Monday, April 20, 2015

Levels of Grief

Time doesn't stop.

When you see that special someone across the room that's tunnel vision. Tunnel vision can make it feel like time stops - that nothing else matters - but it only focuses your attention elsewhere. Time doesn't stop when your own heart does. It only feels like it. However, time does slow down in a life or death situation. Time slows because you realize in that very instance how precious the lingering seconds are that you or that person have left.

I guess I screamed when I saw Lex and then tears ran down my face. I don't remember this. Riley told me later.

"It's going to be okay, you'll be okay," I said it over and over again. I remember that. I remember saying it like a mantra or a prayer, the words repeated in quickened cadence offering comfort until they sounded strange and soon lost meaning. Still, I said them anyway as I grabbed the first aid kit from the back.

I always hoped the hard, blue box with the red cross on it would be used for its sterilizing pads, maybe a bandage or two, but this? My shaky hands grasped at the sterilizing fluid, as I tried to look over what kind of gauze to use, but I only succeeding in dropping what was in my hands. Lex reached out with his good arm and stilled me.

"Amy..."

I shook my head, "We can fix this," I insisted, "We can make this okay."

Lex was shaking his head but I wouldn't let him speak. I insisted louder. I yelled it, screamed it. Maybe I prayed it. Maybe I was willing it into existence. He was going to be fine.

But he shook me and said in a louder voice, "Amy!"

I stopped as he kept a firm hold on my arm and just stared at me with a piteous expression. I couldn't blame him. I was crying. The tears were like a torrential onslaught and I gasped in their wake, struggling to catch my breath, struggling to talk, so powerful was my grief.

His grip was so hard it almost hurt, but I didn't care. I finally gulped and said in a tiny voice, "Please don't die."

"If I don't die, I'll become like one of them."

I shook my head, "It can't happen this way. This isn't the way that it was supposed to work."

"Life never quite goes according to plan, Ames," He reached into the back for one of our guns, a much smaller one and staggered out of the truck with shaky breaths. I followed him to steady him, and he thrust it into my hands, "Shoot me."

I stared at him blankly and swallowed hard before I spoke again, angry, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"This is what we've been training for," he yelled at me, then groaned from the wound, "If you can't do it, I will, but you have to get used to this."

He wasn't wrong, but I was desperate and clinging to the last family member - the last sense of home - that I had.

I felt myself trembling as I stared at the gun. The very sight of the shining metal made me sick. I looked between it and Lex. His blood dripped to the ground and I watched the puddle for a moment before shaking my head, "Maybe it won't happen to you. Maybe you're different! You're tough! You fought them off, didn't you?! Why can't you fight this off?"

"Amy..."

"No!" I insisted in a louder voice to drown his out, "You managed to get me front row tickets to a sold out concert for my sixteenth birthday..."

"Amy..."

"You fucking made every single bulls-eye when we practiced shooting!"

"Amy...."

He looked at me like he pitied me as I clutched the gun, shaking my head, "You're braver than I am. You're so much braver. You can take this whole fucking thing down. I'm not you. I'm not as brave as you! Look at me!" I spread my arms and looked down my body to prove a point before meeting his eyes. He was blurred through my tears, "I can't do this without you."

Lex took a deep breath and clapped his good hand to my shoulder. He looked into my eyes, and wiped my tears with his good hand as he said, "Everything you've done up to this point has been your own doing."

I stilled at his touch, continuing to stare at him hopefully.

"You're stronger because of yourself. You're a better shooter because you wanted that for yourself."

I shook my head at everything he said, but he squeezed my shoulder hard and said, "You're stronger than you give yourself credit for. You've already made it this far, and you'll make it even farther."

I pressed my lips together to stop my shaking breaths.

"I believe in you, but for your sake, you have to believe in yourself."

I stared at the ground, unmoving.

"Okay?"

I nodded very slowly, "Okay."

He let the rag fall and walked away from me, nodding. He was cueing me. He was ready.

The wound, thought bloody, looked strange and I could swear the same eyes I saw on the zombie - that weird, green, glassy stare - was starting to stare back at me.

I wasn't ready.

But I inhaled sharply and pointed forward, pulling the trigger in one fell swoop.

He fell immediately.

I threw up.

Riley rushed to my side and put an arm around me. I guess he was looking to comfort me, but I shoved him off.

I was sad and angry. I didn't want to be touched. I wanted my mom. I wanted Lex. I wanted to feel safe. And none of those were guaranteed, evidenced by the corpse laying a few feet away.

I swallowed thickly and reached into the back of the truck, grabbing a container of gasoline. We should have saved it for gas, but logic wasn't my strongest point in that moment. I uncapped it and dumped it over Lex's body, making a long line away from him and the truck.

Riley followed me in silence until I thought we were far enough away. I grabbed a book of matches from my pocket and struck one, tossing it to the line and watching it ignite immediately.

He stared between the burning pile and me with caution, looking like he wanted to say something, but couldn't. And really, what could anyone say in a situation like that? If I were me watching me, I would have been doing the same thing.

After we stood there - I don't know how long - I looked at him and said, "I didn't want to do that twice. That's why," glancing in the direction of the smoldering remains. I heaved a sigh as I began making my way to the truck.

I felt exhausted. Every foot step felt heavy, but I somehow put one in front of the other until I stopped at the driver's side and opened the door. Riley still stood, watching me with an expression that was somewhere between dumbfounded and cautious. Or maybe he was afraid. Past me would have been afraid of this me.

This me looked rough. This me suffered. This me had the bloodstains and the smell of gas and ash to prove it.

"Are you coming or what?" I called out.

Riley hurried to the passenger's side, getting into the car.

Once seated and buckled in, I reached to the pocket in the door where Lex kept his cigarettes.

"Filthy habit," he would always tell me before he lit one, bringing it to his lips, "Never start."

I felt my hand close around the plastic-wrapped box. Pulling my hand up, I glanced at the packaging. Malboro Reds. The manliest of cigarettes.

I rolled down the window and lit one up with some difficulty. I realized it was because my hands had been shaking. I inhaled deeply before exhaling out the window.

It was terrible, but it made me feel calmer.

"You want me to drive?" Riley asked.

I shook my head, "No," I took another long drag, though it almost felt like too much and I could feel my throat attempting to spasm in a cough, but I stopped it and blew the smoke out the window again. I cleared my throat and leaned against the seat with a heavy sigh.

I closed my eyes for a moment and I could feel a small, though bitter smile cross my lips, "Sorry, did you want one?"

Riley glanced between the package and my eyes, "Nah, I'm good."

I gave a lazy shrug and sighed before sitting up straight, and finally turning the keys that had been left in the ignition, "It's a filthy habit anyway," I said quietly before I put the truck in park and finally started our journey out of town.

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