Chuck Wendig: Broken

The newest Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge is called The Fix.  He gave us a theme, “To fix something, you must first break it,” and 1,500 words to expound upon it.  I used 1,338 of them.  Please to enjoy “Broken”.

BROKEN

The sky was fading from blue to pink as the sun dipped towards the horizon. He stood on the beach, staring out over the ocean, seeing nothing. Off to his left, a pier stretched out into the water and gulls circled and shrieked above the heads of fishermen casting lines over the rails. The tide was coming in and the warm, salty water ran up over his toes and lapped against his shins. The breeze blowing in off the water caught the edges of his multi-colored aloha shirt and ruffled his hair. His hands were in his pockets. That, at least, was intentional.

His hands were in his pockets because he didn’t trust himself to leave them unattended. He wasn’t sure if they would be steady or shaky, and he wasn’t yet ready to find out. Steady, they had gripped the steering wheel as he made the hours-long drive to the beach. Shaking, they had held both cigarettes and drinks since he had arrived, and they had held him upright as he stumbled into the handrail as he walked down the pathway to the beach an hour earlier.

This is it, he thought. I’m really going to do this. He stood a while longer as the sky continued to darken, pink to purple and finally to black. There was no moon. The stars came out and shone brilliantly overhead. He tilted his head back and gaped upward in awe. There were no skies like this in the city. He shouted, a wordless yawp into the still night air.

His head had cleared after his last round of drinks nearly two hours before. He took his hands out of his pockets and held them up over his head, as if in surrender. His eyes closed, as if in contemplation. His lips moved soundlessly, as if in prayer. Really, though, he was considering none of those things. What he was feeling, rather, what he was, was broken. And it was good.

 

“To fix something, you must first break it.” Dr. Ahdi had spoken those words to him the day before. He was at his weekly therapy session. He had been attending therapy for nearly two months now because he had gone for a physical and his blood pressure had been through the roof, raising a red flag with his physician.

They’d had a long discussion about it, about his life and his habits. His stress levels were off the chart as well. His job, his marriage, his relationship with his parents—all of these things were increasingly dysfunctional and it was tearing him apart. He didn’t have any sort fo escape, and there was no one for him to talk to. “You’re going to develop an ulcer if you’re not careful, his doctor had told him, “or worse. You need to give yourself something to do. Exercise more. Eat better, smoke less, and drink less too. Take care of yourself. And go talk to someone and see if you can get your head together.”

He didn’t know anything about therapists or psychiatrists or whatever they were called. He had found Dr. Ahdi in his insurance company’s provider directory. Her practice was just a couple of blocks from his office building, close enough that he could walk over once a week during his lunch break, so he gave her a call and set up an appointment. Walking to her office wasn’t enough exercise, but it was something, at least. He have been doing more than that, if he really wanted to—he and his wife had joined a gym the year before but neither of them ever used the membership. His social habits weren’t getting any better, either. He was helping his head, though, and he felt like that needed to be his first priority.

He frowned at Dr. Ahdi’s statement. “I’m already broken. That’s why I’m coming here every week. I need to be fixed.”

Dr. Ahdi shook her head. “I can’t fix you. You’re not broken.” She tapped her notepad with the pen she held in her left hand. “The situations you’re living in are, as you say, ‘profoundly fucked up.’” He mouthed the words along with her and nodded. She pointed the pen at him. “But. No matter how bad your life is right now, you yourself are not broken until, or unless, you say you are.”

“I just said that I’m broken.” He shrugged.

She shook her head again. “No. You’re just saying it as a reflex. I’ve been doing this long enough to tell that you really don’t mean it. You’re not ready to fix anything yet. That’s why you’re coming here. That’s what I can do for you.”

“So what do I do? How do I fix myself if I’m not really broken?”

“Maybe you really are broken. I don’t know. That’s not up to me. You have to decide, though, and it can’t just be a reflex. You have to mean it. Are you broken? If you are, can you be fixed? If you are not broken, is something else broken? Can it be fixed? What do you do now? I can’t answer those questions. I can give you guidance along the way as you find your answers, but only you can make those determinations for yourself.”

Something clicked inside his head. He sat in Dr. Ahdi’s office and he thought about it. There were nearly thirty minutes left in their scheduled time and he spent the entire time turned inward, eyes down, thinking. She let him think, choosing instead to sit quietly and observe him, letting his thoughts nurture and grow. Not another word was spoken until her timer sounded, ending their session. He stood and, walking past her extended hand, folded her into a tight hug instead. “Thank you,” he whispered in her ear. She returned his embrace, then stood quietly and watched as he walked out of her office. Maybe he’s had a breakthrough, she thought. We will see.

He left Dr, Ahdi’s office and, with deliberation and intent, broke his life.

He walked back to his office and stayed long enough to pack up his desk and tell his boss that he wasn’t coming back. He drove to his attorney’s office and had a hour-long conversation that ended with the beginnings of a divorce filing. “I don’t care what I have to give up to get out of this marriage,” he told his attorney. “I really don’t. I just want out. It’s over. Break it. Make it happen.”

Smiling, feeling twenty pounds lighter, he got back into his car and drove home. He threw a week’s worth of clothes and beach supplies into a duffel bag, tossed it into the back seat with his laptop bag, and headed for the coast. It was a five hour drive. He rolled the windows down, put his favorite songs in, and belted along at the top of his lungs the whole way down.

He arrived at the beach eager and scared at the same time. He was glad to be there, to be taking some time to himself before moving on to the next step, but he was nervous, too. He’d left his job and was breaking up his marriage—that was the last ten years of his life that he was throwing away. It had to be done, though. It had to.

He still needed to talk to his wife and his parents but he was going to need at least one more solid day—maybe two—of drinking to fortify him for that. He would have those conversations, though. He had to. He didn’t know what would happen afterwards, but he knew that something would happen. He would say what needed to be said and he would continue breaking his life. Then he would update his résumé and sign his divorce papers and he would begin fixing it.

He lowered his hands. They were steady. He opened his eyes and smiled. Slowly, confidence building, he began to run down the beach.

2 thoughts on “Chuck Wendig: Broken

  1. Sam, I think I like this better than anything you’ve written…except for one word (insert an auntly smile). So many are and have been there and don’t realize it.

  2. This Dr. Ahdi sounds like a real envelope pusher that one. Isn’t telling a patient in therapy they need to break something a bit risky? Or perhaps risqué? But it sounds like our narrator figured things out.
    I liked this story. It sounds a little like running away from the problem rather than fixing anything, but who knows where the path of fixing will lead? Thanks for sharing this!

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