Perfect words float around in my head, words that accurately describe what I feel, what I see, what I yearn for. Yet, none of these words seem to spill out on paper. If there was a way for someone to see into my mind, they might finally understand. I don’t need someone to care, all I really need is for someone to listen. So, I suppose I have to try again. I have to take these complicated encryptions in my mind, and try to decode them. I have to try to find a way to make others understand.
Oh God, I was so dizzy. Why can’t they open a window? I was tipsy, my vision was blurring, and the air around me was nothing but smoke. I need to get out of here. Why the am I even here? I felt two arms wrap around my waist. Oh, right. That’s why. I turned around and plastered a smile on my face. Standing behind me was my boyfriend, Alex. He grinned at me. “What’s up princess? Where have you been?” I rolled my eyes at him.
“Same place I’ve been for the past hour, against this wall. It’s fantastic, really. It’s such a nice shade of beige, and not to mention comfortable. It’s a wonder I haven’t seen you though, considering this is your house and all.” He chuckled and nudged me playfully with his arm.
“Well, what can I say?” he said with a sarcastic shrug. “I have important duties to fulfill. After all, I am the host; I have to make sure all of my guests are having a good time.”
I shot him a scowl. “Yeah,” I started, in a tone that was snarkier than I had intended, “but I’m not having fun, and you’d think that I’d be the one that matters.”
He raised one of his eyebrows. “Listen babe, don’t be mad. Just try to stick it out for me. Just get through this one night and everything will be perfect. As soon as this is over, we can
have a day all to ourselves. Just us. I promise.” He kissed me on the cheek, and with that he was gone.
I surveyed the room. Bodies were stumbling over each other left and right. A girl was throwing up in a trash can in the corner, one friend holding her fiery red hair, the other holding her unfinished drink. A typical New Years Eve scene. Wow, Alex has some really killer friends. Thank God I at least know how to handle my alcohol.
Throughout the next two hours, I casually wandered around the gigantic house, mostly people watching and mingling with some social acquaintances. I would catch a glimpse of my boyfriend here and there, but our interaction was limited. I kept replaying his words in my head to keep me from getting annoyed. Just get through one night. Everything will be perfect. I checked my phone, 11:48 pm. I figured I should probably find Alex so that we could share the stereotypical ‘New Years Kiss’, after all this would be our second one together. I found one of Alex’s friends by the bar. “Hey Joe, have you seen Alex?” I questioned.
“Yeah, last time I saw him he was pretty sloshed. The jackass couldn’t even stand up straight,” he laughed, “I think he headed up to his room to take a breather.” I rolled my eyes; there was no way in hell that I wanted to play mom tonight. I thanked Joe, and reluctantly made my way up the stairs to Alex’s bedroom. When I reached his door I looked up to the ceiling and mentally prepared myself for being care taker. Just get through one night. Everything will be perfect.
I slowly opened the door. The color instantly drained from my face. The alcohol I had been sipping on throughout the night suddenly caught up with me and my head started spinning. He looked back at the door startled. Her head peered around his body. The fiery red hair unmistakable. He quickly jumped off of her and stumbled over to where I was standing.
“Oh my God,” he sputtered, “this, it’s not… it’s not what it looks like…” He reached out to touch my shoulder.
“Don’t.” I glared at him. His eyes fell and his shoulders dropped.
“Listen,” he started, “I know you’re mad, but I wa-”
“No,” I interrupted him.
“Jessica, I can explai-”
“Just shut the fuck up. I don’t even want to hear it. After all you have duties to fulfill, right? Your job as host is to make sure everyone is having a good time, right? Well, let me tell you something Alex. I can guarantee that she is sure as hell having a splendid time.” I lowered my voice, took a breath, and calmed my tone. “You succeeded; I hope your night was spectacular. Happy New Year,” I said gently. With that, I turned on my heels and hurried out of the house, tears forming in my eyes. Two years of a relationship: wasted. Just get through one night. Everything will be perfect.
