Reality as Punishment
Chelsea had been taking the pills for over a week now and there were still no changes. She just lay on the couch and barely ate, soup mostly, and it couldn’t be providing many nutrients to her small frame. Thin and gaunt, her once porcelain skin now had more of a gray tinge to it, but getting her to eat anymore was near impossible.
And she was always cold. I found her in sweats most of the time when she got the energy to take a shower. All she did was lay on the couch and watch those stupid home improvement shows. It had gotten to the point that I didn’t even want to be home anymore. I couldn’t watch her deteriorate in front of me. My once vibrant woman was a shell of herself, and it was all because of me.
I was supposed to take care of Chelsea. Be her knight in shining armor and instead I brought the dragon right to her. I wanted her in the limelight with me. Pulled her in against her wishes and look what happened. He found her and ultimately destroyed our lives. She kept giving me second chances, and I kept fucking it up.
We didn’t talk anymore. I didn’t know what to say. Sorry, I ruined your life just doesn’t seem to cut it.
Today was the second time I’d met with Dr. Kellen this week. She wanted to find out about Chelsea, but each time I saw her, I kept thinking she wouldn’t be able to help us.
“How did the two of you meet?” Dr. Kellen’s voice derailed my train of thought. As I remembered back to how we first met I smiled. Wow, when was the last time I smiled?
“I saw her in a department store and had to ask her out.”
I left out the parts that didn’t paint a great picture of me, but Dr. Kellen noticed. “That can’t be the whole story.”
I shrugged as I should have seen it coming. “No, I wanted a fling.”
“Oh, and it didn’t work out that way?”
“No. Chelsea saw it for what it was and told me to piss off.”
She hid a smile and continued, “But you didn’t let it go.”
Not a question but a statement. She was very perceptive. “I couldn’t. Not too many women would say no to me. I looked at her as a challenge.”
“So how did you get her to go out with you?”
“She had worked at the department store on the other end of the mall. While she was working, I bought a love seat and had it placed in front of the register until she agreed to go on a date with me.” A genuine full smile crossed her face but it had always been a good story to tell.
“So, there was a purely physical attraction when you asked her out?”
“I guess.” What started out a physical attraction changed my world for the better. “It didn’t take long to see her differently. I had her pegged all wrong. I thought I needed to be a sappy, romantic guy but instead, she liked me when I was just myself, and I think we hit it off.”
“Haven’t you ever been yourself around another woman you dated?”
Sometimes I hated the way Dr. Kellen’s questions seemed to slap me in the face and make me take notice. “I didn’t have to be. The other women only saw the rockstar playboy and pursued him. The only other person I let my guard down with left me for bigger and better things.” Cami. I thought I loved her, but she only wanted my fame and fortune. And when someone came along who had more than me? She dropped me without a second thought.
“So, you let your guard down with her, and she fell in love, anyway.”
“I fell in love first, I think.” Memories of the first three weeks we had together in Wisconsin flashed
in my mind. We learned everything about each other, mind, and body.
“So, she followed you all the way to California to be with you? She must have loved you to do that?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Dr. Kellen uncrossed her legs and crossed them again. In the little time I had with her, I’d figured out
her tell that a difficult question was about to come, “What is it about Chelsea now that makes you love her?”
I wanted to answer in the most honest way possible. If I didn’t, Dr. Kellen had a way to work it out of
me. “She is special.”
After giving me all the time I needed to ponder it, Dr. Kellen urged me to elaborate. “Chelsea doesn’t think like most women. She is so caring. She has always put me first, even from early on. She almost didn’t come out to California because she thought it would ruin my career. She watches what I eat and is worried when I am not getting enough healthy food. She stays out of the limelight, so I can shine. She deals with all the crazy groupies throwing themselves at me, and when she does my laundry, she throws out all the phone numbers they stick in my pocket without ever thinking I could act on them. She... she trusts me wholly. Or rather she did.”
“Trust is important between you two?”
“Yeah, trust is everything. When Chelsea told me she loved me, I was over the moon, but it didn’t feel complete until the day she told me she trusted me. It was hard for her. She trusted Dan years ago and he hurt her the first time. It took her years to trust anyone again.” My head fell, and I looked at my clenched hands in my lap. Dr. Kellen noticed though; nothing escaped her.
“You feel you let her down?”
“Yes, I did. Chelsea is always taking care of me, and I am never there to take care of her. She trusted me to be there for her, and yet I let this happen.” Dr. Kellen said nothing at first, soaking in the information I presented to her.
Dr. Kellen's voice softened as she spoke next. “Survivors of a tragedy will often go through a form of PTSD as much as the victims themselves. It is a form of helplessness. Thinking you could have done something different for a different outcome. I want to walk you back through that day. Tell me the first thing you remember.”
Nervous, I started, “I flew into the airport and Chelsea wasn’t there to pick me up. She is never late and would never forget me.” Was I really going to talk about it? Although I feared it, it was a relief as well. I hadn’t talked about it with Chelsea, and no one brought it up around me, knowing how it still hurt.
