He fought cancer all alone and won the battle, at the tender age of twenty-one. He never knew who his real father was, and refused to bond with the string of husbands he watched his mother marry and divorce. He did a five year stint in Leavenworth Penitentiary, for a crime that he swears he did not commit; and vehemently denied the atrocities his mother claimed happened to him there.
His demons were dark, blacker than my own, and yet I had glimpsed the light inside of him and believed my love could save him. But no matter what I did for him, or how much I supported and loved him, in truth he was never happy.
Always on the move, never slowing down; unable to reach that place of stillness, where all was right and everything calm; that plateau of normalcy I so desperately sought; as if something incessantly gnawed at him from the inside, attempting to break out. And so he self-medicated, with illegal drugs, while my vice of choice was still just caffeine and nicotine.
I supported his habit for the simple fact that when he reached that altered state of consciousness, he seemed genuinely happy and somewhat at peace; but of course his drug-induced euphoria never lasted and if there wasn’t an alternative when one drug ran out, there was sure to be hell to pay.
I followed him to the ends of the earth and back, but wherever we landed it was always the same; determined in his quest for peace, believing he might just have found it, until he looked around and found himself there; reflected in the mirror, starting the madness all over again.
I left him, after a tumultuous decade of heartache and pain; worn to nothingness, afraid of my own shadow; having lost complete sight of myself, somewhere along that darkened path. I would have continued on, probably forever, had I not come to the realization that I loved my self, more than I loved him, and that I had underestimated the power of his demons, at the price of my own sanity.
Time passed, spent apart, as I picked up the pieces of my shattered existence; attempting to reassemble myself, with worn shards left of my soul, no longer fitting as they should and a few missing altogether. But I forged the pieces that remained and over the years ritually polished away the corrosive patina, until I was able to bask in the warmth of my own light.
For a time he remained on the outskirts, afraid to let go completely, for I was the only one he had, in his whole god-forsaken world; and for a time I kept him at arm’s length, just so he knew that in spite of everything, I still did care. And then he showed himself one night at my door…
The storm was raging, hurricane warnings and gale-force winds whipped at my little cottage by the sea; a sanctuary I created all my own, darkened that night, more by his presence than the actual storm. I could see the desperation in his eyes as he begged me to let him in, and like a fool I stepped aside and allowed entrance.
He threw an arm around my neck and kissed me on the cheek, as his pack fell off his shoulder and landed with a loud thud on the floor. He bent down and started rummaging through, searching for something only he knew; then coming up with a leather box in his hands; thrusting it in mine, instructing that I hide it.
“What is this,” I demanded to know, he looked up from his crouching position with a pistol in his hand, stuck it in the back of his pants as he rose to face me and told me there was no time to explain, “Just trust me,” he said.
His appearance shocked me, when finally I looked at him fully; haggard and worn, as if he’d just staggered in from the threshold of death’s door. It had been seven years with no contact and my mind whirled with the possibilities of where exactly he’d been, obviously up to no good.
“I can’t stay. I’ve got to get out of here, but I’ll call you in a few days and tell you where to meet me.” I looked at him dumbfounded, until someone began pounding on my front door. He pulled me into his arms and kissed me hard on the mouth then vanished through the patio doors, as the front came crashing in.
Large men dressed in black, brandishing guns stormed into the room; too many to count, as one walked up to me and snatched the box from my hands, demanding to know where the little son-of-a-bitch was hiding. I buried my head in my hands and started to cry, unable to believe this was actually happening. The big brute of a man led me to the sofa as the others disappeared into the back of the house, searching, but coming up empty handed.
The brute was rambling about the seriousness of the situation without giving any details. All I heard were a few choice words, as the pounding in my head raged to the storms proportions. “He couldn’t have gotten far,” I heard one of them say, as another dumped his pack and its contents scatted across my floor. And that’s when I saw it; the pewter frame with my picture still in it; the one he’d taken when we first met; carried with him, as if a prize possession or talisman.
Several of the men left, while three remained and made themselves comfortable in my home. After a few hours when it was clear I wasn’t going to try to escape, they agreed to let me lie down in my bed; but only after they removed the phone from my room and instructed me not to close the door.
