With a curse and the jangle of keys they were on her.
I watched as three capable men stole the last of her dignity and options. She thrashed, a wounded hateful thing, storming against those that held her firm to the floor. Without a sound she struggled, her back arching in protest of her restraints. Somewhere between the time when she'd been taken down and the arrival of many nurses, her nightgown had hiked up high and intimate, gathering at the base of her belly. If she'd ever shaved her legs or anywhere else, you'd never have known. She wore no panties.
She'd jammed them down her throat a few minutes earlier.
A nurse with a set of chins that made her look like someone's aunt dragged them out of her mouth like they were part of some shitty magic trick.
"We're not going to let you do it, Julie!" They were white. Cotton. Potentially deadly. A fourth man--a doctor judging by the rich leather of his shoes--joined the effort to save Julie from Julie.
He chanced to see me watching, turned, and closed her door.
I hadn't left my room for anything more exotic than a piss since they'd taken my belt, laces and the string from my hoodie the night before.
I'd come in cuffs, transported by a cop I'd had coffee with just three days before. He explained with a face full of sympathy, that he didn't have a choice. I smiled through the tears and offered him my wrists. He let me walk behind them through the snow drifts between my house and his cruiser. The gesture of trust wasn't lost on me.
It was a gorgeous day. You'd not expect it to be so full of pain. Mid-January. Cold enough to freeze your insides if you didn't breathe the air with the respect it was due. The sun shone warm in defiance of the chill, glossing an icy patina over a week's worth of snow. As I ducked down into the back of the car, the ground shone diamonds just for me. It all seemed as ash.
Jewels had lost their splendor.
When we first met, I was trying hard to be something I wasn't: grounded, happy and unhaunted. She didn't care about where I came from or where I'd been. Her parents did. They couldn't understand why I wasn't putting my schooling to work, or how I'd spent so much time overseas but never spoke of it.
My ambitions and the dark gifts Bosnia brought me every night were not meant for their ears.
She and I laughed and cried off their complaints in turns. We announced our plans to move in together over dinner one evening, after the roast but before the cobbler. Her mother stood from the table, storming that she'd not allow me to make her daughter a whore. We'd been such fools to think they'd wish us well. By the end of the meal, for the sake of peace, we agreed to stave off a shared bed until we were wed. The state of my soul was questioned: The founding members of a community church, they troubled over my knee being bent to God, but not to Jesus. I ventured to prayer with them each week, again for the sake of finding a fragile peace between us. I sang their songs, heard their sermons and betrayed my faith for the sake of a gentler life. Unsatisfied and untrusting, they hired a private investigator to turn the dirt of my life to light, unearthing nothing but more questions. They worked their daughter, my partner, day and night until she drove north to escape their demands. Or so I thought.
She left me in an email.
She was strong, but human. Love will only bear so much. She asked that I not contact her again. She'd send someone to collect her things. The tears didn't burn half so bright as the red coals that I felt searing the back of my eyes and at the base of my neck. I called my parents and found no answer. I called dispatch.
They sent a cruiser and a man with a gun that I knew well.
Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.
I'd not been allowed to shave, but a book was fine, so long as it was a paperback. I was deep into Moby Dick when they took Julie down. That she'd go to such lengths to end herself made me feel sane, the pain of two days past numbed little by distance and much by the drugs my keepers afforded me. I cried at the sight of my father when he came to visit. The shame of my weakness washed over me as our eyes met. He'd brought me a toothbrush which I couldn't keep and a change of clothes that I was greatful to have. A sucicide watch runs for 72 hours in Ontario. He told me he'd be back to take me home the next evening. I nodded him goodbye before returning to Queequeg's ministry.
I talked my way to freedom the next day, trading the sanitarium for the stark trees and unforgiving daylight that the season so often affords. We walked without words to the car, my father and I. I slowed and shortened my strides to match his diseased and troubled gait. No words were traded on the drive home. I had agreed that perhaps sleeping on my parent's couch for a few days would be best. Parkin the car underneath their building, my father killed the engine.
"You think you'll try and hurt yourself again?" The question stung but not so much as the answer. We sat in the silence the car afforded, the heat leaving its engine by tink and ping. Staring at the dash, I told him the truth, dragging the words across my lips.
"I never hurt myself, Dad". He measured what I said, pained and without prejudice. "I wanted to kill them. Her mother. Her father. I could see their house burning in my heart, and I didn't feel anything but glad about it. It scared me. I was afraid I'd be too weak to shake it off. I needed to be somewhere safe".
He pursed his lips and struggled out of the car, heart disease and pain working against him. As we rode the elvator out of the cold, the silence implied that my mother was never to know.
A decade later, the coals still smolder.