“She wasn’t there, so I texted thinking she was caught in traffic, but when I couldn’t get a hold of her, I started to panic. I got a cab and made my way back home. I had contacted the police on the way there and when I made it home I thought I would be sick. There were police officers everywhere and Chelsea couldn’t be found.” Tears stung the back of my eyes, but I wouldn’t let them fall.
“The police searched for her all day, and when they blew off my suggestion of Dan, I left to do my own search. I couldn’t stand it there anymore. Just sitting around doing nothing while Chelsea was out there and in trouble.”
“And then what happened?”
I took in a long breath, blowing it out through pursed lips, willing my heart to slow enough to get the
words out. “We found her in a cabin in the mountains, but by then it was too late.”
“What do you mean too late? She is still alive.”
Dr. Kellen would never understand how important this child was to Chelsea. To me. “The baby had died. Thank God Chelsea had survived, but that baby meant everything to her. She wanted to be a mother her whole life. It was her will to live.”
“Is this child something that you wanted also?”
“Yes.” I couldn’t say anything else as my voice broke, thinking of us as a family. The three of us with my Holly by me.
“Let’s go back to the break-in at your house. You say that you couldn’t protect her. You weren’t there for her. What if you had been home?”
This was easy. “I would have been there to fight him off.”
She shook her head and shrugged indifferently, “He had a gun. You weren’t the target.”
“But I could have stopped it somehow.”
She countered, “How?”
If I were there, I know things would have been different. “I would have fought him.”
“He had a gun. He was in the army and knew how to use it.”
“I have guns too.”
“But you don’t have one in every corner of the house.”
No, I didn’t but I could have stopped him. I knew it. When I didn’t answer she went on, “If he had shot and killed you, then what would have happened?”
“He wouldn’t have.” Adamant, I knew I would have protected her somehow.
“Where you live, so secluded, would anyone have heard?” My mouth opened but only air escaped.
Realization dawned on me. With the way the rocks were formed outside the house, and the drive to get there, I guessed she was right. There would be noise but it would be muffled. People would more likely have thought of a car backfiring had they heard anything at all.
“He had a hole dug behind the cabin. This had been premeditated you know.” My senses blurred as shock overcame me. No one talked to me about the case. He already had a hole dug for the body?
She went on when I was unable to answer, “He had this well thought out. Psychotics may have a break with reality, but he planned her murder. If he found you there it wouldn’t have stopped him.” The thought came full circle as I clung to my original idea. I could have saved her, couldn’t I?
“What would have happened if he killed you?” It wasn’t something I’d imagined. Not the day she was kidnapped and not even by the cabin when I went after them.
“He wouldn’t have.”
“He would have. Then what would happen? Tell me.” She was being pushy, and I didn’t like it. Normally I valued her insight, but now my defenses were up. I could have done something, I knew it.
She bombarded me with questions before I had a chance to answer and it pissed me off. Urgently she pushed me yet again, “Tell me what would have happened if Dan killed you.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. Tell me.”
My heart beat faster, and my breathing sped up. “Tell me, Brandt.”
I blurted it out, “She would have died.” The reality hit me. She would have died. No one would have known to look for Dan. I got Bill involved, and I knew about the cabins behind Phillip’s estate to Heavens’ Gate mountain.
My only wish was to have been at the house to stop Dan and in reality, there would have been no way to stop him from getting at her. Yes, there were scenarios in my mind where I would have seen him around the property and would have done something to save her, but in the end, Stephanie was right. He could have killed me, and Chelsea would be dead as well. Breathing a slow, heavy breath, she forced me to see it.
“Brandt, this is a terrible thing that had happened to you. You did the best you could.” I still couldn’t fully accept it. Maybe it was just easier to think I had more control over the situation.
“What are you afraid of with Chelsea?”
The answer weighed heavily on me. “That she doesn’t trust me anymore.”
Dr. Kellen looked down solemnly. “Do you think she is ready to come back?”
I shook my head. “No, she doesn’t want to come back. I don’t think I should push her either.”
She heard the concern in my voice. “It seems like you have pushed her in the past.”
“Yeah, I have pushed her to do a lot of things she didn’t think she was ready for.”
“And this is different?” I nodded my head but stayed silent, not knowing what to say. “She didn’t like getting pushed into things in the past. Do you always push her when she isn’t ready?”
Thinking back over the past year with her, I would have to agree. I had pushed her. Emotionally and of course, sexually. She always seemed to come around, eventually. Especially if I gave her time to think about it. But that was at a time when she trusted me.
“What happens if you push her too much now?”
“She leaves me,” I answered with certainty.
Dr. Kellen stayed silent for so long it unnerved me. The quiet settled around the room either as a ploy to let it sink in, or to give me enough time to come to grips with our issues. Did she do this with all of her clients? Did she have people so screwed up that they were a lost cause like we were?
“So, what the two of you have right now is acceptable to you?” As always, she asked the hard questions. What did we have right now? I had even been avoiding going home. When I was there, we didn’t talk, and I hid in the home studio or exercised to get my frustrations out.
