Story: What I Remember

Wrapping my arms around my legs, I rock slightly as I watch her stare unseeing at the ceiling. The gash is deep, exposing bone and breaching the dam of her eyebrow.

Blood pours out quickly enough to pool before it succumbs to gravity, finding different points of egress on its journey to the floor. I am fascinated by the stream that flows past her brow, turning her open eye into an island in a red sea.

“Mommy.” I whisper but she doesn’t answer.

The door stands wide and sunlight spills into her open eyes. I consider closing them but even at six, I know what that signifies and reject the impulse with a shudder.

Tears streak my face as though determined to match the volume of her blood.

She’s dead.

The certainty of the thought frightens me to the point of nausea and my teeth chatter.

“No one was there.” My older sister runs up the stairs panting. “Go!” She takes two more quick breaths before hauling me to my feet by my arm. “Go to Ms. Regina’s! I’m too tired. Go!”

I waste a precious moment hesitating and she gives my shoulders a violent shake screaming, “Now!”

I stumble down the steps and run straight to the road. Ignoring the drive way that bridges the drainage ditch, I leap over the murky water with a mighty heave.

I know she’s dead but still I run as though her life depended on it, trying to be the Susan from the Christmas movie.

I believe. I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.

I reach the familiar trailer, and my lungs are on fire.

Between the panting and the tears, I am impossible to understand.

“Home!” I finally shout between breaths. “Mommy!”

She nods and in her eyes I see a dimmed reflection of my fear.

I sit in her car, still struggling to breathe when I see the lights.

The flashing red and blue give me hope. Would they bother if she were dead?

Now I see the gurney and again I am old enough to know they don’t put an oxygen mask on a corpse.

I jump out of the car before it has come to a proper stop, running toward the box of a vehicle but the door is already shut.

Gravel pelts me as the tires spin before gaining purchase and she’s gone.

The nearest neighbor is explaining to Ms. Regina.

“She had a seizure and looks like she banged her head on the door jam. Seemed to be a pretty nasty gash, too. Stacy tried to get me but I wasn’t dressed and Susan had already gone to get you by the time I got here…”

I tune him out and watch my sister cry. The urge to go to her is strong but I stand as though locked in place. Her sobs turn to choking coughs and she vomits violently.

The adults finally turn from their conversation and comfort her with shameful blushes.

Mommy doesn’t come home. They tell us Daddy is with her at the hospital and she’s okay. I nod but I don’t really believe them.

I begin imagining my life without her, obsessing over details. Daddy works two jobs, a living specter among us. I don’t see him so much as occasional evidence of his existence. Who will look after us?

I awake the next morning in tears, shivering from the ghoulish vision of her blood soaked eye staring at me in my dream as her disembodied voice asks why I wasn’t faster.

My sobbing wakes my sister and sends my Daddy running to my side.

I am inconsolable until he brings me to their bed and shows me her bruised, bandaged, yet smiling face. She invites me under the warmth of the covers and I snuggle incessantly, an atom’s separation filling me with dread.  I cling to her and fall asleep watching her chest rise and fall.

Life goes on and the next morning it’s as though nothing happened. Daddy is gone before I wake and Mommy herds us to school.

I fidget through the day, pecking at lunch, my stomach churning until I see her again. I hug her with all my strength as she chats brightly with my kindergarten teacher.

“What happened to your Mom’s face?” My teacher is smiling. “Did you do that to her?”

I fold.

The tears are immediate as I howl from the floor. Her expression transforms from bright smiles to shocked horror as I scream, “I would never hurt my Mommy! I love her!”

I am enveloped in gentle arms and lifted up as they rush to reassure me.

It was a tease, a joke they insist, but I have looked into her sightless eyes and seen the misery of life without her.

She still coos softly, her chin resting on my head as she carries me out of the building. I revel in the love I almost lost and swear that I will always be mindful of this woman and how blessed I am to love her.

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Story: We’re all human, even when we’re not.

