When someone tells you to go to hell, have you ever wondered how long it would take to get there? Well, if you have, wonder no more. It takes a little less than six days.
I really don't know where to start. I feel like I've been cleaved in two and I don't know which one should write. It's been too long since either one of my halves has written.
Damian Blaise D'Avanti...the love of my life...the holder of my heart...the guardian of my soul...has been living in hell for the last six days. I have gone there with her. It took me almost six days to get to her. Physically, she looks almost as bad as she did in the hospital. And mentally...emotionally...I'm scared for her. It seems like it's taking every ounce of strength she has to keep all the pieces together.
Have you ever heard a mortally wounded animal cry? There is no other sound like it in the world. Haunting...eerie...the kind of sound that, once you've heard it, will invade your nightmares for the rest of your life...comes to you when you're awake, unbidden, and shakes your soul.
I woke up five nights ago, startled, when I heard that sound. I couldn't imagine where the noise was coming from. It wasn't very loud and I thought it was some poor animal in the woods. My heart went out to it. I listened intently for the sound again. If it were close enough, I would wake Damian up and maybe she could go find it and put it out of its misery. A little rash, perhaps...my thinking that it needed to be put out of its misery...but by the sound it was making, there was surely no chance of survival. Nothing...animal, human, plant...deserved to be in that much misery...suffer that much pain.
As I am prone to do on occasion, I make up stories in my mind. I envisioned the poor animal...alone and in pain...its cry a desperate call to its mate, perhaps a final pronouncement of its love...a request for one final touch...a plaintive goodbye. I heard the sound again, and slowly turned. The sound hadn't come from outside. The animal making that sound was lying next to me...sharing my bed. It was Damian.
My mind tried to convince me that I was mistaken. Humans don't make that kind of sound. But then I heard the sound again.
Fear gripped my heart. "What's wrong? Sweetheart...what's wrong?" I asked as I tried to shake her awake. Her skin was chilled and damp and her muscles were like stone. I turned the light on next to the bed and gasped as I saw her, laying on her side, curled into a tight ball with her eyes wide open. "Damian!"
Her eyes blinked and started to regain their focus. Her body slowly relaxed, then she sat up and asked in a confused voice, "What's wrong?"
"Are you okay?"
"Tired...I'm really tired."
"Were you having bad dreams, angel?"
"I'm just tired, Jules. That's all." Her head fell back on the pillow and she rolled onto her side, away from me.
I curled up behind her and held on to her as tightly as I could. Her breathing finally deepened and she slept the rest of the night. I know because I could not go back to sleep after hearing that sound.
She's been disappearing for hours upon hours into the woods. And when she comes back, she works for hours on some damn gazebo she's building at the back edge of the clearing behind the house. There's a small trench that runs from the outside electrical box to the gazebo. I hope to God that she doesn't kill herself fooling around with that electricity.
I had to go get her last night and ask her to please stop. It was close to midnight. She was down on the ground on one knee, hammering something. I told her she was going to wake up the neighbors. She looked up at me for a long time.
"I know we don't have any neighbors," I finally said. "Just...please. Come inside. I miss you."
She put the hammer down and stood, finally walking over to me and kissing the top of my head. We walked silently into the house.
It scares me that she isn't talking. Not that she's a big talker to begin with, but this has been different. She's...detached is the only word I can think of to describe it. And the thing that scares me the most is that the full body mask, which seems to so effortlessly fall into place, isn't there.
That mask...I've been quite astonished before at how easily she can slip it into place. In just a blink of my eyes, it's appeared. I'm sure I have one. I think we all do. It's our protection from the world. It's been Damian's protector for a very long time. But it's not here now, when it seems like she needs it the most.
I called my friend Ellen this morning while Damian was off in the woods. I think I've told you about her before. I needed to hear her simple words of wisdom. I know that right now, it's my turn to be strong. To let her go through what she needs to go through, because I know that it's the only way she will get through it. But it's so hard for me to do that. To step back and not try to fix things. And I know that when I do that, fix it, that I'm only putting a Band-aid on wounds that need to be exposed in order to heal. It's not really a fix at all. Sometimes, however, the rational part of me that knows these things is overcome by the emotional part of me that doesn't want her to hurt. So I call Ellen.
I had only said hello. How can she tell these things? "I...."
"Juliana, what's wrong? I can tell by your voice that something's wrong."
I really didn't know where to begin. "I'm failing miserably."
"Sometimes, we do. It's part of living life. And Juliana?"
"Would you mind telling me what you're failing so miserably at?"
Obviously, I didn't pick the best place to start. "I didn't say 'so,' did I?"
She laughed that wonderfully warm laugh that she has. "No, you didn't. I just know you, and you don't do anything halfway, so I figured that if you were failing miserably at something, there just had to be a 'so' in there somewhere."
I really didn't know whether to be insulted or pleased. I decided I didn't have the energy to take it as an insult. That would necessitate me spending energy on negative emotions and I really can't afford to do that right now. I need to save my energy for Damian.
"I don't know where to begin, Ellen."
