43. TRUTH DOESN’T CHANGE THE WAY YOU LIE
For the last two years, I’ve been thinking about this moment. Thinking about all the things I would say to my mother’s killer if I came face to face with him. I laid awake countless nights staring into the emptiness and imagining what could have been instead of what was.
My mothers’ case was a simple one, or so they say. The other car never actually hit us because my mom swerved off the road before we collided head-on. The experts said if we were to collide with the other vehicle, I wouldn’t have survived the impact. I would have ended up like my mom.
They never found the driver, but it was evident from the bottle of whiskey near the scene that it was a case of an uncontrolled drunk driver. The fingerprints didn’t match anyone on file and there was no other evidence. They had little to no suspects and no witnesses except for me.
The case was a dead end and even though my dad pulled every resource out of the book, worked every hour of the day, we never got answers, we had to live with the unknown.
Ace is in the shower and from what Theo and Josh told me, he has been in here for over an hour. He doesn’t acknowledge me when I open the shower screen. Doesn’t even blink. I get in fully dressed and hold back a yelp. The water is scorching hot. It’s like getting the shit beat out of you wasn’t enough of a punishment. I turn down the hot water, making it bearable to a normal person.
He is sitting with his head down, bowed between his knees. He makes no indication that he knows that I’m here, maybe he doesn’t. He’s too deep in his own head – punishing himself over and over.
I wonder how many times he’s done this. I’ve had little time to think about it, to really consider the situation. However, everything falls into place; the non-drinking, the PTSD episodes, Ace warning me to stay away from him. He truly believes he’s a bad person and under different circumstances, I would too.
For years, I have made myself believe that the person who did this had no sympathy, had no heart because how could they live with themselves after what they did. But everything is not what it seems, especially when you only know one side.
The water pounds on his back and drips down his hair softly, the glass shower screen thickens with steam.
I kneel in front of him, the water soaking my shirt and pants. Finally, he slightly lifts his head up. His eyes meeting mine as he leans his head further back into the stream of water.
His eyes are swollen but nevertheless still hold the vibrant colours of blue and green. His face is covered with dried blood and I almost reach out to touch him but stop myself.
It doesn’t feel real. All this time I thought I would have closure if only I found out who caused my life to be thrown upside down. But now, staring into the eyes of the person who caused the tragedy, I realise it is not at all what I imagined.
I don’t feel closure or anything that I thought this moment would bring me.
All I feel is heartache and grief.
Grief for my mother, grief for this relationship; whatever it was. Grief for everything I was ever made to believe. But most of all the grief for the loss of the person that I am when I’m with Ace because I’ll never be that again.
No one could ever make me feel the way he does but no one could ever break me the way he has either.
“Ace,” I find myself saying.
He opens his mouth to say something and I notice the blood still trickling from his lip. However, no sound comes out and drops his head back down.
I don’t say anything else. I don’t know what to say. Instead, I grab a bottle of shampoo and pour it into my hands. I lace my fingers through his hair, scrubbing it gently, feeling it one last time against my skin.
I wash the dried blood off his face, not caring that my clothes are drenched. I pour the body wash into my hands and lather his neck, shoulders, and muscular arms. I notice him watching me, his eyes searching mine for something I can’t give him at this moment. Or maybe ever. Forgiveness.
He looks defeated. Broken.
After I finish washing him, we sit under the shower stream. The silence is laced with every unspoken word. Every emotion. How did it come to this?
I finally began to feel happy again and then the light got crushed quicker than it came.
I stand and offer him my hand. He looks at it but doesn’t take it. Instead, he pushes himself off the shower floor and stands up. I lead him out of the shower and hand him a towel.
“Why are you here?” his voice comes out gruff and for a few seconds, I’m taken aback.
“Did you want me to leave?”
He shakes his head in frustration, “Calla, you should hate me. You should be yelling at me; you should be on your way to the police station or calling your dad to tell him. But instead, you’re here, fucking washing me.”
