They Seemed Okay

In April of 2018, I was sitting at a table on Main Street here in Columbia. I was eating a meal with my wife and listening to our favorite local band. The text tone on my phone went off. I didn’t check it. I have this pet peeve where I hate having dinner with someone and that person is constantly answering their texts or phone calls. So, the phone sat on the table, face down at I ate and Prettier Than Matt performed.

The text ring chimed again. And again. And again.

Finally, Cate said to me, “You might want to check that. It could be important.”

I flipped the phone over, typed in my password and checked the text. Cate had been right. It was important. 

I sat staring at my phone and shaking my head. I think I put one hand to my forehead and rubbed. 

“Everything okay?” Cate asked.

I shook my head. “No. (Name that shall not be mentioned) committed suicide last night.”

I wiped my mouth and responded to the multiple texts that I had received about the death of a friend. Just the night before I had talked to him—less than 24 hours earlier and he ‘seemed okay.’ 

Fast forward almost a year later. It’s now April 1st, 2019. I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed when I see an announcement that stopped my scrolling. A friend of mine’s son had posted on his mother’s page that she had died in her sleep. I thought it was a bad April Fool’s Day joke and I sent my friend a PM. 

It wasn’t a joke. She didn’t respond and by the time her mom responded a month later, her death had been confirmed by multiple people. It had been speculated she didn’t just go to sleep and not wake up. 

My friend had depression issues. She and I had talked about it on more than a handful of occasions. A few days before we had talked. Plans were being made for projects we were working on, for things she wanted to work on. She ‘seemed okay.’

In the last couple of years, four of my friends committed suicide. 

I’m going to pause here and let that sink in.

Fast forward to just a few days before Christmas of one of the toughest years ever, 2020. A friend of mine posted about his daughter’s sudden passing. I saw it, but said nothing right away. I thought my friend from my teen years probably needed his space, needed to grieve. 

The Monday after Christmas, I sent him a message. I’m going to be honest here: I was worried about him and I didn’t expect him to answer so quickly. Within two minutes, he responded and it shocked me to the point of nausea and speechlessness. His sweet, teenaged daughter had committed suicide. 

It brought tears to my eyes. His daughter was the same age as my son. My stomach knotted and I could only shake my head in shock and disbelief.

I’m still shocked.

I don’t know the situation behind my friend’s daughter’s suicide, but the two people I mentioned and the two I did not all had depression and anxiety issues. One of them suffered from PTSD and injuries he received while serving in the military overseas. My four friends all dealt with some form of mental illness, whether it was depression, anxiety or PTSD. Two of them didn’t think they measured up to the world’s standards. One of them was lonely and raising kids by herself. Her depression was debilitating, as was my military friend’s.

Listen to me for a moment. All of you who read this, all of you who follow this page, please listen to me. Mental illness is no joke. Depression is no joke. Anxiety is no joke. It’s as serious as Cancer and heart disease and any other sickness that can be deadly. 

Sadly, there is a stigma surrounding these things. You hear things like, that person is just seeking attention, or it’s not that bad, just a little sadness, or it’s all in their head, or, worse still, it’s just an excuse for whatever that person doesn’t want to do or deal with.

So often people who suffer from any form of mental or emotional illness are told to get over it, to rub some dirt on it, or any other way of saying this is a nonissue and they’re making more out of it than it is. I don’t cuss much on my website, but I’m just going to say this: that’s bullshit. People who deal with these issues can’t just get over it, can’t just move on or rub some dirt on it or man up. It’s a big issue for them. Sometimes it’s so difficult they can’t bring themselves to get out of bed or to go out around people. Sometimes the cloud of gray they are surrounded in is so thick and all encompassing that they see only one way out. They don’t see any sunshine on the other side of those clouds. For some—for many—there is only damp, cold and rainy days.

I’m not going to sit here and say I understand suicide. I don’t. I’ve never gotten why people choose to end their lives instead of seeking help. [[Let me clarify one thing before I continue: I think I do understand when someone is suffering from a terminal illness or who is losing their mental facilities thanks to illnesses like Dementia and Alzheimer’s.]] Here’s the thing: where are you going to get help from these days? It’s such a stigma that talking about it to others sometimes makes things worse in the fact that those people sometimes look at you differently once you air your depression or anxieties out. Sometimes reaching out can make things worse if you reach out to the wrong person. How wrong is that?

