She only wanted a different life. The price is more than she bargained for.
|The sound of water splashing echoes off the bathroom walls. The steam from the water condenses on the tile floor beneath my feet. Beads of sweat form on my forehead. From the heat or anticipation…who cares? The bathtub is full enough now. I turn off the water and set the knife on the floor.
I stare at it, sitting innocently on the tile. I know it’s crazy to be afraid that it would disappear as soon as I turn my back, but I also know that I’m not exactly mentally stable. What sane person would steal a knife only to commit suicide with it? But then again the idea of sanity would probably change for a person in my situation.
I force myself to look away from it. I can’t waste time pondering my state of mind; I don’t have time for that. I kick off my shoes and socks, and after a moment’s hesitation take off the rest of my clothes. After tossing my clothes in a pile by the toilet I look at myself in the mirror.
For a second I see someone else looking back at me. His name is Jess, Detective Jess McGuire of the NYPD. I met him a year ago when I was arrested for robbing the Met, or attempting to at least.
I wasn’t very impressed when I first saw him, he was too young to be taken seriously. He couldn’t have been older than twenty-eight. The only thing that stood out to me was his curiosity. I could see it on his face before he said a word. He figured that I was some teenage runaway, a troublemaker, a rebel. Who wouldn’t think that? I was a fifteen year old covered in violent tattoos and looked like I hadn’t slept in about a year. What he didn’t know was how I got into trouble. I could see the possibilities flashing through his mind. Was I abused as a kid? Was I raped? Was I in a gang? Was I a junkie? Did I owe someone money? It drove him crazy that he didn’t know my story. I guess that’s what made me decide to tell him about me.
I was the one who started the interrogation.
I pulled a package of cigarettes out of my pocket.
“Do you want to hear a story, Detective?” I asked.
“You’re not allowed to smoke in here,” he replied.
I lit up anyway.
“It’s a story I’m sure you’ve heard before,” I continued. “But I think I’ll tell you anyway.”
I took a drag from my cigarette.
“Smoking kills, you know,” he told me.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“You tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine,” I replied.
Just so you don’t get the wrong impression: I did not flirt with Jess. At the time Jess merely saw me as a criminal and I only saw him as the guy with the key to my handcuffs. Today we’re hardly friends. I guess you could say I’m his ‘special project’. I think of him as more of a pain in the ass.
But, anyway, that’s how we were introduced. After telling him my name I answered some of his questions. No, I wasn’t abused. No, I was never raped. No, I’m not addicted to any drugs (he didn’t believe that until my blood tests proved it).
“Then why did you do it?” he asked.
I told him, “That’s where my story comes in.”
“Then let’s hear it.”
My story has been told a thousand times in a thousand different versions. But in one way or another they are all true. It starts with a girl who lived long, long ago. She was going to get married against her wishes. It wasn’t because her parents didn’t love her. I think her parents loved her very much, but this was a different time, a time when love was expressed through feeding and clothing someone you could have easily thrown into the street. Her parents loved her, but the girl was unhappy with the prospect of marriage nonetheless, and all she wanted was a way out.
This is where the story gets messy. Some say she met an old gypsy woman. Others say it was a sorcerer. Some say it was the Devil himself. Well, the bottom line was that a deal was made: the girl was promised knowledge she could use to start a new life with, the other was given one of her wedding gifts: a knife taken from a faraway land that could kill anything with a single blow. Allegedly, anyway.
Let’s get one thing straight: the girl wasn’t ignorant of any fine print, she simply wasn’t told what the other meant by ‘knowledge’. See, this guy wasn’t your common salesman. He didn’t give her all the details before purchase, he simply made the offer and she took it. There was nothing ominous about the deal.
“I guess that’s when you could say I ran away from home,” I said.
Jess was leaning against a wall then. I could tell that he wasn’t buying any of this, but he was nevertheless intrigued.
“Where did you go then?” Jess asked.
“Nowhere, really,” I replied. “There weren’t exactly homeless shelters back then. This was before churches too. So I just drifted for a while.”
Jess leaned forward.
