Written July 2011
I had been staring at the blank T.V. screen for the better part of an hour. I put in a movie to try to distract myself. Somewhere between the cable setting and the DVD hookup, I got lost in the emptiness of the dark screen. It was screaming at me. It echoed the hollow insides of its world. Somehow the empty screen told me more about myself than any movie ever could. It wanted me. I knew it would swallow me whole if I let it grab hold of me. I considered that for a while. It didn’t sound so bad.
I hated being the one who screamed into a dark chasm. Why couldn’t anyone hear me? Every word that I uttered fell into the deep abyss. I looked over the edge and saw nothing but empty darkness. What was down there? It gobbled up every thought I could muster as if it didn’t belong. The truth is I knew what was down there. I could picture it perfectly. I just didn’t want to. Eternal darkness is better than seeing what happens next.
Three heavy knocks rattled me to my core. I had been expecting them. Standing on the edge of my abyss, I held on to my last ounce of hope. If the knocks never came, maybe the abyss held something other than what I expected. No such luck. They were there. It was happening. I tried to convince myself that I stayed up late to wait for them. The truth is that nothing would have let me sleep that night. The knocks echoed across the great abyss until the rocks came unhinged. Where once I was alone, I found myself running to escape the avalanche of invisible rocks.
My body got up to answer the door. I turned my chair to watch what my body decided to do. How had he gotten up without my permission? I wanted to yell at him for disobeying me. Then again, I couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t the one disobeying him. It wasn’t okay. I still had the chance to retreat deep into the house. By answering the door, he opened up Pandora’s Box. I could have retreated into ignorance. No. The better part of me refused.
I opened the door. A man in his mid-forties stood at the threshold. He was short and overweight. His face was stern and frightening enough that neither of those qualities were likely to ever be articulated in his presence. This was the man I had been waiting for. I knew him in a way that put us at a natural clashing point. I didn’t matter anymore. The only thing that mattered was whether or not he knew what had happened. I didn’t like either possibility much. If he knew, he probably came to kill me. If he didn’t, I would have to show him.
His voice was fervent. If he was tired, he dared not show it. He asked me where she was. I did my best to avoid his eyes. He already assumed my guilt. Avoiding eye contact only furthered his theory. I hadn’t the ability nor the strength to prove it otherwise. Maybe I was to blame. I avoided his eyes not out of guilt. Rather, he shared the same eyes as his daughter. I couldn’t look at him without seeing her. I couldn’t see her without…
He asked me, once again, where she was. He tacked on a threat of getting the police involved. If it had been any other situation, the father would have to wait 24 hours before calling the police. For one of the top lawyers in the city, however, there were enough strings to pull. It hardly mattered. I wasn’t planning on holding out on him anyway. I was just doing my best to distract myself by whatever means possible.
I tried to explain that I wouldn’t be able to tell him. Before I could finish my thought, he interrupted. His face grew red and his words came out like snakes. I tuned it out and waited for it to end. I didn’t have the energy to talk sense into him. It was best to let his anger flow anyway. There was little doubt in my mind that he wouldn’t yell at me at some point that night. It was best to let him get it out of his system. Not that it would do any good. Nothing would suppress his anger when the time came.
He towered over me in a way I didn’t think was possible for a man of his stature. I knew it would have been quite frightening…had I been paying attention. My mind was elsewhere. With his eyes glaring down on me, I could not help it. I knew exactly where his daughter was. I was the only one she made aware of her plans. Why I was the only one who knew is beyond me. I waited for her father to calm down. I was the only one who could find her. If only it mattered.
I snapped out of my daydream only when his string of slurs concluded. I explained that although I could not tell him where his daughter was, I could show him. He suppressed his surprise before I could get a good look at it. As I stepped out into the open, I realized the sweet smell of November air had arrived. So had the cold. I had no shoes, no socks, and a short sleeve shirt. The cold bit me hard. I felt no guilt in enjoying the pain. It was just another distraction I would be able to thank for my sanity later. I stepped into the passenger side of his minivan.
