I remember sitting on the couch, staring aimlessly at the counselor Dr. Haven before his phone rang to life. He yanked the phone to his ear and hissed, “I have an appointment—”
And then he cut himself off curtly. The man’s dark eyes fell to my face, and then he handed me the phone as his jaw dropped. I shook my head intensely, expecting it to be the gynecologist calling about my failures or Jennifer asking where I was (she recently had been extremely wary of my behavior after my loss). He shoved the phone into my hand and stood from his chair, leaving the office and gently closing the door. I observed him attentively until he escaped behind the burgundy door.
I pulled the phone to my ear and stared at the bare mahogany desk. “Hello?”
“Devin?” Esther tearfully squealed.
Shock brought me back from the numbness I had sunk into since Ned left—nearly four months ago. My hairs rose across my skin as I tried to settle myself down from hearing the panicked voice. I hissed, “What’s the matter?”
“Devin, something really bad happened,” she sobbed.
My heart stopped in my chest, and I became lightheaded. All of these scenarios clouded my thoughts, and most of them involved Jude. He escaped and hurt Esther. He escaped and was on his way to finish his job. He hired someone to finish the job. He hired someone to do the same thing to Esther. He hired someone to destroy the life I was trying to piece together. I couldn’t breathe.
“Yeah,” I managed.
“Dad, he’s sick.”
I released a resigned gasp and thanked God.
“He’s in a coma.”
I dropped to my knees, and I felt an invisible foot slam into my chest. I nearly vomited from the sudden impact, and my eyes wildly stared down at the floor. A lump in my throat I couldn’t swallow down into my chest appeared, and I found myself troubled in breathing. I choked, “How?”
It was only what felt like yesterday when I talked to him. It was only a little while since he told me why he had to sleep with me. It was only a few moments ago he had to tell me why he had to rape me. Because I was a Daddy’s Girl, and I wanted to please him. And part of me wondered if that was the truth, confronting perhaps the sick reasons I lured him.
“One of the inmates… He—he attacked him, and he beat him.”
I froze. My mind scurried back to the one odd inmate who stared at me so intensely when I visited Dad. The one with the scar. “Do you know the name of the man?”
“What does it matter? Dad is probably a vegetable, Dev.” I could tell she was choking back sobs as she couldn’t comprehend how I would respond. I wasn’t responding like a normal daughter in tears, but I was responding like a victim yet again.
“I’ll see if I can fix it.”
“Intensive. I don’t think he’ll make it.”
Fuck was the only word I could muster for some stupid reason.
I remember walking to the hospital from the counselor’s office, mindlessly staring at the concrete as my feet destroyed the distance effortlessly in what seemed like a mere mile instead of the five. I ventured up the stairs and absentmindedly tried to figure out what all of this meant.
I was supposed to be happy, right? I was supposed to be elated that this man could never do what he did to me again. I was supposed to be on top of the moon, but all I could feel was this impending doom. My father’s sacrifice for my sanity somehow lead me to the frightening theory that I would lose it faster in this way. All of this was supposed to help me, but I was falling deeper into the depths of the unknown.
I turned my chin up to the nurses at the nursing station, my eyes widening in vain hope that I would recognize someone. Maybe I would be able to just implode and have all of these emotions pour out of me. Three nurses in various scrubs stared at me incredulously with large eyes as if I crept from my own grave, as if they were seeing a specter. One of the male nurses leaned across the desk and meekly asked, “You’re not here to see your father, are you?”
I turned my gaze to the floor sluggishly.
Should I leave? I shouldn’t be here. My being here is just making everything worse. What if he wakes up and tries to attack me? What if he never wakes up again? What if I can’t handle this? What if this looks wrong?
I knew exactly where the rooms were. I had been there several months prior, but the memory of waking up in an unknown environment remains at the forefront of my mind. Waking up to a world you didn’t recognize and a world you weren’t a part of sent me into a spiral of emotions I couldn’t exactly control. Tubes intertwining and webbing across different areas of my body crinkled as I moved underneath them. I tried ripping them away from my body until I realized I couldn’t move my jaw. And then I became catatonic.
My feet blindly led me to the room. I stood behind the glass door, staring absentmindedly at the figures in the room. A young woman with long, chocolate tresses stood solemnly in the corner of the room, her hand atop the man’s. A woman curled in a chair, her brunette hair pulled intently behind the nape of her neck as a bun. No doubt, her blue eyes remained on her husband, shaking and shivering with tears embedded in her lacrimal glands. The man rested, paralyzed by drugs, upon the gurney.
