A wall of yellow-white stretched out before me while a cacophony of a world gone wild played a symphony of iron drums, on clouds of steel that screamed out thunder made of rusted nails that scraped a blackboard of confusion. All around me was the whirlwind of inevitability – the final sum of things.
I held the picture so hard that I felt my knuckles strain, felt my fingertips driving into one another. Even had I brought it to my face, I don’t know that I would have been able to see it over the glare. I was being swallowed slowly by a miasma of forced circumstance.
I could feel my heart vibrating – pumping like cannon fire. My lungs squeezed and heaved, and I couldn’t tell at times if I were breathing or not. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter. Part of me wanted to run from that revelation as sure as I wanted to flee the raging torrent that barreled toward me – unrelenting. Ravenous. Unforgiving.
I almost let a tear form when I realized that I was not so different.
I spent days mulling over what to do. Like the appearance of strange advertisements on the sites I frequent online, I saw connections and told myself they weren’t there.
Unless they are.
I thought about heading back but thought better of it. I wasn’t a private detective, I didn’t need to return the scene of the crime. Even if I did, what would I say? “Hello, I’m…uh…well, actually you don’t know me…and so, yeah. Hey, do you recall about a week ago…”
I’d driven half the distance there on three occasions before I finally realized I didn’t have the stones to do it. I tried to find more information, but news has a strange way of not staying at the forefront of a news cycle when it isn’t big enough…dark enough…violent enough. I found little more than what I’d seen when it’d first been reported.
Boy returned home. He’d been missing for over a year. Person who had him had run a red light, hit a fire hydrant. He’d fled the scene, so the cops went to his house. He’d made it inside and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Cops found the boy in his basement. I couldn’t imagine what he must have looked like. What came to mine was these big, vacant eyes – a catatonic expression…like a body whose soul was now missing.
Bad shit happens to good people. Sometimes bad shit happens to bad people, too. Maybe it happens with the same frequency. Maybe we just hear about it in different quantities.
I still had dreams. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, my stomach tightened so hard that it was cramping, my teeth clenched so hard that my jaw ached.
James had been right, to a degree. Things hadn’t been going well. Not after…
Don’t say her name…
I didn’t know enough about drugs to try getting them from somewhere that I shouldn’t have. It was my own fault. Bad shit happens to good people. Sometimes bad shit just happens to people like me…not good…not bad…just… …just… whatever…
I stayed home most nights after that. I didn’t have the stomach to put up with James. We’d been friends by default for too long, and actual friends almost never. Like that last two drunk people left in a bar that no one goes to anymore. We just kept talking. Maybe it was because we didn’t know who else to talk to. Maybe we just didn’t know how to talk to anyone else. Maybe we’d given up trying.
With a half a fifth of cheap whiskey in my stomach, I’d thought about that night. Half-pissed at myself for being stupid. Half-pissed at myself for being such a pussy. Fully pissed at myself for just being myself. The night turned into a blur of empty glasses and failed attempts to fill in the emptiness with the right song from the right artist or band. As if the right set of words or notes could make it better – a bandaid for a wounded soul.
When I woke up, my head was pounding. My skin felt tight and ill-fitting around my forehead. My right hand was cut but there was too much dried blood to tell where the wound was.
Two ibuprofen and a hot shower later, I put a bandaid on my left eyebrow and put gauze on my hand. I tracked down the part of the wall that I must have punched but couldn’t figure out what I’d hit with my head.
Two days later I got a call from the police department.