She stares intently at the pot on the stove. She can feel their eyes staring at her. The air hangs heavy with the questions her friends have gathered, but are too afraid, to ask. She hears the forced conversations going on behind her. The laughter that holds no happiness circles around as she silently stirs the contents of the pot. Her eyes, brown and dead, fixate on the wall as she raises her left hand to grab the yellow bowl that sits within the cabinet right above her head. Her mind registers nothing around her, nor does it pay any heed to her actions. Rather, it is her subconscious that had taken over. Intent in seeing her through her robotic movements of the day.
Least she forget to eat or bathe.
After she fills the bowl with the contents of the pot.......macaroni and cheese......a part of her mind kicks in and reminds her that this particular side dish is not a favorite of her's.
I know. She says to that back corner of her brain. But, I need it.
And she did need the orange noodles that had no flavor for her. She needed what the food represented. She needed the warm feelings of years gone by more than the calories or the nutrition. (If macaroni and cheese even had any nutritious value at all.) She held the warm yellow bowel, the sides faded and the edges shipped away from years of use, and that little corner of her mind took her back to a time when she was eight years old. Her mother, single and hard working, would fix the boxed food for her and her siblings two to three times a week. She remembered sitting at the oblong wooden table, surrounded by everything and everyone she knew, bathing in the warmth and the aroma of her meal. Her plate, more mac and cheese and less vegetables than her mother would have liked, sat in front of her younger self, almost forgotten as she absorbed the laughter around her. During those days, her only worries were winning at the pick-up kick ball games, dancing with her friends in the street to the newest Top 40 songs, or making it home to their tiny apartment at break neck speeds before the street lamps turned on, illuminating the way, thus signaling an end to the her day.
Oh, how she longed for that part of her life. She wanted it all back. The innocence of youth. The belief that it would all be ok just for the simple reason that it had always been. She wanted......needed......the simple arguments that she and her older sister always engaged in. The older girl wanted to watch soap operas; while she, still too young to understand the life of the adults on TV, fought to watch Tom and Jerry. She resisted the urge to call her brothers, one older and one younger, and ask them when was the last time they had gone outside just to play as adults.
She needed a simpler time. She needed it in the same way her heart needed the blood that carried oxygen to survive.
But, she wasn't going to get it. She was stuck in this life, carrying the memories she carried, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Suddenly her mac and cheese wasn't so appealing.
Oblivious to the change in the sounds surrounding her, she turned just in time to see the man she loved standing at the counter.
His eyes were brown. Like hers. She had memorized the tiny flecks of gold that played about his irises along time ago. His eye lashes were black and held the natural long curl that most women would kill for. There was no need to look away from his eyes to gauge the rest of his body. She had him memorized.
He was taller than her 5'8. She believed him to be at least 6'2, but she never cared to actually find out. His arms were thick and strong. Strong enough that when they engulfed her, she felt a sense of security that she'd never known anywhere else.
His hair, black and curly (when he didn't shave himself bald) was her second favorite thing about him. She wished he'd grow it out. Her fingers were dying to play within his locks.
But, his eyes. They searched her's as he stepped to her and gingerly tried to take her bowl of memories from her. She held on tight. Just as she was holding on to the yesterdays that contained the innocence and happiness she so desperately craved.
"Are you ok?" He asked. His voice was velvet. Sweet like the candy corn she would gobble up as a child on Halloween. Her mind took notice, for it was the only voice that could unlock her and make her spill the anguish she felt over the past few days.
"I mean," he stammered. "I....I....know you probably aren't. I mean, who would be?"
Who would be indeed? She looked about the kitchen for the first time that afternoon and saw all those around her.
She knew the small group of five had all assembled in her kitchen to keep an eye on her. They all knew the events of the past three days. And, although no on would say it, there was an underlying consensus that no one wanted to hear her speak the details. None of her friends had lived a life like hers. And no one could even say what they would do if they stood where she stood now. Each one of her friends held beautiful happy lives. They didn't want her ugliness in their heads.
