Sitting before your grave, the cold dew covered grass clings to my legs, soaking my jeans through to my skin. I shiver, half from the icy wetness, half from seeing your name carved in granite; a ragged old coat and a cheap cigarette are the only protection I have left. When we laid you in the earth and I first saw your headstone I laughed in my head, cruelly chuckling at the ironic pictures of angels framing your name and time on earth. Whoever bought it for you obviously didn’t know you. It was probably Aunt Ruth; she always saw the best in you for some reason, probably because you were the younger sister. I’ve always tried to imagine what it was you did to convince her that you were a decent human being.
I drop the wilting roses on your grave, pricking my finger on a thorn as they fall. The pain is slight, but intensifies in my mind; as I see the blood well up crimson red, my mind plunges off a cliff of pain and falls into a sea of memories locked deep inside. The tide shifts, sending the memories bashing against the cliffs in waves. I try to face the onslaught, but each wave is larger than the one before it. My chest tightens and I’m threatened with drowning.
I struggle to bring myself back to the present, pushing my way free of the angry depths. I open my eyes and breathe out explosively. My insides turn upon one another; I get on my hands and knees just before the bile comes. I kneel there retching beside your grave, crying and ashamed of my weakness, and yours. Wiping the back of my hand across my mouth I stand, looking about, fearful of being seen. I put my throbbing finger in my mouth and suck off the remaining blood. I spit the fowl contents of my mouth onto your marker, turn my back and walk back to my car. I should have known there would be a price to pay for seeing you. I tell myself that I’ll never be back, but I’ve said that before.
I take a long pull from my bottle of whisky as I settle into the slowly disintegrating seat of my ten-year-old car. All I ever wanted from you was for you to listen to what I told you, believe my words and help me through the pain. You never wanted to listen to me; it was too inconvenient or too scandalous for you to even consider how I was feeling. I didn’t need you to do anything, just listen to what I had to say. That would have been something at least. Maybe things wouldn’t have happened as they did, they couldn’t have ended much worse.
The son of a bitch never hid what he did to me, but you did. When the police came you had an answer for everything. Having your husband dragged away would have been too embarrassing for you, but I don’t think that you ever realized how much people knew already. Trying to hide it just made you look even more pathetic. Time after time I tried to tell you, but your eyes would glaze over and you’d leave, telling me you didn’t have the time to listen to my stories.
I remember the day I killed the bastard. He’d left me bleeding and broken on my bedroom floor. I could taste the blood in my mouth, feel the places where teeth were missing and sense each of the cracked ribs as I tried to crawl away. I could hear him in the hall, pacing back and forth, building into an even greater rage. I wonder why he never beat you mother? I was never strong enough for him, my highschool body couldn’t stand up to his grown up rage. He would beat me for the pains in his life, but I just couldn’t stand up long enough to satisfy the fiery hatred within him. I used to think that when he paced he was trying to regain control; eventually, I realized he was just frustrated that I hadn’t lasted longer. That particular day he seemed exceptionally pissed, and I knew he’d be back. I was afraid he’d kill me that day so I finally raised up enough courage to stop him.
I had stolen the gun from a friend’s house, he’d be mad, but I hoped he’d understand eventually. I pulled the trigger twice. The first shot hit the wall, spraying plaster across the room as the hollow point exploded. My ears rang and he stood confused in front of me. There was never fear in his eyes, just disbelief. It was inconceivable to him that I would actually fight back. My second shot hit him in the neck, leaving him as spineless physically as he had been mentally.
I called the police and slumped onto the floor against a wall. You came into the room and held his hand, crying and pleading pathetically for him to come back. When the police arrived their guns were drawn. They took in the scene, you kneeling and crying in a pool of blood, a nearly decapitated dead man’s hand in yours, and me sitting on the floor battered and waiting. They put their guns away and put the handcuffs on reluctantly. They walked me out to the car, past the neighbors and the news crew that had already arrived. You swore at me from within the house and I’m sure you didn’t stop after they had driven me away.
I spent some time in juvee while the trial was under way, but the jury saw my side and I was eventually put in the hands of the state foster care system. For three years I suffered there. I started doing drugs to ease the pain. I was arrested for drugs, fighting and theft, but none of it amounted to any real jail time. One look at my case file and the charges would be dropped with nothing more than a warning from the judge. The kids at school knew what had happened and so I stayed away. I never did graduate and it’s too late for that now. For years I blamed you for all of the mistakes I had made and I still do on occasion.
But I’m an adult now, it’s been twenty years since I was taken away and I thought that maybe I could put all of the pain and anger behind me. Coming to the graveyard, seeing your final resting place and leaving you some flowers seemed like the right thing to do to get some closure.
I take another drink from the bottle and study my unkempt reflection in the rear-view mirror. I can see him there, pacing back
and forth in my eyes. I smash the bottle into the mirror, spraying booze and glass about the interior of my car. I’ve cut my hand and the sting of the whisky is a bitter reminder of how small a man I’ve become.
I stare at my hand and know that my hatred is as much for myself as it is for you. Perhaps I hate myself even more. I wrap my hand in a dirty rag pulled from the back seat; the pain decreases slowly, leaving only a dull ache. Like the scars I’ll get from my self inflicted wound, I know that the trauma of my life will be with me forever, but I hope that in time that they will fade away.
This story was inspired by the song “Fade” by Staind.