HAGALAZ - DESTRUCTION
SYRACUSE, three years out of high school.
I wish I could say I’m okay.
I’d like to be serene, but the burden I carry inside me oppresses me more every day.
I don’t know how much longer I can hold on, hold on to my strength.
Maybe it would be better to end it here, now. Be free forever. Then I think of Mom and Dad. Would they feel guilty? Can I live, or rather die, with this remorse? Does it matter if I’m dead? I wasn’t like this a year ago. It’s their fault, only theirs... I underestimated them, considered them harmless. I realized too late how sharp and cruel they can be, like thoughts that leave wounds that never heal.
My thoughts begin to wander incoherently, and I look at the pages of the book I’m supposed to be studying. Words have lost their most basic meanings. I have been staring at the word “home” for half an hour. What does such a trivial term hide? Maybe I shouldn’t have chosen this course, not now at least. “The Psychodynamics of Memory” has taken my mind to places I want to erase. I need fresh air.
I go down to the living room. Dad is watching a soccer match on television; his eyes are focused on the green field following the ball rolling from side to side. He doesn’t notice me. How old he’s gotten. When did that happen? Where was I? I only see it now, and yet I’ve always been here. He looks ten years older. His hair is getting grayer, and the wrinkles are deeper. The evening hours spent in front of the television have left him with a permanent slouch, or maybe it’s the weight of life. My high school years seem to have left a mark on him more than on me, as if he were my Dorian Gray painting. I, however, still look like a twenty-year-old girl, but I’m rotten inside. Only no one sees it, no one knows.
My brother sees me standing on the stairs. It bothers me the way he looks at me. He judges me and doesn’t understand my fragility. How can I desire to smile again after what happened? I have to make an effort, pull my lips up, and show my teeth aligned in a perfect smile, so that they don’t ask questions I don’t want to answer.
“Are you feeling better?”
“A little bit.”
I often pretend to suffer from migraines—it’s the only way I’ve found to be alone with my thoughts, undisturbed.
My brother joins our mother in the kitchen and comes back with a pack of crackers. When he opens the door, the smell of butter and sage fills up the room. I wonder what she’s cooking. Whatever it is, I already know I’m just going to taste a little. I lost my appetite years ago, and now I eat the minimum to survive, nothing more. I’m not as anorexic as everyone thinks; I just don’t care about food. The dark thoughts keep me alive.
“You want one?” My brother hands me a cracker.
“No, thank you. I’m going to see if Mom needs help.”
The kitchen is her kingdom. It has always been like that. Maybe my grandmother gave birth to her on that tiled floor. She too used to spend hours and hours at the stove, and I remember she put so much energy into cooking, as if it was a matter of life or death. I can’t cook. And I’m thin, skinny, a real disgrace to a Sicilian family. The kitchen was the only thing we didn’t renovate when we moved in. My mother wanted to keep it the way it was, with all its memories intact, as if those damaged walls were there to pass on the voices that year after year have been making a fuss from dawn to dusk—an incessant cicada that emerges vaguely in my childhood memories.
I sneak up on her and reach out to kiss her cheek. I love her. I know she tries her best to get by.
“Patrizia!” She shudders. “You scared me.”
“Sorry, Mom. Do you need help?”
“No, I’m almost done. I did agnolotti. We haven’t eaten it in a long time.”
I get excited, and she notices. I smile, pretending it’s nothing.
“Great idea. I would kill for a Piedmontese agnolotti. For old times’ sake.”
“Are you sure it’s okay? If you want, I can cook you something else.” She’s clearly in “alarm mode.”
“Don’t worry. I’m hungry tonight,” I lie.
My mother relaxes.
“I’m going to the living room.” Then I reconsider. “How much longer will it take?”
“Half an hour.”
“Then I’ll go back to my room.”
I close the kitchen door behind me, then look at my father and brother. I wonder how they can find it interesting to watch twenty-two people running around for ninety minutes, chasing a ball. They are glued to the screen, tense, their eyes alert, and their lips parted, as if soccer players could turn them into heroes. I shake my head, climb the stairs, and reach my room, my shelter. It’s only been a year since we left Turin and, for the first time in a long time, I feel safe. I look into the mirror. I understand why my parents are so worried. The old Patrizia, the high school girl, no longer exists. I’ve never been fleshy, but now my body is hollowed out. The pale face with deep dark circles under the eyes is framed by long, scruffy hair. My jeans are too big, and even though my white T-shirt is just an XS it still hides those vague curves I have.
I take my diary and leaf through it without looking for anything in particular. It’s all there, everything that happened in that cursed senior year. Should I burn it? Erase every word? Erase what it was... I once considered doing it; I thought our story, my story, had to disappear. Back in those days, I was naive, living happily in ignorance, thinking people were good. My only concern was being part of the class’s most admired group, because I wanted to be noticed by the guys. And I had succeeded, but, oh, at what price! I lost myself, my innocence vanished, and my soul is forever stained. I should have talked to Giovanni about it, told him what I knew when everything started to fall apart. But he disappeared all of a sudden. He left everything unsolved, and the doubts, which still haunt me, were never dispelled. After the end of high school, dark thoughts started to assault me, and they turned into companions who never leave me alone.