Jude’s face contorted into a mass of swollen goose eggs. Bruises blackened his hollow cheeks that were now puffed out like a chipmunk’s cheeks. His eyes glued shut with yellow crusts forming on his lashes. A tube protruded from his mouth like a snake winding away from its burrow into its specific outlet. His chest forced up and down robotically. His fingertips blued and blackened from his lack of circulation.
Machines whirred to life beside him on either side, and part of me wondered if he would be forced to be a cyborg for the rest of his life, if this was what was left of him. Manacled to the side-rails of the bed and monitored by a police officer, I wondered how safe it really was to be here.
My nose grazed the glass before realizing how close I was to the room, peering into the room like a reaper waiting upon death. I took a hesitant step back and revaluated the situations. My eyes scurried to the floor as I pivoted on my heels to leave, but a strong hand gripped my forearm fiercely.
I whipped my face around, and my mother’s nose nearly touched mine. Fresh tears were streaming down her face as she gritted her teethed and bared them. Her cool nails dug into my flesh, freshly painted and manicured. My jaw dropped but nothing streamed from my lips.
“Say it, Devin.”
I shook my head frantically, and a weight crawled from my stomach into my chest. My lungs struggled to come to life as I premeditated an escape from the one woman I could not stand. I ripped my forearm away from her claw, but my feet failed to move.
“Say it, you slut. ‘Payback is a motherfucker, Mom.’”
“Mom…” I whimpered. My memories fell back to all of the times she shoved me into that wooden chair in the corner as punishment. I remembered how her eyes disapprovingly judged me as she noticed my behaviors and habits. I recalled all of the times her hand—
She slammed her hand into my cheek with such furious force that I took a step from the impact. “Say it! God damn it, say it!” she shrieked. “You planned this! You hired that man to do this to the man I love, you selfish brat!”
“Mom,” I cried. I shrunk into my shell, and then she shoved me to the floor. I smacked into the floor with my back, knocking the breath from my lungs. I shivered against the cold concrete, and then my mouth became dry suddenly. I frantically turned to the empty nursing station, terrified that I would succumb to an episode, and my own mother would kill me.
She took a step towards me, and I expected a foot to the face. However, she merely stood there with her hollow eyes glaring down at me. “You killed your own father, you bitch. How dare you! How dare you!”
The police officer slammed open the glass door and snapped, “Mrs. Sebold, step away from your daughter.”
My sister peeked around the edge of the door, and her mouth opened in a silent scream. Esther’s large eyes stared incredulously at us both, lost between confiding in her own mother or her own sister. Our eyes met, and I felt like she was trying to tell me everything happening in her life since she left us. Her engagement ring glistened in the fluorescent lights, and then I noticed another band accompanying the ring.
A sense of failure pressed against me.
My mom receded back into her calm composition and then blinked mindlessly, as if she was returning to her normal self. She braced herself against the wall and pivoted on her heels. “I need a cigarette.”
She hadn’t smoked since my sister and I were born.
My sister followed after her, and the police officer retreated back to the room. I clenched my hands into fists by my sides, and I dropped my chin, gritting my teeth with ponderous weight. I turned my eyes to the glass door, staring at the man who had destroyed nearly everything in my life, staring at the first man I ever loved.
I pulled myself off the floor and entered the room, taking my mother’s spot beside my father. The police officer seemed remotely hesitant and wary as I reached out my hand, cupping the man’s hand who tortured me for most of my life. The hand that grabbed, snatched, whipped, harassed, threatened me. My heavy eyes fell upon his face, and I wondered if his face was almost a reflection of my past appearance. His hair was still growing across his chin despite the fact the man was almost just in a vegetative state. A scruff shadowed his now round jaw and emphasized the bruising across his neck.
“They don’t think he’ll make it.” My gaze shifted to the officer, and then he continued, “Why are you even here?” It was an inference that I shouldn’t have come. Trouble seemed to follow me like a permanent shadow.
I turned back to my father, pulling my hand away slowly as the memories continued to compile. I nonchalantly shrugged.
“Do the lawyers know you are here? This could look bad.”
“Why would you even come here?”
My lids felt heavy as I stood from the chair. I could just kill him. He was so helpless, and the police officer probably wouldn’t care. He’d probably cheer me on and help me hide the body. I shook the vile thoughts out of my brain.
Because if I did, I would be no better than him.
“Are you an eye witness?”
I didn’t answer as I further studied my father in his restless state. I swore I saw his eyelids flutter, but it could have been a reflex the body still had even in a sleep-like state.
“Because, you know you’ll have to tell everyone what really happened. You’ll have to talk about how your dad sexed you up and fooled around with you. You’ll have to tell everyone all about your sexual history, and if I were you, I wouldn’t want to do it.”
I refused to answer.
“Why are you even here? You’re being crazy.”
“I don’t know. I guess I am.”