I took a deep breath of the icy January air, trying to ignore the rattling in my pneumatic lungs as I lit a cigarette. I turned off of the current street I was on and onto an even shadier one than the last. There wasn’t a sound to be heard, save the the ominous baying of a hound in the distance. The moon was new, and my only source of light was the amber glare of a streetlight at the end of the narrow street, beckoning me forth like some will-o’-the-wisp.
The only comfort I had at the time was that maybe the bottle of Jack and pack of Marlboro Blacks would help ease the pain that lately had so plagued my mind. I’d been fired from my job at a local burger joint called Dingle Burger for stealing money from the cash register. Now, three months later, I had no heat, water, or electricity until I managed to find a job again. But in all honesty, I hadn’t exactly tried very hard to look for one. Most of the time I lay wasted under the covers of my bed, trying to muster up the fucking balls to jump off a bridge or blow my brains out. Not that it’d really do anything other than… well, other than bring sadness to those around me. But I didn’t particularly care about that, really. In fact, I didn’t really care about anyone but myself, save perhaps my aunt, who’d raised me after my parents were shot in a break-in one night when I was six. But, as I discovered not too long ago, my selfishness wasn’t to be remedied until it was too late. But… I digress.
As I was contemplating on how best to get my hands on some cash, the cold bottle of whiskey broke loose from my frozen grip. I watched in numb horror as it went cascading down onto the sidewalk, fully expecting my night’s crutch to shatter before my eyes. Luckily, it didn’t. Swearing profusely under my breath, I leaned over stiffly to pick it back up. As I was standing up, I heard a metallic click as something cold and hard was pressed into the back of my head.
“All right,” a hoarse voice whispered in my ear, “you know the drill. Gimme all your money, and I don’t spray the ground with your fucking goddamn head.”
Of course this happens after I spend all my money, I thought.
“Look, I said, “I’m sure that you have a very, very, good reason for--”
“Cut the fuckin’ shit, man,” he spat. “Just gimme the money, and I’ll leave you alone, okay?”
“B-but I… I don’t have any--”
“Didn’t you hear me?” he snarled. “I said to hand over all your money. Jesus, man, it’s fucking simple. And drop the bottle and cigarette.”
I slowly raised my hands to the sky, allowing the bottle and my cigarette to come crashing back down to the sidewalk. I thought I heard what sounded suspiciously like crunching glass.
“I’m telling you, you’re wasting your time here. I don’t have any money on me.”
“Fucking Christ, man, just give me your fucking wallet!”
I thought I heard a small trace of panic rising in his voice.
“I-I don’t have it.”
“Bullshit!” the mugger cried in indignation. “You just bought a bottle of fucking beer!”
“It’s whiskey,” I corrected.
“I don’t give a shit! Just give me your fucking money!”
“I don’t have any, how many times do I have to tell you?”
He scoffed impatiently. "Then what the hell did you use to buy the whiskey, blow jobs?”
Slowly, I started to turn towards him. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a necklace with a golden cross sparkle in a band of light.
"No,” I answered calmly. “I used the last of the money I have.”
He huffed and looked around in agitation. “But what about your ID, then? You don’t keep that shit in a wallet?”
“The clerk knows me.”
I was almost face-to-face with him now.
He stepped back a few paces, commanding me to pull out all of my pockets. While I was numbly fumbling with my pockets, I figured I might as well try to get this guy to let me off the hook.
“Hey, man,” I whispered, “why’re you doing this?”
“I’m fuckin’ broke, why the hell do you think?”
“But there's gotta be other ways to get money. Maybe I could help you.”
I was now facing him, but I couldn't make out his features in the dark.
“Oh yeah? You can help me? You think you, a guy blowing all his money on liquor and cigarettes, can help me?! I’ve got three goddamn mouths to feed, and I’ve gotta cough up ten grand in a week or I’m dead! AND YOU THINK YOU CAN HELP ME!? You can’t even help your goddamned self!”
“I-I’m sorry,” I answered genuinely, “I had no idea.”
“No, nobody ever does, do they? They just assume the guy with the gun just wants a little extra spending cash, don’t they? Maybe--maybe the guy just wants a new TV or some drugs, huh?”
“Well, I guess that’s true for some; hell, maybe even most, I don't fucking know. But not me, man, not me. You think I want to do this? I ain't got shit, man! If I can’t feed my kids, then who the hell’s gonna? Huh?”
