Five

Written by: Adriana Travisano

It’d been 5 hours and he was numb.

           He sat in class, numbers on the chalkboard blurring together as Mr. Glasend droned on about calculus. The ringing in his ears hadn’t stopped since the moment he had found out. His dad had advised him to stay home but he insisted on going to school, stating he’d take the bus and that was that.

           He’d seen the hurt in his eyes, but there was no way he could stay. Instead, he advocated for distractions and liberty and peace of mind. How naive was he to think that school—of all things—would allow him peace of mind. Ha!

           After being singled out and chastised for not listening, Roderick leaned over, asking, “Hey, you okay, man?” to which he responded with a nod of his head and a brief, “Yeah.” He wasn’t sure if his heartbeat had slowed so much that he couldn’t feel its pulse, or if it was beating so quick his brain didn’t have time to register it was there. Either way, he was lightheaded.

           It’d been 5 days and he’d missed two days of school to attend the funeral. By then everyone knew and he’d received texts of condolences and sympathetic smiles in the hallway.

           He was still numb.

He hadn’t cried yet, not once. Not at the hospital when her limp body lay on the stretcher and his dad’s sobs echoed throughout the room. Not at the funeral when he couldn’t help but feel disgust at everyone else who was crying—they didn’t know her like that, not enough to mourn like his father was—like he should’ve been. Not even afterwards when he felt guilty for feeling disgust at the attendees’ despair.

He came home from school one day, calling out, “Mom, I’m—” before realizing that she wasn’t home and would never ever be home again. Even then, he didn’t shed a tear; he merely sighed and pulled at his already disheveled hair.

           It’d been 5 weeks and you’d think he would be getting his life back together—or at least starting to. What a rose-coloured-lens way to think. And what a shame people aren’t cookie-cutter characters in novels or movies. They don’t fall into boxes, or categories, and certainly not into elementary feelings.

           Her stuff was still everywhere. His dad didn’t have the heart to get rid of it—no one did. Her lipsticks still adorned the shared dresser, her clothes still hung in her closet and her work files and folders still littered her desk in the basement. Sometimes, her favorite movie would come on while he surfed through channels and he didn’t have the heart to turn it off. So, he’d sit tense for the remainder of the duration of the film, wishing she was there and he was not.

           And when he passed by the laundry room to see his father crouched over and sobbing over the last t-shirt she’d worn, he couldn’t breathe. He wanted to fix this, wanted to help somehow—tried and searched and wracked his brain for a solution, anything—but there was nothing he could do.

           His brother was having a rough time too—which was, first of all, an understatement and second of all, rather expected from an eleven-year-old. He felt worse than scum when Jeremy’s teacher confronted him about the situation one day when he went to pick him up after school.

           “I’m afraid that… Jeremy’s been… crying a lot in class. I am aware you are not his legal guardian, but do you have any clue of what might be going on?” she’d asked.

           Oh, he felt like absolute shit having to tell this concerned teacher that, yes, there was indeed something wrong with the eleven-year-old boy crying in class all the time.

           “He won’t say anything whenever anyone asks him what’s wrong. He keeps saying he’s fine.” He’d learned well from his older brother.

           And the woman’s face fell and she rambled on empty apologies and transparent life lessons he really didn’t care to hear.

           “Would you mind, um, keeping it between you and me? I don’t think he wants the sympathy. He’s a strong little guy.”

           “Oh, of course Mr…..”

           Soon after, Jeremy had come running up to him from the playground where he’d been playing Sandman with a few friends. His teacher already regarded him differently—commiserating smiles and soft coos—and almost immediately, he regretted even saying anything.

           It’d been 5 months and he was mindlessly driving, which he seemed to be doing a lot of recently.

It struck him at the absolute worst time.

He’d taken exit 8 down the 404 and in the distance, to the side of the road, he noticed it. Directly in his line of vision was the Dairy Queen.

Two years ago, the entire family had gone out for ice cream. He remembered the day perfectly. So much so, that he’d remembered everyone’s orders. Jeremy—as always—got an Oreo blizzard, he’d tried a cookie dough blizzard, his dad had opted for a vanilla cone, and his mother, a strawberry milkshake. He remembered sitting across the table from her, her eyes growing wide in surprise and jaw unhinging in slow motion as vanilla ice cream found its way to her nose.

He’d lost it, almost sending ice cream flying out his nose, while Jeremy erupted into his own fit of giggles.

“Oh, you’re going to pay for that Martin!” she’d screeched, grabbing her husband’s wrist and making him smash the cone into own his face.

He’d laughed, wondering if there was any other couple in the world more ridiculously childish (and completely in love) than his parents. He really didn’t think so.

Then the road went blurry and his car swerved a little, the only thing keeping him grounded in the moment being the honks from behind. He pulled over, gut retching sobs ripping their way from his throat.

“Mom,” he cried out to the dashboard and the steering wheel and the old suede seats.

He pulled at his hair and covered his mouth and slammed his fists against whatever the remains of rationality in his brain told him he wouldn’t do damage to.

“I miss you,” he choked out between sobs. “God, I miss you.”

And then he was whispering to the threateningly heavy air. “Nothing is okay without you.”

It’s been 5 years and sometimes things feel okay. It’s nice, once in a while, to not feel like the world is caving beneath your feet and swallowing you whole.

However, sometimes he wakes up in the early hours of the morning and breaks into a cold sweat if it’s anywhere near the time 2:36 A.M. If it’s before, he’ll race to get back to sleep, but anxiety gnaws at his conscience, letting him know that if he doesn’t fall back asleep before the clock strikes, something terrible will happen.

It’s the reason he doesn’t pull all-nighters anymore.

Other times, he wakes up at exactly 2:36 A.M and the second his brain processes the three digits on the electric clock, he’s sent into a full-blown panic attack. His mother’s laugh rings through his ears and then visions of her feel like distant dreams that cloud his mind. However, they’re overshadowed by the images of her in the hospital bed, and the time on the electric clock on the nightstand when the monitor had ceased its rhythmic beeping.

He sees black, and not just the darkness of the room. He sees colors that aren’t there and hears his heartbeat so loud it almost drowns out the high-pitched ringing. He’s crying and struggling to breathe and oh, God why did he check the time?

Nevertheless, he doesn’t have a choice. If he wakes in the middle of the night, he scrambles to check the time in a manner so his subconscious doesn’t have the means to fight it. He has to check the time.

Or else something truly bad will happen.

He takes a panic attack over a profoundly bad thing any day.

At twenty-two years old, he sometimes feels shame for having to leave clubs or parties so early in the night. Then again, he’s not much of a drinker either. He drowns himself in schoolwork and studies hard for a career he’s not even sure he’s all that interested in.

After years of counselling, his dad’s life has started to pick up speed again. He was almost forced into it as well, but he denied it multiple times, assuring everyone he was perfectly fine.

He does a good job at hiding it.

Because in the dead of night, when he sits, wishing—praying—that by some force he could swap places with the body in the casket buried deep underground, he’s the furthest thing from perfectly fine.

 

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