Tuesday, 22 September 2015

House.

There are too many things wrong with her. If she were a house, she'd have structural damage. She'd be riddled with termites and her roof would be caving in. She'd have electrical damage and no running water, there'd be irreparable fire damage in the kitchen and the bathroom would be hollowed out. There'd be a hole in the middle of the floor in the master bedroom and a colony of rabid rats living in the linen closet on the second floor. The staircase would be missing steps and the wood would be so weak from the termites that putting any pressure on it would cause it to crumble into dust.

There'd be pee stains in the living room from that time a group of homeless junkies squatted there, and all the windows would be broken. The front door would be hanging off its hinges and the back door would be kicked in. The walls would be littered with holes and there'd be piles of rotten garbage and dead bugs all over what remained of the floors.

Now tell me, if you saw that house, would you think, gee, let me spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours of time and energy fixing that up, or would you be a sane person and say, they need to tear that place down.

Things that are damaged beyond repair should be thrown away or destroyed. That applies to people, too.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Clarity.

For a brief, fleeting moment this morning, she saw herself. Or at least what she thinks is herself. What everyone else claims to see.

She bent over to put on her tights and was struck by the way her ribcage juts out. She was mesmerised by how her concave stomach folds over itself and disappears into her ribs. By how her hipbones hold out her underwear, creating a little peekaboo pocket of air between the peaks.

She saw how sick she looks. How miserable she looks. How dead she looks.

She straightened up.

And saw her thighs. Her fucking fat, disgusting thighs. There's a thigh gap there now -- one she never dreamed possible -- but who the fuck cares? It means nothing when your legs are still sticks of rancid butter, melting in the summer sun.

She saw the parasitic flesh clinging to the underside of her arms. It jiggles when she  moves it. It waves all on its own.

It's fucking repulsive.

She saw all her flaws, amplified by a million.

No matter which way she looks at it, she is repulsive. Too big or too small. She is not baby bear's porridge. She is never just right.

Back when she was a real girl with a whole and healed brain, she'd ask her class that. She'd use it to gauge their understanding of the concept she'd just taught. Who thought it was too hard? Who thought it was too easy? Who thought it was baby bear's porridge?

They'd giggle like it was the funniest thing in the world. Every time.

She misses that.
She misses them.
She misses teaching.
She misses having a brain that worked.

She misses the girl she once was.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Misery.

Every day is the same. She has nothing to look forward to. The things she once enjoyed no longer hold any appeal. She hates getting out of bed in the mornings [afternoons] because each day is just another expanse of hours she no longer knows how to fill. There is no joy in her life. Sure she can smile and laugh on the surface, but that's as far as it goes. She is dead underneath.

She can't concentrate long enough to read. Before she can reach the end of page one the words dance before her eyes, rearranging themselves to spell out the constant chorus singing inside her head. Hypocrite, hypocrite, you're a hypocrite.

She can't sit still long enough to watch TV or watch a movie.

She workouts constantly in an effort to lower the volume of the noise inside her head, but it does little in way of relief.

She sees her friends and speaks to them every day, and she can pull it together for those brief hours and pretend to be a real girl with a whole and healed brain, but it does nothing to quell the storm inside her.

She can leave the house and go places and be normal but she's not normal and all this pretending to be a fully functional human is exhausting. She is exhausted all the time, but she can't even sleep.

She loves her dogs and she loves playing with them, but even that no longer helps. She does it for them. She does it because it's not their fault that their owner is a fucking lazy fat sack of shit.

She loves her mom and as far as her mom knows she is doing better, but she's not. She's not doing better. She's not doing okay. She is not okay at all.

She doesn't want this life.
She doesn't want her life.
She doesn't want life at all.

The closest she gets to happiness is when she steps on the scales each morning. She counts her ribs and rolls her fingers down the marbles of her spine before dragging the entire weight of her to the bathroom to measure her sins. She has three scales, lined up like soldiers. Judge, jury, executioner. Ultimately it doesn't matter what the number says. It's never low enough. Never. Even when it says she's smaller, the relief is incredibly short lived. Not three seconds go by before the tapeworm starts replicating inside her head. It could be lower it should be lower why isn't it lower why aren't you smaller you fucking fat sack of shit you should be better than this.

How is she meant to fix herself when she doesn't understand what is broken. How is she meant to fix herself when she wasn't whole to begin with. How is she meant to fix herself when the problem is rooted deep within her soul. The problem is fundamentally who she is. All of her is broken. She was born with missing pieces. She doesn't work. She is defective. Return to sender. Refunds are available on faulty stock. We're so sorry we sent you this shitty imitation of a real girl with a whole and healed brain. Please accept this refund along with a complementary set of steak knives, valued at $89.99.

She doesn't care about the past. The memories don't matter. The thoughts don't matter. The flashbacks don't matter. It happened and she let it and so crying about it now is self indulgent and sluttish and pathetic. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter and she doesn't matter. She doesn't she doesn't she doesn't.

She doesn't want this life. If she could, she would donate it to someone in need.

Although

She is an organ donor. She wonders if her undernourished elastic heart would be of any benefit to a person clinging to the final strings tethering them to life. They can have it. They can have all of it. All her organs. All of her.

After all

She lost herself a long time ago.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Wavering.

[A kinda-sequel to Patterns In Behavior.
Minor Trigger Warning.

Thank you so much for reading.

Stay safe xo]

******
Wavering.

I enter the room slowly.
Carefully.
I try not to breathe at all.

The receptionist smiles at me. Speaks to me. Invades my personal bubble of space with her kind eyes. They're on me, those eyes. I smile back and pretend I can't feel them tracking me as I cross the room towards the chairs.

I stop in front of the second chair. The one between the mustard coloured chair and the black couch.
My chair.
My place.
I release my breath, and sit.

For the last time.

I don't know how I know it will be the last time, but it will be. I know it will be. I knew it from the moment I opened my eyes from the sleep I did not get. I knew it as I pulled back the covers and planted my frozen toes onto the frozen tiles. I wavered for a moment, unable to connect my thoughts to my actions. Unable to collect my thoughts at all. I waited. Barely breathing. Barely moving.

My brain spluttered and turned the ignition.

I became unstuck.

But still, I knew.

I've spent too long tip-toeing along the edge to not know what it feels like to fall.





I think while I wait.
I do not count.
I do not vibrate.
I do not extrapolate and calculate and vindicate.

I sit still.
I think.

I go through the morning in my head, searching for the glitch.
I know there's a glitch, somewhere.
It's like a tiny worry bead, rolling around inside my head.
A pebble in my proverbial shoe.
Worry, worry, worry.

I cycle through the events three times over.
The glitch does not appear.

I cycle through again. Again. Again.
Worry, worry, worry.

Get up. Pee. Weigh in.

Worry, worry, worry.

