family. moving forward from a tragedy. dealing with sudden death.
“I want to kill myself”, that’s all Alister says, and walks out of the room. The door waves a little as if it had arms and hands.
“But that’s just my imaginary friend,” Annya pops her words like popcorn because what else would pop like that?
She knows nothing is real with Alister, so she doesn’t follow him outside, although the weather is warm and inviting, unlike last night, grisly and cold.
Sissy sits back on the wasted green armchair resting her right cheek in her palm. Wasted as in drunk and used because the cushions have been soaked in all the drench, sweat, and tears. Annya still uncontrolled by Alister’s outburst paces the room, fighting with her thoughts as to what to do with her hands.
“The energy of the room has shifted,” Annya says and the worry shakes her voice. The feeling she detests. “It isn’t calm anymore,” and she doesn’t feel calm anymore. She regrets confronting Alister by speaking the truth about her thoughts. “I knew he wouldn’t understand,” with that she looks at her mother Sissy, searching for comfort, and plants her feet for the first time during the session. The movement helped the energy escape. Now in stillness, she’s a rooted tree, seizing the energy from the wooden planks or maybe feeding the floor with it. The floor begins to vibrate and then the whole room until the vibration reaches the roof, and the house takes in an inhale and a heavy exhale. It breathes. Like lungs expanding and collapsing.
Sissy continues to perch her head in her palm and waits. Her heart racing without a conclusion, looking at her daughter in despair. Screaming doesn’t help. Raising her hands in resignation doesn’t help. Maybe silence for once will nurture the moment and let her daughter recollect whatever amount of lucidity she carries. Lunacy has embraced Sissy’s family and she throttles the idea of ever having a stable home again. How did she end up with two moody teenagers, knowing quite well that’s the passage of parenthood? Sulkiness and angst. But having one with imaginary friends and the other with suicidal ideation both aged 16 is something she wasn’t prepared for. All of this unfolding in the waiting room of their psychologist is a brutal blow to her gut. Because Sissy holds her anger, resentfulness, pain, and anxiety in her gut. And this battle between her kids as to whom may be worse off is the unkindest rip to her self-esteem as a parent. To be a witness of that is like having open heart surgery live.
Looking back at Annya, Sissy disengages from her wondering thoughts and heartbreak and walks over to her daughter. A gesture Annya welcomes with a hug.
Sobbing relieves the tension in Annya’s body and she whispers to her mother, “I’m sorry.”
Alister dodges another session with the therapist. The-rapist, as he likes to call his doctor. The rapist of Alister’s and Annya’s thoughts. In truth, Dr. Westin is a silver-haired soft spoken introspective man. In other words, harmless. But Alister has had enough therapy for the week. Freedom is what he seeks, and craves. And the escape gave me that jolt and sense of freedom. To do something spontaneously other than what was planned is a cry to take back control over his life. Victimhood is a state of mind and a weak excuse not to take responsibility. Alister realizes he does not want to check the box marked ‘a victim’ because he doesn’t feel as such. And he resents anyone who places him in that boxes. His sister Annya, on the other hand, revels in that state and he detests her most for it.
“You’re not a prison. You are the prison,” Alister recalls as it was shouted from Annya’s mouth in pure mania a few minutes ago as if he held her back in some form from recovery. She tends to blame him for a lot of her setbacks because he’s an easy target. Because he’s her twin. Because she expects him to feel exactly like her. Share the same emotional DNA. And yet he doesn’t. For every spry outburst she experiences, Alister drowns in an episode of darkness and numbness. Life simply is not of interest. Sitting in a room filled with water to its brim is. But that only plays out in his imagination.
A tug on his jacket pulls him back to the sidewalk and brings him back to the extended car horn from the street.
“You don’t want to be a road kill,” the man who pulls him to safety lightly grins and waits for Alister to return a word.
“Thank you,” Alister manages to figure out the appropriate sentiment for this instance.
But the man isn’t convinced and asks, “Are you okay? You seemed to be lost in the ether.”
“I might have been.”
‘I wish I was,’ might be more of a correct answer.
The shouting started about twenty minutes ago. Annya and Alister try to outshout each other but neither is successful or retreating.
Sissy pours herself a glass of white wine and leaves the house. Drinking has become a habitual routine and a means to survival.
“I hate you!” Annya shouts to Alister.
“I hate you!” Alister shouts to Annya and slams the door to his room. Privacy at times is a necessity.