“So what about this ‘knowledge’?” he asked.
The knowledge came just as promised.
“It came in my sleep. In my dreams I would see things happen, and later they would come true.”
Jess cocked an eyebrow.
“It was pretty handy,” I said, ignoring the skepticism in his voice.
That was true. I knew what places would be at peace while others were at war. I knew whose faces would be immortalized and whose would be forgotten. But there were no golden years when I lived happily. From the day I gave the knife away I felt the…side effects. No matter how far or fast I traveled I was never really tired or hungry. I would eat and sleep and breathe out of habit, but somehow I knew that if I didn’t I would still survive. And although the knowledge helped me survive, it was a huge burden. Every night when I went to sleep I would see kings being crowned, ideas being formed and discoveries being made. But I also saw wars, plagues and slaughters. After a few years I dreaded going to sleep for fear of seeing the Black Death, the Crusades and witch hunts. I tried to stop sleeping, but it turned out that the more I tried to ignore my visions the more human I felt: the need for food and sleep returned.
But I didn’t die.
I tried every way I could think of. I traveled to places of massacres, epidemics and wars, depriving myself of food and sleep along the way. But I always survived.
“That’s when the tattoo thing started,” I told Jess. “I marked myself every time I failed suicide.”
I showed Jess every tattoo. The slits on my wrists and neck. The noose on my nape. A bottle of poison at the base of my throat. Flames on my palms. A bullet hole on my left temple. The boat on my stomach from the Titanic. The number on my arm from the Holocaust. The cloud on my shoulder from Hiroshima.
My most recent tattoo is on my back: the Twin Towers. When I wasn’t crushed or burned I jumped and landed on my back.
“Who is Teresa Samuel?” Jess asked.
Teresa’s name is tattooed under the towers.
“She was a receptionist. She was working in one of the towers the day planes hit,” I explained.
I hadn’t known Teresa for more than twenty minutes, but her face will always be imprinted in my memory. She smiled when she first saw me, but it was the later frightened look on her face that I remember. She was trying so hard to stay brave, but tears flowed from her panicked eyes. But in that moment of terror she was still beautiful.
“I held her hand when we jumped together,” I said quietly. “She wept that I would die so young. I wept because I knew there was nothing I could do to save her. All I could do was hold her hand.”
I covered my tattoo and looked at Jess. He covered his eyes with one hand. He rubbed his hand over his forehead and down his cheek, stretching his skin out to make him look older than he really was.
“It was a few years later when I saw an old knife on display at the Met,” I continued. “The tour guide went on about the quality of the blade and the gem in the handle. Surprised as I was that it hadn’t changed in all these years, the only thing I could really think about was how I could get my hands on it. If there is a key to all of this that knife has to be it.”
“That’s the knife you gave to the other,” Jess realized.
“Yep,” I said, putting out my cigarette.
Jess looked at me. It was obvious that he didn’t believe me, not completely at least, but something on his face told me that it hadn’t been a waste telling him the story of my life. Jess walked over to the door.
“You think I’m crazy,” I said.
He turned back to look at me.
“I think you’re guilty,” he said.
“I am guilty, but that’s not the point,” I replied. “How long can you put me in jail for? A few years for attempted theft? Maybe another for breaking and entering?”
I shrugged dismissively.
“But when that’s over that knife will still be here. And so will I.”
And that’s exactly what happened. I was sent to prison for three years. But unlike the other inmates, I was sent to see a shrink every day.
I didn’t understand why until Jess came to see me.
“I know you’re not lying,” he said. “I did some research. No one could have possibly known the things you told me.”
“So if you know I’m not crazy then why are you making me see a shrink?” I asked.
“Because you’re suicidal,” he replied bluntly.
“What do you care? If I’m dead that’s one less criminal you have to look out for.”
Jess gaped. It shocked him that I took my life so lightly. He didn’t understand that you don’t take something seriously if you know you’ll never lose it.
“You’re just a kid,” he argued.
“I have been ‘just a kid’ longer than you have been alive,” I shot back.
Something in his eyes changed then. They were softer, no longer ordering me but pleading with me.