Gulp water. Gulp meds. Brush teeth.

Worry, worry, worry.

Shower. Get dressed. Do hair.

Worry, worry, worry.

Hug dogs. Make bed. Leave.

Worry, worry, worry.

The bead bores a hole in my skull.
It makes it harder to think.



I hear my name. When I look up, he's standing in the doorway. His lips move, but only static fills the air. I blink and rise, surreptitiously shaking my head. Trying to shake the bead free.

It stays lodged firmly in place.

Worry, worry, worry.

I clutch my bag as I follow him down the corridor. His shape blurs before my eyes, slowing me down. I blink again and reach for the banister beside me. I need to stop, I think. Just for a moment.

Worry, worry, worry.

My hand slips along the chipped white paint. I stumble, unable to grasp it as I want to. As I need to. I steady myself before I hit the floor.

The bead rolls free.

Worry, worry, worry.

He turns around. My boots stomp loudly on the floorboards as I struggle to stay steady. The walls shudder. Shhhh, they whisper. Don't you know there are sick people here?

He says my name again.
The static grows louder.
The bead rolls down the back of my throat and onto my tongue.

The glitch wavers and shifts.



All at once, I know what it is.



I release my slick hold on the banister and stand there for moment, wavering. The paint chips cling to the salt on my palm. He says my name a third time. I look up to answer him and tumble forward.

Tumble, tumble, tumble.

The floorboards are not are hard as I expect them to be.

I'm still falling.

Falling, falling, falling.

I command my eyes to open.
They grant me a compromise.
I see him through a curtain of eyelashes.
He is gripping me.
Helping me lie down.

My eyes close.

Tumble, falling, worry.

My heart huffs and puffs up a very steep hill. It stutters and takes a moment to sit down.

Rest, I say gently. You've worked hard. Have a rest. It's okay. Have a rest.
My heart smiles gratefully.

The remaining strings connecting my thoughts to my actions are neatly snipped by an unseen pair of scissors.

I feel myself go limp.


Resting, worry, tumble.

Frantic fingers dance along my neck. Hands knock on the cage around my chest. An ear hovers above my lips, listening. Checking.

Checking, checking, checking.

My heart raises an eyebrow.
I shake my head.
No, old boy, I whisper. It's okay. I've got this one.
He smiles and settles down to his nap.

My ears register that the static is louder now. They lazily sift through the noise until it starts to clear. They pick up words. Phrases. Panic.

The glitch buzzes in my head.
Tell them, it hums. They deserve to know. Tell them.

When I open my mouth, the bead rolls free.

They pick it up and read it. A list winds around its fragile surface. The letters glisten in the morning light.

Tamazepam.
Paracetamol.
Ibuprofen.
Codeine.

Everything.


Everything.


The glitch continues to hum.

The memory plays in sepia, slowly and soundlessly. The edges crackle and waver. I see myself in the bathroom, standing in front of the mirror. There's a number staring up at me from the tiles. I try not to see it, but I know it's there. Taunting me. Haunting me. Flaunting my weaknesses for all the world to see.

ninety
three
pounds.


too 
big

too 
heavy
too
numb
too
dumb.

I ignore it and take my morning meds.
And my evening meds.
And all my meds.
I do not stop until all my meds are gone.


The glitch crackles again and disappears.

His face swims into focus. It's buried behind the two blank faces of the ones poking me and trying to coax my heart out of his slumber.

He looks scared.
I feel terrible.
I didn't mean it, I want to say. I don't even remember it. I didn't want to. I didn't.

I did.


I'm sorry.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.


I repeat it over and over again until one finally makes it across the broken strings and onto my lips.

"I'm sorry."

His face changes.
I wonder if he looks angry.
I wonder what he'll tell my mother.
I hope she'll be okay.
I hope she will forgive me.
I hope she'll understand.
I think, fleetingly, of my dogs.
I wish they were with me. I know they'd understand.

The room begins to darken.

I'm standing on the edge between awake and asleep. My heart checks with me one last time. I use my remaining strength to nod.

We both close our eyes.

I waver.

I fall.

***

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Jeans.

She went to America last year. She bought two pairs of jeans that could not fit her.

One was size zero.
The other was size double zero.

The monster inside her head said, that's the first target, lardass. It's all about the numbers. Zero is nothing. Zero is empty. Zero is what you are and so zero is what you must be.

After all. As we all know, in tennis, zero is love.



Today she tried on the size zero.

The monster inside her head screamed in protest. He breathed fire and burned her from the inside out. 

NO DON'T YOU FUCKING DARE YOU ARE TOO FUCKING FAT THEY WILL NOT FIT YOUR FAT ASS DON'T --

Her hands didn't listen. Traitorous bastards. They took off her sweat pants and tugged on the size zero.

Much like Cinderella's glass slipper, it fit.

The monster inside her head was shocked into silence.

For about three seconds.

You FAT FUCKING WHORE DO YOU THINK THIS IS GOOD ENOUGH?? IS THIS WHY YOU ATE SO MUCH TODAY?? BECAUSE YOU THINK YOU ARE DONE?? YOU SELF INDULGENT LITTLE SLUT. THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES FOR BREAKING THE RULES. 


The monster wasn't lying.
The monster never lies. 

Friday, 31 July 2015

Patterns in Behaviour

[Hey there. Hi. I missed you. 

Thank you all so much for all your tweets/texts/emails/instagrams. I heart you all so big. I'm still deep in the dark and twisty place, but I'm still here. I'm still doing that cumbersome breathing thing. You know how it goes. I am alive, I'm just playing dead.

Anyway.

Something amazing happened this week.

Yes, this week was awful and included the breakdown to end all breakdowns, and yes, I'm pretty certain that I lost 20kgs in the weight of the tears I shed alone, but despite all that, something amazing managed to fight its way through the depths of the dark and twisty place and find its way to the surface.


My brain decided to wake up for a few hours. 


Although that doesn't seem like much, for two or three glorious hours on Tuesday night, I almost felt like me. I almost felt bright and shiny. I almost felt whole and healed. And in that time, something magical happened.


I made words happen.


2999 words, to be exact. 


I don't know if they are good (they're not) and I don't know if they are worth sharing (they're absolutely not) and I don't know if they will bore the hell out of anyone unfortunate enough to read them (they absolutely will) but I am posting them here anyway. To let them go, in a sense. That used to help, once upon a time. Back when I was a real girl with a whole and healed brain.

So here I am, letting them go. I make no promises that they will stay let go, as the monsters that live inside my brain may come back and devour any evidence that these words were ever here. But for now I'd like to share them, if you'd like to read them.


I think that maybe this is something like progress.


As these words are from The Dark and Twisty Place, they come with a minor trigger warning. They aren't as twisty as some of the things I've shared in the past, but just in case...Stay safe.

As always, thank you so much for reading.