He’s right, I should be doing all those things. But neither of them will change anything, just make things worse, if that’s even possible.
Instead, I shrug and head out of the bathroom. I have some of my clothes in Ace’s room from the last week, so I change into a dry t-shirt and jeans.
“I need to know the truth,” I tell him when he comes out of the bathroom.
He nods but doesn’t look at me. The silence before he begins talking is deafening and my hands begin to shake.
“It was the night my dad left us. I wasn’t in the right state of mind. Logan and I went to his house, we drank. A lot. He offered me drive his dad’s Chevrolet…” he trails off.
“I didn’t think anyone would be on that road, I’ve never seen anyone on it when it’s that late,” he tells me and I can’t stop thinking that if I didn’t make my mom turn around, none of this would have happened. We would have been home before sundown.
“I was driving too fast; the road was icy. I lost control…” his voice shakes but nevertheless he continues, “From this point, I only remember bits and pieces. I remember getting out of the car. I remember dialling 911. I wanted to stay until the ambulance came but Logan pulled me towards the car. He kept saying, ‘think about Ellie, think about your mom’.”
“I wanted to turn myself in, but I couldn’t… because of Ellie. Dad left and I couldn’t leave her too… Mom only started her job at the hospital then, she wasn’t getting paid much and I knew dad wouldn’t leave a cent to us,” he says.
It’s getting harder and harder to blame him for this. I hoped by coming here tonight and hearing what he did to my mom would make this easier. That it would make me hate him. I don’t and that hurts the most.
“There was a time when none of that mattered. A year after the accident, I was going to turn myself in. I called Logan to give him a heads up, but he talked me out of it,” he says and swallows hard.
“Does anyone else know? Apart from Logan?”
Of course. I don’t know why that hurts more than it should.
“How could you spend time with me, fuck me, this ‘you and me’ bullshit, Ace…Were you ever going to tell me or were you just going to write it in your stupid journal? Maybe even write up a paper about it for class?”
I can feel myself getting angry and tears prickle at my eyes. I’m over crying, I’m over feeling helpless. I’m over feeling like this. For two fucking years.
I’m just so tired of everything. Every fucked-up thing that keeps happening to me.
“I didn’t know how to tell you.”
“How about, ‘hey I caused the car crash that killed your mom’…this… finding out like this, after everything we’ve done together…it’s like this was all a fucked up game to you,” my voice breaks, and I take a deep breath. I have nothing to say. I feel numb but at the same time, everything hurts.
I can’t think straight. I’m all over the place.
He drops to his knees in front of the door, “Calla, I’m so sorry. I’ll do anything. I’ll turn myself in… anything.”
My heart clenches at the sight of him. Never have I thought that I would see Ace in this position. I tell myself to keep breathing because that’s all I can do.
I go up to him and place my hand on his cheek, savouring this moment because it’s the last time I will let myself do this. Feel the warmness of him underneath my touch. See the way his eyes find mine; I see the regret behind them.
“You’re not a bad person, you just did a bad thing. I don’t think turning yourself in is going to achieve anything. You already suffer enough,” I say, meaning every single word. I had all night to think about it.
“And I don’t hate you…but I can’t be with you. I can’t see you, I can’t be your friend. Every time I will look at you, I will see the person who took away my mom. I don’t want to despise you because what we had was good even if it was all built on lies.”
I trusted him, more than anyone else.
He knew all along. Knew me. Knew what he did. And still, he let me fall so deep.
Breathe. In. Out.
“Calla…everything was real. You and me, we are real…” he begins but I shake my head.
There’s nothing he could say that would change this.
I drop my hand from his cheek and force myself to put one foot in front of the other, walking out of his room, leaving Ace. But not before I hear the three words that make my heart clench in my chest. Make my breath hitch in my throat.
Almost make me stop and go back.
“I love you.”
And I wonder how many times a heart can break or whether mine was ever whole to begin with.