Annya joins Alister in his last act and slams the door to her room as well. The attack comes as a release of energy. The bright light emitting from the lamp follows her around the room, electrifying her dancing arms. Once again she’s unable to stay still. The room feels congested and stuffy. The stuffed animals line up along the footboard and she grabs her favourite brown teddy bear to squeeze. The hugs she constantly needs to be near some form of reality. If she doesn’t touch an object; therefore, it does not exist. If she doesn’t shout at her brother for Alister to shout back at her, then he doesn’t exist. She needs the chaos, the noise, and the tactics, to understand the world around her. And she’s not apologetic for it. She doesn’t see anything wrong with it. Unlike Alister who sees everything wrong with his existence. She hates him for it. But then she also loves him. To carry a similar burden, maybe not entirely the same, still provides her with relief.
“I love you,” she whispers. “I love you,” she whispers again and then shouts, “I love you!” Her design of an apology as it is difficult to utter, ‘I’m sorry.’
Alister hangs on the other side of the door to his room unwilling to answer Annya back. He cannot give her satisfaction. She has infuriated him much and he knows it will never be for the last time. Not unless he ends it all. Not unless he runs away. He’s been smelling wine on his mother’s breath lately and it vexes him. If he could only turn back time and never be born. If only his sister devoured him in the womb. Maybe it would even Annya out between the firecracker that she is and the soil that Alister is. Bland and stationery.
None of it matters nonetheless. He’s here and he’s got to face the reality, life, living. The reasoning only leads to healing the relationship between his mother and Annya.
The dust lifts from the floor, dandruff, and dog hair, as Alister drops to the floor and crosses his legs. Still sitting in front of the door and remaining in silence. He could feel the vibration of music coming from Annya’s room as he touches the door and closes his eyes. For a moment he takes in the noise and tries not to escape into the ethereal. For a moment there’s a sense of escape but then he hears soft footsteps.
“I’m sorry for calling you my prison,” Annya’s voice comes from the other side of the door. She adds softly, “You are not,” and taps the door three times.
Alister answers with a tap.
“Please don’t die,” Annya’s voice shakes with concern.
“I won’t,” Alister answers and after a few seconds, he makes out that Annya is sobbing.
“I miss dad,” She says. “I miss him tremendously.”
‘I don’t,’ is Alister’s more of an accurate answer but he doesn’t want Annya to hear that.
Ever since their father’s death, Alister senses this pull to the other side, to the unknown. Somewhat preferring the idea of not knowing. Sitting in the middle of something not knowing whether he is existing or not. Prefers not knowing his place and whether he is in heaven or hell. Only, he is stuck. Can’t redo the past. Can’t move forward. Simply existing. Taking the air in and breathing it out. Someday the switch will turn off but numbness is not living.
The father’s lifeless body appeared as if it was simply in slumber. Nothing out of ordinary. Another Tuesday morning. The only thing that gave an amiss indication was his mother’s tears. Alister never saw her cry that early in the morning. She only cried during sad or happy movies. Not in the morning. And Alister couldn’t understand what has happened but he didn’t approach either his mother or his father. He let Annya dance into their room unaware of the sadness that occupied the space. But she danced to her mother’s embrace and said, “It will be okay,” as if she understood, absorbed, and cast away the pain.
Alister stood in the doorway erasing the scene and now sitting in the kitchen watching his mother tossing the salad, he only admires Sissy’s strength.
“I don’t want to say mean things anymore. Things that hurt you. I will be good.” Alister begins to fill the silence.
Sissy stops and looks at her son, “You are good. I wish you could see that. You’re both good.”
Annya listens without nodding or giving any indication that she heard her mother. As the silence between Sissy and Alister stretches, the heaviness of guilt pulls her into the seat. The cushion seems to be sucking her body into it. The guilt of being wretched. She might be dramatic, impulsive, and explosive but that’s because she absorbs everyone’s pain; the same way she absorbed her mother’s wound the day Sissy’s husband died. The day Alister’s and Annya’s father died.
“It isn’t your fault,” Sissy once said to Annya. “People just die,” and she hugged her daughter with all her might and love.
In later years, Annya preferred the terms, expire and terminate, compared to die; and that is how she would explain to people that her father has expired like old milk. It was easier to cope and she thought she sounded mature by explaining it like that.
Alister; however, hated that his father died. Couldn’t grasp it, and he couldn’t cope. Easier for him not to miss his father at all; rip the pictures, and erase his father’s existence.
“So, who’s going to set the table?” Sissy asks deciding it’s best to move on, to let the heavy air lift. That’s how she managed to keep her children moving forward. Distracting herself and her children with daily chores, until everything shattered, and one day the paramedics arrived because Alister couldn’t contain his pain anymore. The day Sissy had to see her son throw a hospital bed against the wall, be tackled down, and be restrained.
“Face it. Deal with it. Live through it,” People offered their best advice.
But it’s uneasy to get unstuck and she takes out the leftovers from the oven. “Well, dinner is done,” she says looking back at her children with hope.
© Jacob Greb — 2023
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