"Begin at the beginning."
"Neither of us would live that long," I retorted.
Another laugh. "How's Damian?"
"She's what I'm failing miserably at."
"Tell me how."
So I did. I outlined the myriad ways that I was failing Damian. It really came down to one thing. She had been there for me and I was terrified that I wouldn't be there for her. Well, maybe two things. Seems I've got a little guilt about her shouldering the burden while I got myself together.
"Guilt, Juliana...do you know what the definition is, at least as you're using it?"
"Of course I do." I'm a writer. I know my words.
"And that would be?"
"Guilt is...." I stopped, not really knowing how to define it. Apparently, I don't know my words as well as I thought I did.
Her voice filled the silence. "Self-reproach for a supposed inadequacy or wrongdoing."
"Not how I would have put it."
"It always helps to know definitions."
I was silent.
"So how does the definition fit with your actions?"
"Well...." I hated this. Why did I call? Self-reproach. That was definitely there. Inadequacy. Oh, yeah. I felt wholly inadequate. Wrongdoing? Hmmm...maybe I needed to look up the definition of wrongdoing.
Ellen waited patiently for my answer.
"I don't like that word 'supposed.' There is nothing 'supposed' about my inadequacies."
"I didn't think you would." I could hear her take a breath. "Juliana...I've known you for how long?"
"A long time."
"These feelings...that's all that they are...just feelings. It doesn't make them facts...doesn't make them true. The feelings just are what they are. Only you have the power to make them true. And I don't think you can do that. I've never known you to be inadequate at anything, except for Math, maybe." There was a rustle on the other end of the phone and I heard a muffled, "Give me a minute, here," before she started speaking again. "And if you don't want to believe that, then accept your inadequacies as true, and do better. Either way, you want to be there for her, so just do it." Then she added gently, "I suspect if you asked Damian, she would tell you that she doesn't see any inadequacies in you at all."
She doesn't see any in me, really. Oh, she knows that I'm not perfect. That I make mistakes. That I have my little quirks. But me...who I am...it's always been enough for her. She's never made me think or feel any differently. It's my mind, my thoughts that are telling me these things.
"I get so scared sometimes, Ellen. What she's been through.... I...love her so much, and to see her in such pain. I get so angry at the world. At God. At myself. And I think...sometimes that we're never going to get to the other side of this. This pain...how much can she take? I...it's incomprehensible. When is she going to let it out?"
"Just be there, Juliana. She'll...you'll both make it through. We all deal with things in our own way. You're doing it and she's doing it. It's working out the way it's supposed to. Maybe not the way you'd like it to, but it is the way it's supposed to be."
It definitely wasn't the way I'd like it to be. Of course, the way I'd like it to be is impossible. "Thank you."
I...I've been staring at you again.
I hurt Jules again. Why can't I stop doing that? I swore that I would do everything in my power to never hurt her again and that's all I seem to do.
I wonder if it is ever possible for you to make up for the things you've done wrong in your life. For the hurt you've caused. For the pain you've inflicted. I don't think it is, really.
I quit writing. Even though I promised Jules that I would. I just quit. It's been eight days. I don't understand myself sometimes.
We were eating dinner last night when she finally asked me why I wasn't writing. I exploded. It wasn't right. I made her cry. Then I left and went into the woods. When I finally got back, she was sleeping in a chair in the den. I could tell that she'd been crying.
I want someone to tell me why I hurt her so I can stop. We haven't talked yet today. Not really. Just a little bit. We got up and had breakfast and she left to run some errands. It was very strained. We talked a little bit before she left. Those green eyes...they were so full of pain.
I was sitting in the den with Maya in my lap, looking out the window. I can't seem to really focus these days. At least not like I could. I can't stop the memories. I want to, but I can't.
I didn't even know she was coming towards me until I felt Maya start to squirm. Diego used to say that she had a happy butt. He'd giggle and point to that little nub she has for a tail and look at Jules and say, "Mami, look, Maya's got happy butt!" The dog's entire backside shakes when she's wagging that nub. There will never be moments like that in my life again. Never.
Jules came over and sat on the arm of the chair and ran her hand through my hair for several minutes before she spoke. I rested my head against her body. Even though it's been very tense, I can't help myself when she touches me. I crave it.
Sometimes, I so very much want to push Jules away. To not let her in. And it hurts so much when I do that. I can see that it hurts her. She doesn't understand. I don't think I understand why I do that. I know that eventually I will let her in. It's almost like I have to reach this certain threshold of pain before I can let her in. It doesn't make any sense to me. Wouldn't it just be easier if I let her in first, instead of going through the pain?
But that's not what I do. We've talked about it before. She thinks that it has to do with me being an orphan. That my first response is to reject people before I get rejected. Less chance of pain that way. I never believed that, at least until I noticed that Diego sometimes did the same thing. I'm not sure that I believe it now. It doesn't make sense. I guess I should know by now, though, that some things will never make sense and still be true.
"You know how I'm a journalist?"
