Crutch

By CarolROI

i don't want to be the crutch
one step away from down
i don't want to be the crutch
one step away from down, down ,down

All you needed was a crutch,
one step away from down
and i could never be your crutch
and i could break you down
i don't wanna be the crutch
and i don't wanna be the crutch
no I don't wanna be the crutch
one step away from...

I awake with a start, the song still ringing in my ears, and for several long seconds my heart pounds in my chest and I can't breathe. I don't know where I am! Then the familiar motion of the truck reaches me, and as I look around the compact sleeping area, I remember the phone call from my Aunt Bess. Rolling onto my back, pulling off the headphones as I fumble for the off switch on the CD player, I stare at the ceiling, bits and pieces of last night coming back to me.

" Hey, is Owen still looking for a new partner? He is? Well, it just so happens I'm looking for a change," I tell her, the words slipping easily from my tongue, now that I've made up my mind.

I can hear the concern in her voice. "Are you sure, Blair? I mean, we'd be glad to take you on, take you in, if that's what you need, but last time I spoke with Naomi, she said you were still working on your doctorate."

Sitting back down on the corner of the couch, I blink back tears at the mention of my mom. She won't show it, but she'll be disappointed in me. But there's really nothing here for me now; I can't stay. "Yeah, I was," I finally tell her, "but my dissertation fell through, and I'm so burnt out on school right now I can't even begin to think about starting over. It's just too much, you know?"

"Well, you're always welcome here, you know that. Can we expect you anytime soon?"

I make a quick decision. The Volvo will never make it to Texas. "When's the next time Owen comes through Washington?"

"You're in luck," she answers me. "Owen's in Seattle. He'll be heading back this way tomorrow, or I can call him tonight and he can pick you up. Can you be ready to go in a couple hours?"

I chew my lip. That's pushing it, but--"Hell, yeah, I can be ready." I give her the address, and then I'm hanging up the phone and heading to the basement for boxes. Easiest thing to do is just pack them all up and call FedEx. Rainier can pay to get their stuff back, and I figure I can afford the UPS bill to ship what's left to Hewitt.

I sit up slowly, massaging my temples. My hangover isn't too bad, considering I haven't had that much to drink in about eight years. That binge cost me my girlfriend. This one cost me my best friend.

Jim. I vaguely remember saying some ugly things, which, while they might have been true, were certainly not necessary. I run both hands through my hair, rubbing my scalp vigorously. Guess I really burned that bridge, but it's probably for the best.

"You awake in there, son?" Owen calls through the curtain dividing the sleeping area from the main part of the cab.

"Yeah, I'm awake. Alive I'm not sure about, but awake, yeah. You got any water or juice in here?"

"There ought to be some OJ in the mini-fridge."

Looking around, I see the fridge tucked away under the tv/vcr combo. All the comforts of home, I think as I pull out the bottle of juice. Crawling through the curtain, I plop down in the passenger seat, pop the top on the container and take a sip. Ulgh, nothing like orange juice and JD.

Owen glances at me, but says nothing. I figure he's just going to wait until I spill whatever's going on with me. He knows I've never been able to keep anything from him. While I try to figure out what to say, I look him over. It's been about three years since I'd last seen him, right before I--nope, not ready to go there yet, not ready to divide my life into pre and post-Ellison. So, in that time, my uncle has maybe picked up a little weight, but we Sandburgs are all kind of stocky. The beard is still bushy, shot through with silver now, as is his hair, which he wears pulled back in a ponytail. A worn straw cowboy hat perches on top of his curls, and his T-shirt has a picture of Wile E. Coyote on it. The caption reads "Super-Genius." It's probably true.

I prop my bare foot on the dash and rest the bottle of OJ on my knee. "I screwed up, Uncle Owen."

"Kinda figured that, Blair." But the tone is kind, and without looking, I know he's smiling at me. I feel an overwhelming urge to cry. This is too much, all at once, this instant love and acceptance. I had forgotten what it feels like, up close like this. Seeing I'm getting choked up, he asks me a question. "So what happened to your eye?"

I run my fingers over the butterfly bandaged cut and wince. Yes, Sandburg, it still hurts. "This? I got punched in the face." He glances at me, raising an eyebrow like a question mark. "It's a long story about one of my students, who turned in a paper he didn't write. I called him on it, and he had me beat up. Then he had me fired from the university."

"And you just took that lying down? Where's that Sandburg fire?"

Shaking my head, I reply, "No, I didn't take it lying down. Turns out the kid murdered someone. I jumped out of a helicopter into a lake yesterday to help capture him. But that still wouldn't get me my job back. They were within their rights to fire me; I've missed too many days of work."

I felt him turn appraising eyes on me. "Something going on with you in the health department you haven't shared with your mother?"

"No, not really. Well except for drowning a couple months ago, and getting shot last year--"

"Jesus, Blair! The crime in Cascade that bad?"

I ponder that for a few seconds then answer, "In my world it was. Did Naomi tell you I was working with this cop? For my paper."

He nods. "You getting hungry? We can stop and get something to eat, then we can switch and you can drive for a spell."

I grimace at the mention of food, but I know I need to eat, and a bathroom sounds really good right now. "Yeah, go ahead and stop." I glance at the clock on the dash. Ten am. Damn, I was supposed to pick Megan up at the airport. I hope Jim remembers. If not, I guess she's smart enough to get a cab.

