My best friend told me I was an angel yet to be undone. I’ve lost everything. My parents, my home, and my keys on a regular basis.
I woke up and couldn’t breathe. My chest no longer rising and falling, yet I still feel alive with the rhythm. Did I die in my sleep? I touch my face to see if I am warm. Yes! I am as warm as the toast my mother used to bring me when I was half asleep in bed. I must be dreaming! I pull at my hair and the soft tug reassures me I am still among the living. I place my hands around my rib cage and inhale deeply. Nothing. There is no sweet sensation of oxygen entering my lungs. Have I died? If I am dead why am I still so warm? I race downstairs and ask one of the nuns if she sees me.
“Maybe.” She laughs and cuffs my head. “Get your shit done for the day!” Her voice rough like the gravel road my family traveled many times to get to the Green River Abbey and church. I laugh, and she cuffs me again. It makes me feel a jolt of hope. She is still a mean old penguin that smells like a wet washcloth. This is a good sign! If I am dead, I wouldn’t feel her hand against my bony skull. If I am dead, I wouldn’t be standing here laughing. But If I am alive how it is possible for me to talk and laugh, yet not breathe?
I run to find my little sister. I am sure she is here within the abbey walls. I find her at a desk staring out the window. “Punch me in the gut so hard I puke!” I yell. She stands quickly and lands a solid blow to my stomach. I puke all over our shoes. The muddy substance puddles at our feet, reeking of sewage.
“I can’t feel myself breathe.” I scream at her.
“It’s ok, sis,” she places her hand on my shoulder, “You don’t need to breathe.”
“What do you mean?” I say. “Yes I do!” She looks at me, half a smile on her face.
“You wanted to drive us all to church, “ her tone now mocking, “a deer ran in front of us and you swerved but the gravel made it hard for you to control the car. We plunged into the Green River.” I stand straight up, roaring from a hell bound place inside me. “Nooo!”
“Yessss!” she smiles, hissing back. “Wake up to death!” saying it like it is a slogan on a billboard. “You are dead! You are dead! You are dead!” she taunts me. I lunge at her.
“What happened to Mom and Dad?” I scream. “I didn’t kill them!”
“No,” she says, “you didn’t.” Her voice quieter and distant now.
The chill of water rushes up my legs and a flash of my mother’s face floats in front of me. “Where are they now” I say, almost in a whisper.
She points out the window to a small cemetery. Two fresh graves are covered in blankets of white carnations. I am colder now and I see the slick of dry blood in my sister’s hair.
“Come wait with me,”she says as she takes my hand and pulls me to the desk, “they will be here soon.”
“Can they hear us?” I ask. She nods. “I think so.”
Mary Hanrahan is a writer living with PTSD. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Ashland University. Her work appears most recently in Ephemerae, Bottle Rockets, Frogpond, Sonic Boom and elsewhere. Follow Mary on twitter: @MaryBHanrahan
Image: Léa Dubedout