"Yes." I know that's not what she wants to talk about. Sometimes, she starts conversations off like this to work her way into it.
"You'd make the assumption that I'd know my way around words pretty well, wouldn't you?"
"Sure, Jules. You write beautifully. I...I've told you that before, haven't I? I mean I've read all your articles and...."
"Yes, angel, you've told me. And thank you." I could hear her draw a breath and stop for a long second. "I...." She stopped again. "Can we please set some time aside to talk when I get back?"
Talk. I don't know what to say to her. I...I've been thinking about what Ed said...to talk to her, tell her about what happened. I think it's killing me not to. Then I think about all the pain she's had and how much better she looks now and how she seems to have dealt with some of it, and I don't want her to go through that again. She's said that she wants to know. Once she does know...that's something I can't undo. Does she really want to know, or is she saying that to me because that's what she thinks I need to hear?
There ought to be someone with some answers somewhere. I thought that's what God was for. For answers. At least that's what they taught me. I've never gotten any answers from God. The only person that's ever given me any answers has been Jules. I know I need to ask her the question....Do you really want to know? And I know I need to accept her answer and live with the consequences. I don't know if I have the courage to do that. And I'm not sure that the consequences, no matter what her answer is, won't be the same in the long run.
"I...." I almost refused. "When you get back, we'll talk."
So I'm sitting here, waiting for her to get back. I know what she'll say. She wants to know what's been going on with me and why I'm not talking to her about it. And why I... It doesn't matter. I could go on and on. And I'm going to ask her, "Do you really want to know?" She'll say yes. Then I'll have to tell her.
Every time I think of telling her, I see the look on her face when I told her that our boy was missing. And the look on her face when I turned and walked away from her on that road. And the look on her face when I woke up in the hospital and she answered my unasked question.
She doesn't deserve all that pain. I inflicted it upon her and I'm going to do it again. Someone should shoot me for that. I don't have the guts to do it myself.
I don't know if I've said it before, but I truly am astonished at the level of pain that she seems to be able to endure and still function. I was amazed, and not a little bit happy, to walk in and find her sitting at the computer, writing. I also got her agree to talk. We ate some lunch and she's finishing up something out in the yard and then we're going to sit and talk.
I'm nervous. I think I understand now what those soldiers talked about when they were preparing to go to battle when I was in the Gulf covering the war. I had spent some time with them during the air campaign. Each one of them handled it differently, but there were always the telltale clues. The little things that told the story. Blinking incessantly. A tapping foot. Fingers playing with a crucifix. Even the ones who thought they showed no sign of the stress had those little clues. You'd have to look very hard sometimes, but they were present.
Ronnie was a pilot of one of those Grumman A-6E Intruders. He and I were talking one day about the waiting. I asked him if it bothered him. He was one of those cocky fly-boys. You know the type, too damn good-looking for his own good, or yours, for that matter. Bluster and bravado. It's not that he wasn't good at what he did. I had heard he was one of the best. But he knew it and he needed everyone else to know it. And when it was acknowledged by someone, then there was the false modesty.
That doesn't do much for me. It screams of insecurity. That's one of the things that I love about Damian. There is no false modesty. She acknowledges what she does well with a simple thank you. She doesn't fish for compliments. And if you're effusive in your praise, she gets very embarrassed. Tell her once and that's enough.
It's like the pictures she's been taking. Remember that camera I got for her? She's been taking it with her into the woods. I picked up four rolls of film this morning that she had dropped off to be developed. They are good. Very good. She's used black and white film. I sat in the car for a very long time after I picked them up and just stared at them. The pictures are melancholic. I wonder what it is that strikes her, speaks to her.
I want to be everything for her, and I know I can't be. I couldn't before all this happened, and I certainly can't be now. That's one of those giant pitfalls I've found in human relationships and a certain set-up for failure and disappointment. As much as we romanticize the perfect person coming into our lives and sweeping us off our feet and living happily ever after, it doesn't happen.
I'm not saying that we can't find true love and happiness. I have found it with Damian, and I do believe that we will be happy again. I am happy in certain ways right now, but there's a lot that overshadows the happiness right now. It's just that there is no perfection out there. For me to expect that Damian, who is not perfect, can meet every single one of my needs that I have, is incredibly unfair of me and puts an impossible burden on her. It's something that I realized when I used to drag her with me to this little bar on Decatur Street where all the reporters hung out.
I was with colleagues. We swapped stories, talked about reporting, argued the philosophy and ethics of it, all those things that happen when people who are in the same profession get together. I enjoyed it immensely. Not something I would do every night, but to go out once every few weeks or so...it was a lot of fun. I expected Damian to have as much fun as I did. Why did I have that expectation? I think, what it really boils down to, is that she loved me therefore I assumed that what I found fun, she would. The illogical logic of love. Ain't it grand? It gets us in more trouble...well, me, at least, than I need. Life throws enough at me without my adding to it.
And she was so patient. She'd go and sit quietly while I had my fun. She knew a couple of the reporters from having been on the force so long. If you're a cop, you're bound to meet reporters. But it just wasn't the same for her as it was for me.