Xo


Ps...*Waves to M then hides in her hood forever*]




******

Patterns In Behaviour


She stops the car and turns to me.

“Good luck,” she says, smiling.

I turn away and stare out the window. My eyes linger on the sign on the door. I can’t read it from here, but I know what it says.
M W
Psychologist.

“Do you want me to come in with you?” she asks, following my line of sight.

I swallow the lump in my throat and pretend I can’t feel my heart pounding against my ribs. I blink, focusing.

“No thanks,” I say, unbuckling my seatbelt. “See you in an hour.”

I feel her eyes on me as I get out of the car. I grip the open car door and try to ignore the way the world dims and tilts on its axis. I pick up my bag and straighten up. I take a deep breath and count to three, waiting for the world to realign itself.
One.

Two.

Three.

The world tilts again, setting things the right way up.

I turn and try to force my lips into a smile as I push the door closed. I give her a tiny wave and take another deep breath. This time, I hold it.

Move, I command my legs.

My left leg trembles.

I said MOVE.

It reluctantly complies.

The right one follows suit.

After all. We are all in this together.



I count my steps as I walk up the stairs.

Or up the ramp.

The stairs are for days when I’m not okay.

The ramp is for days when I’m really not okay.



My steps fall into the rhythm of threes.

My heartbeat triples in speed.



I reach the screen door and release my breath.

It’s never bad, I tell myself, lingering.

It’s M.

You like M.

He’s not scary.


My hand is on the door handle.

Well.

My hand is inside the sleeve of my jumper and that is on the handle.

I grip it and push the open the door.

Only a few seconds have passed. Maybe three.

Probably three.

I step inside.



I smile at the receptionist as I go in through the second door. The one leading straight to the chairs.

I don’t like the other door. It gives me anxiety. It feels too exposed. Too bright. Too visible.

The receptionist says something to me.

I can’t hear it above the blood rushing in my ears.

I smile like I heard her.

I sit down on the second chair. The one between the mustard coloured chair and the black couch. This is my place. Once, someone was sitting in my seat when I arrived.

It made my anxiety increase exponentially.

I push my knees together and hug my bag against my chest. I clasp my hands and stare at the floor through the gap between my thighs.


I am the space between my thighs; the daylight shining through.

Smaller, smaller, smaller.


Sometimes I pull out my phone and check that my weekly novel hasn’t been swallowed into the abyss. During the school term, I put my phone on flight mode. I don’t want it to vibrate in his hand and declare that people want me to work but I’m too stupid to go.

Too stupid too pathetic too scared too dumb too young too awful.

Stupid ugly stupid.

It echoes in my head.

Stupid ugly stupid.



I count the nails in the floor boards.

They come in groups of four.

Well.

My eyes see them in groups of four.



My gaze travels across the room as I count the nails.

Four. Eight. Twelve. Sixteen. Twenty. Twenty-four.

I’m desperate to know how many are in the room all together. My brain has stumbled over the numbers many times.

Eight floorboards times four nails across three panels…

My numbers tumble into place, but my eyes want to check.

Just in case.



I hear my name.

He’s in the door way.

“Please come on through,” he says. Waiting. Watching. Waiting.

I swallow and rise.

I allow my hair to fall over my face, hiding me as best as it can.

I hook my bag over my shoulder and grip it like it’s a life jacket.

I don’t need a bag, really.

I bring it for the dots.

So I can count them.



I follow him through the first door.

The exposed door.

The much-too-bright door.



My heart is in my mouth.

I swallow firmly and send it back to the empty cavern inside my ribs.

I hear a hollow sound as it falls into place.



The room shifts around me.

I briefly close my eyes and pray he doesn’t turn around.

When did I last eat?

My numbers keep tumbling. They stack up neatly, grounding me and holding the room in place.

Yesterday. 

4pm. 

As always.



He enters the room.

I follow him, watching his steps as they skit along the rug.

I try not to dive for the chair before the edges of the room begin to fade and before my ears ring and everything turns a dark shade of chrome grey.



Once I practically collapsed into the chair.

I prayed he didn’t notice.



“Hey S,” he says gently, crossing the room to close the door. He sits down across from me.

My eyes stay trained on his shoes.

“How are you this week?”

“I’m okay,” I say, absently brushing the errant strands of hair from my eyes. “How are you?”

My voice is barely above a whisper. My unspoken words hang in the air.

I’m falling apart.

I’m always falling apart.

He hears them even though I didn’t say them.

He always does that. I don’t really know how.

Witchcraft, probably.



I unclip my hair claw from around my finger and use it to pinch the fat on my palms.

Who knew palms could be fat?

My left leg vibrates at a frequency only bats can hear.



“You don’t look okay,” he says, putting his notepad on his lap. “You look tired. Have you been sleeping?”

I allow myself a quick peek at him.

He looks at me like he sees me.

It makes me nervous.

I drop my gaze and shake my head.



His face swims before my eyes. It occurs to me that I don’t know what he looks like. Not really. I’m always too embarrassed and too ashamed and too disgusting and too repulsive to look at him.

He has brown hair, I think. Short. Neat.

His eyes are the colour of kindness.

That’s all I know.

Oh, and he has a stubbly face most weeks. I only noticed the week he shaved it. I like the stubble better, not that I’m allowed an opinion on the matter. It makes me trust him more. It makes him look older, in a good way. Older means he has been doing this for longer equals he knows a lot equals I can try to believe him if I want to.



If I want to.

Most of the time, I want to.



“You’ve had a pretty shitty week, huh?” he asks. As though he doesn’t know. As though I haven’t selfishly texted him a thousand times this week saying, I’m pathetic and I’m needy and I am not coping at all.


I nod.

He waits.

I offer no further information.

We do this dance every week. It’s silly, really. We both know how it ends.



“What’s been happening for you? What has you feeling anxious?”

What doesn’t??



I shift in my seat. Repeat the things he already knows. This event. That event. This thought. That thought.

Everything.

Everything.



He asks some questions I can’t answer. Not out loud, anyway. My words are stuck in my throat. They take a little while to warm up. If they ever do.

“I wrote you a novel,” I say, shifting again.

I hate this part.

I know it has to happen, but still.

I hate this part.

He smiles. He does this thing with his hands. It’s the same thing every time. I can’t describe it, but it makes me feel better. Patterns in behaviour.

“Do you mind if I read it?”

I like the way he asks.

I nod and pull my phone out of my bag. My hand quivers as I type in the pin and open the file.

“It’s really long/stupid/pointless/rambley/dumb/juvenile,” I say, handing it to him. I say the same things every week.

Patterns in behaviour.

“Thank you,” he says, taking it.

I silently wish for the floor to open up and hurl me into a pit of lava.

It would hurt less.



I am raw and exposed.

He is reading my thoughts. All of them.

It is like living without a skin.