They just didn't want to say it out loud.
Everyone, that was, except for him. He knew what it was like to have the evils of the world knock on your door and demand in. He knew the crushing blows of life; having experienced it so many times himself. That was probably why she loved him so.
"I'm hungry," was all she could muster.
"Good." He said. "You need to eat."
She was grateful to him for not challenging her dietary choices at the moment. In the past, he was known for trying to direct her to the nutritional area on the food grid. Of course she resisted.
"Do you want to sit down?" He asked. His eyes searching her's for any sign of life. Of a rational being that knew to sit down when she was eating.
"I......I don't know." The bowl of mac and cheese seemed to take on extra weight and felt heavy to her. Too heavy, in fact, to carry the long way to the table. Four or five steps to everyone else in the room, but to her, the journey to the eating table seemed to stretch longer.
The others in the room continued to stay put in their respective spots. They all swallowed against the lump in their throats, against the need to beg her not to let the dam she'd built against her mind break.
Heavy. Her hands and arms began to sway under the weight of the bowl. A burden crept up on her shoulders, laying on her like a warn out coat. Droplets of sweat formed on her forehead and on the back of her neck.
I'm going to pass out. She thought.
No you're not. Her mind informed her. But I am going to move the boulder. Let the dam break.
"No," she shouted out loud.
"Hey," he reached out to her. Fear clouded those beautiful brown eyes of his. "You ok? When's the last time you slept?"
"Three days ago," she informed the room.
I slept three days ago. She repeated it again silently to herself. She heard the gasps from some, while others shook their heads, knowing three days was a long time to keep your eyes open.
"You need to sleep. Or at least rest," a voice said from somewhere over there. She kept her eyes on his, least she dropped her bowl of the now cold noodles.
"I can't sleep," she told him as if he were the only one in the room. "I smell it every time I close my eyes. And I can't stand it."
He didn't have to tell her to explain. He gently removed the bowl from her hands and then stood there waiting for the inevitable.
"It's so heavy. I can't take it right now. Not when everything is so fresh." She never took her eyes away from his. Instead, she silently pleaded for some kind of understanding from the man she loved more than her own self. "You see, I can't deal with it. The gun powder mixed with her flesh. It's something unholy. Slow motion. I see it when I close my eyes. And you would think that the sight of the white wall splattered with her blood.......and.......oh God.......but that's not the worst thing. The smell is what gets me. What stays with me."
They stood there, locked in a gaze of fear and defeat, while the others stood to the side, held captive by the image she was creating. Her tears, held at bay for the past three days, slid down his cheeks. He could feel her despair, and no matter how strong he was, he knew it would be no time before his knees began to cave under her weight.
"But, you know," she continued, "I feel relief. So much relief. Her pain was so great. Her anger was justified. Strong. Her rage.....dear God in Heaven.....the way it moved about her. I sat on her couch and expected my own skin to burn from it. Do you know what it's like to have your own mother pull a gun on you?" She asked already knowing the answer. "Do you have any idea what it's like to have your very own mother, the one who gave birth to you, the very being who nursed and loved you, held you in the night, kissed you every morning, do you know what it's like for that person to train a gun on you? Do you?"
He was silent. They all were. None of them knew what it was like. They'd never experienced that sort of anger coming off of anyone they knew. And, deep down, she knew that. Yet, she also knew that, just like her mother, her pain and anguish were becoming too great just for her. She could hear those around her cry softly at her words.
Still, she kept his eyes, now shedding tears openly and freely, locked in her gaze.
"I don't know what to do with all of this. I hate her so much. But, at the same time, I understand why she did it. I know what she was feeling."
The silence, save for a few sniffles here and there, was more than she needed to allow her to look back, beyond the last three days, back into the dark part of her world. The images of a childhood filled with laughter and crisp summer nights were replaced with the more recent ones of her teenage years. The years that she'd tried so hard to forget.