I remember us walking back to my apartment one night from the bar and I asked her if she had enjoyed herself.
That was certainly no ringing endorsement that fell on my ears. "Are you sure?"
She tried to stifle a yawn. "Well...yeah. I mean, I enjoy watching you talking to your friends, and some of the stories are good."
I looked at her. I mean really looked at her for what seemed to be the first time that night. She had been working details and putting in a lot of overtime to pay Harry Becnel. It was two o'clock in the morning. And she had to be up in four hours to go back to work. She was exhausted. Why hadn't she told me she was going to stay home?
"Damian...you do realize that it's all right if you say no when I ask you to go with me, don't you?"
I received a very tired "alien on the front lawn look" in return, along with an, "Uh...of course."
No, she doesn't understand that, I thought. How best to put this? "You do realize that I'm not Dionne Warwick, right?"
I swore I heard a screeching sound as she stopped and stared. If the look she was giving me was any indication, apparently, just behind me, an entire fleet of flying saucers were landing and aliens were swarming out. "Jules, you...she's a singer. Why on earth would I get you confused with Dionne Warwick? You can't sing. And you don't even look anything like her."
Okay. Not exactly the best metaphor I could choose. Of course, the fact that I had consumed more than my fair share of beer that night probably didn't help with the metaphor selection. It's something about those draft beers and the bubbles. But I did find out she thinks I can't sing. I can't, but that wasn't the point.
"I'm not psychic."
She leaned closer to me and looked in my eyes. "How much did you have to drink tonight?"
Apparently not enough, I thought. "A few beers...doesn't matter. You know those infomercials...."
"Are you drunk?"
"No, I'm not drunk." I was getting irritated, but I wasn't drunk. I had also forgotten that she rarely watches television unless it's the History Channel or Discovery or something like that. She must have never seen those late night Psychic Friends Network infomercials. My beautifully planned metaphor which I was going to use to segue into the "you need to tell me what it is that you want and need because I can't read your mind and it's not fair to either of us because that will lead to misunderstandings and eventually resentment and the destruction of our relationship" talk was dying an excruciating death.
"You're missing the point, Damian."
"There's a point to this?"
"You really haven't seen those infomercials with the Psychic Friends Network and Dionne Warwick where you call up and for two dollars they predict your future?" I couldn't believe that she wasn't getting what I was trying to say. I also couldn't believe that she hadn't seen those damn infomercials. They were everywhere.
"You're drunk," she stated authoritatively, then she put her finger up in front of my face like she was giving me a field sobriety test. "Follow my finger with your eyes."
I slapped her hand away. "Damian, I'm not drunk. I just wanted to tell you that if you want or need something, you have to tell me...that I can't read your mind."
'Then why didn't you just say that?"
I had no answer for that. Sometimes, I can be too clever for my own good. I still think she thought I was drunk. She asked me the next morning how my hangover was.
Anyway, back to Ronnie. Sorry about the tangent. Ronnie said that the waiting didn't bother him. But the little telltale clues told me it did. He didn't even realize that he had this little ritual. There was a particular chair he would sit in while waiting for the briefing. He would become irrationally angry if someone was in that chair. I pointed it out to him. He told me I was wrong, so the next day, I sat in his chair. I proved my point.
He never would talk to me about what he felt. About why that chair was so important to him. But lots of others did. They talked about the nervousness, the not knowing if today was going to be the day one of those chemical bombs were delivered via missile, the games that your mind can play with you if you let it. It was always the not knowing that was the worst, they said. Not knowing what was coming next.
But you get in a car and you don't know if someone's going to hit you on the way to work, I countered. Not the same, they said. You know, even if you don't think about it, that there's a chance of some idiot running into you. Sure, you're surprised when it happens, and angry, but it's different. There's no five hundred pound bomb falling out of the sky and landing on your head. I thought I knew what they were talking about.
I think I really know now. This talk....I feel like I'm preparing for a battle. I'm nervous, as you can probably tell by the way I've rattled on. I don't dread it, though. I've made a decision that I'm not going to use any metaphors. I'm not going to try to be clever or to get Damian to see things my way. I'm just going to say what I feel and get to the point. And I'll keep doing that until she's ready to talk, no matter how long it takes, and I'll keep praying that I find the strength to see her through it. She deserves no less. We deserve no less.
If I were to die today and have a chance to meet my maker if that is what happens, the first thing I'd do is thank her for Damian. The joy that she has brought me is indescribable. She freed my heart and soul and I hadn't even known that they were bound. We've certainly had our problems, but part of that joy that I've experienced...that she's given to me...has been in overcoming those problems. She says that I have taught her many things. I think I have taught her some things, but she has taught me so much more. The joy has been in our discovery of one another. And since I don't think that we're static beings, there will always be something to discover about her.
