Tuesday, June 2, 2015

beautiful ghost.

That was my life, my fucking life. I picked it from all the other lives laid out before me and I fell in love with it, with her. I sacrificed everything and gave it all to her.
You stole her from me.
You took the love of my life away and you let me watch as you slashed her throat. You dropped her carcass, still twitching, in my broken hearted arms and blood soaked us both, soaked everything we built together. And I wept. I wept, hunched over her corpse, holding her so tightly to my heart that I hoped she could still feel it beating through her lifeless skin. I held her for a long time, too long some say. I carried her with me to dinner parties and to the grocery store, buckled her up and drove her back and forth across half the country again and again and every night I let her hollow eyes watch while you tired to kill me too.
I forced her to watch as you beat me to a pulp before taking a step back to examine your handiwork. I fell down some stairs. Right? No, you never left a bruise on me, some broken blood vessels around my eyes and some raw spots on the backs of my hands where my teeth scraped the skin off, but nothing anyone would ever question.
She took it all in. She watched the destruction but what could she do? The dead don’t come back to save their lovers’ lives.
I didn’t care anymore. I lost hope when you stole her away from my loving embrace. Her limp body became another burden, a burden like you, but I couldn’t bring myself to lay her to rest, or change her out of her blood stained clothes. I wanted to preserve her just the way she was on the last night of her short but brilliant life. I wanted the good times to live on in me, for her memory to make me smile, but I only saw her murder every time I closed my eyes. I only saw you taking her life.
And without her, I was no one except someone who couldn’t get away from you, a victim of abuse crawling back to you again for one more beating. And you beat me mercilessly, again and again. As the days passed I began to wish you would just end me so I could finally find some peace in the cool blackness of eternity. Or maybe it’s warm there. I don’t know. Would I meet her there? Would I be reunited with the life I chose and be able to live it forever without you ruining everything?
I wanted so desperately to find out but you wouldn't give me the satisfaction. You brought me within inches of death, brought the knife out and dumped the pills on the table but you wouldn’t press down just a little harder on that blade and you fed me just enough to numb me but never enough to set me free. You wouldn’t do it then and you won’t do it now, no matter how badly I wish you would when the memory of her wraps itself around me, squeezing the air from my lungs, leaving me weak and paralyzed.
There’s no moving forward when she’s in the room because she takes me back there of so quickly and I can’t let that place go. I want to believe I can go back there. I don’t want to let it go, no matter how badly it hurts. And it hurts as badly as the night you ended her life. Still.
They say it would be easier to move on if I laid her to rest, if I finally put her in the ground, but I can’t bear the idea of saying the goodbye that lasts forever. So I keep her in the corner of the closet, tucked away behind the coats and the rest of the shit I never wear here in my new life. I still believe that one day you will let me go and I’ll pull her out, dust her off, kiss her cold, blue, stiff lips, and breathe new life into her hollow shell, like prince charming waking his princess with true love’s kiss.
But you refuse to leave me be, even now when I’m stronger than ever. You watch over me, tell me where to go, how to act, who to be, and convince me everyday that you’re only trying to protect me. And you do protect me. You protect me from living fulfilled. You protect me from everyone who might love me. You protect me from happiness. And you protect me from the potential pain of knowing the world as others see it by keeping me safe in the hell you’ve created for me. Is it more painful here? Or out there? I’ll never know if you don’t open the gates and let me take a chance. But you don’t protect me from her, and her ghost haunts me just the way you intended it to.
You’ve got me trapped and tormented and I go digging through my closet now and then searching for some happiness in the caress of a life once so passionate and so alive but I’m only greeted by the harsh reality that everything beautiful dies, and in those moments I want you to push down so badly I fall to my knees and weep because everything in me is crying out in pain. I want you to open the bottles and swallow every last one then lay me down and close my eyes for the last time while you run your boney fingers along my cheek as the tears dry. Then I want you to tell me for the first time that everything is going to be alright.
But you won’t and you never will because you breathe in my pain to feel whole. You won’t because you’re stronger than me and not nearly as selfish. You won’t because you’ll never give up on this like I will. You won’t because if I go, you go, because I am you and you are me. I watched you slash her throat but I held the knife and the blood still stains my hands. You hold the knives now but my wrists are the ones pouring blood into the bathroom sink. I take the pills but it’s you who refuses to swallow. I keep her in the closet but you wouldn’t pick up the shovel even if I decided to bury her.