“They have issues.”

Don’t we all? Don’t we all have something that touches us in a way that hurts us on a whole different level? Don’t we all have our own demons we have to deal with? Just because someone can get over something doesn’t mean the next person can. Each person is different. 

We can medicate, but that’s not treating the issue, it’s treating the symptom. If you want to get to the cure or even to the ability to maintain this, you have to treat the root. You can snip the leaves all you want, but until the root is treated, the plant will keep growing. That’s not to say some people don’t need medication—they most certainly do, but that’s not always the cure. 

We can seek counsel from a therapist. That’s a start. Even that isn’t always going to help. 

What I think—and please understand these are my thoughts and how I feel about this and nothing more—is until we start taking the different forms of mental illness serious, it’s going to get worse. Until we start educating ourselves, our children and our leaders, about mental illnesses, it’s going to continue to get worse. We need to look at mental illnesses, not as a stigma or as something to be ashamed of, but as something that can be talked about, that can be openly discussed without being ridiculed or treated differently. Until we accept that many people can’t just ‘deal with things’ we’re never going to get hold of this.

And, again, listen. This is important. I mentioned ‘get over it’ earlier. Don’t say that. Ever. Just don’t do it.

She’s probably going to kill me for this, but my daughter has anxiety problems. Every feeling she has is amplified. She feels things on a much deeper level than I do. When she has a panic attack it’s a big deal. For the longest time, I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand she couldn’t control them or when they happened or how long they lasted. For me it was as simple as ‘you need to learn how to deal with this.’ Essentially, that is just a lousy way to say an even lousier ‘get over it.’

I want to say this and I want to be clear about this: I. Was. Wrong. It should have never been ‘you need to learn how to deal with this.’ It should have been, ‘talk to me, tell me what’s going on, help me understand so I can help you.’ Don’t get me wrong, my default setting wasn’t get over it. It was to try and help, but when I couldn’t help, get over it became that default setting. That was shitty of me. I hate that I couldn’t help, but I hate even more my eventual reaction. It was wrong and it could have led to far worse things. I know this now and I’m thankful my daughter has learned the warning signs for when a panic attack is coming and that she can put herself in a place, mentally, to handle it—not to deal with it, but handle it. 

A panic attack can be as debilitating as any longterm pain. It’s a heightened form of anxiety that grabs hold of you like an angry dog to a bone, and it doesn’t let go so easily. Depression is the same way.

I wasn’t raised to understand depression, anxiety, panic attacks or any other form of mental illness. If I was sad then that’s all it was. If I feared something, then it was me being irrational. If I was unhappy, I had to ‘get over it.’ It took me a long time to understand that this is something that can crush a person and lead them to make decisions that I still don’t understand. 

Life is precious and the minutes are so few. I always thought from the time you take your first breath you begin dying, so why speed the process up? I don’t understand suicide. I don’t understand the mindset you have to be in to make that decisions. I’ve written about suicide in some of my fiction and I’ve tried to understand the pain and sadness of someone on the verge of ending his or her life. It’s a dark space to go as a writer. I imagine it is so much darker as someone struggling with depression and any other mental illness.

So, where does all this rambling leave us? It leaves us with me saying—no, begging—please, world, stop frowning on those who struggle with the various forms of depression and mental illnesses. Please, take their hand and help them. Please, don’t just listen to them talk, but actually hear them. You don’t always have to have the solution, but have the empathy to be a friend, and for Heaven’s sake, love them. Love them in a way that leaves them feeling loved, in a way they believe they are loved. Don’t be critical and rude and don’t tell them to ‘get over it.’ 

We all need to know someone cares—All. Of. Us.—so be that person who cares. Reach out, even if your friend or family member ‘seems okay.’ My two friends at the beginning of this ‘seemed okay’ when I talked to them last. They weren’t.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Marion Wilson’s Last Walk (Free Fiction)

Marion Wilson’s Last Walk

A.J. Brown

It wasn’t supposed to snow. Not in the middle of March and not down in South Carolina. But it did. 