Our relationship had been unraveling for some time now. Chelsea was just a shell of a person. The light in her eyes had left and I missed the closeness we shared. Hell, I even missed her quirks. Subconsciously, I thought if I kept the house dusty and dirty she would notice and take to her cleaning. I had been doing the laundry and trying to keep up, but even I didn’t really care anymore.
Was this what I wanted? For this to continue, to go on? As hard as it was to look at her so utterly destroyed, I received comfort knowing when I got home, she would be there. In my house. Physically with me, if not emotionally. It was the last piece of her and no matter what, I would hold on as long as possible.
Finally, I answered Dr. Kellen’s question, “It is. It is the only thing I have.”
After our session, I went home and retreated to my home studio yet again after making sure she ate today. Seeing the empty can on the counter, I added more soup to the grocery list knowing it was the only thing she would eat.
Dr. Kellen encouraged me to continue with my music stating it would help me to heal. When we met, we discussed Chelsea, but I almost felt strange about going behind her back. She made me think about things I never thought about before. Like the reason I loved Chelsea. You would think it would be obvious. Chelsea was a light on a dark, dreary day. She was warm and thoughtful, and everyone that encountered her seemed to think so too. There were so many people at the funeral that had told me so.
Chelsea had on rose-colored glasses. I remembered being annoyed with it at first. That she didn’t understand how the world could be cruel. But I was the one who failed her. Chelsea always put me on higher ground. Made me feel like Superman when I was, in all actuality, the evil villain. I did some shitty things in my life, and even when they came out, she had overlooked them or gave some excuse for my past behavior. Well, the bubble had burst. I was nothing but a failure to her. Why did I ever think I deserved to even be in her shadow?
After checking on Chelsea, I went up to the home studio. It was the one place that still made sense to me. I hid in the music as always. Here, I could still be whatever I wanted. I could close my eyes and drift away.
A song skirted along the outskirts of my mind. The words were just for my ears. It was about the loss of my child and the pain I had. It started out as the lullaby for my daughter but had morphed into something gloomier. The chords I strummed on my guitar were slow and sorrowful, the melody cathartic. I didn’t show anyone though knowing at would reveal my hurt, and I felt far from ready.
It wasn’t until her afternoon pill was due that I noticed I forgot to give her a morning dosage. I didn’t leave them with her as I needed to be sure she took them. I needed to know she was working herself back to me.
Leaving the studio, I made my way back downstairs. When I got there, she wasn’t on the couch, and I figured she must be in the bathroom, the only other place she went to. Looking down at the couch, I realized I hated it. It came with the house, and now I looked at it like a stockade. Holding her when I didn’t get too.
A flick of white glared at me on the ground, and as I got closer, I saw one of the little round pills I gave to Chelsea twice a day. Leaning down to pick it up I saw more. There must be at least ten of them. I picked them all up and looked at them, wincing as I put them in my pocket. She hasn’t been taking them. She hid them under the couch, not even trying to make her way back to me.
Storming down to the kitchen, I threw the medication bottle into the trash along with the rest of the pills. We wouldn’t need them anymore. Defeated, I returned upstairs to do my own hiding. I couldn’t help but think of Dr. Kellen’s words. Are you okay with the way things are? Hell no, but what choice did I have? All along I assumed that if Chelsea was still with me, I had a chance at fixing us not realizing we may already be beyond fixing.
Picking up my guitar I stared at my music sheets, seemingly forgetting how to play. I couldn’t think of a solution. If the roles were reversed, I knew it wouldn’t be this difficult. Chelsea always knew what to do. She was smart and always knew how to maneuver in every situation. I, on the other hand, felt helpless.
My phone chimed, startling me out of my daydream. Amilyn’s text confused me. She was wondering if I was home. Opening the soundproof door, I heard the knocking from the front of the house. How could Chelsea sit watching TV and ignore it?
Going down the back staircase, I saw her still awake but just as comatose on the couch. “Chelsea, didn’t you hear the door?” My irritation surfaced, but she looked at me aloof as if she didn’t even care.
Getting to the front door, I opened it to see Ami. She held her overnight bag in her hand and her tan explained some exotic location she had returned from. Although she had been calling more and more to ask about Chelsea, I could never get Chelsea to talk to her when I handed her the phone. When she did talk, she lied about her depressive state, just like she did with the rest of the family. It didn’t fool Ami, and she only ended up calling me to find out the truth.
What should I say? No, we were not fine. No, I couldn’t lie to her and ended up telling her the truth of how we were drifting further and further apart. The only lies were the ones I told myself. Thinking that although it was hard, we were getting by. That in time, all would be well.
Ami came to see for herself. She wouldn’t let Chelsea get away with sugar coating anything. She knew Chelsea better than anyone, and I hoped she could get through to her.
“Is she here?”
“Yeah, she just didn’t care that someone was at the door.” She gave me a worried look. I had been honest when she asked, and so the worried look on her face turned to determination.
“Well, I will talk to her now. Where is she?” Pointing down the hall and to the family room, I let them talk alone. I didn’t see her helping, but hope was always the last thing to vanish.