“So what are your resolutions going to be for this year?” Janie asked me, sitting at the breakfast counter with her knees pulled up beneath her chin.
I leaned against the other side of the island and tried to figure out how to say out loud what I had been thinking about this past week. “I’m not making any resolutions this year. I seriously suck at self-discipline. Like, as soon as I get all gung ho, yeah I’m gonna quit doing this and start doing this, my brain sabotages me and I screw it up the first chance I get.” I sighed. “I hate it; it makes me feel weak and lazy. Like I’m just gonna keep running around in stupid circles, doing the same shit over and over and over again. All my days anymore just feel like one long day, with shitty naps thrown in here and there.”
Janie laughed. “Um, okay. That does sound sucky. To be blunt.” She let her long legs dangle towards the floor, batted her eyelashes at me. “Know what my resolution’s going to be?”
“To not be such a blunt asshole that always turns the conversation towards herself?” I ducked under the spatula she grabbed off the counter and threw at my head, laughing. “Ha ha. I really don’t know, Janie. You seem to be in a pretty decent place right now.”
She shrugged, a pretty little gesture of insouciance. “I have no idea what it’s going to be. I figured since you know me better than anyone does except James that you’d tell me straight up what flaws you see in me.”
“It’s not like you need to trick me into being a blunt asshole along with you, I’m well familiar with the territory.” I tippety-tapped my fingers on the cheap counter top veneer. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, maybe you could try it too, if you wanted. I’m not sure you have the raw material, though.” Janie must’ve been born under an auspicious sign; she had grown up in a loving and comfortable two parent household, she was pretty without being obnoxious about it, intelligent and funny and giving. Janie had been gifted from all the gods, and never forgot to be thankful for it. Life is never perfect for anyone, and no one is perfect in and of themselves, but Janie embodied all the best things about human beings that I had come to treasure over the past ten years.
Powder blue eyes slitted, Janie cocked her head and pretended to debate whether or not she should be insulted. “What the hell does that mean?”
“What it means, cranky pants, is that this year I’m going to try dissolution instead of resolution. I’m going to meditate, to pray and ask that the things that hold me down and hold me back let go of my heart once and for all. I feel like I won’t ever be able to move forward, to fully commit to actually living a life, until I can purge all this blech that weighs me down. Every year, right now, all of it comes back and I wake up every morning wondering what form the bad is going to take.”
“Is this still about what happened to Billy, then? You don’t really talk about it anymore, and I never know if I should bring it up. I’m really sorry, if that is what you’re talking about. I didn’t know it still bothered you that much.”
It was my turn to shrug. “That one moment of stupidity has, in one way or another, defined my life for the past three years. I can’t take it anymore, I seriously can’t. I’m ready to freak the hell out on Trevor for like two weeks out of every year because the whole time I think he’s about to wallow or have a panic attack, or slide right back into that depression that almost cost him his family. I hate it. I hate it!” The instant rage that has grown to be my companion over the holiday season bubbled up and out, and for the first time, knowing Janie would keep me safe, I let it out.
I smashed a coffee cup against the wall. I screamed every blunt asshole honest truth that I had wanted to scream at Trevor over the past three years and never had, because the thing that people forget to mention about honesty is that truth can be hurtful, and sometimes you can’t see that line you don’t want to cross, so you don’t open your mouth at all for fear of being an emotional harridan. I have empathy in spades, at least for kids and animals and true victims, but I never did sign up for that sensitivity training course.
The pragmatic truth of the situation is this. Trevor’s friend got drunk as a skunk on Christmas Eve Eve. He drove, like he did all the other times where he ended up in the hospital or, on one memorable occasion, halfway through someone’s house. Somehow the car slid out and flipped a guardrail, catapulting Billy out of the car as it rolled and tumbled to the bottom of a hill. He lasted in a coma without waking for a few days and died right before New Year’s Eve. This is the heartbreaking reality.
I loved Billy too. He was how I met Trevor in the first place. Billy was going to kill someone else or end up in jail for DUI, eventually. When people cried and asked, why, why did this have to happen, he was so young and he had a family, why did this happen, I felt like I was the only one who honest with myself. If you choose to believe that there is a God, and that things happen for a reason, does grief make you blind to the fact that God gave Billy warning sign after big ass flashing warning sign? That he allowed him to live through so many accidents to give him a chance to get his shit together, and when it became apparent that the only thing that would stop Billy from being a habitual drunk driver was his death or someone else’s, God decided to spare the innocent?
