I sat down beside her, wary to remain out of her personal space, to let her have an orbital around her of protection of some sort. Some sort of boundary. Because I don’t think she ever was allowed boundaries. People just tended to plow through hers. I rested my hands on the lip of the dock, my eyes fixed upon hers. I murmured, “Devin, what are you doing here?”
Her navy eyes flickered to the anti-freeze bottle for a moment, and then she turned her whole gaze back to the reflective, liquid glass below us. She slowly shook her head forlornly. Her jaw clenched, and she breathed harshly.
“Devin, did you drink the anti-freeze?”
She didn’t answer.
“Devin, you aren’t here to kill yourself, are you?”
She turned to me with a reddened face, tears pouring over her lashes. She mumbled, “He’s dead. He’s dead, and I should be so happy, you know? I should be so happy, and here I am. I didn’t know what else to do, but the damn bottle had a hole in the bottom and leaked the whole way here. It was empty by the time I got here. I fuck up at everything I do.”
“Devin, no, you don’t.”
Her hands shot to her ears, and she clasped her fingers over them. She growled under her breath, “There’s something wrong with me. There’s something wrong with my brain. It won’t stop. It won’t stop.”
“Devin, the police are after you. Is that why you came here?”
A curiosity flashed across her eyes, and then I immediately knew she had no clue. She whispered, “What did she tell them?”
“Devin, you tried to kill her.”
She frantically shook her head. “No, no, I didn’t.”
“Devin, you can’t deny—”
“I ran into the house, looking for her. I broke the window with a rock and rushed in. She was hanging from the ceiling fan by a noose, and she kicked bar stool away from her feet as I burst in. She was swaying back and forth like pendulum, and I couldn’t let her die like that. I couldn’t let God take Mom away from Esther, too. I couldn’t let Him have her, too.
“I tried to grab her feet, but she kicked me in the face. I blacked-out for a couple minutes, and when I woke up, she was hanging still. She didn’t rock back and forth one last go. She didn’t shift or breathe. I stared up at her in astonished awe because she was turning blue. It stretched from her lips down to her throat, but her eyes remained so wild and desperate, begging for respite. Her hands crumpled around the noose, holding herself up desperately.
“I pulled myself from the floor and tore the rope from one of the ceiling fan blades as she grasped at her collar. She snapped to the floor and heaved these hurried breaths, and then she began to scream. It was so awful. It was so awful.
“She wailed like a siren, and I didn’t know what to do. I was so afraid the neighbors would call the police. I screamed, ‘Mom, stop! Stop, it’s going to be alright. It’s going to be okay.’ But I knew she didn’t believe me.
“‘You disgusting slut. Look what you’ve done. He had to die because of you. If you had never been born, he would have been alive. I should have aborted you and your sister as soon as I knew about you. I should have killed you.’
“I didn’t know what to do or say to that. I just stood there aimlessly staring at her. She wrenched my wrist forward, pulling me to the floor, and she brought her face close to mine. ‘You’re nothing but a fucking mistake.’
“She pulled herself from the floor and then got on the phone. I expected her to call an ambulance to hospitalize herself, but she called the police instead and said I strangled her. She said I did all of this to her. And she said I deserved whatever hell I deserved for existing.
“I didn’t know what to do, so I left. And my brain ruminated on what she said, really consuming and digesting what she said. And I had been thinking the same thing since he got sick, and I’ve been thinking how much of a burden I am in general. And I thought perhaps that not existing would be better than existing.” She began to visibly shake, and I hesitated to touch her with my fingertips against her arms. It was December, and the wind chill was in the forties. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t wearing a jacket.
“Devin, let’s go to my car and talk.”
“No! No! I’m tired of listening to everyone else. I implore for mercy. I implore for someone to help me, but no one fucking listens. I keep telling Dr. Haven he needs to increase my medication, but he just wants me to suffer so I continue going to his office. Everyone thinks I can’t make my own decisions… and I… and I…”
My heart sunk inside of my chest as I absorbed this girl collapse in on herself in the middle of the dock. “Devin.”
She brought her face from her hands and turned to me. She cried, “If I never existed, Heath would be alive. Heath would have confessed his feelings to you. He would have been able to counsel kids struggling through the same thing as him. He would have done so many good things with his life.”
“Devin, you don’t know any of this,” I confessed.
Her navy eyes flickered with doubt. Her brow folded as she whispered, “And you would never have had to rape me. You never would have separated from Lily. And I never would be so in love with you.”
My chest tightened because I had longed to hear that for nearly five months. That’s all I desired to hear spill from her lips. I reached out and brushed her hair off of her shoulder closest to me. And then I noticed it—bruises stretching across her fragile neck, webbing away from her jawline into her hairline. “She didn’t just yell at you, did she?”
“It doesn’t matter. I deserved it. I deserved it. I deserved everything that ever happened to me. I deserved all of it. Who does this? What’s wrong with me? I can’t handle this. I can’t do this anymore.
“I hate myself for the sacrifices I made for myself. I hate myself for every time I bled. I hate myself for the way I hid my emotions. I hate myself for never taking control of anything. I hate myself for never saving myself. I hate myself for choosing anyone else over myself. I hate myself for coming to this edge. I hate myself for every kind word I ever persuaded myself to be true.
“God, I don’t want to be here anymore.”
I cut in, “Then why don’t we go to my car and drive somewhere. We’ll go anywhere.” I wrapped my hand loosely on her upper arm and gently tugged her toward the shore. “Come on, babe.”