The large car snapped me out of my trance in a way that nothing else could. This man was looking for one of his daughters. The minivan was an unpleasant reminder that this man had six other children back home. All of their lives would change in the following hours. I couldn’t help but wonder how many lives would be altered by this. It took me several seconds to answer him when he asked me where we were headed. The reality of the situation quickly flooded my conscience.
I told him to go back to his house. I looked out my window in an effort to ignore his confusion. He knew full well that his daughter couldn’t be at his house. He had torn that place apart before he went on his quest that ended at my house. There was one place he hadn’t looked. I could imagine it far too vividly. It took him a while before he started the car. The pit in my stomach grew with every inch we drew nearer to her house.
The houses of my neighborhood went by in a blur. It was impossible to focus my vision. I left my will to carry on back at my house. Without it, my senses faded. The world blended together in dark shades of every color. The sound of the engine felt like it was off in the distance. Even the sweet November air had nothing left to invigorate me. Is it possible to just drift off peacefully and without a sound?
No. The deeper I receded into myself, the more I thought of her. I could track every freckle on her face. Every curve of her delicate body. Every line in her lips. Every slight color change of her beautiful eyes. No longer a part of the physical world, I could see her beside me. I could play through every memory I had of her. I could pause on the moments when she smiled and laughed. It was all I could do to forget where we were going. I truly had died inside. Without her, there was no way to bring me back to life.
He pulled over the final speed bump in his neighborhood. It tore me from my memories. I wanted to tell him to turn back. There was no need. Nothing matters when the soul is already dead. I knew that the worst was yet to come. He pulled into his driveway and opened the garage door. It was an instinctive act on his part. It made my stomach bottom out. He began to pull into the garage.
I yelled for him to stop. The van jerked abruptly with only its nose in the garage. He looked shocked and confused by my random outburst. I ignored him and got out of the car. There was nothing left to say anyway. When he shut off the engine, I paused for a moment. The sheer silence of the predawn hours was breathtaking. God intended for it to be a peaceful morning. I hoped somebody, somewhere could take it as such. For me, silence was something to be feared. If we were met with silence, it would mean she was already gone.
The only person resting that night was the one person who hadn’t received a decent night’s sleep in months. She knew she was condemning those she left behind to the same fate. I assume, at some point, that doesn’t matter anymore. At some point, the numbness becomes too much. You become selfish, sure, but what other options are there? I’ve heard her try to reason her way through the mess time and time again. She was looking for a reason not to do it. Even with my help, she could not find one. If only I had tried a little harder.
He followed me into the garage. The numbers overhead indicated the address. It might as well have read: Abandon all hope ye who enter here. With every step, I reached a new layer of Hell. The demons who haunted this place could not grab hold of me for I heeded the entrance’s warning. I don’t remember when I lost all hope of this getting better. When hope is gone, it’s hard to remember a time when hope was abundant.
On my ninth step, I stopped. I looked behind me, and realized she was right. She always talked about perspective. She would tell different friends different details about her life. Never would she allow any one person to know everything. She basked in the knowledge that no one would ever fully understand her. It was a gift and a curse. I always believed it to be false. If only she opened up fully to someone, she would have discovered the truth. But that’s not what she wanted.
She always said it’s what you’ll never know. I hated when she said that. Our conversations could curl around dozens of subjects and span hours. Whenever she reached a boundary she dared not cross, she would repeat: It’s what you’ll never know that will matter in the end. I told her that she was the one who got to decide that. She would stare past me as if the hours of conversation meant nothing. There was no way to convince her. From the moment our friendship began all those years ago, this was the inevitable conclusion.
Her father had followed me into the deepest layer of Hell. When I pointed to the ceiling, I was telling him where the vacant mouth of Lucifer remained. His default anger melted away instantly. For the first time, I saw the fear that had carried him along the entire night. His little girl was missing. He was lost without her. He needed her back.
When he realized that I was pointing to the overhead compartment of the garage, fear engulfed him. He pulled the string. A makeshift staircase unfolded in front of him. I counted the stairs as he began his ascent into Hell. There were nine. I knew full well that I could leave. He would find her and forget about me for a while. I could disappear. As I watched him make his ascent, however, I could find no reason to leave.