A part of her died with Diego and that part...I can never fill that hole that's left there. Just like she can't do that for me. I think that's part of where my anxiety and feelings of inadequacy are coming from. I'm expecting myself to do the impossible...to take Diego's place. And I can't do that. I really don't want to do that, either, even if it were possible. I hope that one day, she'll be able to stop blaming herself for what happened and remember all the good things about our life with Diego. I don't think she's allowed herself to do that, and I don't know if she can until she deals with what's happened.
It's so fucking ironic.
There are no choices in some things, really. You love someone. You hold things back from them, it kills the love. You show it all to them, it can kill the love. A three letter word...can. It makes all the difference in the world. With 'can' in there, at least you have a shot.
Of course, nobody tells you that to have that shot, you've got to basically flay yourself. Nor is there any guarantee that if you do that, the love won't die anyway.
Jules and I talked yesterday. I was avoiding it...her...the whole talking thing. I had been outside, finishing up a couple of things on the gazebo. I came in, jumped in the shower, then threw on some shorts and a t-shirt and went into the den. She was curled up in one corner of the couch, waiting for me. She sits with her feet tucked up under her sometimes. I have no idea how she does that. It makes my legs go to sleep. There were two glasses of iced tea sitting on the coffee table.
I sat down on the opposite end of the couch and reached for one of the glasses. "Thanks."
I heard her take a breath in to speak. "When you're angry, and you don't let it out...talk about it, you don't kiss me."
My hand stopped midway in its move to bring the ice tea glass to my lips. Her voice was so soft. I didn't want to look in her eyes. I knew I would see pain there. Pain I caused.
"When you withdraw, you don't hold my hand or reach out and touch me, just because," she continued. "It's the little details that get lost."
I put my iced tea down. My jaw clenched. Part of me...no, all of me wanted to scream at her that it wasn't true, that I didn't do that, that it was a lie. Who the hell was she to tell me that? I tried to muster up enough energy to express the outrage I knew I should be feeling at her lies. Who the hell was she, indeed?
She's everything to me. That's who she is. And that gives her certain rights. Whether she wants them or not. Whether I like it or not.
I stared at a droplet of water that ran down the glass. "I'm...sorry."
"What are you sorry for?"
"I'm not." She sighed. "I...it's not a bad thing, Damian. That's just one of the ways I can tell that things are bothering you. I know that some of this...well, it's not ever going to go away. There are times...."
Her voice trailed off on a wistful note. I waited.
"I can't...won't lose you."
Her words were delivered so fiercely.
"And it terrifies me that I will."
Her voice cracked. I couldn't look at her.
"You won't." I finally looked into her eyes. What I saw made my stomach turn. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"I want to...very much. Please, Damian...don't...I knew I was going to make a mess of this."
"You're not. I made a mess of everything." I could feel the anger boiling inside of me. "It's only right that you don't believe me. I haven't ever been able to...."
"Don't hand me that crap, Damian D'Avanti." Jules exploded off the couch. "The only thing you've done..ever done...is love me for all that you're worth. You haven't made a mess of anything. You did not cause what happened nor can you fix it!"
She stood there glaring at me.
"I...." I can't fix it. I can't give her our little boy back.
"Why won't you believe me? Why won't you believe that this is not your fault?"
"It's got to be my fault."
I stood up and yelled back. "I don't know. It just is."
A look of relief came over her face. I must have looked as confused as I felt. I became even more confused as her expression softened with a smile.
"You yelled at me. That's wonderful."
That didn't make it any clearer for me.
"Angel...I've watched you in hell for the last week. You...the yelling...it means you're coming back...coming back to me."
"Has it been that bad for you, Jules? I didn't mean for it to be." My eyes dropped. "I...couldn't find my way out. I can't stop remembering." I could feel something wet moving down my cheeks. I had a vague notion that I might be crying. I felt so tired.
Her hand reached out and she tugged on mine as she sat back on the sofa. "Come on...put your head in my lap."
I did as she requested. One of her hands moved through my hair and she scratched my scalp lightly as her other hand brushed away my tears. I guess I was crying.
"I get scared, sometimes, angel." Her voice was so soft. "And I feel so...helpless. All I want to do is make it all better for you. And I know I can't do that. And then I get angry. You know how my mind is." She laughed gently. "You've been...you always will be exactly what the doctor ordered for me to make it through this life. I want to be that for you."
"You are, Juliana." I looked at her, my eyes pleading with her to believe it.
"Then talk to me, Damian. Tell me what's going on with you."
"I...don't know what's happening."
She looked at me, her eyes searching mine. It seemed to last forever. I finally had to look away. Her hand kept up its steady motion through my hair as she laid her other arm across my chest.
"I don't know if I know, either. But I do have some ideas. Can I share them with you?"
I felt my body tense. Jules' ideas have some way of usually being the truth. All I wanted to do was fall asleep. Fall asleep and when I woke up, have it all be okay. "Sure, baby."
"You remember the garbage can story?"
The garbage can story. I hated that one. It was true, but I still hated it. She must've been talking to Ellen again. Her friend, Ellen, has these really weird little stories about number lines and garbage cans and God knows what else that she uses to explain life. I don't know where Ellen gets this stuff from, but either she's got a really warped mind or some strange friends.
