You Said

“I’m going to take a trip towards the light,” you said, and watched me with large eyes, wet with unshed tears. What am I talking about? They weren’t unshed. They were simply suspended, on a break. There had been plenty of them before and I knew that more were to come.

“Don’t worry,” you said. You thought you were comforting me. You really did. I didn’t understand how it was possible that you could think that anything you said would be a comfort. Comfort wasn’t possible. Comfort still isn’t possible.

“There’s someone waiting for me there, you see,” you said, and you smiled. I wanted to gag you, to make you stop spouting useless platitudes. You’d never spoken this way before. Something about this situation, about this departure, made you different. You were still you, but you’d changed.

“Don’t cry,” you said. “You’ll see me again someday.” You died, and I didn’t have the time to tell you that I didn’t believe it. I didn’t have time to say goodbye.

Acceptance

Acceptance is a good word. For starters, it has two kind of “c” sounds, a delicious “p” and a lovely ticking “t.” It’s a fun word to say. I accept the fact that not everyone agrees with me about the deliciousness of words – for which I must, again, thank Fry, S. J. – and so I’ll elaborate beyond the mere clicks of tongue and lips together. “Acceptance” is a good word because it has good connotations. It sounds positive in every respect:

We talk about accepting someone for who they are – accepting their faults or quirks, their weaknesses and passions. We talk about feeling acceptance from others – becoming comfortable with people, being who we feel we really are with them, shucking off the shells we build around ourselves to guard our hearts from strangers. Children are taught to accept others who are different than themselves, to ignore skin-color and race, cultural barriers or freckles.

“Acceptance” also brings to my mind the feeling of my stomach leaping upwards in a sweet rush when I find out that I’ve passed a test to get into a program, or gotten a big envelope from a college. It means being good enough, proving myself both to others and to the inner-critic.

But “acceptance” can also be a horribly sad word. When someone dies, we need to learn to accept their passing – not necessarily for anyone, but merely because there’s no choice. Life can’t go on unless we accept the death of a loved one. Even if we fight it, life has a knack of getting in the way and forcing us into realizing that we’ve accepted the horrible truth that someone we love will never hug us again, never smile at us, never blink or speak or cry. It’s natural, though, to accept this. If we wouldn’t, we’d go mad with grief at every death, every breakup, every parting.

And yet, there’s a part of me that rages at the acceptance, that feels as if it’s an insult to myself and my emotions. A part of me wants to scream out from the rooftops and subject the neighborhood to the keening sounds I hear only in my mind. A part of me wishes to give up entirely, to lie in bed and never rise from it. But that part is stuffed down, hushed up, quieted, because life goes on whether I want it to or not.

Week

 

Will you be weak first,

Or shall I?

It’s been a week, the first,

And I’m sorely tempted.

But maybe the weakness

Is in my mind and heart only.

Mother says it isn’t so,

And others say it too,

But my aching sore,

My blistering insides

Where someone came

And took something away-

That hole tells me it is.

 

Will you be weak first,

Or shall I?

A weak week it was,

Laughter stolen,

Soul broken,

Eyes bright in the glass.

But worry not, for weakness fades,

And strength gathers anew.

A week from now,

Where will you be?

Shall I be there too?

 

 

Joshua

Josh put down the Starbucks paper cup and breathed a sigh of relief. He’d been craving his chai latte since three in the morning when he first woke up. The dreams were back, and he was sleeping worse than ever. His therapist kept asking him if he could describe them, and he tried, he really did, but the problem was that the moment he talked about his dreams, they’d flee his mind. It was as if the contents of his horrible nightly escapades were only alive when they could torture him, and him alone. If he tried to confide in anyone else, he would suddenly find that he couldn’t grasp any detail of dream. He wouldn’t find the words to describe the monstrous visions or the frightening scenarios, and he’d finally fall silent, muttering feebly that he knew the dreams were horrible but simply couldn’t remember them at present. His therapist thought that he was repressing something, and was very worried about him.