Marion stared out the window of the small cabin. He held the curtain back with one knobby, arthritic hand. He felt the cold coming from beyond the door, but it was the bright white, not quite frozen flurries that held his attention. The yard wasn’t covered yet, but he had a feeling it would be soon enough.

“Don’t worry, Olivia,” he said in a tired voice that sounded nothing like that of his youth. “I’m coming to see you.”

Marion turned and shuffled his way across the living room floor to a closet held closed, not by a knob, but by a hook latch. He flipped the latch up and the door opened with a groan he had heard so many times it no longer registered in his brain. He plucked out a gray coat, one he has worn since the early seventies. He slipped it on. 

Still a perfect fit, he heard Olivia say. 

“Yes, it is,” he responded.

Then he reached onto the shelf above the pole the clothes hung on and grabbed his gray fedora, the one with the black ribbon and the deep pinch in it. He placed it on his head. There was a mirror on the inside of the door. He looked in it and then tugged the fedora down so the brim was just above his eyebrows. Satisfied, he nodded and closed the door, latching the hook to keep it closed.

Don’t forget your gloves.

“I won’t, Darling.”

In his bedroom, one with dark wood paneling on the walls and an almost threadbare carpet on the floor, he reached into the dresser across the room from his bed. The top drawer held socks, underwear and his warm gloves. They were gray, like the fedora and his winter coat.

He straightened his coat and took a deep breath.

You look quite dapper, Olivia said.

“Thank you, Darling.”

A few minutes later, he stepped outside and locked his door. It wasn’t as cold as he thought it would be. Still, he buttoned his coat all the way to his neck. 

You forgot your scarf, Marion.

“I know.”

Maybe you should go back and get it.

He thought this over, and shook his head. “No. I need to hurry. They’re calling for more snow and lower temperatures, so I don’t have much time, if I’m going to make a visit today.”

Marion turned from the door and looked out over the yard. It was nothing special, just some bushes and trees, and an old tire swing in the tall oak off to his right where his car sat. A wooden fence surrounded the yard, with an opening where the dirt driveway led to the house. Beyond the driveway and the yard was an expanse of trees that didn’t quite equal a set of woods, but more like just a field where trees had grown. This is what Marion would walk through.

Though he wore gloves, he shoved his hands into his coat pockets. 

“I’m going to hurt when I get back,” he whispered and then cringed. He looked around, as if someone had heard him. “I’m sorry, Darling. I didn’t mean it that way.”

There were no steps leading to a porch on his cabin. There was a small deck and a six-inch drop down to the ground. He stepped from the porch and made his way through the yard, onto the dirt and gravel driveway. Snow floated to the ground around him and crunched beneath his weight, along with the rocks. Though he was well into his eightieth year, he still held the wonderment of a six-year-old child when it came to winter weather. Even now, when he needed to make his weekly visit, he was still in awe of its beauty.

His cheeks were already cold and pink by the time he made it down the drive and to the line of trees. 

It’s cold out here, Olivia said.

“Yes it is, Darling,” he responded. “But it will be okay.”

He dipped into the trees, following a footpath barely touched by the snow so far that morning. Sure, there were still flurries falling and landing, but nothing really sticking in that area. But when he reached the other side and stepped from beneath the cover of trees, the snow was coming down harder. The flakes were as big as nickels and quarters, and at least half an inch had already accumulated on the ground.

“It’s coming down good, now.”

Standing outside the trees, he looked on toward the field in the distance. Like the line of trees, there was a path that led through the field and to where Marion’s eyes stared off to. It was a small area, fenced in with a brick wall and an iron gate, one Marion had built when he was younger when his dad passed away. 

“Almost there, Olivia,” he said. 

The snow picked up and blew around him. His cheeks were red and his nose was a shade of cherry. The chill had set into his bones, especially his legs, causing him to walk stiffly. It didn’t take him long to reach the fence. Outside the gate was a sign that read Wilson Family Cemetery. Marion went to the gate and worked the handle to open it.  