This is life without her, without passion. We’re all we have left and I swear to God I will never forgive you, forgive me, forgive us, for the things we’ve done.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Stream


Is that me or the medication talking? Am I just a puppet of the pills? It’s not for me, it’s never for me. It’s for you, for them, for us, for we, for they. But what about me? Where did I run off to and how do I find me beneath all the bullshit I tell myself so I can sleep at night? Do I even know what I look like? Can I really expect to pick my face out of a crowd or identify myself in a lineup of the usual suspects? Doubtful. I’m not who I was and neither are you. None of us ever are or ever will be again. You’re growing, evolving, becoming something real and substantial, while I shrink and lose my humanity, while I disappear. Is this where I live now? Is this how I spend my time? How long has it been? Three years? Two years? Fifteen months? Try twelve days. And it hurts. Still. It always hurts because how could it be anything but painful? But it feels so amazing that I don’t ever want to stop. “Don’t stop, keep going,” it says to me. Hold me, love me, need me, want me. I will I will and I do I do. I’m still here. I never really left. That thing you saw out there in the world that said he was me, said he was all better, and whispered the sweetest little nothings you’d ever heard into your hungry ears, the type of things that bear the weight of the world and are anything but innocent, that wasn’t me. That was my ghost, a spirit possessed by insidious hope, the type of hope that makes you want so badly to just believe in something, in anything, and he’s floating from seriously concerned clinicians, to friends, to lovers and back again, infecting everyone he touches with lies about dreams that were never really his. Those dreams were mine. Some days they still are. But everyday, I am still here, except on the days when I’m gone. But gone to where? It’s difficult to say because where is here, where is anywhere exactly? Aren’t I physically in one place, mentally in another, and emotionally in someplace else entirely? Who’s to say where here really is if I’m everywhere and nowhere all at once? Am I where my flesh and bone is sitting, staring at you, nodding its head, and smiling on cue? Don’t be so sure. This plane is flying and it’s on a collision course with your fragile little heart but the pilot has left the cockpit. And where did he go? Is he still on the plane or is he in free fall, plummeting to the ground at a terminal velocity without a chute? Mayday, mayday, I’ve lost control and I’m flying blind here. Maybe he’s just in the can. But if he has taken the proverbial leap of faith, if the ground really is hurtling toward his pretty, innocent, inviting, trustworthy little face with those eyes, those eyes as deep as the pacific and twice as cold, then where has his mind gone? What drives him? Is it his thoughts or his emotions? Who’s in charge here? I’d like to speak to a manager. Please! And who says the pilot is a he to begin with? This is 2015, why can’t he be a she? He could be but more than likely the only woman in the cockpit is the flight attendant with the tight ass who let her guard down just enough last night to let him in where he can go to work at breaking her heart and trust me, she’s alarmed as hell by the thought of being on this ride when it all comes crashing down. So he’s falling, or I’m falling, or my thoughts are falling, or whatever it is I’m getting at here, because if the plane is me then my thoughts are definitely outside somewhere in the stratosphere. The world is so beautiful from this altitude. Why settle for a window seat when you can close your eyes, count to one, and step off into oblivion? Why settle for a view when you can be out there in it? Open your eyes! Take it all in, this is as good as it gets and you will never be any higher than this. This moment, no this second, is the the culmination of every single second of the life you have lived so far and it’ll be over if you blink. Every thought, every emotion, every smile, every word, every action, every fateful flick of the wrist, pain, joy, fear excitement, love, hate, anger and indulgence, every single drop of blood, all add up to right here and right now and you can either sit with your seat back and tray table in their full upright and locked position just waiting for the captain to turn off the fasten your seat belts sign so that you can finally get up to take a piss, or you can get off your ass and take the plunge into the unknown beauty staring at you from the other side of the glass. The seatbelt sign isn’t going off, the captain has left the building. Remember? You can stay. I’m leaving. I’m already gone, my thoughts are already out there in it. So I’m falling toward my death, forever tumbling, stumbling, tripping, toppling, lower, farther, deeper. And where does it end? This free fall seems infinite. And isn’t that a good thing? Infinity is a long time, but who wants to live forever? Make it quick and efficient, and if you could, as painful as possible please. Every time I think I’m going to collide with the earth and the lights are going to flash out into nothingness, I brace for impact, shut my eyes, and grit my teeth, and BAM! Nothing. Not a damn thing except another failed expectation and a rejection that rips my insides apart as it tears through living tissue, flesh, bone, cartilage and ligaments, all of which keep my consciousness prisoner, and the thought “What the fuck?” screaming