“I-I d-don’t know,” I stammered.
“No, wrong answer! The answer is nobody! Nobody’s gonna feed ‘em, NOBODY!” He lowered his voice and looked behind him nervously.
“Alright,” he said with a new determination, “you’re gonna take me back to your place, and I’m gonna take everything you fucking own, okay? And I swear to fucking God, if you don’t do what I say, or if you make any sudden moves, I’ll--” He turned abruptly around, and at first I couldn't tell what he was looking at, but then I heard distant sirens and caught a glimpse of blue and red.
“Oh you son of a--”
“But there's no way I could’ve--” but I didn't get the chance to finish my sentence, because I was suddenly on the ground, clutching a fresh hole in my abdomen. The last thing I saw before I blacked out was the silhouette of somebody in a window holding a phone.
Something cold kept pushing against my chest. I felt what seemed like warm water pooling under my head. I would've opened my eyes, but my head hurt too badly. The light would have just made it worse.
•• • ••
Somebody was wailing. Maybe even at me; I wasn’t sure. The wailing, combined with the violent jostling of whatever I was in, made my headache unbearable. There was a sharp pain in my stomach, too. How hadn’t I noticed it before? I drifted off into nothingness before I could give the matter much more thought….
•• • ••
I awoke to a monotonous, mechanical beeping. I didn’t know what it was, though. At the time, I didn’t even register it as sound, it was just… there. There was something else, too. It sounded like my thoughts, only it wasn’t my thoughts. It was… speech. I couldn’t make much out of it, though. All I knew was that it was something about a name. Was it about my name? Did they need to know what my name was? Well, I could tell them that easily. My name was…. My name was… was…. What was my name? I couldn't remember. Why was everything so dark? Why did they keep asking about my name? Couldn’t they hear me? Or was I only talking in my head? My head…. It hurt so much…. Maybe sleep would make it better….
•• • ••
I awoke to that monotonous, mechanical beeping again. What was was it? Where was it coming from? I couldn't tell. Maybe if I opened my eyes, I could see what it was, but I couldn't. Why couldn’t I open my eyes? I tried to sit up, but found that I couldn’t do that, either. Why couldn't I move? What was going on? Where was I? The last thing I remembered was dropping something, but what was it?
I heard a door open, followed by some indistinct murmering. It sounded like it was a man and a woman. I didn’t recognize the man’s voice, but something sounded familiar about the woman’s. I tried to listen to what they were saying, but all I caught was “...shot in the abdomen….” “...hit his head….” “...nearly bled to death….” “Is he okay?” “...unresponsive….”
Who were they talking about? My head did hurt a little bit, and so did my abdomen. Were they talking about me? I resolved to ask the two strangers who it was that they were talking about, but I found that I couldn't do anything but breathe... and think.
The woman spoke next to me, in my ear. I caught a whiff of perfume that smelled familiar… like an old friend…. Suddenly, in an instant of clarification, I knew who this woman was: she was my aunt! The woman who had raised me single-handedly and who had treated me as though I was her own child. But… If only I could remember her! I knew she was my aunt, but I didn't remember what she looked like, nor did I have a single memory of the one person that I knew I cared about. All I knew was who she was and why I felt such a strong emotional attachment to her. At that moment, all I wanted was to simply be able to open my eyes and see her… to remember her….
While she was with me, my aunt would reminisce over all the times we’d had throughout the years. She talked of old friends, holidays, and families. She also talked about other things, like my first job, my first car, my high school graduation…. But these were only stories to me. I didn't actually have any real memories of them. All I remembered before the darkness was dropping something somewhere. But… even if I could have told her this, I wouldn’t have. I could tell that retelling these stories was important to her.
She did this for the next while, talking about the times we’d had together, and also stories from her own life. How long this went on for, I have no idea, because I would constantly drift in and out of sleep. Sometimes it would be my aunt by my side, sometimes it would be a stranger, and other times I’d be all alone, with nobody but myself. Whether it was days, weeks, or months, I have no idea….
•• • ••
I awoke to my aunt telling me one day that they’d arrested the man who’d shot me. At first I was completely clueless as to whatever the hell my aunt was talking about. Shot? I hadn't been shot, had I? I thought about it for a moment, and then it all came back to me in a blinding flash, and the only thing I wanted to know now was: what happened to the children? Thankfully, I needn’t wait long, for she then told me that after the man had been arrested, the kids had been taken into state custody, and that they were to be put in foster care.