I scroll through the pages, stopping at the last one. I remember well when I decided to quit writing. It happened on the morning when Giovanni chose to end everything. I don’t recall his exact words, but I see myself going into my room, sitting at my desk, opening my diary and writing: “It’s over. Now what?” Then, a few weeks later, Carlo called me and, with a trembling voice, told me that Giovanni had disappeared in Scotland. He repeated it over and over again. Instinctively, I rush to reread that last phrase I had noted in my diary. The ink is still smudged from the one tear that fell. I didn’t add anything, there was no need. Everything is in here, enclosed in these pages.
My parents decided to return to Syracuse, believing that this would solve all my problems. For them, I simply did not fit in. If only they knew the truth, that ghosts chase me everywhere. Sometimes, I can keep them at bay when I’m in my room, but I am, myself, the ghost of who I used to be.
I feel the dark thoughts coming back. This has to end.
Breathe, Patrizia, breathe. Close your eyes and breathe. Don’t look at those pages anymore, just breathe.
Something’s distracting me. A noise. It’s coming from the window.
Someone’s tossing pebbles at the window.
And the past stares back at me.
“Patrizia! It’s ready!” screams my mother from the bottom of the stairs.
Without thinking, I grab a sweater and run down.
“Five minutes,” I tell her. “I’ll be right back.”
“But I’ve already served the agnolotti!”
“Go ahead and eat.” I open the door and smile at the past.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were playing; I was playing. Dark thoughts are here again...
I don’t even know where I am. I look around and see myself like in a movie, out of my body. I’m walking in slow motion along a dimly lit pier. My eyes are red and swollen. There are tears on my face.
I see a fence. It has a familiar shape. Maybe it’s my imagination, but it reminds me of... I shrug my shoulders because it’s not possible. It’s just a ridiculous coincidence; it really wouldn’t make sense after a year.
I keep walking towards the sea.
I’m cold. After all, it’s the end of November, and I am only wearing a light sweater. I wonder what time it is. I can hear a horn in the distance. Maybe they scored a goal. I know the city is somewhere behind me. I hear sporadic screams, but there’s nobody around. I’ve walked through deserted streets to come here. I think of my family. Have they finished eating? How long have I been out? Five minutes or five hours? I can’t say exactly.
I realize I’m not alone, but I decide to ignore those soft steps behind me. I know to whom they belong.
The sea is waiting for me. There is only water. The sound of the waves is deafening.
I close my eyes for a moment, breathe, and fall.
I’m dead. I’m not myself anymore. My existence has reached an end.
I watch the world from the outside. There are no noises, just images. My lifeless body floats, lulled by the waves of the sea. The dirty foam against the rocks, a seagull pecking at something on the pier, some worn-out red sneakers, two eyes that I hoped I would never see again, that mocking smile while he’s looking at a body, my body, at the mercy of the waves. He lights a cigarette.
We were friends. I was everybody’s friend because I used to mind my own business. Then... then he came along. He bewitched me, brought out the worst in me, instilled in me those dark thoughts that brought me to this dock. Why was I stupid enough to believe him? It’s his fault, his fault alone, that I died.
What a ridiculous end.
And yet I feel free. It’s nice to float. Maybe one day I’ll understand how things work. Maybe. I’m dead, and they say everything’s clearer in the afterlife, so someday I’ll figure things out. Because I already know how things went. I know everything, and that’s why I’m here. I carry the full weight of the horrors.
My head’s still full of thoughts, words, memories. Weird. It’s me, and it’s not me. I thought I could get rid of the memories, but no, they haunt me even now I’m dead. And they’re freaking me out. I loved him. I can feel my brain exploding, and yet it’s stopped working. It must be a transient sensation. I feel it, but I don’t give it much attention.
Memories stun like a joint. I’d never smoked one before he came into my life. I was a good girl, or a loser, it depends on your point of view. I’d never even got drunk. He pushed me over the edge. He let me into the group because, though I was everybody’s friend, I was invisible before him. And they accepted me, but not for real.
Now all that’s left is that mocking smile and those evil eyes. Were they always wicked? Why is he standing there smoking a cigarette while I’m drifting? Is death so beautiful? It probably is for him. Of course, it is. When I think back on what he did...
When we come into the darkness of death, the whole world is different. The light itself is different. The colors change, they become softer. You realize that you have never really been loved, because the only true love is the one you feel for yourself, and I never loved myself.
It’s too late. Time spares no one. It never does.
How can death be so sweet to soothe all suffering and, at the same time, so cruel? It makes you see all the mistakes you’ve made. It’s as meaningful as evil.
I trusted you.
Now what? What will happen to my parents? Will they die? My mother will wonder forever what pushed me into the dirty waters of the harbor. She’ll lose sleep and struggle because she could have stopped me on the doorstep, let me stay a few minutes more, and changed the course of my destiny.
A strong wave comes in, and my body is slammed hard against the rocks. A sharp blow, my head splits, blood comes out, a red spot between the white foam.
Then, satisfied, he leaves. He passes by the fence that had caught my attention. I can see it more clearly now. It seems to form a sort of “N”, but I know it’s HAGALAZ, my rune. The last one.
I wish I could have said I was okay.