through my head. How could you? How dare you build me up, lift me high above the clouds, drop me, let me think that it’s all going to end, and then pull the ground out from beneath my face at the very instant relief is finally going to be mine? Bitch. I’m left with nothing but rejection and the confusion it breeds and falling, more falling, forever falling. But if down wasn’t down and up wasn’t up, if down was up, and up was down, then wouldn’t falling be flying? Wouldn’t my kamikaze death spin toward the fiery depths of hell be a graceful ascension toward the glory of heaven? It’s a matter of perspective and mine is fucked. Is it even still mine? Who’s to say that what I see or think or feel or believe or know is true or right or real at all? The old woman with the degree and the title I talk to every monday at 10:45 a.m. in her cozy little office on the third floor of a beautiful old building on Madison Ave about the when and the where of the who I fuck, and better yet (or is it worse), who I fuck up emotionally with my fucked up perspective on shit seems to be able to tell me what’s clinically significant, which is apparently every thought transformed to words uttered to her over the whir of her noise maker behind heavy, locked doors, but she provides me with no answers or solutions. Sometimes I wonder if she even knows the questions. Am I putting you to sleep? Are you even paying attention? Stop thinking about the quiche you brought for lunch and listen to the words escaping my shaking lips. I’m having a crisis here. But what else is new? Aren’t I always having a crisis by the time next Monday morning rolls around? Isn’t everything cause for a code red, def con five, let’s say thirty years in, people will say what were you doing when? state of emergency?Alert the press, this one is going to be big. It’s old, I get it. Say something happy, better yet, write something happy. Just change your perspective and relax. That’s not what I pay you for. So it comes down to me, me who can’t recognize my own face anymore, the emotional marionette whose strings are being pulled by a pill popping puppet master, to decide what’s real and what’s make believe. It’s up to me to decide which way is up and whether I’m headed down. So my mind is falling or flying, I haven’t decided which, and my body is sitting at coffee with you and you’ve decided that you like me because honestly, what’s not to like? and emotionally I’m somewhere else all together. It’s not a place I’ve ever been but I call it home because I’ve never been able to leave and the harder I try to run away the more I want to stay. It’s the most exciting monotony imaginable and it’s certainly the brightest black I’ve ever seen. Without it I am nothing and with it I can’t help but notice how far I am separated from everything. It’s understandably confusing. Quite right, quite right. It’s nowhere but I take it with me everywhere my mind and body go. It’s the most perfectly sensible contradiction I can possibly comprehend. And it’s pure, this everything-nothing, somewhere-nowhere, bright-dark, crystal clear mud puddle sense of self that falls or flies, and sits and nods and smiles and laughs with you over coffee even though it prefers to get wired by more exciting, more dangerous means, and I can never leave it behind. Everywhere I go, there I am and there it is, my nowhere I cannot escape. Do I want to escape? Somedays. Does it matter? No, of course not. There is no escape, there is only a last chance to embrace what’s left behind in the wake of so much grotesque destruction. So much bloodshed, so many tears cried, tears wasted, tears slurped up by a critically dehydrated evil lurking deep inside, and a broken love trying desperately to mend itself and grow and live in strength and beauty, all call out to me from somewhere beyond the night, passed the first glimpse of sunrise, somewhere deep within the warmth that still lives in my core, telling me to be still, to let you, them, us, we, they, and me just be; and to accept it all because all is everything I have to give, and if there were no everything then there would be nothing and nothing is impossible because I am tragically, unmistakably, irrevocably, undoubtedly, unwillingly, beautifully, remarkably something; and from this fact, I cannot hide.

Damages


"Hey Baby! I’m on the way home for the afternoon. I’m going to go to dinner and a movie with Paul tonight."
My text seems innocent enough, but I know that it’s a lie. Not a white lie, but a blatant breach of trust that will soon be bathed in blood.
"Ok darling. That sounds like fun! How was your day?"
She’s so innocent, so trusting, so naive. She should know better than to trust me by now.
"It was pretty good..."
Another lie, this one more forgivable than the last, but a lie nonetheless. She doesn’t need to know the details about my day. She doesn’t need to know how it is that I’m really feeling. She doesn’t need to know that I’m seeing red and that I have a plan. She doesn’t need to know that she’s part of the problem rather than the solution. If she knew what was really going on inside of my head right now she would have every right to be concerned. Concerned because she cares about me and about my safety. Her concern is the last thing that I want tonight. She needs to rest easy, the truth will come out when I’m ready to share it with her. I am in control.
If she knew then she might ruin the plan. The razor blades are nestled safely in my backpack and I intend to put them to good use tonight. I can’t have a loving girlfriend getting in the way of things.
