I look at the patient’s hands, and when he asks if I know palm reading, I laugh. No, I missed that day at medical school, I say.
But really, I think I can sometimes see the future.
I have looked at swollen hands, from anasarca from Turner’s and from iv lines that lost their way. I have looked at blackened fingertips, that soon would leave the hands behind.
I have looked at hands all bent and twisted from their rheumatism; animated, yet scrabbling uselessly at buttons they can’t use, or coins they can’t pick up. I have looked at palms with a Simian crease, seen arachnodactyly, and felt the weak grasp of a victim of a stroke.
But when asked what I see, will I say that I see clubbing, or the signs of heart disease? Or, when seeing those slim fingers, which so distinctly grasp a paperclip, or hold a coffeecup with that elusive character, what will I say? Perhaps only that I saw a picture once of a violinist with such hands, and did he ever play?
I will not tell that I read fear of death in people’s hands, I will not tell of how I know they smoke, and I will not tell of my blurred vision of what future days may hold.
Nor will I say how empty my own hands do feel, and how much that moment fills me up, when I touch another’s hands.
Laura Hans, Class of 2001
The Suicide Prayer
What do you do when you have nothing left, no feeling, no reserve. Just pain and a hollowness so deep you know you’ll never see the light of day. What do you do when you’ve been shown in the worst way imaginable that you’re worth nothing, that you are nothing.
I wanted to die. But I was afraid to. I wanted a reason not to, but I didn’t have a good one. There was my family. My parents. My brothers. I didn’t want them to be sad. I didn’t want them to be disappointed. I didn’t want them to have nightmares about it for the rest of their lives.
Was that a good enough reason considering what happened? The savageness of it. The utter disregard for my life or me? When I weighed that reason against the pain of living with it, it just wasn’t a good enough reason to keep me alive.
In my fifteen-year-old mind, I felt like only one thing could save me. An apology from the ring leader. Just a simple acknowledgment of the wrong that had been done, and an apology for all the torture that had begun. That would be enough to keep me alive, at least that night.
So I called him.
“Gene, it’s me.”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“How could you.”
“How could I what?”
“How could you do that to me. You left me there – with them. You knew what would happen to me and you left me.”
“You was sleepin’ with ’em anyway.”
“I stopped all that and you know it. We talked about it. I told you I wanted to be with you and only you just two weeks ago and you were cool with it. I only did those things to make you jealous anyway.”
“Well, you shouldn’t ‘ave. I don’t give a hell one way or the otha’.”
“Don’t say that. Don’t say that…I just wanted you to love me. I just wanted you to care. At least I thought you cared. I mean, at the least I thought we were friends. How could you let them do that to me. How could you let them…how could you let them rape me and then leave me there alone? You knew I was drunk. You knew I passed out. You had to have called them.”
“I didn’t call nobody.”
“How did they know to come over then. Why would they come over. It was supposed to be just you and me. Chuck let us use his house. You let them in. You knew I was drunk upstairs. And you let them…why?”
“I don’t know whatcha talkin ’bout. I wasn’t there, you know. I had to go make some runs.”
“You were there. I heard you. You were there.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“You were. I heard your voice.”
“Fine, whatever…Hmm…What do you want from me, huh?”
There was a long silence. I wanted an apology and a realization of the magnitude of the situation. But I knew I wouldn’t get it. And I didn’t feel like I should have to ask for it. But it hit me, hard like a bottle, that he didn’t care. It didn’t bother him at all. He really didn’t care. He really didn’t care. I wanted to die. But I was afraid.
“I’m going to kill myself.”
“Fine. Kill yourself if you want to kill yourself. What do you want me to say? Don’t do it? If you really want to go ahead. Don’t tell me that stupid shit…Is that it?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
With that, I hung up. My fate was sealed. Now there was truly nothing. Silence. My family was downstairs enjoying dinner, watching television, and yet there was this bizarre silence enclosing me, like I was in another world.
I went to my room and closed the door. Plugged up the headphones and played sad music. Looked out my window periodically at Gene’s house across the street. I imagined him sitting there, drinking beer, laughing. Laughing at me with the others. I was in shock about his indifference. I just sat and cried and let the sad music overtake me for hours before the events of the day flooded back into my mind. Still only half sober, I remembered.