The garbage can story is pretty simple. Ellen's theory is that your mind is like a garbage can. If you don't clear out all the garbage that's in there every once in a while, it ferments and rots and boils over, creating an ugly, stinking mess.
I groaned slightly. "Uh huh."
"You need to talk about it, Damian." She hesitated. "If not with me, then with someone else."
My eyes closed. I knew that was coming. "I...don't want to."
"I know. But that doesn't mean that you don't need to."
Talking about this with someone else was not an option. Talking about it with Jules was not the option I wanted. I didn't want any options, really. I just wanted to lock it all away and not think about it.
"I scared you, didn't I? In Progreso...." I knew I had. I guess I just wanted to hear her say it.
"Everything scared me in Progreso."
"It scared me, too." Fear. Bone-deep fear. That I would not get our boy back. That Jules would somehow get involved and be killed. That I was going over an edge from which there would be no return. That, no matter what, things would never be the same for Jules and I.
"I...I didn't know that then. I mean, it's silly of me not to think you were scared, but...you were so...focused. I didn't...think. I was so caught up in...I didn't even stop to consider....I'm sorry. I know that I was...withdrawn. I...." She closed her eyes and I could see that she was remembering. I hate that she remembers. Tears started to fall.
"I feel so guilty sometimes. I failed you. Just like I'm failing you now. I want to be strong for you and then I go and do something stupid like this and start crying and...." She swiped at the tears.
"Honey...slow down. I...I don't need you to be anything for me other than what you are." I feel so helpless when she cries. I never know what to say.
"I sent you off, alone. You faced those animals by yourself. I should have been there. I should have been able to do something. Help you...help Diego."
She felt guilty. How can she feel guilty about that? "You would have just gotten killed, Jules."
"I remember feeling so relieved when I got that call from Joe Duncan and he said they were on their way in. I didn't want you to be alone." She sniffled. "Do you think I'm a coward for not going with you?"
"A coward? Never. And I'd have never let you come with me. I would have been too worried about you and...I wouldn't have let you do that."
"I...wonder, sometimes, if I could ever kill anyone. What's it like...to kill someone?"
What a question. "It's...." How do you explain that? "I...." You'd think it would be easy for me to describe it since I have so much experience at it. "You don't think about doing it." At least I didn't. "Vicente...he was trying to kill me...the others. I reacted. You just want to survive. It's...automatic."
"What did it feel like?"
"Nothing, really. There wasn't any time for that. He...there were shots and then I was shooting. An adrenaline rush...fight or flight, I suppose...but no feeling. No big realization that I was about to take someone's life. I was...it was training. No thought. Just reaction."
"And the others? Was it the same?"
"No." Jules silently watched me. "I wanted to kill them."
She swallowed as I waited for her response. We were going to places I didn't want to go to. "I knew that. I wanted you to."
We looked at each other for a long time. My answers weren't surprising her and I guess hers weren't really surprising me, either. "I...part of me knew that the only chance I had was to permanently disable each of them." Permanently disable. I wonder if that's in the thesaurus as a substitute for kill.
I closed my eyes. I'm back up in that mangrove tree, on the northern edge of the compound. I can smell the swamp below me. The pungent scent of the leaves. Feel the slight breeze that's rustling through the treetops. My finger is stroking the trigger guard on the Windrunner as I use the scope to survey the compound. It was almost funny. I bought an American-made sniper rifle in Mexico on the black market at five times what it cost in the U.S. Maybe it's just me that thinks that's ironic. "There was no pleasure in it."
"I didn't think there would be." My eyes opened and she was looking at me with such a gentle expression. There was love there.
"I wanted it to feel good."
"You are so gentle and sweet." Her hand moved over my heart. "Inside here...the gentlest person I know."
How can she say that? We were just talking about me murdering people. I dumbly stared up at her.
"When we first met, I thought you were cold....hard. And then, when I started to get to know you, I realized that, in so many ways, you have this...vulnerability...that makes it so necessary for you to protect yourself. You don't even kill bugs, Damian. You catch them and put them outside. You could never take pleasure in killing a human being."
"I wanted revenge, Jules. Don't you understand? Part of me pulled the trigger knowing that I was executing those bastards for taking Diego."
"If there had been any other way, would you have taken it?"
"I don't know." I answered her honestly. I really don't know how much was my need for revenge and how much of it had to do with the fact that I was doing it alone.
Her shoulders shrugged a little. "If it had really been about revenge, at least to me, you'd know the answer."
Her hand had moved down and she was rubbing my belly. Her touch felt so good. I thought about what she had said. All of it. How has she dealt with losing her whole world? I...I don't know how she's done it...is still doing it. "You're wrong, you know. You've never failed me. You are the strongest person I know, Jules." I reached up and covered her heart with my hand. "In there...where it counts."
We talked yesterday. It was the first time in a while that we've talked about things. It felt really good. We didn't talk about everything. I don't think that will ever happen in one sitting. Knowing Damian, I'm not sure it would happen in twelve. But it was a start.