I went to my room and sat on the edge of my bed, trembling from the cold that now chilled my very soul. I yelled out and asked if I might please have a shower, and after a moment’s hesitation they finally agreed. Numbly, I made my way across the room and entered my bath; the smell of lavender assaulting my senses. I breathed deep and exhaled slowly, as I pulled back the curtain to turn on the water; and there he was, crouched in my tub with a finger to his lips, telling me Shhhh.
My heart pounded as if it would explode from my chest, each beat echoing in my ears, at the thought of us both ending up dead, at the hands of the madmen camped out in my living room. I wanted to ask how he’d gotten back here, what the hell was going on, but he pulled me to him and hugged me close; his wet clothes dampening my own, the smell of his clean wet hair a familiar scent that threatened to transport me back, but there was no time; no time for thinking at all, as he thrust the pistol in my hand that was wedged between both our chests.
His breath in my ear was warm and smelled sweet, as he whispered, “Please just do this one last thing for me,” taking my wrist and turning it slightly, so that the barrel of the gun was pointed directly at his heart. Our eyes locked and held for what seemed an eternity, “If you ever loved me, then please just release me.” My body tremble, as a plethora of emotion consumed me, and I shook my head no, in quick little jerks; trying desperately to grasp just one of the countless thoughts that raced through my mind.
“If you don’t do it, they will; and I’d much rather die at your hand, knowing it was a final act of love, than die in vain from an act of revenge.” The tears spilled over that had welled in my eyes and burned hot as they ran down my face. “I can’t,” I whispered. “I won’t.”
He grasped my hand that held the gun, while his other stroked the back of my head with urgency. “Don’t you see, it’s all I’ve ever wanted; to be free of these demons; but if I do it myself, I’ll forever be damned; if they do it, I’ll never be able to leave this place; but if you do it, if you take this life from me, you’ll set me free. I’ll be a peace; finally.”
“Oh, God,” I cried; as my head fell back and I closed my eyes to the heavens above. I felt his lips warm upon my neck and heard him whisper, “I love you,” at the exact moment I felt his finger press gently down on mine. The shot rang out and deadened all my senses, as he slowly slipped away from me and down into the tub; the gun resting on his chest, covered in his crimson blood.
I heard myself screaming, “NO!” as I frantically fought to recount that final second. I could still feel the warmth of his touch on my hand, still smell his hair and breath, but could not decipher if I, he, or we, had pulled the trigger and set him free. They suddenly surrounded me and filled the room, as one of them lifted and carry me away. I struggled and fought, not wanting to leave his side; my last memory of that moment was their black shadows reflecting in the glass of the mirror.
I woke three days later in my own bed, hooked up to an IV. The moment I stirred, a nurse in a starched white uniform and cap came into the room and without a word unhooked the IV, slapped a band-aid on my arm, gathered all remnants of her station then turned and left the room. I called out to her, demanding an explanation, but by the time I got my legs under me she was already out the front door, getting into a silver and black Rolls limo.
I stood there under the portico and watched until the car was completely out of sight, then turned and walked back inside. Everything was in its proper place, as if nothing had ever happened; but for my ex-husbands pack, sitting in the middle of my living room floor. I immediately ran through the house, into the bathroom and threw back the shower curtain; to find a perfectly polished porcelain tub; empty of all traces.
I went back to the living room and fell to the floor beside the pack. I sat staring at it for a long time, before I found the courage to look inside. I unzipped it slowly and saw the leather box on top of his things. I reached inside and retrieved it with trembling hands and slowly opened the lid, only to find the pewter frame that held my picture, nestled inside. I pulled it out and looked at my own image, as seen through his eyes; my own eyes filled with love and a trace of mischief, smiling happily at him the moment he’d snapped the picture, capturing that look forever, carrying it with him all the way to deaths door.
I put the picture back in the box and stuffed it in the pack, then drug it to my room and buried it in the back of my closet, where it remained for years, untouched; until I moved from that seaside cottage, no longer a sanctuary, but rather an unmarked tomb. I still have the pack in my possession, though it has never again been opened; as some memories are better left untouched, some mysteries better left unsolved, just as some dark deeds are better left unspoken.
© Copyright 2010 by Jill Terry. All Rights Reserved.