If he was being honest with himself, Josh was worried too. The last time he’d had the dreams was when he started law school. They’d caused him to drop out after a while, and he’d spent almost a year in a haze of pot, occasional boozing and general self-destruction. It took him a long time to force his life back together. He’d felt like Humpty Dumpty for years, putting himself together piece by piece because all the king’s horses and all the king’s men had given up on him.

Now he was thirty-five and was the manager of the distribution offices in a company that sold furniture. It wasn’t an impressive job by any means – his office was one of many that were spread around the country, and so there were some fifty other people in the company with the exact same job title as him. That wasn’t to say that he hadn’t worked hard to reach this position. He had, and he’d suffered for a few years at the entry level customer service before he began climbing the ranks. All in all, he was pleased with his job. He had his own office on the tenth floor with a view of the courtyard that his building shared with the other five in the office complex that was comfortably nestled in Downtown.

Josh rubbed his eyes and tried to wake himself up. Since three that morning he’d dozed on and off until six, when the alarm clock rang and his day began. He’d gone to bed at one in the morning, so he had, in reality, a total of two hours sleep. He smiled as he took another sip of his chai latte. At least his slow and tentative relationship with Mia wasn’t being screwed up by his dreams. She’d kissed him sweetly last night after they’d enjoyed a glass of red wine at the bar he took her to after dinner. They’d talked for hours, sipping their wine slowly in a corner table and enjoying the dim light of the bar that made them feel as if they were all alone. When he’d walked her home, she’d kissed him at the door, called him a perfect gentleman, and then, with that ever-surprising grin of hers, she’d ducked into the building and shut the door firmly behind her. He’d walked back to his own apartment in a delirious daze.

Mia had been part of his life for two years, although she hadn’t realized how much she’d meant to him. She’d been serving him chai lattes, apple pie slices and chocolate chunk cookies at Starbucks almost every morning since she’d started working there and Josh had fallen for her just a little bit more every day. He’d finally gotten the guts to ask her out after she’d been promoted to assistant manager of her branch and wasn’t working at the counter anymore. Josh’s therapist was very proud of him and felt that this was definitely a positive step forward in his constant struggle to keep the normal, functioning life he’d built for himself.

He hadn’t told Mia about his dreams. He hadn’t even tried. They’d been going out for over a month, but Mia, as she told him last night, was in a precarious emotional state. She had survived a badly abusive relationship and had abstained from going out with men for about three years. Josh was the first man she’d felt comfortable enough to go out with, and her own therapist, she reported to Josh, was proud of her as well. They’d joked about having a conference call with their respective psychologists and fixing them up. They’d also wondered idly whether the two were married already without their patients’ knowledge.

But Mia had kissed him, finally, and Josh was ecstatic. As he finally turned from the window in his office toward his computer and the work that was waiting for him, he decided that he’d call her later that afternoon and tell her that he’d had an incredible time last night and that he hoped to see her again. Soon.

He reached for his diary and checked which tasks he’d written down that were a priority that morning. He decided to get the phone calls over with first and then turn to the stack of reports that were awaiting his scrutiny. It was as he clicked on the speaker-phone button that he remembered that Mia had been in his dream. His hand froze over the buttons and eventually the dial tone was replaced with the beep-beep-beep of a phone off the hook. Josh sat still as a stone as horrible visions flashed through his mind again, Mia’s face featuring clearly in them.

Finally, he turned off the speaker and held up his Starbucks cup. He stared at it, unseeing, and turned it around and around in his hands. Not Mia, he thought, pleading with his subconscious. Please, not Mia…

Tired

Tired.

My eyes are tired.

My cheeks are tired.

My mouth is tired.

**

Tired.

My lungs are tired.

My arms are tired.

My hands are tired.

**

Tired.

My thighs are tired.

My knees are tired.

My feet are tired.

**

Tired.

My mind is tired.

My soul is tired.

My heart is tired.

**

Tired.