* * * * *
I met him shortly after I turned fifteen. I guess I re-met him. We all used to play in the neighborhood when we were little. As we got older, those kids stayed and drifted into thughood. And my brothers and I bussed out to better schools. We were the smart kids. In that regard we were always very much separate from the others in the neighborhood.
Gene stopped me several months ago as I walked home from school one day in the rain. He offered me a ride. I declined, protesting that I didn’t know him. But he knew me. Knew where I lived. Said he lived across the street. He used to play baseball with my brothers. Yeah, I declined that ride home, but the damage was already done. I was just starting to grow into my already mature body, replacing glasses with contacts, and a press n’ curl with a perm. I was just starting to come into my own, doing cool things like drinking beer, playing sports, getting good grades. I liked my life, except that all my friends were starting to have boyfriends and fall in love and have sex, and I had no one. So of course, I was loving the fact that a nineteen-year-old would be interested in me. The damage was done. I was hooked. I spent the next four or five months of my life looking for him across the street, bumping into him, talking to him, going to his house, sleeping with him, drinking with him and his friends, sleeping with his friends, all for attention, his attention. All for him. I thought I loved him. I told him I loved him. I wanted to be in love. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to feel like he cared. I wanted them all to care. Like I was cool with all of them, like I meant something, like I was worth something. But more than anything I deluded myself into thinking it was possible for Gene to love me. I worked tirelessly at it. It was the biggest assignment of my sophomore year. I professed my love, I apologized for my promiscuity, I begged his forgiveness. And he said it was cool. That was two weeks ago. He said it was cool.
This Saturday started out the same way most did in recent months. Around twelve noon I called Gene to see him. I’d tell my mom that I was going to my girlfriend’s house. My mom never questioned it. I was a good girl to her. Always smiling, always well-behaved, got good grades, involved in extracurricular activities, went to church every Sunday. Never gave her or anyone else any trouble a day in my life. Why should she worry? Normally I’d walk straight across the street to him. Only this time, he told me we couldn’t drink at his house. Most weekends his mom worked days. But for some reason she was home today. We had to find somewhere else to be. It was nice out for February. No snow. Fifty degrees. Cloudy. He drove his brother’s car to the liquor store. He stuck with beer. I had worked my way up to run, straight. I thought my high tolerance impressed him. We had liquor, we had the day, we just needed a place to be together. We walked around for a half an hour, then he called Chuck, who lived around the corner. Chuck I did remember from childhood baseball games. He was cool. Unfortunately I had tried to use him to make Gene jealous months before. Didn’t work. But they both seemed cool about it. Chuck was supposedly going to work, even though he sat down and drank beer for a half hour before he left. By the time he left, I had downed a half pint and approximately twenty ounces of beer. He left me and Gene there in the house alone. Said he’d be back in a few hours, with a smile, and he was out the door.
I lay down on the bed, sad songs swirling in my brain, and it was all so vivid. Chuck left and I started feeling the alcohol. Gene took me upstairs for sex, which I let him. I lay there half naked and totally drunk, cartoons blaring on the TV set. Bugs Bunny. I remember. He left the room, I don’t know for how long. Came back for round two, only I didn’t feel like it. When he left to find more protection, I crawled down the stairs and under the dining room table. I was hiding. I remember that. I was hiding from Gene. Obviously he was bound to find me under a glass table. I tried to escape, crawling between the chairs like a snake. I knocked over a huge floor plant and broke the pot. That made him mad. We were in someone else’s house. He would have to explain it to Chuck’s mom. He told me to go upstairs and wait while he cleaned up. I said I was sorry, over and over again. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
The bed was moving, or I was moving, or both. I remembered seeing this other guy from around the way on top of me and fading out. I remember hearing voices, including Gene’s. I remember being tossed round like a rag doll, like I weighed two pounds. I remember falling and hitting my head. I remember at one point, a voice saying, “she’s dry man, gimme some K-Y.” That I was still hearing in my ears, like it was being whispered to me. But more than anything, I remembered wanting to talk and feeling like nothing was coming. I remember trying to scream with all that I had until I became short of breath. I remembered the surrealness of it all, feeling like I was trapped inside my own body, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t run, I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t cry.