I try not to remember what I wrote, but pieces flash in my mind. Phrases. Stories.

Moments.

Horrible, horrible moments.



I want to throw up, but there’s nothing in my stomach.



He says things sometimes. Asks questions. Sighs. Says right in a very definitive manner.

The sighs and the rights scare me. What do they mean??

This is boring.

Oh God, not this again.

Yeah yeah yeah, I get it. You hate yourself. Can we move on now, please?

Uhhh…Right. You’re insane, lady.



I try to make myself as small as possible.

You’d be smaller if you didn’t fucking eat so much.

The minutes tick by.

He occasionally writes things on his notepad.

Sometimes I want to cry.

Sometimes I do.



He hands me back my phone.

“Thank you,” he says as I take it from him. “Thank you for being so brave and honest.”

Brave? Honest?

You’re a weak willed piece of shit, you fucking attention seeking WHORE.



I drop my phone into my bag.

I try to remember the last time we made eye contact.

You’re so fucking rude. You don’t even look at him. You’re disgusting.

I force my eyes to meet his for less than a fraction of a second.

It makes me cringe.

How the fucking fuck can you look at him after what he just read?! After what you just told him?? How can you have the gall to meet his eyes after all that you’ve done??



I stare at the rope pendant he wears around his neck instead.

It’s a black circle. There are cream swirls spiralling through it. I wonder what it’s made of. Resin, maybe. I wonder why it is significant to him.

I like that he wears it every week.

Patterns in behaviour.



He asks me questions.

I try to answer them.

I give the wrong answers.

He tries to correct me.

I give the wrong answers again.



We talk in circles, the three of us.

I wonder if he hears the third voice as clearly as I do.



“It was my fault.”

“No it wasn’t.”

Yes it was, you fucking whore.

“I should have/could have/would have.”

“But you did/couldn’t/were.”

Excuses. You should have known better. You were taught better than that.

“I deserved it.”

“No you did not.”

Yes you fucking well did.

“I can’t/I don’t/I won’t/I might.”

“You can/You’ll learn/We’ll get you there/It’s okay.”



It’s okay.

It’s okay.

It’s okay.



His voice sticks in my head. The rise and fall. The words he emphasizes. The pauses. The times he is firm. The times he curses under his breath. The times he sounds deeply unimpressed. The times I fear he sounds bored.



Of course he’s fucking bored. I’m bored too. You’re boring. You’re exhausting. 

You’re worthless.

Worthless, worthless, worthless.



His words burn into my brain. I feel new pathways etching into my grey matter, ensuring they stay forever. They join all the other words that have hurt me. All the other words that my dumb/stupid/juvenile/horrible/petty/vindictive/manipulative brain has stored in the past.



They feel like a punch in the stomach and a kick in the teeth and steel pipe against my windpipe. All at once.



“What’s wrong with me, M?”

“What’s wrong with you? You’re highly traumatized. And yes I care and yes you can get better and yes I will help you but you have to hang in there with me. We’ll get you there. You just have to stay with me.”



Words hurt more than razors.

Kindness cuts deeper than hatred.

You don’t deserve kindness.

You don’t deserve help.

You aren’t worth it.

You aren’t good.

You aren’t 

worth

anything

at

all.



I cry.

I try not to, but I do.

I cry a lot.

Too much.

Fucking pathetic juvenile cry baby waste of space TRASH.



“I’m sorry.”

My voice is as broken as I feel.

“No no no,” he says. Rapid fire. Quick succession. “There’s no need to apologize.”

Oh yes there fucking is. Do you know how awkward this is for him? You should be ashamed of yourself. You disgust me. Shut the fuck UP you snivelling pile of putrid puke.

Hypocrite.

Hypocrite.

You’re a HYPOCRITE.



I work to calm down.

Now is not the time for fucking tears.


We talk.

I stare at the rug.

There are waves in the corners that look like threes.

It makes me feel safe.

Most of the dots are in groups of eight. Some of the dots are in groups of ten.

My eyes trace over every fibre.

Look at him, you ungrateful selfish bitch.

I make it as far as his shoes.

Brown. Lace up. Probably leather.



Brown shoes.

Black pendant.

Kind eyes.

These are my only identifiers.

And his voice.

Always his voice.

It’s in my head. It’s getting louder.

I think maybe that’s something like progress.

Bitch.



He doesn’t look at me as much as he used to.

I am eternally grateful for that.

He watches my hands.

My vibrating leg.

My fingers as they travel along the fault lines of my heart.

And your fat. How could he possibly miss that, you rancid lump of pure lard?



Sometimes he looks at me. I can feel his eyes on me.

Waiting.

Watching.

Showing concern.

God, concern hurts.

The only concern he has is that for some horrendous reason your heart is still beating. That has to stop. Sooner rather than later, lardass.



Once he made me look at him.

“You can get through this. You can get better.”

His words burned like fire.



They always do.



“I’m sorry if you felt betrayed by what I did. That was never my intention. I just had to keep you safe. I could see you were out of control and having a lot of trouble self-regulating the medication. You kept telling me you wouldn’t take any more and then you’d take more and I had to draw the line somewhere. I wasn’t trying to hurt you. I was trying to keep you alive. Honestly I see you getting closer and closer to the edge of acting on these thoughts and making that decision, and quite frankly, that scares the shit out of me.”

Yeah. Me too.



“I don’t like to see anyone end their life, especially not someone...Such as yourself. Part of that is for selfish reasons.”

Can’t you SEE what you are doing??

You’re asking him to have your death on his conscience and risk his career for you!

Can’t you see how fucking horrible you are?? How much you ruin fucking EVERYTHING?? 

He isn’t the selfish one.

YOU are the selfish one.

You STUPID FUCKING WHORE I HOPE YOU FUCKING DIE. 



Our session ends.

I’m still in pieces on the floor.

He patiently waits while I pull myself together.

He hands me some glue and tape and together we patch me up as best as we can.

He never lets me leave until all my pieces are back in place.



“Catch up next week?”

I take an unsteady breath in and wipe my eyes. Despite myself, I smile.

“Didn’t I say I’m never coming back?”

He stands up and walks over to his desk. “Yeah,” he says, flicking through his diary. “I just ignored that.”

My smile widens.

Just a little.



He hands me a card with a date and a time.

I mentally calculate the number of days between now and then and try not to panic.

I hate coming here. I do. I hate it so much.

But I hate leaving more.



I put the card in my wallet and stand up.

I feel better.

Not better.

But better.



Every single time.


Patterns in behaviour.



He walks me to the door.

“Listen, thank you for being so brave and honest today. I know you don’t see it, but you are making progress. You are. And I know you’re scared that I’ll abandon you or I’ll give up on you, but I promise you that I’m not going anywhere. I will not withdraw my support from you. I see you coming through my door every week, nervous as hell and wanting to run away, but you keep coming. Every week, you keep coming. As long as you keep coming through my door, there will always be a seat for you.”