I send the same texts about my plans with Paul to the members of my family who might be curious where I am when I don’t come home later this evening. Dinner and a movie will buy me a few precious hours alone and that’s all I really need. And dinner and a movie with a friend gives me every excuse in the world not to respond to a text or a phone call. Can’t you see that I’m busy catching up with my dear friend Paul? I wouldn’t want to be rude.
The train ride to my car seems longer today than on most afternoons. The anticipation of the sweet satisfaction of tearing my flesh open is nearly overwhelming as I sit staring out the window watching the same buildings and houses fly by as I do every afternoon. They’re moving in slow motion today. I need to get to my car and get to a motel room before I lose my nerve. Have I lost my mind? Possibly. A hotel room? This is the nature of such things. I can’t simply be satisfied with the destruction I’ve already caused. I need more each time I feel the need to bleed, and each of these nights must be more elaborate than the last. Last time wasn’t planned, last time was out of control; a reaction to a tragic series of events caused by the two people I loved and trusted the most. One of those people is and was my loving girlfriend. How I came to be with her once again after what she did is completely beyond me. Tonight will be different. Tonight will be messy, but it will be contained. Tonight is not unexpected to me, just to the ones who care about me. They have no idea what’s coming.
I’m being watched at home. I am a high risk case with a history of self-harm and suicide attempts. I need to be watched. If you don’t keep your eye on me then nights like this one are bound to happen.
The texts with my girlfriend continue for the duration of the train ride. Lie after lie after lie. I make shit up because lies are so much more exciting than the truth about my day spent in in treatment in a partial hospitalization program for psychiatric disorders. I say goodbye to my girlfriend as I step off of the train. It’s nearly time now and my hands are shaking and sweaty with excitement. It’s been nearly a year since a blade has touched my skin but I haven’t forgotten just how it feels to be set free by the sharpened edge of a razor. It’s the most beautiful thing imaginable, to find a simple peace in those times when all the world seems to be resting on your shoulders. One quick flick of the wrist and everything you feel inside is free to flow out of your body and into the stillness of the night. Magic.
“I think you need to go back to the inpatient unit,” the program director had said to me earlier today.
The ‘inpatient unit’ is just a nice name for the psych ward located on the fourth floor of Herrick Hospital in downtown Berkeley, only a mile or so from the university. She has no idea just how badly I need to go back.
“Give it some thought,” she said to me. “Let me know what you think about the idea tomorrow. It might just be easier to break some of your compulsive habits if you were upstairs on the unit.”
I know that. I had already considered it myself. There is no way that I’m simply going to will myself to get better out here in the real world on my own. But how could I go back to the unit again without something to show how crazy I still am? I need something that speaks for me before I ever open my mouth and the scars on my wrists from last year simply won’t be enough to do the job. They’re so out of fashion by now it’s ridiculous. I need something new, something fresh and real to show that I am sick enough to be there with the rest of them. Hence the razor blades in my backpack.
I speed walk to my car at a pace just short of a run. The urge to bleed is so strong that I can taste it in my mouth. I can feel it crushing me from the inside out. I need it so badly that I can barely breathe. I look down at my right wrist and forearm and examine the scars already there. They are small, most of them barely noticeable thanks to the stitches that the doctors put in last year on that oh so dreadful night. They don’t count. They don’t count because they were taped and sewn shut unlike the rest of the cuts that decorate my body. If each cut were a mouth, opened wide to scream out to the world all of the things I can’t bring myself to say, then these would be mouths forever closed, unable to speak their truths. Tonight my wounds will speak again and they must speak forever more. Tonight will be different than the last time. It’s all part of the plan.
I’d do it right here in the car, but the car is new and I can’t imagine bleeding all over the upholstery just yet. Give it a few more months and I might feel differently. I drive past the park where I hiked yesterday afternoon in an effort to clear my thoughts. One last chance to save myself from self destruction tonight. I could turn into that parking lot and go lose myself in the woods for a couple of hours until the urges pass, purge my system of all of the hatred that I feel by sweating it out. I could, but I keep driving.
I pass by a motel with “Vacancy” lit up on the sign out front on my way to Safeway. I’ll be right back, don’t rent my room. I didn’t want to raise suspicion by buying razor blades and bandages in the same transaction at the CVS on my way to the train earlier, so I still need to make one more stop before relief can finally be mine. My heart is pounding in my throat as I pay the cashier at Safeway for my butterfly bandages and sterile gauze wrap. If this isn’t self care then I don’t know what is. If I was really feeling self destructive, wouldn’t I skip the bandages all together and just allow myself to bleed to death? Maybe I’m not so crazy after all.