“I deal with suicides all the time,” he said solemnly. “Part of the job is telling the family that someone is dead. Some families get mad and yell at me, others cry onto my shoulder. Another part of the job is finding out why they did it. And with every case I think how stupid it is for people to kill themselves without thinking of how many people they’re hurting by doing it.”
Jess’s face remained composed, but a single tear fell, forming a pink streak on his skin.
“There’s more than that, isn’t there?” I asked.
Jess wiped his face.
“My sister was your age…well, relatively speaking, when she put my Dad’s pistol in her mouth,” Jess said.
I’d had a lot of conversations about death, but this one was entering entirely new territory. I hesitated before speaking. What could I possibly say to that?
“Did you ever find out why?” I asked tentatively.
Jess shook his head.
“I knew she was unhappy. But I thought things would get better, she had so much ahead of her. So much to look forward to,” he said.
“But I don’t,” I said simply but gently. “I know exactly what’s going to happen to me and to everyone around me. I’m tired, Jess. And there’s no one here to miss me.”
“I’m here,” he replied.
Jess’ face haunts my mind until the mirror is clouded with steam.
“I’m sorry, Jess,” I whisper.
I pick up the knife and climb into the tub. The water is a bit too hot, but I read somewhere that I’ll bleed faster if the water is hot. I take one last look at the blade before setting it to work. It’s taunting me, beckoning me to give into temptation and end my life, knowing that it will hurt Jess too. But at the same time it is promising me what I have wanted for so long.
I press the knife into my wrist. Hard. The blade scrapes against my skin. The flesh rips. Blood spills. I repeat the motion on my other wrist. The knife clatters to the floor. My hands sink beneath the water. Little pink clouds appear around my body, growing bigger by the second. It hurts a soothing pain.
I hear Jess’ voice. Is he really here or am I imagining it? I pray that I’m hallucinating from the heat and the loss of blood. I don’t want him to find me. I don’t want to hurt him, but I’m tired of being hurt myself.
I start to cry thinking of Jess. Thinking of the pain he’ll feel. Thinking of pain I’ve seen in so many. The despair. The fear. The heartache. I have not forgotten any of it. It has sunk in slowly, saturating my heart and drowning my soul for centuries, killing me from within and damning me to live. Now I’m finally rid of it. It flows through my tears and becomes one with the water and blood, a deadly potion that will finally grant me peace.
I hear a beeping noise. And snoring. I open my eyes and see that I’m in a foreign bed. The sheets are thin and light blue. Hospital sheets. What happened? I start to sit up and I feel an agonizing pain shoot up my arms.
Suddenly I remember. I look down at my wrists. They’re bandaged with clean white gauze.
All of a sudden I feel pain everywhere. A burning sensation travels down my throat and deep into my stomach. My neck aches uncontrollably until it snaps. My lungs fill with liquid while invisible flames lick at my skin. An enormous force slams into my back, breaking every bone in my body. My skin stings as the old slit on my neck and the fresh ones on my wrists reopen. It hurts worse this time around not because it’s all coming back at once, but because this time I have no hope.
It didn’t work.
The snoring subsides. I look over and see Jess waking up in a chair by the heart monitor.
Son of a bitch.
“Good morning,” he says.
I want to throw something at him, but my arms are killing me. I’ll have to be content with screaming at him. But he speaks before I decide which curse to use.
“I found you too late,” he said. “You were dead when the paramedics came in. They brought you back.”
That stops me. I died? I try to think. What did I dream about when I was unconscious? I can’t remember. Jess I think. I think? I never forgot my dreams! They were never even groggy! My visions always stuck with me, every detail! They always remained in my head with perfect clarity! Does this mean I’m? I’m what? Normal? Human? Mortal? I think so, all of the above. Except normal, I can’t be that ever again.
For the first time it looks like Jess is reading my mind. This is probably why he isn’t asking any questions yet. But there will be another interrogation soon enough, I did rob the Met again, after all. But even though Jess will have the upper hand this time, I doubt I’ll go back to prison.
Then where will I go?
I don’t know.
I love that thought.