An acrid tang penetrates my mouth as I sink to my knees, shivering uncontrollably. My stomach clenches like a fist, forcing partially-digested food and bile up my throat only to spew, geyser-like, out my mouth. Clutching my stomach, I rock back and forth, waiting for the nausea to subside. Only then do I notice I am sobbing uncontrollably.
Amidst the sobs, I perceive a hand, ethereal and yet radiating life, resting on my shoulder.
“No,” I moan, softly at first, and then louder and louder, until I am screaming it. “You’re not there; you can’t be. I ran away from you. How did you find me?”
Then I hear a whisper in my ear: “I love you.” Oh, that tender voice, deep with love and sorrow. I shrivel as an arm slides around my shoulder, though I do not thrust it away as I have so many other times. I am too broken.
The meek girl to whom the voice belongs has been by my side since I was a babe. The creamy skin on her wrists, soft as a newborn babe’s, has been inscribed by my knife with dozens of purpling scars; though it was into my wrists, and not hers, I had sawed. It was too late I realized that each time I drew the knife across my flesh, it etched a bloody line into hers. With each stroke, she had absorbed the sting of my father’s hatred.
She used to dress in the most exquisite clothes. Now, she wears the oversized and tattered ones my mom shoved at me when I entered high school. The clothes draw stares wherever we go. Kids my age mock her; her elders look at her with pity. After she put on my clothes, she adorned me with her beautiful raiment so I could stroll through high school without shame.
And so, because of me, my companion has a scarred and ragged visage. I cannot look at her without staring at all of my sorrows and shame. That is why early this morning I boarded a bus which would take me far away from her.
It was after I had brooded for some time over all the pain I caused her that I heaved my dad’s old gun out of my pocket and twisted it towards my head. Then, as my index finger was pinching the trigger, everything spun out of control. I saw a man’s arm thrust the gun away from me. I heard an anguished scream and tires shrieking. I felt my body leave the seat when the bus began its first roll, and there was blackness all around.
When I woke up, a crumpled rag beside the toppled bus, everything was silent and still around me, and all the passengers, strewn like pieces of trash on the ground, were dead.
“I love you.” The gentle voice jars me back to the present as a crescendo of sirens fills the air. The hand, so warm with life, moves off my back. I begin to shift my eyes from the ground to the road, and that is how I see she is standing, holding my gun. In a trance, I watch her walk toward the sirens, and then kneel, resting the gun on the ground at her feet.
I see her hands slide up in surrender. I watch the police handcuff her and shove her into a car as ambulances arrive. I watch paramedics identify bodies, and I weep softly as they cover them with horrible black bags and stack them in the ambulance.
No one seems to notice me. Hours pass. I remain where I am, with my arms wrapped around my body, rocking back and forth. Everyone leaves. I am alone, with the mangled frame of the bus lying in front of me.
Oh, the shame! I cannot bear to live anymore.
And then, like a gentle breeze, a whisper tickles my ear: “I love you.” Though I know she left in the police car, it is as if she is still here, sitting beside me. The whisper becomes a chant, turning the words into invisible arms which embrace my mind so I cannot think about anything else.
“Stop! You can’t love me!” I wail. “Look what I have done! Look at the pain I have caused you!”
“I love you” sings the reply.
“Ok,” I finally wail, “I have to let you love me! I can’t fight you anymore, and I can’t get away from you.” More time passes. I remain where I am, allowing love to swell into every crevice of my being.
“You love me,” I whisper into the stillness of the night. A smile, blooming from my soul, creeps onto my face. “You love me,” I shout.
And I dance, free of my shame.