Now everything was closing in around her. Her own anger and fears were mixing in with her mother's. She couldn't stand it. More than that, she couldn't bare the thought that she was once again alone in her own tragedy. Before her mother had taken the gun, before the woman who once cooked her macaroni and cheese more times a week than she probably should have, had decided to let go of everything and everyone, she had known what it felt like to be damaged. To see ghosts where only shadows stood.
Three days. For three days a conversation had taken place between mother and daughter that should have never been. Her mother had sat in the recliner facing the TV. Her reflection seemed alive even after the fatal shot had been fired.
"I'm empty now," her mother told her that first night she visited. "I'm empty of everything. I should've never opened that door. It's my fault."
She tried to reason with her mother. She tried her damnedest to explain what had taken years for even her to understand. That it was never the victims fault. Especially in situations where the only move the victim made was to open the front door. Her mother had been such a victim. When that ill fated knock had come, her mother had opened the door without hesitation. After all, there was never a reason for caution. Her mother had lived in the same area for close to twenty years without anything ever occurring. People.....strangers even.....had knocked before. There was no reason to believe this day would be any different than any other.
But, she was wrong. That day was different. It was as if evil, itself, knocked the three raps that brought her mother out of her recliner and into the door way.
She had no intention of telling the room full of people what that man had done to her mother. She felt she owed it to her to keep those conversations leading up to the gunshot a secret. Yet, the more she looked into the tear filled eyes of the man she loved, the more she felt the need to let the words spill out.
"He held her down," she told him. "It couldn't have been too difficult of a job to hold her flat on her back against her will. Momma wasn't in the best shape, ya know. She always wears.....I mean wore....this light cotton nightgown. Even during the day, she's have that gown on. I have no idea how she kept it so clean. But......"
He took a step towards her as she took a step back. They seemed engaged in a cha-cha of some kind. One wanting to touch the other. She could feel the dam loosening up and feared that his touch would be her ultimate undoing. Just as a precaution, she took two more steps away from him.
"She said he was there for hours. He took his time with her. I think her actual words were: 'You woulda thought we were fuckin lovers or something.' It took me a minute to process what she said. I don't think I'd ever heard her use the word 'fuck' before."
Her mind took her back to that living room with the sofa and recliner. She placed her hands on the counter and began to run them back and forth. In her mind's eye, she was caressing the rough fabric that was the couch.
"I can't stand to breathe," her mother continued. "I can't stand to feel my heart beat. I can hear it beating now. Right now. I hear the thump thump thump in my ears. It's driving me crazy. I'm an empty shell. I shouldn't have a heart beat. I shouldn't be breathing."
She had tried her best to soothe her mother's rage. She told her how she understood that empty feeling that came along with the violation that had occurred. She knew, in the deepest parts of the mind where only such things are known, what it was like to accept death right as life was being granted. She understood the struggle of living with something like that. She knew that her mother would never be the same. She knew because she was never the same after her own violation. After the moment she had looked Death in the face right as Life was saying hello once more.
"Momma, you'll get through this," she whispered. "We'll get you a therapist. Someone for you to talk to. You'll see. This won't beat you."
Three days and three nights of this continued back and forth. Her mother refused to eat. Refused to drink, bathe, or even nap. By the third day, both women were beyond exhausted. The mother's rage grew as the daughter's fears deepened.
"Why didn't he just fucking kill me?" Her mother screamed. "Why did he have to leave me like this? Half dead? The coward......that no good for nothing coward. Why didn't he finish what he started?"
She had no answers for her mother. These were questions she had asked her own self over and over again through out the years. She was no closer to an answer then as she was now.
"Momma, I know what you're going through." She said. "I've been through the same thing. I never told you. But, if I can get through it, you can too."
Her mother looked at her with dead eyes. "You got through it? Are you sure? You're nothing like you once were. I bet I can tell you what age it was that you were raped. I bet I can pinpoint the exact month.....if not the week. You ain't over it, you moron. You just buried it. You buried it and you keep it with you at all times. You're just too weak to face the truth like I am now."