She's coming back, slowly but surely. I actually got her to yell at me, which I consider a huge plus. It's like she's been almost devoid of emotion. Anger's a start. For her, it's always the start. Don't get me wrong. Things are far from perfect. Yesterday afternoon, when we were talking, Damian didn't even realize that she was crying the entire time. Well, not exactly crying. Her eyes leaked.
We talked about some things that we hadn't talked about before. I didn't try to force anything. With Damian, trying to force something is never prudent. I've done it on occasion, when I've gotten angry or impatient, but it usually doesn't work out well. We'd eventually work it out, but it took so much longer than it really needed to and it was always accompanied by unnecessary pain. Life gives us enough pain. Why create extra?
I didn't even bring up the papers she received from St. Vincent's. When I read them, my initial reaction was to burn them and then pretend like they never existed. I guess I've always had, in the back of my mind, the notion that what Damian's mother did - leaving her at St. Vincent's - well, that she did it because she knew in her heart that it would be best for Damian. I've read enough books and articles on adoption and orphans and whatever else I could get my hands on. When the authors wrote about the birth mothers, they always talked about what a sacrifice it had been, the ultimate in love for their child. How they had put their child's interests ahead of their own; how unselfish their choice was.
Apparently no one ever interviewed Damian's mother. She doesn't deserve the title of mother. That Damian was infinitely better off at the home is not a question in my mind any more. I still wish it had been different for her. That she had a family. A father. A mother. Siblings. People who loved her. But not that sick bitch.
I sat down in my sunroom with a cup of coffee. I felt a mild flutter of excitement before I started to go through the papers. I just knew that this was going to be good; that it was going to answer some questions for Damian and perhaps even put her mind at ease about some things. Maybe it would even help her get out of this hell she was in.
I took a long sip of coffee and started to arrange the papers. I'm anal retentive about things like that. If something is dated, I put it in date order to read it. You always have to start at the beginning. I had a pounding headache two minutes later as I stared at the newly organized papers.
Most of the papers were forms from St. Vincent's. What struck me initially was that there were two sets of, I guess you could call them admission papers. I looked at the dates. The first was dated September 30, 1965, three days after she was born. The second set was dated March 18, 1967. There were inoculation records, a letter from a lawyer, written in November of 1966, and a letter from Damian's mother to Damian. It had no date on it.
I looked at the two sets of admission papers, the logical part of my mind drawing conclusions that the emotional part of my mind didn't like at all. Hated, in fact. Absolutely hated. The emotional part of me threw out an idea and I grabbed onto it. That must be the explanation, I thought. Her mother was going to give her up and then changed her mind. She tried to make a go of it and then realized that she couldn't care for Damian, that Damian would be better off with people who could care for her, even if they didn't love Damian as much as her mother had, and so she decided to make the ultimate sacrifice. My headache eased slightly.
Of course, as my mind is sometimes prone to do, the little theory that made me feel better ignored the fact that some of those medical records were on St. Vincent forms and were dated before the second set of releases. My emotional mind happily supplied an answer for that. It was a long time ago. St. Vincent's probably had a medical clinic for the poor. After all, my research had shown me that St. Vincent's had been closely associated with St. Elizabeth's Home for Destitute Mothers. It wasn't such a far leap in logic to assume that, with all this charity the Catholic church was providing, a medical clinic would be part of it. At least Damian's mother had seen to it that she received medical care. My headache eased even further.
So why was my stomach still churning? I already had it neatly figured out and I hadn't even read the papers.
It's that part of me that lives in reality that was making my stomach churn. I can't stand it, sometimes. It would be so much easier to put whatever construction I wanted to see on things and go on my merry way. Life would be grand, wouldn't it? Grand, until it stood up and slapped me, hard, across the face.
I read those papers four times before I allowed myself to become enraged. I'm not one that wants to hit something or throw things when I become angry. I wanted to kick the dog. I wanted to go to Damian's mother's grave and pull the bones out of the tomb and break every one of them. I wanted to smash every potted plant in my sunroom, break the windows and toss the cat through them. I had to get out of there.
I was so grateful that Damian was outside, way in the back, working on that damn gazebo. She would have taken one look at me and known something was wrong. I stuck my head out the back door and called to her that I was running to the grocery store, closing the door before she even finished her, "Okay, be careful, sweetheart." I needed to go to the grocery, anyway. It wasn't like I was lying.
I bought lots of canned goods. Not that we use them a lot. I prefer fresh. It was the sound they made when I slammed them into the steel grocery basket. It was so satisfying. When we were unpacking the groceries and putting them away, Damian commented on the dents in the cans. I lied. I told her that there was a sale on dented cans. She looked at me suspiciously, one of those things she does with a raised eyebrow. She knows that I can't pass up a shoe sale, but the sudden fondness for a canned food sale was new to her.
"In case we have a hurricane," I said, matter of fact. "You never know." I wasn't even remotely ready to talk about this with her.