My face starts to rain.

Dammit, M.

I manage a small smile.

He smiles back.

“You know you can text me any time you need to.”

I sniff and attempt to avoid raining onto his shoes.

“Thank you.”

Don’t you fucking DARE text him and bother him! He has a life and a family and friends and other clients and better things to do and a million other things that are way more important than anything your snivelling cry baby ass could ever have to say –

His voice cuts into the noise in my head as he walks me to the screen door.

His name is on the other side. I can’t read it from here, but I know it’s there.

M W

Psychologist.

“See you next week,” he says, opening the door for me.

I take a deep breath.

Hold it.

“Bye.” 

My voice is carried away by the passing breeze as I step outside.

Out of the safe zone.



I will my legs to move forward.

Count my steps as I go down the stairs.

I always use the stairs on the way out.

Always.

Patterns in behaviour.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

I am alive, I'm just playing dead.

Hey everyone. It’s been a while. I just wanted to drop in and let you all know I am still doing that cumbersome breathing thing. I’m so sorry that I have been largely absent from here and from all forms of social media. As you may remember from this post in March (wow, that’s super depressing), my brain has forgotten how to brain and I have forgotten how to function. 


As my brain has forgotten how to brain, I haven’t really been working on anything new. I’m sorry. I have ideas bouncing around in my head almost constantly, but the actual act of stringing together sentences that don’t suck more than usual is proving to be much too difficult. Really, if I’m being honest, the act of doing anything besides that breathing thing is proving to be much too difficult. And some days even that feels much too difficult.


I can’t say thank you enough to the people who are messaging me and checking on me. It honestly means so much to me. I know I don’t always reply right away and for that I am sorry. It’s not because I am ignoring you or because I don’t appreciate you asking me how I am doing or offering me support; it’s because some days that thing where you write words and say things is very literally impossible. I know that sounds weird, but my therapist explained it to me. It’s actually a scientific fact that when you’re in a period of high stress and anxiety, the cognitive part of your brain almost entirely shuts down and the back of your brain takes over. The back of your brain controls basic instincts such as escaping from danger and staying alive. So when you’re in that state of high stress and anxiety, it’s not uncommon to be incapable of doing things that should come automatically. It even shows up on an MRI. If you MRI the brain of a person who is in that state, most of the brain activity is happening in the basic survival instincts area. I am currently living in that state 24/7, so my brain has very literally forgotten how to brain. Which is unfortunate. I quite liked my brain, once. Not so much anymore.


Anyway.


I also wanted to say a huuuuuuuge thank you to #TeamGirlWithWords for making me feel like I can do that writing thing. I love love love your tweets about missing the Axton boys and wanting me to write something else. Again I don’t always respond right away, but it really makes me so happy and proud to see that people miss my words. Thank you, and for the record, I miss my words too. I hope they are not gone forever. I tell myself they’re not – I tell myself I’M not – but some days I’m not so sure. Hopefully I can put myself back together. I have a needle and a guitar string ready to use. I just need to remember where the stitches go.


One more thing before I retreat back into my usual state of oh hey, this wall is super interesting. Imma stare at it for the next eight hours. I would just like to clarify that my current state has NOTHING to do with Mars. Apparently some people thought that I had an extreme case of #PCD or something, which is not the case at all. These are problems I've had all my life. Once upon a time I thought I’d slain the dragon and rescued the princess, but it turns out it was one of those dragons where when you cut off one of its heads, two more grow back in its place. I didn’t know that when I merrily cut off all its heads, so now it has hundreds of heads and they all breathe fire and spit acid and continually remind me of memories I wish I didn't have. I no longer know how to battle it because all I had was a sword, and now my sword is useless. My sword just makes it worse. Most days I wish it would just eat me already, but I guess it’s more fun to play how many times can I make you cry before you just give up? So yeah. This is not Mars related in the slightest.


Anyway. I seem to have reached my daily functioning limit so it’s time to crawl back into the burrito and study the wall. It really is fascinating, you know.


Much love,

Whatever name you know me by. I have a few. Xo


Title lyrics: 'Northern Lights' by Thirty Seconds To Mars

Monday, 18 May 2015

Orange Sky: Part Fifty-Three

So.
Here we are.
84 days.
53 posts.
83,285 words.
This is the end I feel.

I'd just like to take a moment to say an enormous THANK YOU to everyone who has stuck by me and the Axton boys for the last five months (I'm including Silent Scream). I especially want to thank you all for being patient with me when I kept disappearing into the dark and twisty place and stopped posting for days on end. I am truly sorry for that. I tried to avoid it as much as I could.

I hope you've enjoyed this journey as much as I've enjoyed sharing it with you (not counting the dark and twisty days where I just wanted it to be over so I could disappear off the face of the planet forever). Sure, most of you hated me the majority of the time and hurled abuse at me, but we all know that tears and abuse are the highest compliment to me (I'm pretty screwed up, okay. This we know). This may be the end of the Axtons, but it is not the end of me causing you pain. I like making people cry waaaaay too much to stop. I have been working on a few things, but given that my brain is pretty broken right now, it might be a while before I'm ready to share them with you all. I hope it won't be so far in the future that you've all forgotten about me. You won't, right...?

One more thing before I let you suffer for the final time (assuming you've read this far): As a writer, I thrive on knowing what people think of my words. My only goal in writing is to write something that connects with people. Every time I start writing something new, J's speech from Artifact plays through my mind. That is what I want. That is what I aim to do. And in order to do that, I need to know how people are responding to what I've written. And so with that in mind, I'd like to say an extra big THANK YOU to those people who regularly tweet, DM, message and generally abuse me over my words. Thank you @livvii_liv, @albagallego15, @collinsgod, @KarenMills_6277@iMorgana2 and @KailynBaudion (I think that's everyone...If I left you out, send me an abusive tweet and know that it was not intentional. It's late and my brain is broken.) And finally, the biggest THANK YOU goes to @cortana02 and @moon_cake1. Without these two amazing ladies, I never would have shared Silent Scream or Orange Sky. I probably wouldn't have even finished writing them without their constant abuse encouragement. I'd also like to say an extra extra special thank you and I heart you to @cortana02. You know why. I don't know what I'd do without you.

Okay. Enough is enough. Here is it. The final chapter. I hope you like it. Parts 1-52 are here if you need to get caught up. As always, thank you so, so much for reading Xo





The sunlight assaults his pupils as he steps outside. He pulls his sunglasses from the collar of his t-shirt and puts them on. He takes a few steps forward and stops. He hears him before he sees him.

“JAAAAAMES!!”

Alexander appears out of nowhere and barrels into him, engulfing him in a hug. He’s holding a melting ice cream cone.