I pulled into my driveway and immediately my heart sank, the company car wasn’t in the garage. I had expected to run inside, fall into my mother’s arms, and have her console me. I was so embarrassed and frustrated. How could he do that to me? My body was shaking uncontrollably and tears were stinging in my eyes, but I wasn’t going to let them fall down my face. I couldn’t. I wasn’t a child after all. I looked up to the ceiling, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. I opened the door and turned on the light. I immediately jumped back. Sitting at the table was my mother, beer bottles surrounding her. Something is not right. “Mom? Are you okay? Where’s the car?” I questioned. She slowly lifted her head to look at me, her eyes piercing into me. Her head lolled from side to side in a drunken stupor.
“Its gone,” she said coldly.
“What? What are you talking about?” I was growing frantic. What was wrong with her? I had never seen her like this.
“I crashed it” she spat.
“What? Crashed what?”
“The car. I crashed the car and they gave me a DUI. I lost my job.” She threw an empty beer bottle at the wall. It shattered and the pieces fell to the floor. I stood in silence, unable to move. She raised her head again to look at me, a look I will never forget. She slowly got up, and without a word went up to her room.
I was shocked. My head started spinning and I slowly slid down the wall onto the floor. What are we going to do without an income? She’s a single mother; she can’t support both of us. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t blink, and my eyes glazed over as the reality set in. I couldn’t speak; I tried to make sounds but nothing came out. My expression was blank. I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. I glanced at the shattered pieces of glass on the floor. An accurate resemblance to the way I felt. My body was numb, my vision was blurry, and my mind was foggy. I was thinking in static. I had never known what a breaking point felt like, until now. Out of nowhere, bits and pieces of the night suddenly rushed back at me, crowding my thoughts, making me head feel as if it were going to explode. The pain was excruciating. Just get through one more night. Everything will be perfect.
And then I threw up.
I sat outside on my aunt’s front porch and looked into the vast nothingness. That day, I was supposed to job shadow her at the hospital where she worked as a nurse. I looked at my phone; it was close to four in the morning. I hadn’t been able to sleep that night. Although, I had gotten used to it, I hadn’t been able to sleep for the past three months. I took a deep breath of the chilly April air and looked up at the dark opaque sky; there were no stars out tonight. I thought back to New Years Day, when this all began. In fact, I had thought about that day pretty frequently. My life hadn’t been the same since. It’s funny really, how everything can change in the blink of an eye. It’s a scary thought that one day the world around you is perfect, and the next day it lies in shambles at your feet. I was no longer the same person I was a few short months ago. The girl that once looked at life through a rose-colored glass was gone. Nowadays when I looked in the mirror I couldn’t even recognize my reflection. My once round and cheery face was now gaunt and sickly. My eyes had developed permanent bags. I looked like a walking zombie. It made me sick to know what I had become. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to clear my head.
I thought of my mother. I couldn’t even call her my mother anymore, she was a stranger. Everything she used to be, she wasn’t now. We had been so close; she was my hero and my role model. I told her everything, trusting that she would make it better. We would talk for hours, never running out of things to say. Though now, words had become scarce between us. Not that it mattered if I wanted to speak to her, she was never around anymore. She would leave for days, not telling me where she was going, or if she was ever coming back. Life with her was Russian roulette.
I thought of my father. Though my parents had divorced when I was two, I was lucky enough to have him play a large role in my life. I saw him and my mother both equally throughout the week. He and my mother were civil, and I loved the new family he had created with my stepmother and sister. He was such a strong man, such an amazing man. A perfect father, a perfect husband. Although lately, I hadn’t talked to him either. He had no idea what was going on; my mother forbid me to tell him about her DUI and her job loss. She was too embarrassed to ask for help. She thought that he would think less of her, judge her, and think of her as a failure. I knew this wasn’t true; my dad was not that kind of man. Still, I abided by my mother’s wishes, and in fear up slipping up, I spoke to him only when necessary. This created tension between the two of us and we were fighting more frequently than ever before. My grades in school plummeted because I had lost the will to do anything. My main concern was about how my mother and I were going to survive, not whether or not I was going to get my homework done. Of course, my father didn’t understand that, he didn’t understand how his straight A daughter was barely maintaining Cs. He couldn’t. He didn’t know. He tried to be calm and understanding with me, but I could still see the disappointment in his eyes. I suppose that was what hurt me the most, I hated disappointing him. It broke my heart; he was the smartest man I had ever known and he was always supportive and understanding. He always knew what to do. I wanted to tell him that I was still here. I was still the daughter that was proud of, the daughter that he loved so dearly, but I just needed help. Instead, I did nothing. I would slink back into my room, shut the door and choke back tears until I fell asleep.
