Squinting through the windshield into an unusually dark afternoon,
headlights reflecting off of white rain and sleet, I slowly ease on my
brakes. A ways ahead, a wave of brake lights exclaim red. Their
exclamations are brightly lit, aligned ahead of one another, stretching
up and over the top of a small hill. I let out a sigh of frustration
and fear as the car slows to a stop. Between the sleet, my shoddy
windshield wipers, and my wounded red eyes, I can barely see the car in
front of me. Confusion. I can’t stop thinking about all of the details
of the night, and I try desperately to think about something, anything
less painful. Nothing. Everything else I try to think about comes back to
Tonight. It’s like that board game Chutes and Ladders, where every memory
I used to be able to find soothing is a space on the board, and there
are two chutes spiraling down. One back to the Start, before any of this
mess started. That’s the place I wish I could escape to. But my mind
keeps rolling unlucky, down the other chute, whipping past all the
other spaces on the board. Memories of childhood, first kisses with new
girlfriends, humiliation, denial, triumph, loss. As hard as I try,
there is no use. My brain has already rerouted everything back to
Tonight. Just get away. Drive far away.
Reality snaps back into place, and I haven’t driven but ten miles from
Tonight. Damned traffic. My attention now turns back to the
exclamations ahead, and I’ve made my way up to the top of the hill.
Just below, down the road are white and red flashing lights. Four
police cars, two ambulances, and two small cars twisted and tangled
together. It didn’t look like the kind of accident people were walking
away from. The accident only brings my mind back to Tonight. My mind
keeps rolling unlucky. Escape now. Skip town. Get out. There is
nothing left now. Not anymore.
As I slowly roll passed the accident, I don’t stare out of my window
into the wreckage like the people in the cars in front of me. I always
found that sort of thing cruel and in some ways, sadistic. Disrespectful.
Looking for an arm, a leg maybe, spilling out of a shattered window…
I’ve always been afraid to see a body that wounded, not eager to.
As I pass, I feel an overwhelming swarm of pressure and isolated pain in
my temples. It’s happening. I feel myself folding from the outside
in. I’ve fallen down the long descending chute that leads back to
Tonight. Down a twisting spiral and around a long turn, then down
again. There is a straight-away ahead now, and the end of the narrow
chute is quickly approaching. Stop. Turn back. It is not too late. But I’ve spilt out of the chute onto my kitchen floor. The bright halogen lights from my new ceiling fixtures are sharp on my eyes, but in my mind, in this world, I seem to feel no pain. The fall from the chute left me virtually spotless. Everything is familiar. My kitchen, my chairs, my countertops, my new light fixtures. The kitchen table. The opened white envelope with my name on it. The letter she wrote folded in half. The white gold band with our engagement diamond sitting there between the letter and the opened white envelope. And the answering machine on the countertop. Blinking red with a message I’d rather not hear. Not again. I start spinning… The room begins to look unfamiliar. Focus. The red light. The blinking red light. Just then I blink my eyes and I’m back in my car.
The traffic is gone. The police cars are gone. The ambulances are
gone. I don’t know how much time has passed. Maybe hours. I must have
had an ‘episode’ again. The doctors have some medical term for it, but they’ve been referring to it as “the folding”. When it happens it feels like my body folds up into origami as I recede into my subconscious. It’s like narcolepsy meets lucid dreaming meets the most painful fucking headaches you could imagine.
Ahead there is a soft, blinking red light. It’s not the terrible voice message on my machine. It’s a caution light blinking red above a stop sign a quarter mile up the road. What is happening to me? I reach into my coat pocket to get my pills and I pull out a white envelope with my name on it. Inside is the letter she wrote, folded in half. In the bottom of the envelope, hiding in the corner sits her ring. The ring my grandfather gave to my grandmother. The ring my grandmother left to me when she passed, to give to a girl I love one day. I open the letter and read the words that I already know by heart.
“I’ve left. Don’t try to find me. I’m so sorry but I can’t be there for
you this time. Not after how you’ve changed. Check the answering
machine. I’m so sorry. Your brother is dead. ~Rachel”
I’m out of my medication. Tomorrow is Christmas Day.