Amy still remembered the taste of sweat in the corners of her mouth and the heat of the sun on her shoulders as she crossed the finish line in the last marathon she ran. She had finished first in her running group, which included the men.
Every moment of that day was vividly clear. Even the way her water bottle felt as she held it. Afterwards the team grabbed beers to celebrate her victory, and there was even a toast.
But today Amy celebrates different kinds of victories.
Today she gives herself a positive affirmation when she gets out of bed and another one when she brushes her teeth. Her hand won’t stay still when she measures out the coffee grinds for her morning routine, but she gives herself a positive affirmation for doing it anyway.
Already this routine exhausts her. A few weeks ago she’d have to lied down again, but she pushes forward to chase that victory.
Amy owes a lot of her progress to the small creature currently eating his breakfast by her feet. His furry orange body is crouched and purring over the loud transference of dry cat food between his teeth. He has still not learned to slow down when eating yet, and he was rescued off the streets a while ago.
There might be a lesson in this. Amy’s brain can’t compute one. In a different lifetime, before the day after her marathon, she might have speculated about it with Daniel. She’d muse about how long it would take for a kitten to unlearn a trauma response or how long it might take for him to learn his name. Perhaps Daniel would have laughed. Perhaps he would have gently stroked the kitten’s fur. She can only speculate now.
Breath. One. Two. Three. You’re safe.
Amy dumps the rest of her coffee in the sink and puts it down.
She needs to sit. She feels dizzy.
Breath. Four. Five Six. You’re safe.
“Everything will be okay,” she says out loud to herself.
Her therapist told her this helps, to say these things out loud.
At first it didn’t. Now it does. A little.
Wine helps, too. And the occasional cigarette when her mother calls.
She rests on the couch until she feels a little better. She doesn’t know how long it took because she rarely checks her cell phone anymore. It’s another thing that has changed in her life.
Eventually the kitten cries out for attention, and she goes to him, picks him up, and sits back down with him in her lap.
He cries again, and her mind focuses on the task of giving comfort. She strokes him from head to tail. Rubs her thumb on the top of his head. Sweeps her fingers on the side of his face and scratches under his chin. He loudly purrs and massages his paws on Amy’s upper thigh. His claws extend then retreat.
Usually, around this time, Amy will turn on the television and try to write down her thoughts in her journal. This will carry her into the evening hours of the day. However her therapist wants her to try a new part of her routine: a jog. So far Amy hasn’t managed it.
She can change her clothes relatively easily. She can tie her hair up and do some stretches.
But her efforts end when its time to put on her sneakers and leave the apartment.
Her sneakers are pink, and they have white soles and black laces.
Daniel was there when she purchased them. He was also there every morning when she ran in them, and she was wearing them the day after the marathon.
When Amy goes to get them, she has to start counting. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.
Her pulse starts to tap staccato eighth notes to every count. Her breathing goes shallow, and suddenly she is an animal about to be chased. She is no longer safe. There is no safety anymore. There will never be safety again no matter how many counts she gives. She will never get out that door to run no matter how many affirmations.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.
So Amy is back on the couch. Unmoving. Not leaving. And she pets the cat, and she affirms herself. Celebrate every moment as a victory. Don’t beat yourself up, she reminds herself. Even ‘not doing’ can be a form of ‘doing’ if it has a productive outcome to it.
Now her mother is calling her on the cellphone, and the kitten is asleep on her lap. Amy is itching for a cigarette a she reaches and answers.
“Hi, mom.” She shapes her voice to sound pleasant. Sweet. Calm.
“Hey, sweetie!” chirped the peppy and rushed voice of her mom through the phone. “Having a good morning? I was thinking about you. Your father says hello. Did you get our package yet?”
“Not yet.” Amy hasn’t checked for a package nor knew to expect one.
“It should have arrived, so I’ll make a call about it. You should have gotten it by now.”
“I’m sure it’s fine, mom. Don’t worry.”
“We sent it a week ago. You sure it hasn’t arrived?”
“It’s fine, mom. I’m sure it’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“I think you’ll like it.”
“I’m sure I will. I can’t wait to open it, mom. Thank you. It’s fine.”
“You eat a good breakfast?”
“How’s Evan doing? He still working at that bagel shop you like so much?”
“I don’t know, mom. I haven’t seen him in a while.”
“Are you not going to the bagel shop?”
“He’s probably busy somewhere else.”
“You think he quit?”
“I don’t know, mom. I haven’t seen him.”
“But you’re still going to the shop?”
“Not recently, no,” Amy admits.
“It’s important to get out. Your dad and I worry you’re not going out enough.”
“I know. It’s fine.”
“Have you talked to any of your friends? Anyone call?”
“Everyone’s really busy right now.”
“She’s really busy.”
“I find that strange. You and her are so close.”
“She’s got a lot on her plate.”
“You were her bride’s maid last summer, for goodness sake. Remember? She ought to be calling.”
“I’m sure she’s just busy.”
“Remember what she said at the funeral?”
“Your father got it on video.”
“Can you believe it’s been three months?”