The truth of her mother's words stung. She wrapped her arms around herself and began to cry. She made no sound and she closed her eyes and tried to calm herself. She figured she'd be of no use to her mother if they were both hysterical.
"I don't know how or even when she got the gun." She said to her silent audience. "All I know is that one minute I'm trying to get a hold of myself and the next I'm staring down a gun."
"Do you want to die?" Her mother asked her. Her mother sat there, in the recliner with that soft white cotton nightgown on, with the gun pointed at her face. Her mother looked her in the eye, never flinching, never showing any emotion.
The woman was, indeed, empty.
Her voice shook with each word as she explained that she wanted to live. She told her mother that death would not solve anything. That both women were strong enough to face the coming days together. They could get through this. They would.
But, it was all a lie. And she knew it even as she was speaking it.
Ever since that fateful night when she was fourteen and was left pleading and crying for help, she had wanted to die. She could remember, clearly, the days as they laid out in front of her as she tried to find some courage to take her own life. She had never wanted to live. For years she had sought out Death as if it were a cure to a mysterious disease that she possessed.
She never was able to do the job herself.
As she stared at her mom, the gun trained at her chest, she said a silent prayer. Please pull the trigger. Please don't leave me to live out my life like this. I do want to die. I know your pain....Your emptiness. Please. Please. Kill me.
Her mother nodded as if she heard her daughter's silent prayer. And in that instant, her heart beat raced in anticipation of receiving the sweet gift of Death that she had been longing for for years.
Please don't miss. Please don't let it hurt. She silently begged.
When the shot rang in her ears, she recoiled instinctively. She waited half a heart beat before opening her eyes to see what was left of her mother still sitting in the recliner.
The wall behind her now dead mother was a wash of blood and debris. Her dead body sat, slumped, like it had finally found the rest it had desired for so long.
She sat there waiting for her brain to accept what her eyes were showing her. She felt her own emptiness as she finally got up to walk over to grab the cordless phone that sat to her dead mother's right.
Quietly and calmly, she called the police.
Now back in the kitchen, surrounded by the ones who claim to love her the most, her body shook at the memory. She wasn't sure if she could voice her intent. She knew these people would try to stop her.
"I thought she was going to kill me." She exclaimed. "Do you understand?" He nodded to signify that he did. "But, she didn't. When she pulled that gun out, she made a promise to me. She promised me that she would take me with her. But, she lied. Don't you see that she lied?"
It finally dawned on him what she was saying. His eyes widened with the realization that the woman standing before him, the one he knew loved him just a little too much, had actually wanted to die.
And still did.
The words he felt she needed to hear escaped him. The others, standing there shocked as their own realizations hit them, gasped quietly. They looked at one another and then back at her. No one made a move to comfort the now openly hysterical woman.
She nodded her head, more to herself than to anyone else. And retreated from the kitchen. Macaroni and cheese forgotten.
The rest of the group remained in the kitchen. No one knew what to say or how to calm her down. And as the minutes began click by, each person began to imagine how they would've handled the past three days, had they been in her shoes. They wondered what all they did not know about their distraught friend.
Most of her friends that stood in the kitchen knew very little about her past. They knew she had experienced tragedy in her past, but they knew very little of the details. And they preferred it that way.
To say the gun shot stunned them all, is to put it mildly. They weren't simply shocked to hear the gun shot; they were confused as to where the noise had originated. Bewilderment colored each expression as they turned to one another to ask the silent question: Did you hear that?
He was the first and only one to run to her room. The howls of pain that floated down the hallway were enough to answer the question of whether or not she was dead. Each person stood still, trapped inside panic inside terror.
Time passed. No one could say how much, but they all knew it was passing them right by. Finally, he drifted down the hallway. Blood soaked clothes stuck to his skin. His hands, big enough to quiet the rage that had filled her days, were covered in her blood.
"We need to call the police," he told the room.