The hotel room costs me $90 for the night. Such a waste. I’ll only be here for a couple of hours before it’s time to run back home and pack my things for my stay in the psych ward. Room number six. Check out time 10 a.m. Oh don’t worry about little old me, I’ll be long gone by then.
I grab my backpack from the car and run to my room. My hands are shaking so badly now that I can barely get the key into the door. It’s a run down little place, but it has just what I need. Cool, dark, seclusion; away from the bother of the people who care about me and away from anyone who might have the good sense to try to save me from myself. I won’t be bothered here.
I grab the package of razor blades from my backpack and rip it open. I feel the calming familiarity of the cool hard metal between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. I’m still trembling and I’ve stopped breathing but my time is finally here. But I pause. I wait for just a moment and take a deep breath as I extract my notebook and a pen from my backpack lying on the bed.
I put the pen to paper. This is it. I really have lost my fucking mind. A motel? Really? I’m going through with this. I'm excited. I hate it. I know I have a choice; I do, but I don't feel like I do. I feel compelled to do this, to be just as sick as the rest of them when I go back. Why? How do I come to this place again and again? I’m sick. I’m maladjusted and I never developed healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the pressure and stress of an everyday civilian life; of a normal life. I’m bipolar. I have anxiety. This is just what nervous people with horrendous mood swings do. Right? That’s an excuse, and I know it’s bullshit but I love to hide behind it. Hiding behind my sickness allows me to get away with murder. Or maybe suicide, as it were. The truth is that I’m here tonight because they told me that I am addicted. They told me that I am addicted to exercise. How the fuck is it a bad thing to be addicted to the healthiest thing in the world? And so what if I like to sweat and work hard and hurt myself in a way that doesn’t draw blood? Probably a better choice than the one I’m making right now. Maybe. But they don’t get it and they took it away from me. They stole my only way to deal with all the crazy that lives inside this little body of mine. Surely, they must have known I would explode in a bloody mess all over the god damned bedspread. Aren’t these people professionals? This is their fault, not mine. Enough. Enough writing. Fuck it, here goes...
I want to be able to look back on these desperate and insane moments and know exactly what it was that I was thinking. I want to remember this night forever because this is the very last time that I will live through a night like this. You can never be satisfied with just a taste. If it were possible then I would have been satisfied long ago. But each night like this one gets uglier and nastier and darker and more distorted and sick and someday there will be only one place left to go; eternal darkness. That day is fast approaching and I won’t let myself go there. I want to hurt. I want to bleed. I don’t want to die.
I put down my pen and take up the blade in my hand once more. One deep breath and then it’s showtime. One, two, three, four, five, faster than you can count. Five new ways to remember who I am and where I have been for the rest of my life. Five new questions from strangers. “What happened to your arm?” They’ll ask. Oh, don’t worry about those. Of course they’re not self inflicted. What do you think I am, crazy? But it’s not enough and the blade finds my arm three more times as waves of sweet euphoria wash over me as though I were dropped into a warm ocean of crystal clear water. The joy is thick and beautiful and the relief is instant. There is no question in my mind that this is exactly where I need to be in this moment. This moment is perfection.
There are a handful of seconds of sheer bliss after a wound has been opened, before it can fill with blood, and before the weight of the decision you have just made crosses your mind for the first time; and I stand for these few seconds of exquisite, overwhelming pleasure, and take a shallow breath, the sweetness of which I have never known before in my life. In this moment, standing inches closer to death, I feel more alive than I believed it was possible to feel and I let the euphoria crash over me and carry away everything that I have ever worried or cared about, leaving me free and clean and untainted by anxiety and distress. In this moment, I am pure.
But the moment is over before it even begins and each new cut fills quickly with deep red as I make my way to the bathroom to fully examine the damage of the last few fateful seconds. A slow smile creeps across my face as I look down at the thing which I have done and a desperate need to experience the rush of that perfect fleeting moment one more time drives the blade into my arm once more. Longer and deeper now, with more passion and meaning than before, three new gashes are opened in the space of as many seconds. Hysterical laughter overtakes me as the blood drips down my arm, off of my fingertips and into the sink, each crimson drop defiling the purity of the white porcelain as it splatters brilliance across the virgin surface. Euphoria wells up within me again, and I have to steady myself as I become dizzy with the pride and satisfaction in my handiwork. Right now, the world is everything that I could ever hope it would be.