“Grandma bought me an ice cream,” he says, letting James go. He wobbles slightly, regaining his balance. The weakness in his left side has become a permanent fixture in their lives.

Just another thing we lost, James thinks bitterly.

“I don’t really like ice cream,” he whispers, looking over his shoulder towards where James knows Elizabeth will be waiting. “I wanted a cupcake.”

James smiles. “Of course you did,” he says, ruffling Alexander’s hair. “Come on. How about we go buy the ingredients to make some when we get home?”

Alexander’s face lights up. “Yes!! Let’s go NOW!” He grabs James’ hand and tugs him towards the street. The sudden movement hurts his shoulder, but James doesn’t mind.

There are worse pains to endure.

They make their way over to the car, where Elizabeth is waiting.

“Sweetheart,” she says, opening the car door for James. “How was it?”

James shrugs and helps Alexander inside.

“Same as usual. Give me that,” he says, smiling at Alexander. He takes the ice cream cone and straightens up. “He doesn’t like ice cream,” he says to Elizabeth, trying to keep the smile in his voice. “He likes cupcakes.”

Elizabeth chuckles. “Yes. I noticed. I’m quite sure there’s not a person in LA who doesn’t know about this boy’s love for cupcakes.”

“I’ll eat it.”

James’ hand quivers.

“You already had one,” Elizabeth says, laughing.

“So? I’m forty-five, Mom, not five. I don’t need my sugar intake monitored.”

Elizabeth laughs again as Michael wheels over to them from the other side of the car.

“Actually I’d say you need it monitored now more than ever,” Elizabeth says, still laughing. “You are the textbook definition of a sugar fiend.”

Michael grins at her. She rolls her eyes and gets in the car.

“So?” Michael says, holding out his hand expectantly. “Let me have it. Or are you on Team Michael-eats-too-much-sugar?”

James hands it to him and avoids his gaze. Michael takes it and catches James’ wrist before he can leave.

“J.” The good humour has left his voice. “For God’s sake, look at me. I can’t stand this.”

James pulls his hand away. “Let’s go, Michael,” he says softly. “Mom’s waiting.”

He tries to walk away. Michael wheels into his path, deliberately bashing him in the shins.

The ice cream falls onto the pavement.

“Enough is enough, brother,” Michael says, narrowing his eyes. “I’m not getting into that car with you until you talk to me. Until you acknowledge that I exist!”

The hurt in his voice makes James look up. His stomach twists at the sight of him in that chair.

At the sight of the stub where his leg used to be.

“Michael,” James starts, but he doesn’t know how to finish the sentence. He’s been trying to find the right words for three months now. Nothing sounds right. What is he meant to say? What could he possibly say to take away all the pain he has caused?

“That is indeed my name,” Michael says, raising his eyebrow. “Are we gonna get any further than that today?”

James doesn’t answer.

“J,” Michael pleads. “Please. Talk to me. Don’t shut me out.”

James glances at the car. The windows are up, but he can still hear Alexander and Elizabeth singing along to the Frozen soundtrack. It amazes James that Alexander still likes the snow.

He hates it.

He turns back to Michael and takes a deep breath.

You promised honesty.

“I don’t know what to say to you,” he admits. “Every time I look at you, I am reminded of every mistake I made. Everything I took from you. Everything I took from Alexander.”

Michael sighs. “I thought we were past this. I thought you were done blaming yourself for things which you had no control over.”

“How can I not blame myself for this, Michael?? You nearly died! They had to cut you open and operate on your heart! Your fucking heart! And then before you’d even had a chance to recover from that, your leg—”

“Stop,” Michael says, holding up his hand. “Just stop it, J. I’m sick of this. I’m so sick of this, you have no idea. Look at me; I am still here. I didn’t die. Yet you insist on acting like I did. I’m goddamn fine, brother. My heart is good. My leg is probably worm food or cryogenically frozen for med students to dissect and add to their Frankenstein monsters, but I’m sure it’s good too. I am okay. No, look at me,” he says when James drops his gaze. “I didn’t die. My heart is still beating. So why are you treating me like a ghost?”

“Because it hurts,” James says before he has a chance to stop himself. “It hurts to look at you. It hurts to be near you.”

“Ouch, brother. So what, it’s easier to pretend I don’t exist? That eases your guilt?”

James feels a stab in his chest. “That’s not it at all!”

“Then enlighten me.” Michael folds him arms across his chest. “Because I’m done playing this game, J. I’ve lost a lot in the last fifteen months. I’m not about to lose my brother too. I didn’t fight so hard to stay alive only to have you slip away from me now. I know you’re getting counselling, and that is freaking fantastic, but you need the support of your family, J. That’s rehab one-oh-one. You can’t do this alone. And what’s more: You don’t have to. I’m here. Mom is here. Alexander is here. We’re all here, waiting for you to let us in. Waiting for you to let us help.”

James struggles to find the right words. He looks into the car. Elizabeth and Alexander are still singing. Alexander is giggling.

“How can you not blame me?” he asks, watching Alexander cover Elizabeth’s mouth with his hands as she deliberately sings the wrong lyrics. “How can you wake up every day and not hate me?”

“I didn’t say I didn’t hate you.”

James turns back to him. His eyes are alight with humour.

“I hate you all the time. I hate it when you get all control-freaky and edit a completed script for four hundred years. I hate it when I come over and you are out of coffee, or even worse, when you try to offer me instant coffee…Like why do you even have that filth in your house?? I hate it when you come over to my place and clean it while we talk. I like disorder and I like chaos. Stop trying to order me. I hate it when you give me long-ass lectures when I miss a deadline or make a typo. Seriously brother, I know how to use a semi-colon. You can stop teaching me that now. But most of all, I hate it when you shut me out and push me away. Like really, actually hate it. But as I’ve said before and I’ll say it again; you can push all you like, J. I am like the goddamn terminator. I won’t be moved. And,” his eyes glint mischievously. “I’m getting fitted for my bionic leg soon. I’ll be more terminator than ever!” He laughs.

“How can you be so okay with this?” James asks seriously. “It’s like it doesn’t affect you at all.”

Michael’s laughter fades. “It does affect me,” he says honestly. “But the way I see it, I have two choices: I can either lie in bed and wallow over a situation I cannot change, or I can get fitted with a bionic leg and use it to kick your ass up and down LA until you see how ridiculous you are being.” His grin returns. “And we both know how much I like to kick your ass.”

James almost smiles. “And you do it so well.”

Michael laughs. “He almost smiles. Progress. Come on,” he says, cocking his head towards the car. “We’d better save Mom from singing Let It Go for a fourth time.”

James watches him go, wondering how after everything he’s put him through, Michael hasn’t given up on him. Once Michael is inside the car, James puts his wheelchair in the boot.

“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Elizabeth asks, coming out to help him.

“Yes,” James says, meaning it for the first time in months. “I am.”