He walked in, passing the gravestones of long passed family members. To the left was Dad and Mom. A little further down were his grandparents, buried here before Marion built the fence and put up the gate. Uncle Abernathy was to his right, interred with Aunt Myriam. He passed three of his four children, all passing from this plane of existence before turning fifty, one of them—Marion Junior was killed in Vietnam at age twenty. He didn’t look at his oldest son’s grave—it hurt too much, even all these years later.

His feet left big prints in the deepening snow as he passed the rest of the graves, stopping only when he reached a new one—five months new. He knelt, carefully, his knees sinking into the snow. It took only seconds before the bite of the cold and wet had seeped through the material and sunk its teeth into his knees.

With one gloved hand, he wiped the snow away from the marker on the ground. He stared at the engraved inscription on it until cold tears blurred his vision:

Olivia Marie Wilson

February 4, 1939 – October 28, 2016

Beloved Wife and Mother

At Rest With Her Savior

Headstone“I’m here, Darling,” he said. His voice was thick with sadness. 

I am, too, she whispered.

He felt her hand on his shoulder. 

Thank you for coming.

He turned his head and shoulders. There she stood, in her Sunday best, a white dress with blue flowers on them, her black heels and her gray hair pulled back from her face and held in a bun by a hair ribbon. Her eyes were the same gray as her hair and the wrinkles on her face didn’t appear as deep as they had been before she died. No, they looked less like the wounds of time and more like lines of character, put there through years lived.

“I told you I would always be there for you.”

You always were.

“I’m tired, Darling,” he said as he looked at her. 

Then rest, Love. 

He nodded. “I think I will get on home now.”

Marion looked back at the marker with his wife’s name on it. His heart hurt. It had been less than six months, but it felt like it had been just yesterday when she took her last breath and left him alone.

“I miss you,” he said and let the tears fall. They were warm against his cold skin. He put his face in his hands and leaned forward. His forearms touched the ground. Like his pants, the snow soaked through the material of his winter coat. He closed his eyes against fresh tears. As he knelt, his legs grew numb, as did his arms. The exhaustion of the walk there and the weight of his loneliness pulled at him. 

At some point, he yawned.

“I need to go now,” he said and went to stand up. He pushed up with his hands and then Olivia was beside him. 

Love, let me help you up.

He looked at her soft hand, one that had grown bony and brittle at the end of her life. It seemed to have a little more flesh on it than when she passed. 

Please?

Marion nodded. “Thank you.”

He reached up and took her hand. It was tangible and soft and it felt like her. He got to his feet, a little easier than he thought he would. 

Come. Let’s go home, she whispered.

“I’d like that.”

His voice didn’t feel as heavy as it had earlier. Neither did his heart. He seemed … whole, a feeling he hadn’t had since Olivia’s death. 

Marion left her grave and made his way back through the final resting spots of his family members. Olivia held his hand. In their wake, they left no footprints in the snow and Marion was no longer cold.

____________________

On March 12th of 2017, something happened here in South Carolina that doesn’t occur too frequently. It snowed. It’s not that it doesn’t snow here, it just doesn’t snow often and rarely in March, when temperatures are usually warming up and heading for one of our famously hot summers.

Seeing how the snow wasn’t sticking in Cola-town, Cate suggested we drive North. So, we did. We stopped off in Peak, where the snow had stuck. 

Before you actually get to Peak (which is pretty much a loop around downtown and back out again), we saw a cemetery on the left. We stopped and Cate took some pictures. While there my son pelted me with a snowball (which was more like a slush ball because it was mostly ice and little snow). A short, albeit fun, snowball fight ensued. 

It was epic. I will definitely say I won, though The Boy’s hairs would bristle and he would beg to differ.

After the snowball battle ended, I noticed a set of footprints leading to a grave. (I do not recall seeing footprints leading away from the grave). I followed the tracks to where they appeared to stop, and then circle around a tombstone. 

I took a moment to look at the head stone. The woman had passed away in October of 2016, less than six months earlier. In my imagination, I saw her husband walking to the grave, kneeling, having a conversation with her, even in the cold and snow and wind. 

That’s love.

My imagination about broke my heart.

While looking at this final resting place, I could only think how painful it must have been for this man (who from the information next to his wife’s epitaph, would have been at least eighty), both emotionally and physically, to be out there. It was one of those moments of realization that most folks have about life: we’re not forever. It stayed with me long enough to write this story.