I just stand in the bathroom, gazing into the mirror and watching the blood spill from my open wounds. It’s as if I can feel emotions leaving my body as blood escapes the confines of my skin. The anger, the hatred, and the fear trickle out of me and flow onto the cheap linoleum floor. I’m thinking of nothing but how amazing it feels to finally be free again. And these will be mine. I will not go to the hospital tonight. Eight hours after you cut yourself, the wound can no longer be stitched shut and no one will know about tonight until long after it’s too late for these cuts to be sewn up. They will speak volumes about my life in the moments when I remain completely silent and they will speak a language of compassion when my soul knows only hate. These wounds are not for anyone else. They belong to me.
But the euphoria subsides and my sense of freedom gives way to fear as the bleeding continues moment after moment. Forty-five minutes, an entire roll of toilet paper, and the whole box of butterfly bandages but still the blood doesn’t stop flowing. Have I gone too far this time? Will I last until tomorrow without medical attention? Bleeding is part of the plan, it’s always part of the plan, but the bleeding is supposed to stop after a few minutes and a little bit of pressure on the wounds. Bleeding out isn’t part of the plan.
I’ve had enough now. I’ve seen enough blood and the fun is over for the night. I’m ready to clean up and go home, ready to close this chapter of my life forever and move on to better and brighter days. The trash can is filled to the brim with blood soaked toilet paper and a spare tee shirt I was carrying around in my backpack is doing nothing to stop the blood flow although I’ve tied it as tightly as I can around my forearm. There is blood everywhere. Red splattered on the mirror, the sink, the countertop, red speckles on the toilet, and dark spots down the front of my shirt and shorts. Jesus.
I’m out of time. I have to go home, bleeding or not. I remove the tee shirt from my arm and throw it in the trash. I wrap myself up in gauze and put on a sweat shirt to cover up the situation. If I can’t see it, it can’t hurt me. But it has hurt me. No, I’ve hurt myself. I’ve hurt myself all over again. I promised myself the last time that it would never happen again just like I promised myself earlier this afternoon that tonight would be the last night like this one. My promises mean nothing.
I already want to take it all back, but there is no going back once you’ve gone this far. The last few precious moments of my life will last forever, written as a sad story across my skin for the world to see. Perhaps there is beauty in the sadness. Perhaps I can find strength one day in the weakness of these moments. But not tonight. Tonight belongs to the tattered broken soul of the creature standing before me in the mirror. Tonight belongs to the fear that drives the motions of the blade.

Delusions. Booze. Bullets.

It’s 2:16 a.m. and I’m awake. Something isn’t right on this midsummer night at my grandparent’s home. There is light streaming into my bedroom from beneath the closet door, beyond which lies my grandparent’s room. From behind the door I hear elevated voices and from outside my second story window I hear the crazed shouting of my uncle Jr. floating up through the stillness of the night air and into the dark which surrounds me. I’m listening, contemplating, trying to put the pieces together in my fogged mind.
I crawl out from under the sheet, my feet silent on the carpeted floor as I make my way to the closet door and place my ear against the cool wood, trying to assess the situation evolving on the other side.
“Calm down baby, we can work this out. Please, just calm down!” Jr.’s girlfriend Cheryl shouts from just beyond the other side of the closet. What is Cheryl doing here? She should be in Jr.’s trailer, just a stone’s throw away from my grandparent’s house, down a dirt path to the right of their pale green two story home, nestled in the trees of rural Nevada County.
I dress quickly, my stomach in my throat. I open the closet door and let the light wash over me as I wait for my eyes to adjust. I step through the closet and into my grandparent’s room where my suspicion is immediately confirmed: something isn’t right. My grandmother is sitting at the head of her king size bed clutching her left wrist with her right hand, the telephone receiver pressed between her ear and shoulder.
“Yes,” she says, “No, no, he’s here in the room now.” She reaches out to me and I quickly climb up onto the bed with her.
I’m worried now. I can hear the fear in my grandmother’s voice as she pulls me close to her and wraps me in her arms. My grandfather, Cheryl, and Cheryl’s brother Robert, who is visiting from someplace that I can’t quite remember at the moment, are all standing at the open window calling down to Jr. who is pacing the patio below, shotgun drawn and at the ready.
“We’re not lying to you, babe!” Cheryl calls out.
“Yes you are!” Jr. screams. “You’re nothing but a bunch of fucking liars and I’m going to kill you all!”
“Just calm down, Jr.!” My grandfather shouts out the window. “You’re not going to kill anyone, son. You need to calm down. Just take it easy…”
“Fuck you! Tell me where it is! Where’s my goddamn money?!”