I looked back at my phone, it was almost six. I took one last breath, headed back inside, and waited for my aunt to finish getting ready.
I was sitting in the ICU. My aunt was sitting to the right of me, filling out paperwork for a patient we had just visited. “The poor thing probably won’t make it another night. It’s a shame though, his wife and daughter never came to visit him,” she stated.
“What? Why not?” I replied.
“They don’t live in Ohio; he was only in this accident two days ago. They’re probably on their way, but I’m worried they may not make it in time.”
“Oh,” I looked down at the floor and shrugged, I didn’t want to think about that. My phone suddenly buzzed in my pocket, I looked down at it. Alex. Great, I don’t have time for this right now. He had been trying to contact me since January; I had yet to speak to him. My stomach suddenly felt nauseas. “Hey, do you mind if I run to the restroom?” I asked my aunt. I didn’t want to be in this depressing place. Why did I agree to job shadow here?
“Sure, but drop this outside of Mr. Levine’s room,” she said as she handed me the file she had been filling out. I grabbed the file and casually strolled down the hallway. It smells like chemicals and disease in here. I reached Mr. Levine’s room and gently placed the file in the clear box outside the door. I snuck a glance inside the room. The man lying on the bed was no more than 50 years of age. Tubes snaked their way in and out of his body. He was being held captive by the machines that kept him alive. His eyes were open, but blank. Just by looking at him I knew that he felt scared and alone. My eyes started watering, but I blinked back the tears. Why do bad things happen to good people? He was only trying to support his family. He was only… Suddenly a tap on my shoulder pulled me back down to reality. I spun around and saw my aunt standing there. “Are you okay sweetie? I know seeing this is rough, but I’m afraid there is nothing left that we can do…” she trailed off, sadly shaking her head. “Anyway, his family just arrived, I filled them in, so I would assume they will be down shortly,” she gestured to end of the hallway. “Let us give them some time.” She headed back to the desk. I stayed where I was, my feet unable to move.
I quietly observed the family of two as they made their way down the hallway. One was a young girl, around my age. Her face was pale, and her eyes were dark and filled with fear. Her long blonde hair was disheveled and unkempt, yet you could still see her astonishing beauty. I looked at the other woman. The bags under her eyes consumed her face. You could tell she hadn’t slept since she had heard the news. There were permanent tear stains on her cheeks. She was frantically mumbling words under her breath, words which I assumed to be prayers. The older woman slowly peeked into the room. Tears immediately started pouring down her face as a result of the scene in front of her. “What did he do to deserve this?” she violently sobbed. “He was such a good man, and You did this to him,” she said looking towards the sky. She threw her hands up to her face. “I need a moment,” she exclaim as she hurried down the hall. The young girl, I noticed, had not said a word. She was staring blankly into oblivion. I can’t watch this anymore. I’m intruding on these poor people. I slowly started heading back to the desk.
“Hey,” the girl spoke. I was startled. Is she talking to me? What do I do? Did she say anything at all? Am I hearing things? “Hey, I’m Megan,” she said again.
“Oh, hi…” I trailed off. What am I supposed to say? What’s up? I can’t say that, I already know what’s up. What do I d-
“C-could you possibly come in there with me?” she pointed into the room. I stopped in my tracks. I looked at her with dumbfounded disbelief, frantically searching my brain for the words to decline. She picked up on my horror. “I mean, I know I don’t know you at all and you don’t know me,” she started, “but I don’t want to do this alone… I mean, I can’t.” I looked at the floor. Don’t do it. It doesn’t have to deal with you. This is not your place. Just politely decline, she’ll understand. I looked up to find her examining my face intently. I stared into her eyes. They were so dark, so cold, so tired; not a single glimmer of hope remained. They were the eyes of someone who was lost, someone who had their world violently ripped away. They were exactly like mine. Without thinking, I silently nodded. To this day, I will never really understand why I said yes to her. I feel that it might be because she reminded me of myself.