A couple miles later, Owen pulls off at a truck stop, and we both get out and amble inside. I'd forgotten what these places are like. The scents of diesel fuel, air freshener, stale cigarette smoke and grease assault my nostrils. Still, the booth the harried waitress shows us to can be found in any diner, as can just about all the items on the menu. Owen orders the breakfast platter; I stick to toast and coffee, lots of coffee.

Once the waitress has gone, Owen leans back in his seat and asks, "So what's the story, Blair? Why are you here? What are you running from?"

I ponder the question for several long seconds. Until he put it that way, I hadn't really acknowledged what I'm doing, but he's right. I am running away. From what, I'm not sure. "I needed a change," I finally say. I continue, kind of working through my thoughts and feelings on the whole mess out loud. "Did you ever look back on a part of your life, and realize you spent so much time getting from where you were, to where you are, that you lost sight of your reason for the journey? I mean, I started college nearly half my lifetime ago, and yet here I am with nothing to show for it. I think I need some time away from it, to get some kind of perspective to decide what I want to do."

Owen nods in agreement. "That makes sense. It's not like you can't go back to school and finish your degree if you want to."

Giving him a smile, I change the subject. "So how are Bess and the kids?"


Later, I'm behind the wheel of the big rig. Owen sat up front with me for a little while, making sure I still knew how to drive the thing, but now he's sleeping in the back. I stick the CD I was listening to earlier into the player in the dash and put it on random play. Owen has spared no expense on this baby. Hell, if I was going to be spending 5-6 days a week on the road, 52 weeks a year, I'd want to be comfortable, too. Half an hour later, the song I woke up to comes on.

i don't want to be the crutch
one step away from down
i don't want to be the crutch
one step away from...

man i feel like hell so come on over
be a love machine and i could be your friend
ain't no shame feel strong for one another
make a real true color come end to end then
god damn. change of pace
i think you got a piece of my heart
on your face

it's a shame to let it waste
how does it taste?
how does it taste?

I notice I've unconsciously tightened my fingers around the wheel so hard my knuckles are white. I don't want to be the crutch... Is that what I've been? A crutch? I think about it for a few minutes, turning the concept over in my mind. Was I a crutch for Jim? Had I forced him to depend on me too much for the senses thing? In the beginning, yeah, he needed me. He was clueless as to what was happening to him, and I must have come off like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, instantly spouting off the reason for, and solution to, his problems without even hearing his symptoms. I had been pretty full of myself then. Now I feel like I know less about the Sentinel stuff than I did at the beginning. With age comes self-doubt, I guess.

break it down in pieces, make it simple
'cause you know damn well that i'm a simple man
all these things go changing like the weather
and they stay that way until the weather man says
one down, gone to waste
i think there's still a piece of that smile on your face
i would like it erased
there ain't no two ways about it.

i don't want to be the crutch
one step away from down
and i don't want to be the crutch
one step away from down, down, down

"All these things go changing." That is my life, all right. The biggest change has been dying. That has changed everything, not in the big way you would expect an out-of-body experience to change things, but in little ways. The way people look at me. I actually can tell who had been at the damn fountain, who had witnessed the miracle, by the way people look at me. They kind of stare if they think I'm not looking, and if I meet their eyes, their gaze slides away. Makes me feel like--a freak. I laugh hollowly to myself. Guess I can put that in the "Things Jim and I have in Common" column. He has the wacked out senses, and I'm the dead guy.

bring it on then gone, use a lover
like a cigarette the way that lovers do
one sweet song that starts a little slow and
then goes on and on and makes you want to
move around the room in circles
everybody wants to be you
try to find my place up on the map
of all the men you've been through
dig a little deeper and you'll realize
all i'm building up you're tearing down.

Tearing things down. Jim is really good at that. Just when I feel like I've found my niche, when I start to get comfortable, he hits me with something. Like the Ventriss thing. I identified the guy, I got the crap kicked out of me, I got fired over it, and yet I got the impression that none of that mattered. It was a big concern to me, is a big concern to me. It's why I'm here, isn't it? Or is this all just sour grapes, that I'm miffed because I was ignored and teased at a moment when what I wanted was sympathy?

i don't want to be the crutch
one step away from down
i don't want to be the crutch
one step away from down, down ,down

Or maybe I have this all backwards. Maybe Jim was my crutch, my excuse for not moving on, for not finishing my thesis. Maybe I've been using him, using the Sentinel thing to make myself feel important, to make myself into something I'm not. I've been so infatuated, so obsessed with finding my "Holy Grail", that I've been using Jim's light to make myself shine. No one really knows what the qualifications are for being a Sentinel's partner. Needing someone to watch his back didn't necessarily mean someone specific, maybe just any old member of the tribe would do. How hard is it to whap the guy in the head when he zones, really?

But the thing at the fountain, the vision of the wolf and jaguar combining in a burst of light. That has to mean *something*, right? "It means dying men see strange things when they're concussed and oxygen starved," I mutter angrily. "Nothing else. There is no connection, no bright, shining meaning to your life. You are who you always were."

All you needed was a crutch,
one step away from down
and i could never be your crutch
and i could break you down
i don't wanna be the crutch
and i don't wanna be the crutch
no I don't wanna be the crutch
one step away from...

And that's not enough anymore. I don't wanna be the crutch....


~finis~

The Burn
Mad Season Cycle
Email CarolROI