Jr.’s money. We’ve all heard the stories before. I’ve heard Jr. tell my grandparents a hundred times of his fame and his fortune. He tells them that he is a king, but not of any country they’ve ever heard of, much less seen for themselves. He tells them that there is a grand tavern in this far off country of his, where a giant portrait of him hangs above the fireplace. He tells them that the people there worship him and recognize his true genius. He tells them that he is rich beyond their wildest dreams and he believes that my grandparents are hiding his money from him. None of them realize that I’ve been listening all of these years, but as far back as I can remember I’ve heard Jr. tell his story, and to him it is no fairytale. He believes wholeheartedly in every word and I’ve seen him become angry many times when my grandparents have told him that it’s not true. There have been shouting matches before. There have been threats. Indeed, he’s been furious before about his money and over my grandparent’s supposed lies, but it’s never been quite like this.
He’s drunk. Or high. Or both. I can hear it in his voice as his words slur and trail off into garbled babble. He’s enraged, and now he means to kill us all if we don’t give him what he wants.
I pick up the rest of the pieces of this evening from the conversation my grandmother is having with the 911 operator and from the shouting match going on between Jr. and the others. There was a fight at Jr.’s trailer between him, Cheryl, and Robert. Cheryl and Robert escaped when things escalated to the point of violence and ran to my grandparent’s house. Then, a fist fight between Jr. and my grandfather broke out and somewhere in the chaos my grandmother injured her wrist. My grandparent’s managed to get everyone inside and lock Jr. out of the house. Outraged, Jr. retreated to his trailer to fetch his shotgun before returning to the house where the shouting and the threats on our lives began. That’s the part where I woke up.
“Ok, ok. Darryl,” my grandmother says to my grandfather, “Darryl, the police are forming a perimeter around the property. She says that they’re going to move in slowly and surround him.”
This is no small task. The property is 27 heavily wooded acres on the north side of a hill hidden safely away at the end of eight winding miles of country road. There’s no way they’ll make it in time. I’m afraid. I may not make it through the night. I love Jr. and I think that he loves me, but I don’t think that my love for him will shield me from the business end of his shotgun if he gets in the house.
“Darryl, she says to just keep him talking while they get into position,” my grandmother says in a voice quiet enough that Jr. won’t hear.
And they do keep him talking, for what seems like hours. I’m holding my grandmother tight and with each moment that ticks slowly past, I become more and more frightened that none of us will make it until breakfast.
“Fuck you!” Jr. Screams. “I’m going to kick down this fucking door!”
“Wait baby, just wait! Let’s talk about this,” Cheryl pleads.
But Jr. is done talking.
“No, no, I think he’s trying to break down the door,” my grandmother says into the receiver. There is panic in her voice now.
If I was frightened before, now I’m terrified. This is it. This is the moment that it all comes to an end. What if I don’t live to see another sunrise? What if I never kiss a girl? What if I don’t make it through middle school? I’m only eleven years old and I’m not ready to die, not yet. I’ve been dreading the deaths of the people I love as far back as I can remember, and I’ve always been scared to find out what lies on the other side. I never imagined that I would face my fears so soon.
I remember summer days spent fishing with Jr. when I was young, baking on the shores of Rollins Lake, just waiting for a bite. I remember camping trips last summer with Jr., Cheryl, and her kids. I remember the fun we all had together and how I had hoped those carefree summer nights might last forever. Back then, I never could have imagined that a summer night like this one might unfold. Gone is the fun loving, if not somewhat delusional man that I grew up with. Now a madman, engulfed in a fiery rage, is kicking down the door, shotgun in hand. This madman intends to spill our blood all over the pretty brown carpet of my grandparent’s bedroom floor and all the 911 operator can tell us is that the police are forming a perimeter? Then what? Now what? The perimeter isn’t complete and we’re out of time. So much for the plan.
Thud! Thud! Thud! Jr. is slamming his foot into the front door and it will only hold for so long before he rips it off the hinges. I’m in a daze. My heart is racing. How long have I been holding my breath?
Thud! Thud!
“Ok, ok. Yes… We’re going. Ok, thank you,” My grandmother hangs up the phone and lets go of me for the first time since I crawled onto the bed.
“Alright, let’s go everyone! They want us out of the house. Let’s go!” My grandmother yells. Her words cut through my daze and I feel myself jump form the bed, adrenaline suddenly pulsing through my veins.