“Remember that time I stabbed you?”
A barking laugh issues from my lungs as involuntarily as a tortured scream might and I blush.
“Not the best way to start a conversation, Broski.” I say looking over my shoulder but no orderlies rush in to separate us.
We share a moment of silence as I take in the bruises on the left side of his face.
“You been stabbing people?” I ask and he knows it’s a joke. They’d never let me see him if he’d been violent.
“These?” He gestures at the patterns of subcutaneous healing. “Nah, just being annoying. Pissed someone off.”
His index fingers are curled and rubbing the backs of his thumbs even though the skin is raw and blistered. He shakes his head, hitting his forehead three times with his right hand without giving his thumbs a respite.
“No! Stop it.” He gestures at me with those contorted fingers. “Changing it. You’re changing the story. You remember.”
“It was a fork.” I try for a soothing voice but he glares and I nod. I’ve broken the rules. I’m trying to ‘handle’ him. My eyes drop to my shoes. “I remember.”
“I’ve been thinking about it.”
“Why?” I look up at his tortured face and want to touch him. I want to wrap him in my arms and sing away his nightmares the way I did when he was small.
“Why did I do that?” He stares me down but I’m a coward. I shrug.
“You know.” He stands so quickly that he upends his chair and it slides laboriously down the wall in the cramped space of the visiting room.
I stand too and take his hands, forcing my fingers over his mangled thumbs. Tears fall on our clasped hands and I’ve broken two more rules.
“I want to be me.” Now he is crying too. “I can almost do it. It was easier before but it keeps getting harder. I can’t control the things I do. I’m the stabber and not me. I’m the crazy guy shouting and screaming and angry. He’s not me and he’s taking over. I want to be me.”
I don’t know what to say. I never have. He’s my only constant and he’s slipping away.
“You are you.” I watch the tears pool and run in patterns across our hands.
He snorts. “Yeah, except when I’m not.”
“You’re the most important person in my life.” I finally look him in the eye. “You’re my whole world.”
“God, that’s sad.”
I wince and pull back.
“I’m sorry, sis.”
He squeezes my hands and pulls me close.
He used to sit on my lap as I recited poetry and soothed him to sleep but he’s far too big now. A towering gentle giant, except when he’s not. The other is so consumed with rage over what was done to him, he lashes out blindly.
Now I am the child, the tiny one being pet and comforted.
“It’ll be alright, sis.” He speaks softly into my hair. “I think I know how to fix this. I can stay me and save you.”
I cry harder because I don’t believe him.
The man in the pink scrubs is back with his clip board. “Hey!” He scowls at us and I almost fall in my haste to create the proper space.
I clasp my hands and Jason begins to rub his thumbs again as the orderly scolds us.
He turns to his door and I reach out and touch his shoulder. He takes my hand.
“There’s a lot more to this world than me.” He lets go and smiles. “You’re going to be great, sis.”
I frown and start to ask “At what?” but he’s already disappeared behind door number two.
That night I try to shake off the sadness that comes from saying goodbye again. I want to bring him home with me but I know I can’t handle the other him and he’d never forgive himself if he hurt me again.
The doorbell rings and I frown. No one visits me.
My heart trips at the sight of the officers. They come in and ask if there is anyone else around. They want me to call someone and the tears are threatening because I’ve heard this script. I shake my head and the tears fall. They exchange looks and begin their terrible work.
“So sorry to have to inform you…discovered his body…apparent suicide…”
“You’re wrong!” I shout when they finally stop speaking and I flee to the kitchen and my phone. I call the hospital and as I listen to the ring I suddenly wonder what I will say. I can’t ask if he’s dead. It’s so absurd they might make up a room for me. How do I ask?
“Greenwood Hospital. How can I help you?”
“My brother is a patient there and I just need to check on him.” The tears are choking me but I keep going. “Jason Porter. He’s on the fourth floor. Dr. Brent Miller is his doctor.”
“Uhhhh,” The hesitation causes my body to clench as though waiting for a physical blow. “I thought, I mean, the police said they would notify you-”
I scream and throw the phone across the room and follow it to the floor, just as shattered.
The officers have rushed in. They want to know who they can call. They won’t leave until I tell them.
“No one.” I answer at last through the sobs. “There’s no one.”

Every day I reach out a little farther. I force myself to smile and speak, building bridges to other souls. I heal. There is a world waiting for me and I have no more excuses.