Then there was Jon, hovering over me, staring at me. His exact words were, “You look like you’ve had enough. I’ma leave you alone.” I looked down and noticed how perfectly I was positioned on the bed. Hands folded across my stomach, feet lowered, ankles side by side, like a corpse. The only thing that ruined the perfect picture was my unbuttoned pants and, I found out moments later, my hair standing and all over my head. Chuck came up the stairs and told me Gene was leaving the house and that I should hurry up and catch him. He was trying to get me out the house before his mom came home. I tried to fix myself up in the mirror. It was useless. I looked at a clock. It was 6:30 and dark out. I realized I was supposed to be in the house when the street lights came on. I tried to move as fast as I could, but it hurt to walk, and my head hurt, and my arm was sore. The realization of what happened pierced me deeply with each step, the searing pain from between my legs. I cried out to him, in a voice that was sore as well. In a half whisper, I called his name several times, but by the time I made it down the stairs, he was gone. I made it past the five or six men in the living room, to the screen door, and on to the sidewalk. And I saw him. The back of him, go around the car, get in, and drive away.
* * * * *
My own thoughts drowned out the music in my headphones. He drove away. He left me there. He let them rape me. He drove away. He left me there. My whole body ached from the inside out. A pressure sat in my chest and would not leave. The anger and hurt and pain and humiliation filled my head to capacity, pounding like a blunt object. There was a tremendous ache in my heart that worsened with every beat. My ears were on fire. My soul was slowly leaving me, I could feel it, a numbness interlaced with the worst pain fathomable. I could live with it. All the things I had done that led me to that pain, I couldn’t have all that come out. And it would come out if I sought justice. The drinking, the sex. My parents would have to be told, my brothers would know. G-d only knows what my brothers would do to defend my honor. They would go to jail, or worse. What if my brothers died trying to defend me. No, I couldn’t let that happen. Enough had happened already, I couldn’t have my family go through that. If I didn’t leave a note, they would hurt, they would mourn, they would suffer, and they would forever have questions, but they would never have to face the fact that I was drunk and filthy.
I cried aloud until I heard their footsteps, until I heard them go to sleep for the night. Then I cried silently. Silently, as the music played and the numbness overtook the pain, and the buzz wore off, I had not forgotten my promise to my self. I had to die. It was time.
I crept past my mother’s room, trying to avoid the loose floor boards beneath my feet. Past my brothers’ room. Into the bathroom. I closed the door and locked it. In the medicine cabinet there were no sleeping pills. I had imagine taking sleeping pills like Marilyn Monroe. No suffering. But there were none. There was only aspirin, generic brand. I opened the bottle and slowly counted out twenty-five. That seemed like a good number. But I worried that it would be too many. I worried that I would feel it. I put back five. Twenty. Twenty was better. I started the water running, and using my and as a cup, I swallowed them, one at a time. After I was done, I stared at myself in the mirror. I contemplated throwing them up right there and then. I was afraid to die. But I couldn’t live anymore, not with that secret, not in that neighborhood, not with him living across the street and Chuck living around the way. I would have to see them daily. And I didn’t even know who was there. I didn’t even know all those involved. I could be walking by the perpetrators all the time and not know it. No, I couldn’t live like that. And what if I was pregnant? O my G-d. I can’t stay. I have to go.
I went back to my room, closed the door, and lay on the bed, flat on my back, headphones on, sad songs blaring, and I prayed.
G-d, I’m so sorry for the wrong I have done.
I’m sorry I wasn’t a better person.
I’m sorry I started drinking.
I’m sorry I met Gene.
I’m sorry I went to that house.
Lord, please take my soul,
take it and give it to a newborn,
to someone pure and innocent.
G-d, please take me, take my soul, take my life, please.
I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to stay here.
I have to leave.
I have to go.
Please, G-d, take me.
Teresa Davis, Class of 2002