(If you liked Marion Wilson’s Last Walk, please share this to social media and help me share my stories to the world. Thank you!)

I Asked For Your Company (Free Fiction)

I Asked For Your Company

A.J. Brown

 

I asked for your company.

It was dark beyond the window to my right. I hate the dark, the feeling that there is always something lurking in the blackness of night. The lights of the train station were dim, at best, but at times, nonexistent. The rain outside beat against the roof of the car and tap-tapped against the windows like tiny pebbles. Taped to the walls near the door were pictures, drawings, I guess done by little children with big imaginations. One was of a series of hearts and a music box that could have been playing a love song.

My skin itched from fear. My nerves burned as if on fire. 

From my seat near the door of the train car, I saw you. Dark hair, cut short, a mole on your left earlobe. Sad eyes surrounded by bruised hollows, small nose, thin lips, a scar on your right cheek, put there by someone who didn’t think you were special or of any consequence. You were soaked from head to toe, as if you had just come out of the rain, much like I had. You looked lonely and downtrodden, as if you were running away from something … or someone. There was something familiar about you, something that felt like kinship, but I couldn’t place it.

You stared at me without seeing me, your eyes hauntingly distant. At that moment I thought I could love you forever if you would just speak to me, just say ‘Hello.’

“Stay here with me,” I whispered. You opened your mouth and spoke words I could not here over the steady drumming of rain all around us. You could have said anything. I asked you to repeat it, but I think you said something else instead. I know not what that was.

I asked for your company and you made no move to give it to me.

I reached for you when the train began to move, needing the touch of someone to allay my fears. My heart lifted into my throat. My stomach flipped several times. You put a hand out, fingers up, as if to stop me. You didn’t quite touch my fingers, but it was clear you didn’t want anyone touching you, least of all, me. I dropped my hand back into my lap and clutched at the small bag there, the one with the bare necessities to get me through with life. You lowered your hand as well, but I couldn’t see if there was anything in your lap.

You stared at me, unflinching as the world passed by us in the dim, almost brown color of the car’s ceiling lights. Outside, the rain pelted the glass and the clouds hid the moon and the stars from our view. Water seeped in through the windows and trailed down the walls like tears.

“They say the world is going to flood,” I said, hoping for conversation. I knew the topic was depressing, but ‘How’s the weather?’ sounded lame when I considered it had been raining for nearly two weeks.

You didn’t respond. I think I angered or upset you when I reached for your hand. I didn’t mean to. It’s just … it’s just … I was scared. I just needed comfort. 

Water rose along the rails outside the car. It splashed along the sides and sprayed outward as the car picked up speed. It flowed in through the windows, some of them cracked in places.

I Asked For Your CompanyI asked for your company as the dim lights on the car flickered. I looked up, as did you, to assure myself they were still on. The sound of water filled my ears and I tried to talk to you again, but I couldn’t hear my own voice inside my head, much less when I spoke. You looked much the same, eyes big and fearful, trying to speak but your voice carrying nowhere beyond your throat. 

The train slowed, as if it struck an embankment along a river. Then it stopped. The lights flickered again, then went out entirely. 

I asked for your company as water came in through the cracks in the doorway and the windows all around us, slowly at first, then faster, faster, faster. 

We stood, yes, you and I, and ran for the door. I bumped my hip on the side of one seat and my feet came from beneath me. I tumbled to the floor and slid a foot or two before my shoulder struck the edge of one seat. 

“Don’t leave me,” I yelled as I reached for you, but I couldn’t see you anywhere. 

As water filled the car, I struggled to my feet, slipping once and falling back in headfirst. I swallowed water. I came up, my mouth open and searching for air. 

“Help me! Don’t leave me!”

I got to my feet, maybe with your help, maybe not. I do not know, but when I stood, there you were, soaked from head to toe along with me. You stared, wild-eyed and terrified, but said nothing. 

The water rose above my thighs and I waded toward the door. You did the same but  you were so far away. Somehow we met there all the same, but … but somehow, you had gotten out and stood on the other side. The door was closed, as were the windows, yet we stood on opposite sides of the door.