As I followed her into the room, my mind started to race. What the hell are you doing? Do you know what you’ve gotten yourself into? What are you even going to help her with? She “can’t do this alone”? You’ve been “doing this alone” for the past three months. Where was your support system? I stood awkwardly in the corner of the room, not knowing where to go. Megan gently tiptoed over to the side of her father’s bed. He looked up at her. For the first time, I saw his eyes light up. She smiled at him and sat down in a chair next to his bed. She placed her hand on top of his. “Hi dad…” she trailed off. I knew she was having trouble finding the right words to say. She took a deep breath, “I’m so sorry… I just… I’m sorry that mom isn’t here right now. Please don’t be mad at her, you don’t understand, she doesn’t know how to cope… But I’m here; I’m going to be strong for the both of us.” My stomach dropped. “I love you dad,” her voice squeaked. My eyes began to form tears again, but I blinked them back. How is she doing that? How is she being so strong? I would be crumpled on the floor like a child… Megan stood up and turned to me, blushing as if embarrassed. I studied her face intently. She looked so old, so tired and worn. She’s too young to have to go through this. I took a step towards her, and on instinct opened my arms. What are you doing? She fell into them, wordlessly, and the tears started pouring down her face. No words were exchanged between us, no words needed to be said. I held her in my arms, her tears soaking the scrubs that I was wearing. My mind flashed through the past few months. I remembered how terrible they were for me, the horrible pain I had endured. Though suddenly, none of it mattered. All I could think about was how fortunate I was that I still had two healthy parents, and how amazingly strong the girl in my arms was. For the first time in months, I let the tears fall. We stood together like that for what seemed like an eternity, neither of us wanting to let go.
The next four hours were a blur, though I never left Megan’s side. I couldn’t. She needed me more than words could express. Sadly, her father died that day. There was nothing left that could be done for him. I knew that Megan and her mother would never be the same. I knew that for the rest of their lives, they would see his image in their heads every time they closed their eyes. Honestly, the pain never stops. Sure, it becomes numb, and it lessens, but as soon as you find that old picture, as soon as you hear that old song, you feel that familiar sting, and you remember. As much as it sucks, that’s life, but no one should have to go through it alone. I vowed to myself that day that I was going to make a difference in my life. I vowed that I was going to make my number one priority keeping the people around me happy. I told myself that I was going to be strong for both me and my mother, and that I was going to find a way to make our life whole again. I realized that no matter how bad my fortune was that there was always going to be someone out there who had it worse than me, and that I should be thankful. As Cormac McCarthy once wrote in No Country for Old Men, “You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.”
Two months later I was sitting on my couch, my feet kicked up on the armrest. I had just gotten off the phone with Megan. Ever since the day in the hospital, we had been inseparable. Even though she lived a few hours away from me, we made sure to stay in contact every day. We helped each other through the hard times, and slowly for the both of us things seemed to be getting better. I could safely say that she was one of the best friends I had ever had, and I knew we would share many more years together. I checked the time: 4:17 pm. My mother would be home soon. My stomach was turning with anticipation, and I was feeling nauseas. Today was the big day. Today was the day my mother found out if she had a reliable job. I heard the garage door open and my heart began to race. I looked down to find that my knuckles had turned white from grasping my cell phone so hard. I heard the car door slam and the hurried click of heels as she approached the door. In that moment, time stood still. A million thoughts swam around in my head. Suddenly, the door swung open, and my mom’s face peered around the opening. Her expression was blank, and her mouth was pulled in a tight line. Oh no… she’s worked so hard… Slowly, that blank expression turned into a grin, a grin that spread across her entire face, a grin that I had not seen in a while. And I knew. I immediately leapt off the couch and flung myself into her arms. I wrapped my arms around her, squeezing her tightly, tears forming in my eyes. “We’re going to be okay,” she whispered in my ear. Finally. At that moment, I felt an immense weight being lifted from my body: a sign of a new beginning. And all I could do was smile.