My eyes snapped open and my heart went into overdrive. The surface below me wasn’t smooth. I scraped at the harsh rigid fabric, there were no sheets to bunch up into my fists. On top of me wasn’t my comforter but my warm and heavy fleece blanket. I didn’t move, didn’t blink and barely drew in breath. This couldn’t be happening.
I had fallen asleep in my bed last night. I was positive of that. I remembered pulling the comforter over my shoulders and curling up on my side into my usual ball. The last thing I had seen was the shadows of the trees dancing across my closed bedroom door. The branches curled into skeletal fists, rapping to get out of my room and into the rest of the apartment. It had all been there before my exhausted brain had finally turned off and shut down.
Now I opened my eyes to a stark white ceiling, only a sliver of the morning sun cutting across the surface. I could see the edge of the television from the lower edge of my vision. A black speck marring the surface of what should be a tranquil new morning. How did I end up in the living room?
I slowly sat up and placed my blanket to the side. With shaking legs, I stood and carefully made my way to the bathroom. One foot slid in front of the other, coming to rest, heel touching toes. I wanted to get to the mirror but it was also the last thing on this Earth that I wanted to do.
I turned the corner of the hall and saw the open bathroom door, a door I knew I had closed last night. My feet stopped moving and I just stood there, completely still and staring dead ahead of me. This was the moment when I should walk in that room, turn on the light and know if I had destroyed everything or not.
Ten minutes later and I was still standing and staring. My feet were glued to the carpet. My brain was screaming at me to run and my heart was barely beating. I felt sick, my stomach wanted to throw up and release all of the anxiety and fear building up inside of me. My brain wanted me to just sit down and cry and deal with the world falling apart. None of that would matter though unless I knew, knew if I had done it or not.
Finally I couldn’t let my racing emotions hold me any longer. I had to know. No matter what better judgement said, I had to see. Even if I didn’t look that wouldn’t change anything. If I had touched it, I had touched it. There was no turning back time, no undoing whatever I had done.
When I restarted moving, I was in fast forward. I nearly jogged to the doorway. I stepped in front of the mirror, flicked on the light and let out all the breath I had been holding. They were still there. Those small round marks, with the waving lines stared back at me, they were still there. I hadn’t taken them away, I hadn’t erased him.
My legs felt like jelly, I had to sit down. Gripping the edge of the sink I lowered myself onto the toilet seat and let my body release all the tension from the last half hour.
I cried until I had no tears left and my stomach was queasy. It felt so good to let all of that go. It had been months since his eyes had closed for the last time. Months since I had heard his laugh ringing from the living room. Months since his hands had wrapped around my stomach and held me close. Months since cruel fate had stolen the only person in this world who knew and understood me.
I never had to voice my fears or worries to him, he could always just read them on my face. Without asking he knew what I needed and was there to give it to me. Whether it was a hug, kiss, flowers or a joke he always had exactly what I needed. It was wrong, we knew that. We knew that what we were doing was wrong, but we didn’t care.
We tried to hide it. We tried to be like every other couple, satisfied but not happy. We really did try to pretend. I am just not much of an actress. He was alway better then me, always able to hold a stoic stance and tight lipped grimace when we were out together. I alway resented his skill a little bit. I knew it wasn’t personal but a small side of me had issues believing that some days. He loved me, he adored me, and he couldn’t live without me. He just couldn’t show the world that he loved me.
Love isn’t alive anymore. I don’t remember when or how but someone destroyed it for the rest of us. Someone pissed off the higher-ups and they outlawed love. They said it created inequality. If people were only able to fight for a handful of others, that left too many people without any help. They said it left the world crumbling and would eventually lead to the end of civilization as we knew it. If the human race was to survive we all had to fight for everyone else, you couldn’t be attached to only one person. They said this was the best way, groups working together could accomplish so much more.
Children were raised by a “family group.” Elders were moved to different quads and cohorts, where a group also took care of them. Each stage of life moved you into different areas, different cohorts. In each one you lived with others your age and at your stage of life. You worked with them and survived with them. You didn’t attach yourself to them, no one was friends, and no one cared about one person more than any another. At least not in public.
Marriage was to create children and to keep a shelter up and running. You were assigned your partner at age 22 and you dealt with them until old age. You were not friends, lovers or even companions. It was a business contract, nothing more.
Love can’t be eliminated though. It isn’t a disease or a passing fad. Fate will step in and partners will fall for each other. It was inevitable that eventually a pair would actually fall for each other. You can hide some things but a heart full of true love can’t be shut off.