My grandparent’s house is built into the side of hill in a way such that the second floor is on ground level at the back of the house every bit as much as the first floor is on ground level at the front. There is a sliding glass door that leads out onto the hillside behind the house and there lies a deserted fire road which snakes its way through the woods, eventually ending up at the top of the property. This fire road has served little purpose in recent years, except to lead me and my friends into the woods to play laser tag after school.
In laser tag you get shot, but you never die. Tonight is different. Tonight, shots will be lethal, and tonight the fire road leads to our salvation.
Crash!
The front door has given in to Jr.’s bombardment. But the sliding glass door is open and we are filing out one by one into the darkness. I run, my legs stamping up and down on the ground like pistons fueled by slippery fast adrenaline, and I don’t look back. None of us look back to see if Jr. is following as we flee. We run up into the woods under the cover of the night sky, stars shining brightly overhead. It’s a beautiful summer night, a beautiful night for a murder or two. Or Five. But then, who’s really counting?
We cover 150 yards in no time flat, my grandparents, Cheryl, Robert, and me; all out of shape and overweight running as if we were prize winning track and field athletes. We’re still running when shouts from below stop us dead in our tracks.
“Stop!”
“Freeze!”
“Don’t move!”
The shouts echo up the hill and everyone drops instantly to the ground. Everyone, except for me. The shouts do not belong to Jr. who must have realized we were no longer in my grandparent’s bedroom and made his way around to the side of the house to where the fire road spills into the driveway. I turn on my heels and point my gaze to the bottom of the hill, where apparently the police are waiting for Jr., no doubt hidden behind the cars and trucks parked there.
It happens in an instant. I don’t dare look away. Like a needle piercing the vein when blood is drawn, I have to see; I have to know.
One. A brilliant flash of light in the blackness, followed immediately by a deafening crash of thunder. Twothreefourfivesix. More flashes and more thunder claps, before I can blink an eye. Then, silence for a second that seems to last an eternity. Hands reach up from the depths of the darkness at my feet, tugging at my clothes, pulling me down to the safety of the dirt below. And the women scream, my God how they scream! Their sharp screams pierce and shatter the silence all around me.
Jr. lets out a blood curdling cry of pain and anger and defeat which tears up the hill, crawls into my head through my ears, floods down my throat, and takes hold of my racing heart. That was the last sound I will ever hear my uncle make. I don’t know how I know, but I have never been more sure of anything in my life. That was the sound of a man slipping out of this world and into the next. That was the sound of a man dying.
“Fuck you! You mother fuckers!” Cheryl screams as she stumbles to her feet and begins to stagger down the hill toward the nightmare below. But the very forest comes to life as the SWAT team descends from the trees and a dark hand of the woods reaches out from the shadows, grabs hold of her, and drags her to the ground once more. There is commotion all around, a dark storm of movement crashing through the branches of the trees, and a voice from an indistinguishable face barking orders.
“Stay down!” The voice yells. Don’t move!”
I’m no longer lying on the ground, my face pressed against the coolness of the forest floor. I’m outside of myself looking down on my body from the tree branches above. I look pathetic there, crumpled into a heap on the ground, quivering in fear. But what else can I do? I’m just a boy and I’ve just witnessed a horrific scene play out in the night some 200 yards away from where I now lie.
The screams of the women from somewhere in the distance below bring me back to my body in an instant. They are calling out to Jr. and to a God who seems to be absent from the events of this fateful summer evening. As I lie huddled up with my family, the women’s cries echoing in my ears, I can’t help but wonder what the sequence of events was down in the driveway. Did Jr. move toward the police? Did Jr. raise his shotgun first? Did a policeman act too quickly, pulling his trigger too hastily, and forever changing all of our lives in a fraction of a second? Were six shots really necessary? A man can survive one bullet ripping through his flesh, but surely six bullets is too many for any life to bear. Perhaps I will never know, and the truth will not change the fact that Jr. is dead and gone.
“Please God, please! No, no, no…” My grandmother calls out. But God does not answer her call, and she begins to sob in the darkness next to my head. I shut my eyes tightly and all the world is black. This isn’t really happening. I’m tucked safely away in my bed and this is just a nightmare that I can’t wake up from. There was no fight in the trailer. There was no shotgun. There was no shouting. There were no flashes of light and no bullets flying through the night, hitting their human target. There was no final howl of pain. None of this can be real. But the blackness does not end and the shouts and the screams and the cries for God’s mercy do not stop. No matter how I hope and pray, I do not wake up safely tucked away in my bed. No, this nightmare is real; and I haven’t a doubt now that I’m very much awake.