Dorothy

It’s a well known fact that if you drop a piece of buttered toast, it will land with the butter side down. Dorothy stared at her toast, lying there on her new, pristine white carpet and felt her world collapse around her. It had been one of those days, and her clumsiness at dropping the toast had been the last straw. If she could have seen her face in that moment, she would have been shocked, and maybe even annoyed. Her face had fallen, gone into a look of deep grief, and suddenly looked twenty years older.

She had to remind herself, every morning, that there were days like this. Days where everything went wrong and it felt as if every single mistake, misstep or blunder were the equivalent of accidentally setting off an atomic bomb.

Dorothy crumpled to the floor, and sat sobbing over her piece of toast. She knew she’d wake up fine the next morning. And she knew that her day, like every day, would end like this. Crying.

Five-Year Old Heart

Martha was hiding in her closet. It was past midnight, and she’d woken up to the sound of Doug smashing his beer bottle in the kitchen. She was only five years old, but she already knew that Doug drank too much beer, that it made him nasty, and that every few nights he felt the need to throw his last bottle down hard and hear it crash. The mornings after he did that, Martha’s mother would clean the shards up quickly, quietly, telling Martha to stay in the tiny hall so she wouldn’t get glass shards in her feet.

Martha knew why her mother cleaned up in the morning. It was because one time, when she hadn’t, Doug woke up and saw the glass all over the kitchen floor. That just put him into a new rage. Martha had hidden in the closet then, too. She’d heard her mother whimper, but just barely, because she herself had been crying so hard.

Tonight, though, she was hiding in the closet for a new reason. Her mother was safely in bed, and Doug never did anything to her at night. He used to come home and fall asleep on the couch, sometimes leaving puke on the floor next to him. But lately, Doug had been coming into Martha’s room. She was so scared of him that even though she tried to sound like she was still asleep, her breathing quickened involuntarily, and Doug would then laugh quietly and move closer.

He’d been coming into her room for a few months, but Martha never told her mother what he did. She didn’t really understand it herself, only that it made Doug happy that she was hurting and frightened. She was only five years old, but she knew that if she fought him, he’d turn dangerous. She’d tried fighting, but he’d smacked her. So she knew to stop. To preserve herself.

This was the first night that she’d awoken before Doug got home. She couldn’t tell time yet, but she knew it was late because her mother was asleep and all the lights were off. So she hid in the closet, waiting for Doug to get back. She thought that maybe, if he didn’t find her in bed, he’d just go away.

She wanted him to go away so badly.

She wanted to tell her mother, but she was scared to. She knew instinctively that there was something wrong about what Doug was doing, and felt it was her fault.

She wanted, with all of her five-year old heart and body, for something very bad to happen to Doug. And that want, that intense need for him to be hurt, frightened her almost as much as Doug himself did.

The Night Greg Died

Greg died in a car crash. The police say they don’t know exactly what happened, but that someone must have rammed him off the road. They say that they’re on the lookout for badly dented green cars on the highways. When I asked why they were only looking for green cars, they told me that they’d found some green dust inside the big dent in Greg’s car. The dent that was so bad that the door caved half-way in. The dent that punched Greg in the stomach and killed him even before he crashed into the metal railings on the highway.

Myra and I know that the police aren’t going to find a darn thing by looking out for green cars. Whoever rammed into Greg is long gone. Maybe they feel guilty for killing a man. Then again, maybe they’re just relieved that they got away with it. Maybe they don’t even read the papers and don’t have any idea that he died. I sure as hell don’t read the papers anymore. They’ve gotten too depressing.

“You know what’s weird?” Myra asked me at around three in the morning. We’d been sitting up having coffee after coffee ever since the police came and went.

“What?” My voice was all croaky, like a morning voice only worse because I’d been crying. We both had.

“That Greg died in a car crash. I always thought he’d scrape himself off the road on that red beast of his, but in the end it was in his dad’s ratty car and it wasn’t even his fault.”

