It has been one of those two steps forward, 1 7/8ths steps back kind of months. Or maybe it's actually been one of those years.
And I was thinking along these lines today when my phone rang.
At the end of the line I heard a hesitant young man.
And I said "hello" several times and finally he said, "Jenny?"
I replied somewhat impatiently, "Yes? Yes?" and there was another small pause.
And then he said, "Jenny, this is Corey."
And my heart just stopped.
After a moment of silence he asked quietly, "Are you there?"
And, again I hesitated.
The last time I saw this young man was some years ago. I saw him in an apartment he was being evicted from in the full throes of a hardcore heroin addiction.
His hair was stringy. His eyes were vacant. I could not look at him without wanting to scream or hit him.
I walked away from him. Steve walked away from him. I avoided his phone calls for a few months and then they stopped. I dismissed him from my mind certain he was dead of an over-dose. And the loss was not something I could even think of.
Corey entered Mr. Jenny's and my life a little over 10 years ago. Thrown out of his home by alcoholic and drug-addicted parents he was attempting to finish high school while living on the streets. A brilliant musician and an extremely intelligent young man, we saw him often at our home. He was a friend of our youngest daughters. And, boy, could that kid put away food. He managed to graduate from high school but his life was pretty bleak.
One day we decided to take him in. We told him our rules, bought him some clothes, and practiced interviewing so he could find a job.
He cleaned everything in sight, helped with dinner, ate like a starving truck-driver and took out the trash the second it was half-full.
We helped him find a job and eventually got him into a small apartment.
I remember very clearly taking him to Target and buying him jeans and shirts and socks and underwear. He was quiet and somber. And told me over and over again he would never be able to pay us back. We told him he could pay us back by making something of his life but he still kept careful track of each thing we bought for him. Each pair of socks. Each meal. Each piece of used furniture we purchased for that first apartment.
Mr. Jenny sat him down and told him as long as he made something of his life and graduated from college the debt would be written off.
He went on to graduate with honors from college.
We celebrated that event with dinner at a wonderful restaurant; tears flowed, hugs were shared and with great ceremony we tore up the papers recording the things we had bought.
We thought this young man was on a good road. He had stepped away from his family, seemed to be finding direction and was very focused on the future.
But then he fell.
And fell farther.
And fell harder.
And finally, when it seemed there was nowhere left to fall we severed the relationship with him. Dealing with our daughters addiction at the time was all we could try and manage.
It hurt my heart to think of another wonderful young person destroyed by the powerful allure of drugs when I allowed myself to think of it at all.
"I have been clean and sober for over 2 1/2 years," he told me. "I am manager of a Taco Bell." And then he hesitated. "I have a son," he said quietly with a voice cracking with emotion, "He is four days old."
I started to cry.
He started to cry.
"I am so happy for you, Corey," I told him through my tears. "Keep going. You have to keep going."
He told me so many things for the next twenty minutes. There were tears. There were explanations. There were apologies. He said over and over again, "You two were the only ones who ever believed in me."
It was almost surreal.
At the end of the phone call I asked him, "Do you still like homemade macaroni and cheese?" and he started to cry again.
"I always loved everything you cooked," he said. "I haven't forgotten anything."
I told him when the baby was a bit older I wanted him to come with his wife and son to dinner. And I would cook enough to feed an army because I remember how much he ate.
I told him we would welcome him with open arms.
And that I was proud of him.
And that I was glad he had never given up on himself.
And after we hung up I sat where I had pulled off the road to talk to him for many long minutes.
The struggle for happiness is never really over, is it?
It is never over as long as there is breath in your body and the memory of something good in your life.
The struggle to believe in good, though, sometimes just feels too hard.
All those 1 7/8ths steps backward wear you down after awhile.
And I think you forget that it is still 1/8ths steps forward.
Life is a struggle.
Finding the good in things is a struggle.
Looking ahead with hope can feel like too much sometimes.
But really, isn't that all there is on all the 1 7/8ths steps back kind of months? On the 1 7/8ths steps back kind of years?
I have been thinking about Corey all day.
He faced one of the worst kind of struggles...and succeeded.
So who am I, really, to feel sorry for myself when even on the worst of days I am still stepping forward 1/8ths of a step.
It feels tiny, sometimes.
It feels like I am never going to get there.
Corey's journey opened my eyes.
And strengthened my resolve.
I am forging on...two steps forward and 1 7/8ths back!
I am not going to give up.
How can I when Corey didn't?
I'm looking forward to seeing this young man and his new family.
And I am looking forward to telling him that his call today helped me believe in myself.
And I'm looking forward to see if he can still eat like he used to.
I'm telling you. That was just a sight to behold.
PS. I was going to turn off comments for this post because I didn't tell you this story so you could say what good people Mr. Jenny and I are. We are all good people and try to do the right thing when we can. I decided to leave them on, though, because sometimes it's just nice to share how you feel.