The stairs beckoned me. I had waited for this moment, unwillingly, for months. Having survived one trip into the sulfur lake, I found no reason not do it again. I followed behind him, knowing far too well what to expect when the fallen angel was found. On my third step, I heard a sound escape from him. It was as if the breath has been knocked out of him right when he tried to scream. The ladder shook as he climbed into the attic and ran towards his little girl.
I finished my ascent slowly. I visualized what my eyes confirmed only seconds later. From a high beam, a thick rope was tied sturdily. The rope spiraled down until it met the neck of a young girl. Her feet were dangling a foot above the ground. Her face was empty and colorless. I watched her father lift her legs up—making the rope go limp. I stared at him curiously. How could he not see that she had already been here for hours?
The image didn’t faze me. I had nothing left to give. My senses were dead. I knew he was yelling at me to help him even though I couldn’t recall hearing him. I considered telling him that his efforts were futile. I decided not to waste what was left of my strength. His girl was dead. Could he not see that? I approached him. It was like walking through a tunnel. I saw him and his daughter. Nothing else. The rest of the world had come and passed.
The color had gone from her face. Her body was limp. Her eyes were open. Once my eyes met hers, I was unable to look away. They were still as bright as the day I met her. The beautiful browns mixed with the specks of yellow. As I made my way closer, the same image crossed my mind that always had when I saw her. Her eyes were like a gold coin lost in a dessert—covered in dust—but still shining beneath the rising sun.
He handed me her limp body. I held her slightly below the waist so to keep the rope limp. I knew there was no reason to hold her up, but I didn’t fight him. As soon as I had a good grip on her, he scurried back down the ladder. Once he left, my eyes adjusted and saw the room for the first time. Boxes and nicknacks made the dark space feel even smaller than it really was. I could see the room terrifying a child as he let imagination run loose.
I tried to imagine a monster sneaking out from behind one of the boxes. I wanted to scare myself back into reality. Maybe I could wake myself up and realize it had all been a dream. I saw a pair of horns emerge. They retreated just as quickly. My imagination must have faded away with the rest of me. I could no longer fear. I could no longer feel.
The old man climbed his way back into the attic. He was wheezing loudly. He must have stolen my breath. I could not remember the last time I took a breath. Either my body had kicked into action without me or I had slipped into the afterlife alongside my damsel. I was getting worse. My emotions fled when I realized it would be that night. My mental flow fled when her father arrived. Holding up her body, my senses retreated. What was left?
I hugged her legs close to me. When she was alive, a simple touch allowed me to feel close to her. It sent an electric charge through my body. It spoke to me about an invisible connection. That was why we could talk for hours. Neither of us wanted to leave. As we parted, we could feel the connection diminish as the distance grew.
A touch meant nothing anymore. I was no longer holding up the girl I love. I was holding up flesh, muscle, and bones, wrapped in clothing and topped with a noose. Being that close to her could only remind me of how far away we were. I could only reach her in my memories. And even those would start to fade with time. Where did she go?
He cut the rope. I wasn’t prepared. I buckled under her weight. Her body fell awkwardly on top of me. Her skin was so cold. I could feel my body shaking. Was I scared? If so, it wasn’t coming from me. It was coming from the body that I was slowly detaching myself from. Between the bright strands of hair that eclipsed my vision, I saw her father overhead. He was holding a kitchen knife. My heart leapt with elation. Was the knife for me?
It’s difficult to realize that you mind isn’t working anymore. It took me far too long to realize that the knife was used to cut her down. I laid there, confused about what was happening to me. Her body pinned me to the floor like a boulder. I was barely able to move. My body was slowing down. My mind was slowing down. When would they stop working altogether?
He was angry. He told me I was supposed to catch her. The words flew through me, but I did not catch them. It was the way in which he spoke that caught me. Each word sizzled with eternal anger. I let him yell at me back at my place to let him blow off steam. It didn’t work in the slightest. He picked up her body. Could he lift her like a feather because it was his little girl? Would it feel like a rock because she was gone? He cradled her delicately. She must have been a feather.