I placed my hand to the glass. You did the same, this time not pulling away but reaching for me. Our hands seemed a perfect fit, a perfect match.

We both slapped at the door’s window. My fear of drowning kicked in, and from the expression on your face as you beat on the window right along with me, you had the same fear. I didn’t understand this at first. You were outside the car. You could swim to safety or climb on top of the train. Then I realized you weren’t scared for yourself, but for me. 

“Please …”

I asked for your company when I was afraid and you stayed with me as the water rose above my waist. Your eyes grew wide and we must have had the same thought because I swung my fist as hard as I could at the glass door. You did the same. My knuckles split. So did the glass.

The weight of the water pushing on the window collapsed the cracked glass in on me. As I was shoved backward and carried to the back of the car on an icy cold wave, I saw you being pulled away, in the opposite direction. I screamed. I think you did, too.

I sunk beneath the water, the train car no longer a way to safety but soon to be a tomb. The drawing of the heart picture floated by me before it was sucked away, possibly on a current that would lead out to sea.

As the water filled the car well over my head, I lost you forever. I asked for your company and you stayed. 

AJB

__________

This was originally supposed to be a story for Stitched Smile Saturdays. The featured image was the actual prompt. After I completed the story, I realized I was nearly 300 words over the 1000 word limit. Even after culling back as many words as I could, I was still nearly 200 words over the limit. Instead of posting it to the SSS blog, I decided to hold it for later. I consider this later.

(If you enjoyed I Asked For Your Company, please share on your social media pages and help me spread my stories around the world. Thank you!)

 

18

A young man walks along a path in a small town cemetery. In his right hand is a paper bag, the open end folded shut. He wears a pare of black Converse sneakers with his initials printed on the heel end, and blue jeans, ones with holes that run up and down both legs. His hair is a little long and there is stubble on his face. It’s young stubble, the type that only males in that in-between stage of life of being a kid and becoming an adult can grow. He is seventeen and he has made this same walk every year since he can remember.

He parked his car outside the rusted steel gates of the graveyard, preferring to walk the distance to the marker he intends to visit. It’s that walk that allows him to prepare him for his emotions, the ones surely to come on this day. 

The young man veers off the path and across the lush green lawn. In some places, the grass hasn’t been cut and it grows higher than in others. But where he walks today, the lawn may not be freshly cut, but someone had gone over it in the last week or two. Though the morning was a little warmer than most for this time of year, there is still a little dew left on the grass that hasn’t burned off with the rise of the sun, or in this case, the hiding of the sun behind tinted gray clouds. 

He lifts his arm and looks at the watch on his wrist. 

10:20.

He nods and continues along the headstones of the deceased, paying no attention to the names or the years of life etched in them, or the epitaphs so eloquently written by loved ones who no longer visit those they wish to never forget. There is a lump in his throat and every breath he takes is a little shaky and getting shakier as he goes. 

No, he’s not sick or afraid or running from anything. This young man is going forward, running toward something, facing a truth. 

A bird lands on the ground fifteen feet in front of him, cocks its head to the side and looks at him with its curiously beady black eyes. It flaps its wings once, twice, then flies away. He continues forward, the lump in his throat seemingly getting larger, his breaths harder to take. He looks back at his watch.

10:24.

Then the young man stops in front of a headstone that is nothing special in shape or size or expense, but it is everything special to him, for who it belongs to. He opens the bag and pulls out a Mountain Dew and a Snickers candy bar. He set the bag down and reaches into his back pocket for the folded piece of paper there.

His watch now reads 10:26.

The young man sits down in front of the stone. He reads the name there, reads the date of birth, and more importantly, the date of death: 9-11-2001. The lump in his throat is a heavy rock and the tears he had held back now begin to flow. His breaths are raspy and his hands shake as he unfolds the paper and sets it on the ground in front of him. He then opens one end of the candy bar and follows that by popping the top on his soda and sets them both on the ground. 

He glances at his watch one final time.

10:28.

He picks up the letter. It is short and written in his stick-like scrawl. With the grief of a child who lost a parent, he reads the words he wrote.