Apparently, the guy had been involved in some nasty business, and--just like he’d told me--he needed money, or else he’d be killed. Not that I can particularly blame her, but when my aunt spoke of this man, she spoke of him with the utmost hatred and disgust, as if he were some sort of monster. In her eyes, the only thing he had going for him was that he had plead guilty, claiming full responsibility for his actions. Like I said, I can't really blame her for hating him so much; in fact, if I were in her shoes, and she was the one who’d been shot, I can't really say that I’d be much different. Yet, despite being shot and incapacitated by this man, I didn’t really feel that I had the right to judge him for his actions. He was just trying to get by with the shitty deck of cards he’d been dealt in life, and things became desperate. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures. Who's to say that if I were in his position that I’d be any better myself? I grew up in a middle-class suburban home, and I’d never actually had any kids. So what the hell did I know? Would I, or anybody, for that matter, have been any different in such a desperate situation…?
•• • ••
I awoke once more to that monotonous, mechanical beeping noise again. It was ever-present… the rhythm of life… never once changing pace…. My aunt had long ago given up on me. The days when she would come and talk to me had long since passed away. I was now just left alone with my thoughts to keep me company, and the occasional silent stranger who would tend to my needs. Yet, the strange thing is, I no longer wished for my aunt’s company… nor anybody’s for that matter. No longer did I wish to leap into the air and simply hug her. No longer did I wish to communicate with anyone. No longer did I wish to open my eyes and just look at the face of another human being. No longer did I wish to live, if that’s what you could even say that I was doing anymore. I could feel my mind slowly sinking into a nebulous void of nothingness. All I had left were my cold, uncaring thoughts. I no longer felt any ties to the world. Not to my aunt, not to the man who shot me, not to his kids, not even to myself. I simply existed.
The strangers must have known this, because I heard them one day talking to my weeping aunt about pulling the plug. Apparently, I was “brain-dead.” Why should I care? I’d stopped living a long time ago, as far as I was concerned. I didn’t even care when my aunt came over to say her final goodbyes. Her tears held nothing for me as they dripped sadly against my skin. I’d described the man who’d tried to mug me as just a person trying to make it through a desperate situation…. I painted a picture of him as a human being, and not just some low-life. But… could I even say that I was human anymore…?
Part 3 (Credit to Seth Jones)
One Year Later
Seeing him just lying there…. I couldn't handle it anymore. So I made the hardest decision of my life: I signed the papers and pulled the plug. He just wasn’t eating, breathing, feeling, or even thinking by himself. It was the doctors and machinery that kept him living… that gave him life. I gave him time to finally get better, to show improvements, but no new results were showing. It's all my fault that he's dead. Maybe if I had given him more time, a longer chance to show improvement, then maybe he’d still be here.
I cried myself to sleep last night, and dreamt of all the good and bad times we had together. Then I woke up, sad, speechless, and depressed. I couldn't cry anymore. All the tears were gone, along with my feelings. I walked over to the bathroom mirror and wiped off the old dry tear marks on my face and looked at myself in disgust. I thought to myself for a while, and realized that I didn't even remember what his smile looked like. I forgot the look he had for when he enjoyed himself. I remember when he was little how he would play his Super Nintendo and get excited, but I can’t seem to remember that smile of his. I still have all the thoughts of him, though, and that’s all that matters. I know that I ended his short life, but it was a lot better than letting him suffer.
It's been almost a year and I’m still dwelling on this. Why? He would want me to move on. I know it. I know he’s gone, and yes, it still hurts, but there's nothing I can do about it, now. I have one of two choices. One: be depressed and dwell on the past and never seize my future, or two: pick myself up, heal myself, and encourage myself to work on and make new memories for myself. Who’s to say, though, that I can't look back at the memories I cherish and love? Because I know for a fact that I will never forget him, and I know for a fact that he loved me. I promised, and still continue to promise, that I will never forget him.
Every decision comes with a sacrifice. Whether it's easy or not, we still have to make one. And this is mine. I choose to move on, and the sacrifice is letting go.
The Sequel: Crossing the Swamp
Written by Banned In CP