I sat up. My boulder had been removed. My movements were no longer impossible like being frozen inside a lake. Behind the sullen father, the horned monster emerged from the shadows. His long, ridged backbone uncurled as he stretched away his long sleep. He spotted me and gave out a guttural growl. His reached out to me with his misshapen claws. They would never reach me. His purpose was not to catch me. His purpose was to keep me in constant fear. If I could never relax again, his purpose would be well served.
The sullen man told me to go to the bottom of the ladder and help get her down. When I looked back to where the monster showed himself, there was nothing. I could no longer tell what was real. Somehow that thought was comforting. It left me with the hope that everything that happened that night could wash away with nothing more than a morning haze.
I made my way down the steep ladder. I didn’t like that I was leaving the demon-infested attic. A place of constant fear is so much easier than the real world. If I were always afraid, I would never have a moment to think about what I had lost. The exit into reality turned into the entrance to my own personal Hell. I looked up at the two souls above me. The four beautiful eyes that looked down at me told me one thing: I was no longer in control.
He handed his dead daughter down the ladder. I held her legs and balanced on the steps as best I could. A breeze came in through the open garage. It woke me up enough to realize what I was doing. I was holding more than just flesh and meat. I was holding an empty cartridge. I fell in love with the soul that inherited the body. Although, at times, it was her body I had interested in. Without the soul, the body was used up and useless. Why could its eyes still pierce me like knives?
She used to be the most important person in my life. She taught me how to look at life in a new, although cynical perspective. No idea or thought was left unturned by her influence. Was it all a lie? Was this the inevitable result of such a life? I could always see her future. I could see her graduating. I could see her in a business suit. I could see her getting married. I could see her raising a little girl—scared to death that she would turn out like her. She could never see any of that.
I pulled her body into my arms and jumped off the ladder. Her arms wrapped around my neck. It was the same way she touched me when I surprised her and lifted her into my arms. She used to look up at me and give me a smile that made me feel so important. When I looked down into her eyes that day, the opposite happened. No longer did I have an important place in the world. No longer did I belong.
He made his way down the ladder. I could see empathy in his eyes for but a moment. He knew I shared in his sadness. It didn’t take long for his eyes to narrow. Once again, I was a threat. Whether his daughter had done this to himself or not, he would never find a way to blame her. It would forever be my fault. He wrapped his arms around his little girl and took his feather back. This time I was empty without my boulder to crush me.
He carried her towards the door that led into the house. Two options presented themselves to me. I could accept that I was no longer in control and simply follow him. Or, I could walk out of the garage and in the dark of night. My mind was working so very slowly. Before I could make a decision, it was made for me. He told me to open the door for him. It was then that I realized that I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I was no longer in control anyway.
I slipped in front of him and opened the door. I turned in place. Walking backwards into the house, I directed him through the narrow doorways. He accidently hit her head as he came into the living room. His whole body stiffened. He looked as if he honestly believed such a blow would wake her from her deep slumber. When he looked away from his girl, he met my eyes. I stared at him—wondering how it was possible to be in such denial. That time, he looked away first.
The living room was poorly lit. Only a nightlight led the way. He laid his little girl on the couch. He gathered up a wool blanket and placed the blanket over her body. I watched from afar as he tucked her in. He was trying to keep her warm. He wanted to keep her safe. It must not have matter to him that his acts of compassion were pouring out of him when it no longer matter. Why was he unable to show his love in the days, weeks, months, and years prior? I could almost see the thought brewing in his mind. If he cared a little more, would she still be here?
He’s not allowed to feel the blame. The blame is mine. Sure, many people loved her in many different ways. But it was always distant love. Like a mother who loves her teenage daughter but doesn’t want to breach her privacy. Like a friend who likes spending more time with her boyfriend then her friend. I was the one person who expressed compassionate love to her every day. I was the one person who knew what she was planning. I was the one person who should have been able to stop it from happening. I was the one person who failed.
He took a step back and looked at her. He eyed her neck for a short while. My eyes tried to avoid the sight. He had cut the rope above the noose. The rope was still around her neck with several inches still dangling as lifeless as her. The dim light in the room glistened in his eyes. A small tear trailed down his cheek and off his chin. He knew what had happened. No one did this to her. His little girl had taken her own life. How could he have not known this was coming?