I knew what she meant. My eyes slid to the photo that hung on the wall, behind Myra. It was taken the day Greg bought his red Suzuki motorcycle. He’d been so proud of it – of her. He’d named her Tessie. Myra and I always freaked his dates out by telling them that no matter what, Greg would always love Tessie more than he’d love them. Then he’d take them out to see her, and the girls would simper and giggle and hate Myra and me. That was okay. We usually hated the girls – they were all much to air-headed to be called women – that Greg went out with.

In the photo, I saw Myra and Greg and me. Tessie was leaning on her kickstand, and Greg was sitting on her, sidesaddle, his arms crossed across his chest and that goofy grin of his spread across his face. His hair was longer that summer, almost down to his shoulders, and the wind had blown a couple lanky strands of it into his face when the photo was taken. Myra was standing behind him and her arms were flung around him, head poking from one side, face scrunched in her usual photo-pose – lips puckered in an exaggerated kiss. Her hair was in its usual bun, trying to restrain her wild ginger curls. Then there’s me. I was standing next to Greg, one hand resting on Tessie’s gleaming handlebar, the other making a peace-sign behind Myra’s head, giving her horns. I’m smiling to, my tight-lipped smile, my photo smile. I can’t for the life of me smile my real grin, all teeth and open mouth, when I’m in front of a camera. So my smile looks fake in that photo. It was the summer that my hair was bubble-gum pink.

That photo was taken six years ago, when Myra, Greg and me all got an apartment together during the summer between freshmen and sophomore years at college. We’ve lived here ever since, a small three-bedroom with a kitchen so tiny we need to literally squeeze around each other when we’re all in here. The dining room and living room are slightly bigger, and it’s around the table we used to eat at with Greg that Myra and I sat at three in the morning that night.

After tearing my eyes away from the photo, I saw Myra staring at Greg’s place at the table. The MAD magazine he’d just gotten that morning was still at his place, open to one of the articles. I felt the same tears prickle in my eyes as those starting to roll down Myra’s cheeks.

“It’s not fair,” Myra said.

“Nope.

“Nobody should die when they’re twenty-five.”

“They sure shouldn’t.”

I must have said something wrong, or maybe my tone of voice was too flat for her to deal with. She looked up at me, her eyes blazing, and threw her coffee cup against the wall behind me before running to her room and slamming the door. I still hadn’t moved when I heard more objects being thrown around in there. But after another small eternity of staring at that photo of us all, I got up to get the broom and started to sweep up the pieces of cheap porcelain scattered on the floor.

1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams [3]

“Yes, hi, it’s me.”

Caroline clutched the receiver in her hand. She looked at Mr. Adams, and words failed her as tears sprung into her eyes. She hadn’t heard Marty’s voice in almost three years. Now, out of the blue, there he was, sounding just as he did before. Mr. Adams walked into his study and picked up the phone on his desk there. He spoke into it in a quiet, sad voice.

“Where have you been, Marty?”

“Oh,” the voice over the phone sounded taken aback. “Hi, Dan.”

“Well?”

“I- I’m sorry,” the voice began to choke as the words tumbled out. “I’m so sorry, to both of you. It’s just that after Susan… and then the funeral was just horrible and Claire wasn’t speaking to anyone and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the both of you blamed me somehow – blamed me for listening to Susan, for not telling you sooner, for hiding it from you for a year. And then the operation – and the doctors didn’t know that they’d find what they found and just – we didn’t know, and it was supposed to be easy and quick and gone within a few months and Susan felt that it was bad enough that we lived so far away and I just…”

“Oh, Marty,” breathed Mrs. Adams.

She and Mr. Adams had the same memories flooding their senses. Both were remembering their blissful lives, teaching at the university and living peacefully in this house that they finally managed to pay off the mortgage on. Both remembered how three years ago they got a phone call from their only daughter, their Susan. They remembered her calm and collected voice as she lied to them outright, telling them that she needed to have some really minor surgery and not to worry and not to come down to Manhattan for it – it was just this tiny lump the doctors needed to take out, it would be over in a few days. The surgery had, in actuality, been for removing her breast-cancer, which she hadn’t told her parents about since it was considered curable. The doctors hadn’t expected what resulted in the surgery – a complication, a blood clot. They’d removed it, but apparently some of it had traveled through her bloodstream already and had obstructed some smaller veins. She’d died from the blood not managing to travel to her brain rather than from her cancer.