She smiles and gets back in the car. James follows her and slides in beside Alexander.

“Please, Uncle Michael,” Alexander is saying, leaning forward and hanging off Michael’s chair. “Pretty please?”

“Ugh,” Michael says, pretending to be disgusted. “FINE. But you get one song, kid. Make it a good one.”

Alexander grins. “Love is an open door.

Michael laughs and shakes his head. “Freaking perfect, kid,” he says, putting it on. “Total genius.”

Alexander has stopped listening. He takes James’ arm and wraps it around himself, singing along.

“Where to?” Elizabeth asks, looking at James in the rear view mirror. “Do you want me to take you boys straight home?”

Alexander stops singing. “Cupcakes!” he says, playing with James’ fingers. “You said we could make cupcakes.”

“I did,” James says, resting back against the seat. For the first time in he doesn’t know how long, he almost feels relaxed. “Can you take us to the store first?” he asks Elizabeth.

She smiles. “Of course.”

“You can help us!” Alexander exclaims, sitting up straight in anticipation. “They can, right Dad? They can come over and make cupcakes with us, can’t they?”

James’ heart swells. For the first time since they’ve been home, it feels like it used to feel. In the before.

“Of course,” James says, scooting closer to Alexander. “We can all make and eat cupcakes together.”

After all, James thinks, listening to Alexander squeal in delight at the prospect of all those cupcakes. It’s not scary when we’re together.

END


Saturday, 16 May 2015

Orange Sky: Part Fifty-Two

[Parts 1-51 are here. Thank you for reading and please don't hurt me.]




“Mr Axton? James?”

James looks up. Her face settles into view. Short, silver hair. Laugh lines. Kind eyes. He blinks and pats his chair uncertainly.

“Where were you just then?”

He stares at her, still struggling to break free of images plaguing his mind.

I wasn’t a good brother. But I loved you.

“In the hospital,” he whispers. His mouth is dry. He reaches for the water beside him. A creak in his shoulder tells him he’s not up to that yet. He uses his other hand. She watches him, waiting for him to go on. She knows him well enough not to push.

“With him,” he finishes quietly, picking up the glass. “I was remembering being with him.” He lowers his gaze and stares at his hands.

“Tell me about it.”

James shifts uncomfortably in his seat. It doesn’t escape her notice.

“James,” she says gently. “It’s okay. Anything you say to me is confidential.”

James raises his eyes to meet hers. She reminds him of his mother. Caring. Warm. Attentive. “It’s not that,” he says. “It’s that I…” He hesitates. She smiles encouragingly.

“…I hate psychiatrists.”

She laughs. “I know. You’ve mentioned that a few times now. But remember; I am not a psychiatrist. I am not a psychologist. I am a counsellor. I’m not here to diagnose you or label you. I’m here to listen. To help, if I can, but mainly to listen.”

James swallows. He’d promised he’d try. For Alexander. “It feels like a nightmare. All of it. When I think about it, it feels like I’m watching a bad horror movie. Like I’m watching someone else’s life. I keep expecting to wake up and for everything to be as it was, but…” He runs his hand through his hair and lowers his voice. “There is no waking up. God, I want to wake up.”

Her expression is sympathetic. “I understand that. It’s normal to want to go back to when things were better. But you can’t go back to the before. All you can do is do your best in the after.”

“I don’t know how to live in the after,” he says without looking at her. “I don’t know how to move on from the before.”

Her voice is kind. “And that’s why you’re here. This is the how. We will navigate through this, James. What you’ve been through, what your family has been through…It’s horrific. Unimaginable. But you survived. You’re here now.”

“Some of us,” James says bitterly. “Some of us survived.”

She waits for him to continue. When he doesn’t, she changes tact.

“How is Alexander doing?”

He looks down at his feet. His latest gift from Alexander peeks through between his jeans and his shoes.

“He’s doing better, I think,” he says, staring at his Astro Boy socks. “I think his sessions are helping. He doesn’t wake up screaming as often.”

The words evoke memories he wishes he did not have. He squeezes his eyes shut and counts backwards from ten.

It’s over now, he tells himself. He’s safe now.

He’s safe.

We’re safe.

We’re safe.


“Is he still sleeping in your room?”

James nods.

“That’s probably best,” she says, writing something down on the notepad in her lap. “It will take some time for the night terrors to stop. For both of you. It’s important that you don’t try to force it. Don’t try to make him progress faster than he’s capable of. Don’t push him and don’t push yourself. You need each other right now, and that’s perfectly okay. Over time it will get easier to be apart, but for right now, I think together is exactly where you need to be.”

James manages a small smile. He likes her more with every session.

She looks at her notepad. “Do you want to talk about Michael?” she asks softly.

James tenses. He grips the arms of his chair.

“It’s okay,” she says quickly. “We don’t have to go there until you’re ready.”

James tries and fails to relax.

“I think that’s enough for today,” she says, eyeing him cautiously. “Are you going to be okay?”

He nods once. Tears prickle the corner of his eyes. He closes his eyes.

It’s over. We’re safe. It’s over.

When he opens his eyes, she’s watching him.

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”

James forces himself to meet her concerned stare. “No.”

He’d promised honesty when he agreed to this.

“But I don’t think that’s something we can overcome in just ten weeks.”

Her gaze softens. “No,” she agrees. “But we will keep at it for as long as it takes.”

He releases his iron grasp on the chair and stands up. A dull ache blooms in his shoulder from all the tension. He tries to shift it into a more comfortable position, but his range of motion is limited. He rubs it instead.

“Next week?” she asks, walking James to the door.

He nods. “Yeah. Thanks, Selina. See you then.”

She smiles and holds open the door as he leaves.

******

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Orange Sky: Part Fifty-One

[I'm moving to Mexico after this post. 


Thank you for not coming to my house and burning it to the ground. You won't do that, right??]



“James?” Elizabeth stands up. “James? What are you doing in here?”

James hovers in the doorway. He heart is beating much too quickly.

Michael.

“I had to see him,” James whispers. “I had to come.”

“But...The infection!” Elizabeth’s eyes are wide and terrified. “You can’t be in here! It’s too dangerous!”

James takes a tentative step inside. “I’ve been discharged. I can be here. How is he? Is he okay?”

“But Alexander! If you’re here…” The look on James’ face makes her stop. “Oh, sweetheart,” she says, hurrying over to him and pulling him into her arms. “I’m so sorry.”

“I had to see him,” James says again. His voice is strained. “Alexander understands. He’ll be okay. But I couldn’t…I couldn’t let…”

He can’t even think the words, let alone say them out loud.

“I know,” Elizabeth says, stepping back. She tries to smile. “He’ll be happy to see you.”

James walks over to Michael’s bed. The sight of him takes his breath way. Even though it’s only been a few days, the change in him is significant: he’s lost weight and his skin is ashen, making him look much older than he is. James sinks down into the chair beside the bed.

