“I got this one, you can get the next” John cheerfully offered as he pulled out his wallet. “I take it next time you want to hit up somewhere expensive” Zach joked. Lunch hangouts had been the new norm for John. His friend Zach had really been there for him through all of the tragedy. Though it was more often a burden than a help, any more John preferred to be alone. Nevertheless, John appreciated the thought..
As John got back home, he could barely keep his eyes open. Any sort of social interaction had become so draining these past several months. He dragged himself up the stairs to the bedroom and flopped on the bed face down welcoming sleep, the only comfort he felt any more. He was jostled awake by the sounds of a struggle in the next room. He lifted his head and panic and confusion set in as he didn’t recognize anything around him. He leapt to his feet and rushed to leave but as searched for the front door he heard the crying of a small child, as if she were in agony. Curiosity and worry compelled him to turn his head to see through the open doorway. His eyes rested on an elderly couple lying in the floor. The man bleeding from what appeared to be a stab wound and the woman had a large gash on her forehead. “they must be the kids grandparents” John thought. He felt of his pockets for a phone to call for help but his searching hands found nothing. “Shut up!” He heard a deep voice yell from around the corner. A man in ratty jeans and a black hoodie appeared from around the corner aiming a gun at the girl as he aggressively stepped toward her. John ran to protect the child, but the gunman heard his steps as he raced down the hall and quickly turned the gun toward John. A loud boom came as a flash of light danced off the barrel of the gun. John felt the hot metal rip through his left shoulder, but he pushes forward and knocks the shooter off of his feet. “Run!” John cried to the little girl as he tried to pry the gun from the killers’ hand. As John miraculously secured the gun, the hooded man surged to his feet and ran out the door in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
As John remembered the little girl fear overwhelmed him. “Is she okay? Did he find her?” He wondered as he tried to stand. His vision was beginning to fade, and his cloths were soaked in his own blood. Every step he took felt heavier than the last. As he approached the front door, he saw the small, pink stuffed giraffe the little girl had been holding. It was lying on the front porch. His mind raced as to what this meant. “was she taken? Did she drop it as she fled?” He questioned. Suddenly he felt a jolt as something hard and heavy met the back of his head and he dropped to the ground.
“I’m losing it” John thought as he opened his eyes to see his bedroom, just as it was the night before. He looked at the clock, it read 9:30 am. It was Saturday, and that was about the time Saras favorite show would come on. John didn’t care for it very much, but he would always watch it with her. He loved how she would scoot up close to him as she rested her head against his chest as she sat and watched.
John stood up from bed, his head pounded and seared with pain with each beat of his heart. He downed a couple of asprin and proceeded to get dressed. As he reached to take his shirt off his left shoulder had a sharp pain that stopped him in his tracks. “Guess that explains the weird dream” he thought, deciding to stay in yesterdays cloths.
The empty house, though silent echoed the pain of memories that would never be. John turned on the tv to try to drown out the screams of brokenness inside himself. He clenched a pillow as he found Sara’s show. He fixed his eyes to the screen through his tears. The routine helped him somehow, and between his sobs he could capture brief flashes of a sense that it was just another Saturday, that Sara was sitting in his arm with a big smile on her face, watching her favorite show.
A commercial break started as John began to calm “Tonight. Home invasion turned fatal in the Pembrook area as an elderly couple were found stabbed to death in their home. Police are still on the lookout for their grandchild. If you have seen her please…”
John was in utter disbelief as he watched the images fly across the screen. That was the little girl, those were the people he had seen last night. A sick, sinking feeling filled his stomach as he questioned the reality of it all and the idea that he let down yet another family. “Its not possible” he decided. Still, he needed to talk to someone, but the only one he ever really felt safe talking to was gone..
As the weekend passed John was slowly able to put his “dream” out of his mind. Though the gaping hole left by his own loss never subsided. He began visit Kate and Sara’s graves everyday after work now. He would talk to them as if they were still here until silence would break him and he’d inevitably end up pounding his fists against the dirt and releasing a cry of anguish in the air. It didn’t solve anything, but it did make him feel better, even if only a little and for a fleeting moment. In fact, his only goal these days was just to make find those fleeting little moments where his agony was quenched ever so slightly. He avoided people now more than ever, it took every bit of focus he had to keep his pain under control and any distraction from a well meaning friend was breathtakingly painful and the exhaustion of keeping up appearances took days to recover from. He didn’t really know why he pretended to be okay anyway.. maybe it was to protect the people he cared about from worry? Maybe its because deep down he believed that if they knew his constant misery, he would be too much of a downer to love. Empathy seems to have a limit with people. Maybe it was safer to pretend, that way he could at least continue to feel like he’s worth something to somebody, to keep believing he’s worth being loved..
When he would return home, it was usually the same routine, eat – usually something unhealthy, sit in front of the tv for far too long, finally lie down in bed and fight back bittersweet memories until finally falling asleep.
Work was different now than it was before the attack, it used to be fun, he would joke around with co-workers, there was a sense that he was doing something important, he was providing, he was building, he was a part of something. Now it was just a place he went every day and fought to keep pushing forward. Everything was so difficult now, from mailing an envelope to researching a client account. He longed for rest, for a recovery that would never come. From the time he arrived he counted the minutes until he could leave. Every second there felt like an eternity. It was like placing a hand on a hot stove and being forced to rest it there for hours on end. His mind simmered as his body ached. Panic would inevitably fill his chest as he would imagine that this is what the rest of his life would be.
As Friday came around John began to fear for the weekend ahead, if he didn’t find some sort of joy in it then Monday would come all too soon and then he’d be trapped again. “I can’t handle another week” He thought.
“Happy Friday!” Melanie shouted. She worked in the office next to Johns, she was always so bubbly and happy. John admired that in her, but today it just hurt to hear those words that he had longed for since Monday. “Happy Friday!” John cheered back with a smile and a fist raised in victory.
“Happy Friday? What’s happy about it?” He thought to himself. “I’ll just sit in anguish for a couple of days and then be back here Monday to try to push through another week. Sure, it’s a break I need, but the cycle will never stop” he continued.
As the day passed on, he wondered what the purpose was of what he was doing. “What am I working for?” He wondered as his pain turned to numbness. He was cold inside now. Anything should have been a relief over what he was feeling for so long, but it wasn’t... it was just a different kind of cruelty.
Five o’clock came and he slowly drug himself to his car. That same old white Honda that had brought him first comfort, then the pain of memories, now meant nothing at all. He began to make his way to the cemetery to visit Kate and Sara one last time. As he pulled up to the graveyard he gazed at the horizon and pondered on the emptiness of it all. A year ago it would have been unsettling to John, but now it feels more like home than his own house. There was something about that gravesite that was comforting to John. Kate and Sara’s graves sat directly beneath the branches of a large Southern Live Oak. The foliage hung down off the limbs and seemed to melt from the grey fall sky. The crisp, chilled wind and misty rain licked Johns face as he watched the leaves dance in the light of the lamp post. It was soothing. Finally, the outside world began to match how he felt inside and there was an strange comfort to that. As he sat there, John began to doze as he caught a surprising moment of peace.
He was jostled awake by the sound of crashing plates. “what the..” John was lying upstairs in his bedroom. “No!” He heard a familiar voice shriek. John shot to his feet, completely disoriented. He quickly shot out the door and turned to run down the steps. He was bet by a towering man dressed in black forcing a woman up the stairs as she fought for her life.
“Kate?!” John uttered in disbelief…