I don’t know how to see it any other way. I don’t understand why grief can’t be honest, like you have to justify shedding tears for someone who was less than perfect instead of shedding tears for the man that was.
This shadow has dogged my footsteps every day. The downward spiral that Trevor went through for the year following Billy’s death was almost the destruction of our family. The depths of his depression and his inability to cope with his survivor’s guilt lasted so long, was so illogically out of proportion, that I had no idea how to deal with it. Eventually my patience broke, but hurting Trevor feels like kicking a sad eyed puppy. So still I tiptoe, still I wake up on December 23rd every year with the anxious sense that something wicked this way comes. If I was granted a wish by a tricky jinn, my wish would be that Billy’s death and all of its long term ramifications had never happened. Which means that I could be condemning an innocent to death if Billy didn’t change his ways, and the fact that I would do it anyways because I cannot take this toothache in my heart any longer is completely selfish. I accept this.
The lovely and patient Janie had taken refuge on the side of the refrigerator to wait out my temper tantrum. As my curse words faded into ragged breathing and the tinkling of broken glass slowed, she peeked her head around and smiled through tears. “I want to hug you but I’m not sure if that’s what you need right now. You look like a bloody homeless meth addict.”
I gasped out a laugh and wrapped a dishtowel around a slice in the meaty part of my palm. “S’okay,” I managed, “S’ good.”
“Oohhhkaaaay,” she said. “Well, let’s go dissolve some shit. Or dissolute it. Is that a word? Let’s start our dissolution now. Um, you can go first.” With giggles that bordered on the hysterical we stumbled towards the living room, me because I felt drunk and Janie because I dragged her along in my wake.
As we settled cross legged on the floor I felt calmer. My brain tuned itself from the emotional channel to the practical station. Here there is only room for honesty, no qualifications, no dissemination, only my truth as I see it.
I felt Janie’s anchoring presence beside me as I closed my eyes and let my hands fold and drift into my lap. I didn’t have a name to pray to, a deity to surrender to. I had only the universe and a desperate need for intervention.
“I humbly ask to be released from this fear and anxiety. Help me to understand the way to deal with this that does no harm. Allow me to find a way to remove these shackles from my heart and be one with my life again. Help me to be present for myself and for my family, and to find my joy again. Please help me. Please release me.” My head bowed, and I cried slow sad silent tears. “I can’t take myself anymore.”
Janie let loose a high pitched shriek at that moment and my eyes snapped open, swung around towards where she had been.
A woman stood there, a beautiful and terrifying pitch black woman with a tongue so red I thought that it was bloody poking out from between her lips. As she undulated towards me I realized that she had the wrong number of arms waving hypnotically at her sides, but I was distracted from counting them by the necklace of human skulls that dangled over naked and impressive breasts.
“You wished to be freed, daughter,” she said, in a voice like the purr of a thousand cats. “I am here to free you from your enslavement.”
I spared a glance from the glaring brilliance of the woman’s eyes to search for Janie, finding her backed into a corner and trying to climb right through the wall. From the way her throat was working, I think that she was still screaming but nothing was coming out. A hand strong enough to move mountains cupped my chin and turned my face back around.
“Your friend asked for nothing, she will be given nothing. She is already unfettered.”
“Her mind maybe, I’m pretty sure you broke it….” I trailed off in the wake of a fearsome smile of pointed teeth and pouty lips. “I have to say that you are a very scary answer to a prayer.”
The smile widened. “I am no answer to a prayer, daughter. I am an answer to a summons. I shall free you from the shackles that hold your heart.”
So saying, the hand that had so gently held my face reached directly through the skin and muscle of my stomach with no more effort than one would have made to reach through a waterfall and grabbed a rib, snapping it off and pulling it out, sticking it into her belt between two severed hands. The pain burned like liquid fire full of acid and shrapnel and my gurgling screams joined Janie’s silent ones. Another snap, and another, before she moved to the other side. Six ribs in all were given pride of place on her belt, and a red miasma floated over my eyes.
Hands reached down and grasped my mangled breastbone. I couldn’t draw breath any longer, was amazed that I was even slightly coherent as I watched in horrified painful fascination as my chest was rent open. Delicately, with no hesitation, a fist wrapped around my beating heart and pulled it into the air, held it before me to see in the moments before my eyes closed for the last.
A kiss, with the sting of pointy teeth, pressed into my forehead. A whisper in my ear. “Good sleep, my daughter. I have removed the shackles and freed your heart.”
This story quite probably has a lot of typos, but I’m just going to have to live with it because I don’t think I’ll ever read this one over again.