Then I started to panic. What if Damian asks about the papers? I almost laughed. She barely even talks to me about it. She's not going to ask. The panic started to subside. But she is going to notice that I haven't tried talking to her about it. I always try to talk to her about it. Then, maybe, she'll start asking questions. The panic returned.
That night, we barbequed. Not really a big surprise. It's Damian and that open flame thing she has going. She's actually wonderful at it. She makes incredible things you'd never expect to have on a barbeque. Put her in front of a stove, and she freezes. Not so in front of that monstrosity she built. She came up with this marinade for fresh asparagus that is simply divine. She uses balsamic vinegar and honey. God, it's good. My mouth waters just thinking about it. When we barbeque, I'm in charge of the salad. I think that's because it's prepared indoors.
I was comfortably ensconced on a chair out on the deck, watching her as she kept an eye on the pork tenderloin. After we had put the groceries way, she had gone back outside, giving me some more time to think. Not that it had helped any. My mind battled itself as to what the best course of action was. There was no indication in the letter that she had read as to what documents, exactly, St. Vincent's had forwarded. It would be so easy to just destroy a few of them and she would be none the wiser. But that wasn't right.
I had come to no decisions by barbecue time, so I poured myself a glass of wine and went outside where I proceeded to talk...at length...randomly...about everything under the sun. I get like that sometimes. Babbling, it's called. I prefer to think of it as free association of thought through speech.
Blue eyes caught mine during dinner. "Jules, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. Nothing's wrong. Why do you ask that?" I was taking particular pleasure in cutting my pork, imagining it to be Damian's mother's throat I was slicing. I guess tossing those cans hadn't gotten rid of all the anger.
"It's...there's...." She put her utensils down and sat back in her chair and studied me.
My mind begged, please don't ask about those papers!
"You're not sticking to a topic."
"I didn't know there was a topic." This is good, I thought. I can work with this. I'd already lied to her and I hated doing that.
"Well, there's not, but...never mind. I'm really tired. It's me. I'm sorry."
I didn't say anything. I felt so bad. She really does know me so well. And what amazes me is that, with all she's going through right now, she still has the capacity to notice little things about me. On the other hand, I don't know why I'm surprised, since she's so thorough and complete in her loving, just like she is when she does anything else she cares about. It can be so intense at times.
You would think that my mind would have enough to deal with given Damian and these damn papers. But no. I can't be content with that. I had to throw out two topics during my free association of thought through speech that occurred right up until we went to bed. I'm really surprised that she doesn't think I'm a lunatic. The first topic, that of having some people over on a Sunday afternoon, wasn't particularly upsetting to Damian. But the second topic...I really need to work on my babbling.
We were laying in bed. I was actually trying to write some poetry. Damian was reading. I have no idea where the thought came from nor why I blurted it out.
"I want to go to the cemetery." We hadn't been there since Diego's memorial service.
All of that...if my family hadn't been here, I don't know what I would have done. Joe Duncan brought his body back for us to bury. Sometimes, I still can't believe I buried my son. That's not supposed to happen. He was supposed to bury me. Bury Damian. Then his kids would bury him. That's what's supposed to happen.
Damian was in the ICU, barely alive. The doctors termed her condition critical. Any asshole could see that. What I wanted to know was that she would live. They wouldn't give me an answer to that question.
I don't think I've ever seen my father so distressed as when we went into one of those little rooms right off the ICU waiting room that they have for doctors to speak privately with patients' families. My mother...God bless both of them for putting up with me. I was beyond crazy.
My mother ushered me to a chair. My father stood guard by the door. I don't know what he was guarding against. "Juliana, we need to talk about funeral arrangements for Diego."
"I want to wait for Damian to get better."
"Your father's gotten the papers from the house. He's talked to Lakelawn."
Had she not heard me? I slammed my fist down on the small table. There was a plastic holder full of tri-fold brochures advertising the hospital. It seemed to me to be incredibly pointless. We were already here, in the hospital. Why would I want to read about it? The holder tipped over as my fist connected with the table. "I will not do this without Damian. She deserves a chance to say good bye to our son!"
My mother paused.
"Don't you dare tell me she's not going to make it! I can't do this without her."
"That's not what I was going to say, Juliana. Damian's unconscious. The doctors can't tell us when she's going to regain consciousness. And even if she were conscious, honey, she's in no condition to leave the hospital. We can't put this off much longer."
I wanted to put it off forever.
My dad finally spoke. "The funeral...can be private. We can hold a memorial service later, when Damian's able to attend."
Those words...when Damian's able to attend...were balm to my heart. Daddy said she would attend. That meant he thought she would live. It would be so.
We had a private funeral. My parents, my brothers and sisters and their spouses. Me. No Damian. It was a small, quiet service. I never felt so alone...so empty in my entire life.
We haven't been back to the cemetery since the memorial service. I think I'm ready to go. Damian is not. But she will go with me, because that's how she is. It doesn't matter what it does to her. If that's what I need, she'll do it. I can't do this without her. I can't feel that utter desolation again when I stand in front of his grave. If she's there, I know I won't.
I can be a selfish bitch.Belief 9
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