Chapter One – One Hell of a Slip

It was late summer and Jeff Townsend’s most tragic saga was evolving into a weird skidding trip into a sinkhole where he had no control and no inkling of his life’s direction. There was no foothold, no root or protruding rock to grasp; only darkness all around. It was the time of year his dogs loved to walk the wooded areas around his home. The farm was beautiful during the summer months, but his favorite season was to follow with the magnificence of an autumn landscape. It brimmed and gleamed from bright sunlight, and gentle gusts across the pond shot little ripples onto shorelines where the dogs played. As peaceful and beautiful as it seemed, his life was transitioning downward and that underlying anxiety gutted his inner peace.

He didn’t farm the land. That was a life left behind with the last owners. But, after the loss of Jeff’s wife Madeline to cancer, he needed space – lots and lots of space to walk and think and mourn. Consolation was merely the delight in living such an existential lifestyle alongside the beauty of nature. Dear Madeline, his alter ego and kindred spirit, would have delighted listening to the birds chirp and the skirmishing of squirrels and woodland creatures. For a time, it all filled his soul with such tranquility, pacifying the loss that donned the fringes of his heart. The harmony in nature balanced the aching memories of Maddie writhing in pain. They were comrades the two of them, with an uncommon bond that others did not and could not comprehend. Neither of them desired children of their own, but had only a blinding love for cats, dogs and each other.

Earlier that week, Jeff learned of his termination from work as a draftsman from Mason Construction. A solid career resulted when he went to school late to become certified as an architectural draftsman; a decision made to ease the pain of his loss. He worked twenty years overall, ten of which were in construction. It became his purpose, even though he felt it strange for a man of his age to go back to school for this kind of training. As he fought every day to put one foot in front of the other, not only was school a practical career move, but it proved to be the diversion he had hoped it would be.

The architect that he worked under, Matt Brogan, was thirty-two – a fine age to begin an illustrious career. At first it was weird taking orders from a guy twenty years his junior, but as Jeff did with everything after Maddie died, he adjusted and went forward with a very successful partnership. But, Mason’s was going under. The economy had taken its toll even though the owners tried their best to keep everything afloat. It was time for Jeff to say goodbye, and the search began for yet another unwanted future for him to pursue.

Matt found a job almost immediately, but for a man like Jeff in his fifties, the construction business was cruel. This loss of his in general progressed at a slow, painful pace. So slowly that it was difficult to recognize what was happening; but when it dawned, Jeff found himself hitched to a runaway train with no control over its destination. Since Maddie’s illness pretty much tapped their savings dry that was the first asset to go. But the investment in the farm property was solid… he thought. It turned out that the taxes in the escrow account were underfunded and the property taxes were much higher than what was assessed. Along with his job loss this made it impossible to hold on to the property. Barely breaking even, his beautiful, rustic place of solitude needed to be sold.

Jeff’s brother, Mac Townsend, lived in Michigan and he offered him a place to live. Mac was about fifteen years older than Jeff, and always kept a keen eye out for his brother’s welfare. As he stood back and watched the agony that relentlessly pursued his younger brother, he wanted to offer Jeff some relief. Mac believed he had never seen someone go through such hard times with such courage. Something had to give. So, since all of Jeff’s revenue was gone and he had nowhere else to turn, his next step was the move to Michigan.

It was necessary to sell the furniture and other belongings with all their tender memories as Jeff had no money to pay for storage. His dogs and cat, Maddie’s cat, needed to be re-homed. Mac’s view of the best in life was different from Jeff’s, and animals were not on his top ten list. Jeff’s world was spinning like a top, reminding him over and over that he had to find homes for his pets and it was torture. It beat him into the reality of a loss that burned his soul like a branding iron and forced his heart to crack a little every time he took a breath. Little Jim, his miniature dachshund, knew something was amiss with his relentless jumping and looks of “What’s up, Dad?”

“I know, Jim. I… I can’t take you with me.” Jeff’s eyes started to burn.

But, Shaker, his blood hound, just sat and watched him with the eye of a committed pal who felt the same pain, the same way, at the same time. Jeff crumbled on the floor next to him and hugged his buddy. “Shaker, man. I don’t want this. I have no choice.” He lost control and sobbed into Shaker’s soft neck. Shaker’s steady nature held Jeff together, but his eyes haunted Jeff’s soul. He knew he would miss his pets and their unconditional love and he believed losing them was as devastating as losing Maddie.

Harder than the separation from Shaker and Little Jim was the separation from Tess, Maddie’s cat. This re-homing was the ultimate abandonment. How could life go from living in peaceful autonomy on his little farm with faithful, furry companions to having nothing: and the bills just keep piling up. Numbness veiled Jeff’s existence as he tumbled faster and faster down the rabbit hole. It was surreal that an educated, experienced person with multiple skill sets could not find work. No one wanted him. Even retailers thought he would leave as soon as another job in construction came up – as if, and even if there were a position in retail for him, minimum wage is the enemy of the working man.

Now, he was here in this state of absolute despair and surrender to the conditions in which he found himself, twisting his soul into fragmented bits of the past. Nagging anguish served only to deepen his sorrow and it disgusted him to realize that what once was his sanctuary and retreat from grief was no longer his possession.

Everything on which Jeff rested his unhinged soul, every safeguard put in place to assist in grief management over Maddie’s death had been snatched out from under him. He didn’t realize that a person could shed tears without the sensation they were welling, but the salty liquid just seemed to stream from his eyes without warning. A vast void of emotion waylaid any love, or faith, or hope expected to surface after such losses. As he took one last look at his beautiful property, his journey into a dense forest of misery began and it was either go forward into it with a meager and tattered spirit, or die.

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