Once again, Ava allowed her reminiscing to shut off her attachment to reality. This time she the discomfort of small pebbles and sand entering her wounded feet nudged her back to reality by. She ran out of the neighborhood and now stood at the edge of the desert.
She had no idea when the car had turned or left her sight. She allowed herself to be careless. She thought about how the same careless roaming brought Brad back into her life and, for the first time since leaving the casino she thought about Brad. She attempted to smile as she realized how good it felt to run her problems away but the cold desert air had chapped her lips to the point of splitting. In an attempt to lick them she realized just how dry her mouth had become. And just like that, as quickly as that whisper of joy crept in, it faded away, now replaced with the memories of the man who broke her heart and sent her on this journey in the first place.
Ava first met Brad in undergrad. He was smart and worked hard and he loved to have a good time. They would see each other in passing on campus, and had a few conversations here and there. He was charming, and she liked him but she was focused on school and he was focused on extracurriculars so they never could find common ground.
Ava vividly remembered the day, or more accurately the morning, that she reconnected with Brad after her father’s death. She had been plagued with insomnia and her routine was to try and go to sleep, roll around for an hour or two in bed, then get up as her restless mind kept moving. Some nights she would get a few hours of of sleep around three in the morning but would be awakened by the sun since she slept lightly. Night after night this would happen and her attempt at a remedy was to run.
She would typically run in one direction through the city until the sun came up then walk around whatever part of the city she ended up in. The risk didn’t matter. In a strange way she hoped for a mugging or assault so she could feel anything. Ava was exhausted. She was not just physically tired, but tired of life. The restlessness made her numb. Void of any emotions or feelings. And the running, which used to be her muse, turned into an invitation for a choir of voices in her head encouraging her to end her miserable existence.
On the morning she reconnected with Brandon, as she walking around after her run, bombarded by the voices, when she was jolted out of her haze by the smell of coffee. She walked past a twenty-four hour diner just as a patron opened the door and the distinct aroma of a freshly brewed pot caught the air just right and floated underneath her nostrils.
Ava’s love for coffee temporarily lifted the fog from her mind. She went into the diner, took a seat at a booth in the back, and ordered a cup of coffee and a bagel with cream cheese. While the waitress was away, Ava searched her bag for any cash. Because she hadn’t worked in months, and the insurance money had all been spent, she owed one month in back rent and she went over the limit on her credit cards. She prayed that a few bucks were stashed away in her purse so she could at least enjoy a cup of coffee, but as she dug in her purse, she realized that even the simple joy of a cup of coffee was out of her reach.
Within two minutes, the waitress returned with her order.
“Thanks,” Ava said without making eye contact, too ashamed that she didn’t have any money and too embarrassed to tell her to take it back.
“Oh, you’re welcome hun. Just let me know if you need anything else, ok?” Ava nodded as the cheerful, petite waitress smiled and walked off to another table.
The legion of self-deprecating thoughts returned in an instant. The voices were her own, but in varying tones, and volumes. Some as faint whispers, others as loud screams and some voices even musical like a lullaby, but all were tormenting her. The voices told her how ugly she had become from not eating and sleeping. They told her she was lazy and worthless. They told her she was not loved and would never be loved again. And after days, weeks, months of the same message on repeat in her head, Ava started to believe every word.
She stared at her coffee aimlessly while the voices kept going. She looked down at the knife on the table. She stared at the pointed edge and knew what she had to do to make the voices go away.
“I wondered if it is sharp enough to saw through the skin?” She thought as she rubbed her fingers across the blade’s serrations. She fantasized how to do it. She figured going to the bathroom would be the best way to ensure no one would stop her.
Then she imagined herself slowly grinding the butter knife against her wrist and watching the warm blood roll down her forearm to her elbow and drip to the toilet. She had the foresight to know that holding her arm over the toilet bowl would not drip blood on the floor and raise the suspicion of anyone entering.
Ava could see herself doing all of this, like a person watching a movie, and the choir of voices that were demeaning her were now all chanting in unison to do it.
Ava heard the voices urging her to run to the bathroom and end it all.
Her legs shook with eagerness and she began to muster the strength to go.
Then, a familiar voice and a gently touch on her shoulder interrupted her fantasy of fatality. That touch made all the voices go away, and peace came over her body that she hadn’t felt in months.
She turned and saw Brad standing there. He had kind eyes positioned perfectly on his squarish face. He was over six feet tall, so he was towering over her as she sat. She didn’t recognize him at first and did not respond.
Brad continued talking, “’I’ve been staring at you for half an hour. I thought it was you but you look a little different now.”
“Brad?” Ava finally caught on, “Oh my god! Wow, Brad. I haven’t seen you since-” Ava stopped to think.
“Yeah, I know.” Brad replied. He spoke to her but his eyes were drawn to the blade that Ava clinched firmly in her shaking hand. She quickly dropped the knife and the clinging echoed through the relatively empty restaurant.
“What are you doing here?” Ava replied awkwardly, attempting to change the subject.
“Oh, well, I like to come here to grab breakfast and read the paper before starting my day. They have surprisingly good oatmeal at this place! And before you ask, yes, I am an old man trapped in a young man’s body.” Brad said with a smile.
Ava laughed. She hadn’t laughed for months. But the joy she felt in that moment floated away like a dandelion seed in the wind as she recalled what she was about to do. She fought back the tears that welled in her eyes.
Brad took a seat in front of her, “Hey, do you mind if I sit here and- well, we can talk, or I can listen. I’ll pay for your coffee?”
A subtle smile crept on Ava’s face as a tear slid down her cheek and she whispered, “I’d like that.”