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Too Broken

By:JR Hunter

Too Broken
JR Hunter

       Prologue




Ian

Baghdad, Iraq



A shell explodes and everything stops.

There is silence, only silence. I blink once, twice. Where am I?

Giving my head a shake, I look down and see the back of a woman. A dark  mass of thick hair falls in disarray across the table. I am standing  behind her; I can't see her face. Her forehead is pressed into the  wooden table and her back is covered with a rough black fabric. Her  shoulders are shaking. My eyes move further down and her back is  heaving, up and down in frantic, uneven shudders.

My hand is there, in between her shoulder blades. Pushing. Pushing her  into the table. I know it's my hand - I can see the scar I got in the  7th grade when I nearly severed my middle finger in woodshop. My mother  didn't even like the fucking birdhouse. She barely managed a thank you  before shoving it in the attic, never to be seen again.

Yes, it is definitely my hand, but I can't feel it. I can't feel anything.





Chapter 1: The Left Coast




It is a little known fact, but women too experience midlife crises. We  reach a point in our lives where we look around and say  …  What the fuck?  THIS is my life?

And true to our nature, we experience our midlife crises far earlier  than men. So although I'm only 32 years old, I'm quite certain that the  insane lapse in judgment which has me signing a year lease on a postage  stamp apartment in Santa Monica is a direct result of this break from  reality.



******



It was like something inside of me snapped. I was suddenly struck by the  fact that I was not living the life I wanted. I wanted a family  –  I was  single. I wanted to be in a profession that directly benefited people  in need  –  I worked as an administrator at a university. I wanted to be  outdoorsy  –  walking in Rock Creek Park was about as close to nature as I  got.

It was August 30th, the day I decided to change my life. I was sitting  by the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington,  D.C. where I lived. I was thinking about the history of the spot. Of Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dream. His speech was a dream for  humanity, one that still hadn't been truly realized. I realized that my  dreams were unfulfilled as well.

I was always a smart kid, and my teachers told me I had unlimited  potential. Early on I set my sights on being the first female president.  Of course, you don't go straight into the presidency, so first I'd be  an attorney, then a judge or a congress person, and then I'd be  president. Once in college, I began to rethink my career goals  –  being  the President would be way too much stress. But the attorney thing could  still work, and I'd fight for human rights around the world. I'd join  Amnesty International or the United Nations and protect the unprotected,  right the wronged, and uplift the downtrodden.

On the home front, I'd marry an architect named Dean; he'd be smoking  hot and consider himself the luckiest man on the planet to have landed  me. We'd rear two beautiful blonde-haired children, Shea and Jake, and  foster rescued German Shepherds. All of this while living in a two-story  Victorian house with a wrap-around porch and generous yard for the dogs  and kids to play in.

That's what my life was supposed to be. Reality was a whole different story.

After my graduate degree, I focused on my career, but it wasn't a career  of my choosing; it was the one I fell into. I worked for the university  while pursuing my degree and simply went from part-time to full-time  upon my graduation. At that stage, I thought it was a smart move; I made  good money and I was building a skillset that I could use elsewhere.  But as life goes, one year turned into two, turned into four, and  suddenly I looked up and I'm 32 and spending my days sending emails and  navigating inane office politics. Oh, and that family? Considering I  always fell for that guy just beyond my reach, the one who was  emotionally aloof and non-committal, that family had yet to materialize.

So there I was, single and not making the world a better place. Now what?

Something different, that's what.



******



A copy of the lease in hand, I return to my new home. When I said  apartment, I was being rather generous. I now live in a converted,  detached garage behind a Craftsman house about two miles from the beach.  The $1,250 rent is highway robbery, but it's par for the course in  Santa Monica real estate and I couldn't resist it; it felt like home.

I decide to embrace the tininess of the space and call upon my inner  Tetris champion. Considering how many hours I spent playing Tetris in  college, instead of writing term papers, I'm confident I'll rise to the  occasion. With a deep breath, I open the French doors that lead into the  one room. Perfectly square, the symmetry of the space - broken into  four quadrants  –  appeals to me. To the left is a good sized bathroom and  beyond that a decent sized kitchen. Directly in front of me is the  living room with a bedroom at the back, sectioned off by a large  armoire. Looking on the bright side, it certainly won't cost much to  furnish.                       
       
           



       

The backyard is grassy and quiet and I'm welcome to use it whenever I  want. The neighborhood is perfect  –  tree lined and immaculately  landscaped. Like D.C., I can walk to groceries, restaurants, and most  importantly, coffee! I'm hoping the nearness of the beach will help me  with my quest to be more outdoorsy. Hell, maybe I'll even learn to surf.  After all, I have plenty of time since I'm currently unemployed.



******



"What do you mean you're quitting?" Paulo asked, his voice climbing all  the way up to shrill by that last word. Paulo was my boss at American  University. He's the Political Science department chair and I've worked  as the department manager for the past three years. We aren't  necessarily close, but we have a healthy professional relationship and,  of course, his surprise is completely understandable. I decided to quit  only yesterday. No workplace discontent to signal a potential departure.  No preamble whatsoever.

"I know this is a total shock," I said empathetically. "In all honesty,  I'm kinda shocked myself. Something happened to me yesterday, and I  realized that I need to move. I need to change things up. It's crazy,  but this is my two-week notice. I promise, I'll get everything in  stellar shape before I go! It'll be a breeze for the next person who  comes in."

I felt a little guilty at only giving two weeks, but it takes forever to  hire people at the university and if I waited until they refilled my  position, it'd probably be a good three months. I couldn't wait that  long to start my new life.

"Where are you going? What will you do?" Paulo asked, still struggling to come to grips with my news.

I gave a small laugh, "Yeah, well, those are good questions. I'm still figuring everything out."

Paulo looked at me like I had lost it, and I kinda have, so I began  babbling, knowing no answer was really going to convince him that I'd  made a good decision.

"Well, at first I considered moving to Montana. I love rural areas and  I've always had a dream of riding with the gauchos on the Pampas. But I  don't really want to move to Argentina right now, so I was thinking  Montana. Montana has horses, and cowboys, and big blue skies, so it's  kinda like Argentina. Plus, I already speak the language. I took like  eight years of Spanish in school and never got anywhere near fluency."

"You said, ‘at first'," Paulo said. "Please tell me you thought of somewhere other than Montana."

I laughed. "Yeah. Well, I spent a couple of hours online looking into  towns and job opportunities and realized my university skillset doesn't  transfer particularly well out there," I said. Then paused before  adding, somewhat under my breath, "Although, I suppose that doesn't  really matter since I want a completely new profession anyway."

"What?" Paulo asked. "You are changing professions, too? Kelli, I'm wondering, do you feel alright? You seem out of sorts."

"No, I'm fine," I tried to assure him. "Look, I need a change. Haven't you ever needed a change?"

He shakes his head at me, still looking concerned.

"Well, I don't believe that," I countered. "You came to D.C. for your  graduate education - that was a complete change from your home in New  Mexico."

"I came here for my education, Kelli. I wasn't running away, trying to escape my life," he said in a fatherly tone.

"I'm not running away, Paulo; I'm trying to move towards something.  Towards the life I want. No, I haven't figured out all of the details  yet. And even though you came here for school, it was a major life  transition," I finished, daring him to contradict me.

Clearly still not convinced, he encouraged me to go on. "Alright, you decided Montana was out. What then?" he asked.

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