skin to her that she savored, as if to lose it would not be like the shedding of the dead skin of a snake, rather the grating of living skin off her own back.
Her emotions were so raw that they hardened over the open nerve, and she hurled those emotions at me as if they were slung from a slingshot and struck me in the core of all my hubris. The shock of it splintered me, casting me in that pitiful desolation that I believed only killing myself would prevent me from seeing the ugliness within it.
With a sardonic laugh, I saw how it took the shine of something as diminutive as a gnarled castaway penny lying amongst the debris of city gutter to cut through my darkness.