“You know, my yoga couch and I were talking yesterday. She’s one of those kava drinkers. Have you tried it? It’s interesting. Can’t really make it stick for me, personally, though. I like my cocktails, and you can’t drink alcohol with it. Isn’t that weird? No alcohol. Moderation is important, but I don’t think I can go cold turkey like that. Anyway, she and I were talking about grief, and she, you know, she lost her father two summers ago. Tragic. No one saw it coming. And she told me how hard it was for her to get over it. How she turned to her yoga and that helped. How she’d trained before, but how after her father’s death, it lit a fire under her, and she just went for it. It was really inspiring, you know? How she turned what happened into a motivation. She’s so fit, too. I mean, I’ve been seeing her for a few months now. Your father still won’t go, but I’m working on him. Anyway, the results are fantastic. She’s just very supportive in the class. She takes it so easy on you, but she’s firm, too. You there? Hello?”
Amy picks up the phone again and hits unmute. “Yes, mom. I’m here.”
“Did you find any of that interesting? About Stacey? She said she was really close to her dad.”
“Have you tried yoga?”
“Does Jessica do yoga?”
“You two should go.”
Talking to her mother was a two-edged sword. Some days when the counting wasn’t enough, she’d long to tell her mom what was happening. She would want to be comforted and encouraged. But once the conversations started and the words began, Amy’s desires would leave her. Her mom’s words, however well-intended, felt like a battering ram. They dictated so clearly an underlying message to her that whispered in the background of each interaction, I’m here, but only in this way. I love, but only on these terms.
Amy didn’t blame her for this. She understood. In fact, a part of her knew that if she could just get herself motivated and start over, eventually she’d barely notice these striking issues.
The ego protects, but Amy had no ego right now. Just a withered shell of a few basic truths and a vague sense that she needs to keep going forward somehow. If not for her then at least so the kitten will get his meals taken care of. His litter box emptied. He depended on her to stand up and take care of him.
Amy paused her thoughts to let a painful reminder from her mother sink in.
Three months, she had said. Three.
One. Two. Three.
Her mother had said it with slight condemnation. A small hint of, get over it, already. People can only hold space for so long for you.
But Amy could still smell him somehow. She sensed him in the corners of rooms. In the bathtub. On the stoop. By the fridge.
Three months. Twelve weeks. Eighty-four days.
Daniel loved math, she recalls.
He was very precise in his calculations when they ran. His goals were strict as he examined the stop watch and charted their progress.
Amy perfectly remembers crossing that finish line the day of the marathon and the cheering from the crowd. She remembers his face when he followed after her. It was so starkly different from the others.
You did it on purpose, he had accused her. You did it to humiliate me.
He always waited until their door was closed. Until they were hidden. Alone.
No. No. Of course not. You just had a bad race, honey. I’m so sorry. I really am.
You’re a liar. A liar! A liar!
‘I’m not. I’m not. I’m not,’ she remembers screaming in her head while her lips stayed shut. Amy had trouble speaking up to Daniel, but It didn’t used to be that way. She used to be able to fire back her thoughts with quick confidence that was dizzying: ‘Believe me, you ass. I love you! I’m not lying,’ the old her would’ve said. But at some point those words were snatched away from her. They fizzled and died in her belly as her whole being became consumed with the full-time purpose of calming Daniel down. They became consumed with the cold math of calculation. Counting the walls. Counting the beer bottles. Counting the chairs between her and the door. There was no space for her feelings inside the mathematics of his moods.
“Where is Jessica?” her mom had asked.
Another pain. Another thing she couldn’t express her feelings towards.
Jessica is in rehab, she mused.
Jessica is going through a divorce.
Jessica is in an ashram.
Amy doesn’t actually know where Jessica is because Jessica has become another shadow in her mind that she tries not to look too closely at because Jessica was one of the women programmed on Daniel’s phone to meet up with in those secret places Amy didn’t know about. Jessica was one of those women who had announced in text when she was horny between reassurances, mocking derisions, and lies.
Where is Jessica?
Jessica isn’t here. Jessica was never present. Jessica was the other half of a bad man’s story. She was never anything but a part of the narrative he made. Jessica is a turncoat. Jessica is a guy’s girl. Jessica has no identity but as the other half of a abusive man’s covert sexual experience.
Jessica is Amy. Amy is Jessica. Only Jessica is a whore.
Of course, Amy didn’t know about Jessica or the others. She didn’t find out until after losing Daniel.
If Amy believed in karma then perhaps it was karma acting that day when the van turned a corner and didn’t see him. When he was hit and died on impact. Right there on 2nd and Main.
It was the day after the marathon, and Amy hadn’t gone with him. She was pretending she had a headache because she wasn’t able to face another day of acting like everything was normal.
Perhaps if she had been there he wouldn’t have died. Perhaps if she had been there, she would have told him to watch out.
No. Perhaps if she had been there, Daniel would have pushed her in front of the van, instead.
Yes, that would have been the most likely scenario.
Even when facing karma– no, especially because he was facing it– Daniel would still have tried to make her take the punishment for him. It was something he felt utterly entitled to.
So where is Daniel now?
Amy is an atheist, but the spiritual question affects her. In hell, if only, but no, that would be too kind to the part of her that wishes it could be. No, mostly likely he is no where. Gone and simply dead. Which is where Amy feels she is, too.
To summarize, Daniel got hit by a car. He is now no where, and Amy is now no where, too.
She is neither past nor present nor future. Only Amy is alive, and Daniel isn’t.
One. Two. Three. Four.
‘I won a trophy, Daniel.’
‘I miss you, Daniel.’
‘You abused me, Daniel.’
‘You cheated on me, Daniel.’
‘I love you, Daniel.’
‘I think I’m glad you’re dead.’
Amy pets the kitten then goes to get a cigarette.