He muttered something to himself and left the room. Without a tear to light up, I realized the nightlight had another purpose. Her body lay on the couch like a ghost. In life, the color in her skin radiated her beauty. In death, the dim light made her body shine. She looked like an angel. I hoped so very much that she was safe in Heaven. She would make a beautiful angel. She would make a terrifying demon. Somehow, I couldn’t see her as either. She was still my dearest friend.
Horns slowly rose from behind the couch. For the first time, I got a clear view of its body. It was emaciated. The drool spilling from his fangs and the hollow look in his eyes made it clear that he was hungry. Its snout stuck out and bared its fangs. It salivated until it dripped down onto her face. It wasn’t there for me. It had come for her. It snarled again and sniffed her.
He unclenched his jaw and gathered up her beautiful hair between its teeth. Once he had every last strand, he clenched his teeth once again. He retreated back into his dark corner, pulling slowly on her scalp. At first it was loose. He didn’t stop. He continued to pull until all the skin on her face was pulled tightly against her muscles and bones. The skin began to tear around the neck. The sound was horrifying and organic. In an instant, the skin gave way. Her face was nothing but skin and bone. Her eyes slipped slowly towards me.
I blinked. My mind must have stopped working. Her face was still there. The demon vanished without his snack. I knelt beside her. I stared deeply into her lifeless eyes. As I stared, time stopped. It no longer mattered that the world continued on. It no longer had any bearing on my life. Time had stopped for her too. We were both islands that had broken away from the human experience. We were both broken beyond repair.
When the baseball bat hit me on the right side of my head, I assumed the demon had returned. He didn’t get to snack on the dead body. Instead, he came for me. I fell to the ground—face up and unable to move. Above me stood a short, fat man. The fear in his eyes trembled behind his steaming anger, but it was all I could see. He wasn’t a murderer. He didn’t know what he was doing. It didn’t matter. His fear was subservient to his anger. He knelt down and looked me dead in the eyes. I can’t imagine how much he wanted to say to me in that moment.
Instead of speaking, he grabbed me by the arms and pulled my limp body back towards the garage. As he pulled me out of the room, I kept my eyes on the lifeless body on the couch. I knew quite well that it would be the last time that I saw her. I closed my eyes when the room left my line of sight. I tried to visualize her. It didn’t work. My mind had stuttered to a stop. My body fell hard against the cement floor of the garage. The pain never reached me.
He pulled me up the ladder behind him. My head hit every step with a loud clunk. My body was still limp. I caught short glimpses of his red face struggling to bring me upward towards his quick and bloodless revenge. He dropped my body on the floor with a sigh of relief. He stood over me, heaving, for almost a minute. Then, with determination in his eyes, he made his way over to the bundle of rope his baby had left behind.
I couldn’t see him as he worked on constructing my noose. I tried to turn my neck towards him, but my body wasn’t responding to my commands. All I could do was stare at the dark ceiling of the attic. My body was lifeless. My mind was lifeless. The man next to me was making sure to drain my worthless capsule of anything even resembling life. If only I could thank him.
A dark figure leaned over me. Was it the demon or was it the man? I could no longer tell the difference. I felt a tugging on my arms again. The darkness of the attic moved around me. The demon father smiled down at me. Struggling, he heaved me up until I was standing. With one final burst of energy, my head was shoved into the noose. He pulled on it until it was tightly around my neck. Then he let go. My feet were six inches off the ground.
I felt my body struggling against the rope. My mind, however, had gone elsewhere. I was back home, staring at the black screen. The screen was darker than what seemed possible. Strangely, it grew larger. For nearly a minute, the screen grew and grew until, eventually, it was all I could see. I blinked. The attic disappeared behind me. The television returned to normal in front of me.
An angelic voice beside me tells me to start the movie already. Startled, I look over at the chair next to mine. Very much alive, she sits there with a smile that I missed in her death. I fumble for the remote as she giggles. I finally move the screen away from the dark channel that I got lost in. With the movie starting, I look over at my damsel. She holds out her hand. I take it. This time, I will not let go.