She hadn’t told her parents about any of her chemotherapy, hadn’t told them about what she was going through – she didn’t want to worry them, as she told Marty over and over again. It was bad enough, in her eyes, that Claire, their daughter, had to know and see what was happening. That was Susan’s biggest flaw and always had been – she wanted to take everything on herself, without help from the outside, without causing worry to anyone. Mr. and Mrs. Adams knew this. It was themselves they blamed for not guessing more about her surgery. They blamed Susan, too, although it had taken them two years in counseling after her death to be able to admit it to themselves. But the only thing they blamed Marty for was his cutting his ties with them after Susan’s funeral. They loved Marty like a son, and they wanted to be a part of Clair’s life.

This is what they both, through many moments of choked silences, managed to convey to Marty during their conversation that August evening. Marty, who had broken down completely and sobbed into the phone a few times, sat alone in his apartment in Manhattan – Claire was at her drawing class – and felt that for the first time in three years he had some hope in his horizons. He’d lost his own parents when he was much younger, and the simple warmth of Susan’s folks and the way they forgave him immediately for his mule-headed guilt-trip went straight to his heart.

It sealed his decision. After hanging up with his in-laws, and promising them that he’d bring Claire for a visit very soon, he made a big post-it note and hung it on the fridge. It said “CALL REAL ESTATE AGENT AND SAY YES.” He underlined the word “YES” three times, picked up his keys, and set out to pick Claire up, thinking that the future might finally be looking up.

Two

“It’s  a long story,” he said, frowning slightly, before smiling again. His hair was brown, his face thin, and his expression let nothing away. His smile was utterly disarming, and he didn’t seem to be feeling a thing except the usual cheerfulness he displayed to the world. He had his work spread out in front of him, the usual scientific jargon he was so into, and he slid his eyes back to it easily and went right back to studying. His shirt, bearing the logo of his workplace, was tight, as all his clothes usually were. He was attractive, there was no doubt about it, and his cheerfulness was like a sun, drawing unsuspecting people to him and making them think, naively, that everything was alright with him. Everything was always alright with him.

The girl, clutching her book, wasn’t so naive. She had her guesses, and she voiced them in a cheerful tone to match his own. He laughed, brushing them away, and went back to studying. She took note, though, of the slight glint of panic in his eyes.

____

“It’s a long story,” he said. His hair was black, his face thin but muscular, and his expression was fraught with pain. His eyes glinted with unshed tears, but they never leaked out, not once. He laughed at himself, laughed at his emotions. “It’s a long story,” he repeated, but he went into detail. Not much detail, but enough for the girl, clutching her book again, to understand. Her heart beat within her breast, pounding with emotion for both of them. She could see his pain, and suspected the other’s pain even if he wouldn’t voice it. She hugged him, murmuring “Aw, honey,” and made sure to let him know that she felt for him. It wasn’t easy, she couldn’t imagine it would ever be easy for the two of them.

____

Alone in her room, with headphones in her ears, she thought about them. She wanted to help, somehow, for some reason. Maybe it was only that her own experience was so much happier than theirs. Maybe it was that she knew what it was to trust someone implicitly and she wanted them to feel it too. Maybe it was just the fact that she was so far away from her love that she needed to see others flourish as she couldn’t in her current situation. Maybe it was, quite simply, that she wanted to befriend them both. They were too pleasant to give up, and she wanted to find a place for herself. She had always done this – reached out instinctively to others, lent herself as a support to those who needed it. It was one of her joys.

With music throbbing in her ears, she noticed the lyrics suddenly. “This night has only just begun. If there’s discretion that you’ve not abandoned, now’s the time.” Fitting, she thought, and closed her eyes and listened hard until the next song came on.