Dear Dad,

Eighteen years ago today you died. You never got to hold me. You never even got to meet me. Mom gave birth to me three days later as she mourned you—as the nation mourned. 

He takes a deep breath, releases it and tries hard not to think about the truth his mother told him about his father, that he’s not buried there, that his body is not in the ground where he sits, that only one shoe—a black Converse with his initials on the back—was ever found in the rubble of the collapsed building he had been in that day.

He swallows hard, trying to get the lump in his throat to go away, then reads more of his letter.

I never got to throw a baseball with you. We never got to have father and son time. You never got to tell me dirty jokes and I’ll never be able to ask you for advice about women. 

He wipes his eyes with the palm of one hand, then continues.

Though I never knew you, I love you. Mom has told me a lot about you and I know you would have been a great father, just as you were a great husband to her. I hope I can be half the man you were, and I hope, wherever you are, you are proud of me. 

As tears stream down his face, the young man, soon to be eighteen years of age, says the final words of his letter.

I love you, Dad. I love you. 

  

I love you.

The young man sets the letter on the ground and puts his face in his hands. He sobs, letting the grief of a love never felt from a man he never met, flow from him. After several minutes, he wipes his eyes again, then his nose. He takes a deep, shuddering breath, lets it go and picks up the candy bar—his dad’s favorite—pulls the wrapper completely off and takes a bite of it. Then he raises the Mountain Dew—his dad’s favorite drink—to the air and taps the headstone with it. He only drinks a couple of sips, then sets the drink and the half eaten candy bar on his father’s headstone.

Heart broken, the young man picks up the paper bag and the candy wrapper and stands. He walks away, leaving the letter by the marker, his head down. Tomorrow will be better, but today … today will always be difficult.

AJB

9/11/2019

18

Voices, The Interviews: B

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here). If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 6

Lisa takes a deep breath. She has taken quite a few of them through these interviews. She glances down at her notepad and realizes she is only a third of the way through them. She flips the page. The heading at the top simply says “B” in her looping script. The questions are straight forward, but when she turns to her right she sees the young blonde with the wavy hair and blue eyes. She doesn’t appear nervous or even sad like everyone else in the room. She is not angry and Lisa believes if this young lady smiles it will light the room up. 

“Hello, B,” she says.

She is right. The young blonde smiles. It’s not much, but it is radiant. “Hi.”

“Is it just B or would you care to share your name?”

“I go by B only with my boyfriend. It’s kind of our thing. My real name is Becka, as in Rebecca. I really don’t like Rebecca, so Becka to my friends and B to my love.”

“Can I call you Becka?”

“Sure.”

She’s confident, Lisa thinks. More than I thought she would be. This relaxes Lisa a little. After the previous discussion with Jeddy and Mr. Worrywort’s appearance she is still a little shaken. 

“Should we get into this?”

“Sure.”

“You lost a friend.”

“A couple, actually. Dorian and Robert.”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMBecka tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. Though she still seems confident and at ease, Lisa sees the slight change in how she sits. Her shoulders slump and she rubs her hands on her jeans.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Becka says. “It’s not your fault.”

“I’ve lost friends myself, so I won’t presume upon your grief.  But … I would like it if you told me about the guilt.”

Now Becka’s demeanor changes a little more. She leans forward in her seat, puts her feet on the bar beneath it as if she is a bird perched on a limb. She rubs her hands together and then looks at the palm of her left hand. 

“Dorian was my best friend.” She smiles. Her eyes hold the distant stare of remembrance. “I met her when I was knee high to a grasshopper, as my grandfather would put it.” She holds her hand down around her ankles as a visual. “We did everything together. You know, thick as thieves. That’s another thing my grandfather said about us. ‘Y’all are thick as thieves.’”

A tear trickles from one eye. She wipes it away, sniffles and continues. 

“I guess I thought we would grow old together. Not just me and H, but Dorian and Robert. We were going to get houses in the same town and we were going to hang out on the weekends and we would be parents together, them watching our little ones and us watching theirs.” 

The breath she releases holds all the sadness her demeanor didn’t show minutes before. 

“We would have been the little old ladies in the knee high socks sitting around playing bingo on Friday nights in one of those parlors where old fogies mingle and compete for a handful of dollars.”