I was ten at the first “divorce.” Groups were gathered together of all ages. Everyone got to see what breaking the rules would mean. It took place in the dead center of the city. A pair was brought up on a stage and ripped from each other’s arms. She wouldn’t let him go at first and he begged for another chance. The guards, dressed completely in blinding white, dragged them to the opposite end of the stage.
Still sobbing and breaking they stood the two before us and made us choose which one would be left behind, the woman or the man? Which one would get to suffer on Earth and which one would suffer in Hell? (Because that was what we were led to believe, lovers ended up in Hell). We choose the woman. The guards not saying a word, had shot the man, pushed the body aside and dismissed us.
As a child I hadn’t understood. They had broke the rules and were punished, to me that was logical. I remember asking a member of one of the other cohorts, “Why didn’t they just follow the rules?” To me rules were simple and plainly laid out, why break them?
“Because sometimes rules can’t be followed. You don’t always get a choice,” she had answered me with a hard and bitter edge to her voice.
Two years ago she was the one the crowd had chosen. I had watched, understanding finally what she had meant. You can say no all you want but that word doesn’t mean much to the heart. Laws aren’t meant to govern the soul.
At home we were supposedly safe. No one cared what happened behind our four walls. This was considered our shelter, our one spot where we were given an illusion of privacy. They didn’t have cameras or anything spying on us, but we did have windows on all walls. The world was never completely gone.
In public was where they cared. It was where others could watch your every move and gain ideas that worried them. At home it was only yourselves you hurt, out in the world you could destroy the whole group. If you slipped up outside, you could and would lose everything.
There had been no trial. We had woken up to our door being busted open and shouts sounding from the hallway. We didn’t ask what was wrong. We didn’t attempt to play dumb. We knew. The day before I had smiled at him and him at me. It had been an accident, one I had prayed no one had noticed. That prayer went unanswered.
I didn’t cry on stage. He didn’t beg them to choose him or to let us go. We shut down everything. There was no whispered declarations of love or promises to be together forever. We let them separate us without a word or ounce of emotion. The crowd choose him and I had watched the life leave his eyes with a steady heart and my own eyes dry.
At the end we finally did it. We finally shut everything off, at that last moment we refused to let them win. They could kill us, and damn our souls but they couldn’t destroy what we shared. We didn’t need to cry it from the mountains or whisper it to each other. We knew it and that was all that mattered.
I was empty for about a month. For month I pretended to not care like the rest of the world. I didn’t cry or get angry. I lived one day to the next. There is only a finite amount of time you can do that for though. You can only pretend for so long before reality rears its ugly head.
I woke up one morning and saw everywhere he had ever been. I knew where each of his feet had fallen and each surface his hands had touched. I lived in an obstacle course. If I touched those spots, if I erased him, he would be completely gone.
For weeks I tried to avoid every memory of his. I didn’t wipe down counters, sweep the floor or move any pillows. If I left it all the same he wouldn’t truly be gone.
You can’t live like that forever. Life has to move on. You can fight and build a new life or you can give up and let it all destroy you. He would kill me if I let them win. I had to fight but that meant I had to let him go, slowly but surely. Gradually I began pushing each piece of him away. I walked in his shoe impressions on the carpet, sat in his sagged place on the sofa. Slowly I consumed each piece of him.
All that was left were a few fingerprints on the mirror. The fingerprints I had stared at so intently a moment ago. They were all that was left of him. Life had destroyed every other piece. Those marks were my only memory of him now. I didn’t know what would happen if I swept those prints away.
Would I completely forget him? I had heard stories, once all traces were gone of that person it was like they never existed. You got a new partner and life moved on. Was it possible? Did they actually do that? Would it matter? What did I want? What did I deserve?
If I let the world back in it could happen again. What if I fell for my next partner? Would I be betraying him? Could I stand to live life in hiding again? Was there something wrong with me? Was I doomed to live life in constant fear and always looking over my shoulder? Did I care?
I stood up, got back in front of the mirror, splayed my hands on the sink and concentrated on each and every line. I stared so hard, trying to fully and completely commit each wavy line to memory. Last night I had left my bed, roamed around and did who knows what. Was my subconscious trying to tell me something? Should I just let it go?
I slowly raised my my hand and pressed it to the glass right beside his print. I held it there for a moment before pulling away, leaving my own impression behind. I looked at the two hands, so different. Yet the same.
I turned off the light, locked the door, shut it completely and went to begin my day.