“Acute endocarditis,” Elizabeth says, sitting down beside James. “The MRSA is in his heart. The antibiotics haven’t been helping. Dr Phillips says that if they don’t get the infection under control soon, it could spread to his other organs.” She covers her mouth. “His heart…His heart is…”

She doesn’t need to finish the sentence.

Failing.



“What are they doing about it?” he asks unsteadily. “Why is he just lying here?? Shouldn’t they be doing something?? Shouldn’t they be IN here??”

“They’re doing everything they can.” She brushes the tears out of her eyes. “The infection is in his heart valves. The next step is surgery. They are trying to control it with the antibiotics before it gets to that.”

James has never heard her sound so broken.

“Heart surgery??” His throat constricts.

Elizabeth tries and fails to stifle a sob. “I can’t lose him. We can’t lose him. We can’t.”

Her words from before play in James’ mind.

Nobody is going to lose anyone.


He wants to say it to her now, to comfort her, but the words stick in his throat.

“Hey.”

Michael’s voice sends a jolt of electricity down James’ spine.

“You don’t…look…so good.” Michael tries to smile. His every word is punctuated by a laborious breath.

“Michael.” James takes his hand. “How are you feeling?”

“Peachy.” He fumbles with his oxygen mask and moves it away from his mouth.

“Hey now,” James says, fixing it. “Don’t do that, Darth. You need it.”

Michael chuckles, which quickly dissolves into a coughing spasm. James lets go of his hand and pours him a cup of water. He moves the oxygen mask long enough for Michael to take a sip of water through the straw, then he puts it back into place.

“What are...you…doing here?” Michael breathes, moving the mask. James helps him adjust it into a comfortable position. “You…shouldn’t be here. Alexander.”

“Alexander is okay,” James says, putting the cup on the table beside the bed. “He’s out of the ICU. You don’t need to worry about him.”

Michael manages a smile. “He’s a…tough…kid,” he says, struggling to catch his breath. “I knew…he’d…be alright.”

“Do you want me to call someone?” James asks, glancing towards the door. “So they can help you breathe?”

Michael shakes his head. “Fluid…in my lungs. They’ve…been draining it. They’ll be…here soon.”

“In your lungs?” James looks over at Elizabeth, who is trying not to cry. “I thought the infection was in his heart?”

“Infections in the heart often cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.” Her voice shakes. “They’ve drained it twice already, but it keeps coming back.”

“Drowning…on dry…land,” Michael says, closing his eyes. “What a…way…to…go.”

Elizabeth makes a sound like a wounded animal.

“You aren’t going anywhere,” James whispers fiercely, turning back to him. “You are going to be fine. We’re all going to be fine. Isn’t that what you’ve been saying all this time?”

Michael takes several shallow breaths before he answers. “Sometimes, brother,” he says without opening his eyes, “I’m full of…shit.”

Despite himself, James laughs. It sounds like a sob.

“You are always full of shit, Mike,” he says, leaning forward. “But occasionally you are one hundred percent correct. We are going to be fine. All of us. We’re all walking out of here together.”

Michael doesn’t say anything. James wonders if he’s fallen asleep.

“I’m sorry…I…let go,” Michael murmurs after a few minutes. “And I’m sorry…I…said…we should…take the…slope.”

“Stop it,” James says. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“I’m sorry…I…blamed you…for breaking…Mrs…Johnston’s window.”

It takes James a few moments to understand what he is talking about.

“When I was twelve?”

“And I’m sorry…for stealing…the money…you earned…at the ice cream store.”

“Michael, I worked at the ice cream store when I was fourteen. Why are you bringing it up now?”

“I shouldn’t…have…But I didn’t…spend it…on...drugs…” His breathing becomes increasingly laboured. James looks at Elizabeth nervously.

“I think we should call someone. They need to come and drain this fluid NOW.”

She nods and James stands up, reaching for the call button. Michael opens his eyes and grabs James’ wrist.

“I spent it…on…you.” His eyes are unfocussed. “I used it…on the…guitar…I said I…was given.”

“The one Mrs Johnston gave you for helping her clean out her basement? The one she didn’t want?”

“You were…going to…spend it…on us. I wanted…you…to have…something…just for…you.”

James frees his wrist. “Why are you telling me this now?” The fear in his heart tells him the answer, but he tries to ignore it. “Why now?”

“I wasn’t…a good…brother,” Michael says, struggling to catch his breath. “But…I…loved…you.”

“Michael,” James says, fighting to keep his voice steady. “Don’t you dare. Don’t you DARE say goodbye to me.”

“Alexander…needs…you.” Michael coughs. “You have to…get through…this…for him.”

“Stop it,” James pleads, feeling the familiar prickle of the tears gathering in his eyes. “Don’t talk like that. You’re going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay.”

Michael’s eyes roll closed. “I’m so…tired,” he whispers. “I can’t…keep…”

“Michael!” James whacks his hand onto the call button and grabs Michael by the shoulders. “Michael!”

Michael grows limp.

His laboured breathing stops.

A shrill ringing fills the room.

“Michael! MICHAEL!!”

Several people burst into the room and rush over to Michael, knocking James out of the way.

“He’s going into v-tach!”

“He’s shredding through his heart valve!”

“We need to get him into surgery NOW!”

“Call the OR!”

“Page Dr Phillips!”

“Michael! MICHAEL!! MICHAEL!!”

“Move!” Someone pushes James back, sending him spiralling to the floor. Elizabeth bends down to help him up, sobbing into her hand.

“What’s happening??” James demands, scrambling to his feet as Michael is wheeled away. “What’s going on? Where are you taking him?!”

An intern he’s never seen before appears in his line of sight.

“We’re taking him into surgery. We need to repair the damage to his heart.”

“The damage to his heart??”

“Someone will be out to speak with you when they can, but for now we need to get him into surgery. Dr Phillips is on his way.”

“Surgery, I—”

“I’m sorry,” the intern says, starting to back away. “I’m needed.” He hurries out of the room.

“Oh God,” Elizabeth whispers, barely keeping it together. “Oh my God.”

She wavers and starts to fall to the floor. Somehow James manages to catch her before she collapses. He guides her back onto the chair.

“His heart,” she sobs, gripping James’ arm for support. “Oh God, his heart.”

James tries to find the right words to say, the right words to comfort her, but he can’t.

There are none.

Instead he sits down and wraps his arm around her. She falls into him as violent sobs tear through her. He tries again to comfort her, but he doesn’t know what to say. He knows from experience that there’s nothing you can say to a parent who might lose their child. To a man who might lose his brother. To a family who might lose everything.

No words in the world can make that okay.

With nothing to say and no comfort to give, all he can do is sit there numbly, listening to her cry.

Waiting.

Hoping.

Praying.

******