She laughs, wipes away more tears.

“I guess … I guess being there when Dorian died …” her breath hitches and she swallows it down. “And then, you know, Robert … Robert … doing what he did. I guess the guilt was worse for him. He loved her so much. I can’t imagine losing H and trying to carry on with life. I guess that’s why he did what he did.”

She’s nodding as if she is finished with the answer. Lisa waits a couple of seconds. Becka wipes a few more tears from her face.

“You aren’t responsible for what happened.” Lisa hears the words come from her lips and almost shakes her head. She knows how Becka feels—at least she has a very good idea. Experience gives you a clue on the grief life throws at others. She pushes the thought aside. then realizes she knows the answer to the next question. She asks it anyway. “What makes you feel guilt over something you didn’t do?”

She shrugs. Her hands are now between her knees, clasped together like a little girl who has lost her favorite doll. “I was there. We had been drinking. We were all underage. If we weren’t drinking, Dorian doesn’t die and Robert doesn’t kill himself. I participated in my best friend’s death. I might not have held her head under the water, but I didn’t say no to drinking at the river and I didn’t stop her when I saw she was drinking way too much. H tried to intervene, but Robert got mad. I keep thinking if I would have just taken Dorian’s hand and said ‘no more alcohol for you, young lady,’ then she would still be alive and Robert would be too and life would have been hunky dory.”

Lisa looks down at the yellow notepad in her lap. The next question holds her attention. She goes to ask it, then stops. Her heart sinks into her stomach. Hazy memories of friends who have passed on, either by natural causes, accident or their own hands, surface. She can still see their faces, still hear their voices, still see things they did. She feels the tears form in her eyes. 

You don’t want to ask that question, Lisa.

I have to.

Oh come on. You know you don’t have to do anything.

I have to.

No one is holding a gun to your head … or holding your head under the water.

There is something in the voice that makes her sit up. She looks directly at Becka and she knows immediately Mr. Worrywort is there again. This time she feels the anger rise up faster than before. Or holding your head under the water … It’s a dig he couldn’t resist. The devil on her shoulder smirks. She wants to smirk back, but isn’t sure she can. The sadness tugs harder on her heart and she wants to cry, not for herself, but for her lost friends. She believes that is probably how Becka felt—feels—about her lost friends.

She hears a soft laugh. Mr. Worrywort is enjoying himself. She thinks her heart will explode if she holds this next question in. 

It’s best to talk, she thinks. One of the reasons so many people don’t come out of depression is they don’t think they can talk about things. 

She looks at Becka and feels the need to ask the question grow stronger, even as Mr. Worrywort laughs at her, believing she can’t, or won’t, ask it.

“Becka, did you ever think about suicide? Like Robert?”

She looks up from her hands and shakes her head from side to side. “No. Never.”

“Never?”

“Never. I’ve seen what it does to the people left behind. I can’t speak for other people, but for me, that’s not the solution to the problem. I’m not even sure the problem would be how I feel about what happened with Dorian and Robert. I think my sadness was a symptom of the problem. If you only treat the symptom without trying to pull the root from the ground, then it just keeps rolling. It’s a cycle. Dorian died. Robert killed himself because he never allowed himself to truly grieve. He blamed himself for her death just like I did and and just like H did when Robert died. If I would have committed suicide when Dorian died, what would that have done to H? Would that have sent him into a worse depression than he experienced, especially after Robert did that very thing? What about my parents or my baby sister? What would me doing that do to them? I’d much rather not think about those possibilities.”

Lisa tilts her head. Mr. Worryrwort’s laughter ceases. She can feel him sulking. She knows now that he is there, in her, just as Jeddy said earlier. But for now, Becka has quieted him. She looks down at the last question on the notepad and smiles.

“Your remembrance ceremony for Dorian and Robert was beautiful. Your idea?”

“Oh no. That was all H’s. He is a viking at heart and thought a funeral pyre would be a fitting tribute to his best friend. You know, send him out in a blaze of glory.”

Lisa nods. There is a smile on her face. She likes Becka and she can see why H would as well. She says, ?I’m very sorry for your loss,” and moves on to the next page in her notepad. 

To be continued …