She ripped her arm from my grasp viciously as I pulled myself to my feet. She shook her head frantically and wailed, “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
I guess the denotation of the word fell away, and I recognized the connotation. I pulled off my sweatshirt and gently pulled it over her head. I pulled my shirt back down over my abdomen after it attached to my sweatshirt, and then I contorted her arms out of the sleeves. She brushed her tears away with the sleeves and turned back to the water. I just stared at her, concerned for her but unsure as to what to do. My hand folded over her as my eyes absorbed the tortured soul disintegrating before me.
The silence deafened my ears. There were no light coos of the frogs on the edge of the shore, no bubbling of the water from the fish. Birds did not release melodic calls as the day progressed. No movement across the surface of the glass because of the mosquitoes and insects. Everything was so still.
I turned to her curiously. I murmured, “Who are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry I lied to you for so long. I’m so sorry I kept it from you for so long. I just didn’t want to hurt you.”
I furrowed my brow. My hand peeled away from her warm flesh, and I shoved it in my lap. Here she was doing exactly what she did to me, destroying me from the vulnerability she could withdraw from me. I silently begged for her to confess every wrong she had ever committed—be it against me or not. Here was this being who I perfected in my mind but was the farthest thing from it.
Her navy eyes reflected my clenched jaw, and I tried to consciously ease myself into the conversation, allow her to get her words out of her mouth. “You know the abortion?”
I snapped, “You never got it, did you?”
She shook her head slowly. “I’m so sorry.”
I pulled myself from her side and paced behind her on the dock, stomping on the loose boards to force them into the water. I released a howl that rattled my ribs and shook my throat. I howled as fiercely as I could, and then I turned back to the petite girl. She rocked her legs back and forth easily, as if she never noticed my sudden outburst. I finally growled, “You didn’t feel the need to tell me about our child? It wasn’t my decision to get the abortion. You wanted it.”
She whipped her feral gaze to me and retorted, “You never asked me in the first place.” The tears returned, pouring over her lids like cascades in the mountains. Her curvaceous cheeks acted as cliffs for the tears to stain my jacket.
I fell back into myself, and the anger dissipated away from me. Because in that moment, I knew what happened to the child. Just from her protective gaze and her over-protective grimace, I knew. I murmured, “She wasn’t mine, was she?”
Something caught in Devin’s throat, and she swallowed it down forcefully. She clenched her eyes shut and murmured, “I wanted her to be ours so bad. I wanted her to be yours so bad.”
I collapsed beside her again, and I wrapped my arm around her shoulders as she buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders shuddered violently as her mouth blackened from the distress flashing across her face. She leaned into my side and pulled her knees to her chest, sliding against my thighs as she shivered in the reoccurring gusts whistling through the river valley. I didn’t even know how to respond because I finally knew who she was talking about. I buried my face into her brunette locks, her blonde roots obvious, and whispered, “I’m so sorry, Devin. I’m so freaking sorry.”
Devin released an animalistic sob, and I just pulled her tighter against my side. Her hand slithered and rested against my chest, and I nearly shuddered away from her touch. Instead, I placed my hand atop hers and clenched it tautly. She turned her face to mine, and I noticed how her eyes locked into mine. I wanted to bring her to my lips and just show her everything would fall into place. But something in my chest stopped me. My heart throbbed against my sternum, rebelling against my primal urge to protect her and love her, and instead persuaded me that the job was over.
A new chapter was in place for Devin, even if she didn’t know it. The main antagonist to her story was gone, and her purpose in life as a mother had prematurely ended. My chapter had ended as well. I was no longer there to protect her from these awful environments and her past. It was my time to turn around to the girl I had been trying to protect for so long and to actually listen to her. To absorb every aspect of her life I missed out on because I was too distracted to realize she could have other trials.
She murmured, “You know, she was so perfect. She just fit in the crook of my arm, and she had the most amazing blue eyes. It was like ice melting into the sea—tinges of green curling around the edges of her irises.”
And she spent hours describing this creature I never had the privilege of meeting. Devin’s eyes shone with a passion and love that I never thought she would regain. She had the sheen she once had when Heath was alive, but it would dissipate as she recalled the end of the babe’s life. It was how it all ended, too, I guess. I mean, maybe if the doctors caught it in the ultrasounds, Devin could have been better prepared to face the struggles of losing her daughter, but then again, maybe it was better she didn’t know.
Then Devin began to blame herself for the child’s death, and I couldn’t let her take the blame. I just couldn’t let her absorb it as her own pain. I begged God to retrieve some of the weight ponderously pulling Devin down into her depression and just put it on my shoulders. Give it to anyone else because I couldn’t imagine losing this girl one last time.
“And you know, he acted like he didn’t even care she died. He acted like it didn’t have an effect on anyone’s life—like she didn’t even matter. I carried her around for seven months, and I lose her because of my own faults. And he just feels the need to further dig into my heart and persuade me she was nothing.
“Like I am nothing.”
I turned my gaze back to the lake, and she mirrored my actions. She rested her head on my shoulder, her pulse felt through my clothing in her arm. I gently stroked her upper arm as I gave her a small squeeze of an embrace. Her hands came back to life, enunciating and emphasizing each word readying to escape her lips.
“You know, I don’t know what’s wrong with my fucking brain. Jude’s dead, and I should be ecstatic. I should be running around like a mad woman, but all I can think about is that he’s dead. He’s dead, and I couldn’t do anything about it. You know Mom had him on the Do Not Resuscitate list?”
I shook my head.
“This man who belittled and violated every part of me is finally out of my life permanently. I don’t have to mark down the days until his release date. I don’t have to count anymore. I don’t have to do anything regarding him anymore, but all I can do is think about him, Ned. That’s all I can do now.”
I meekly stared at her from my periphery, confused and startled by her confession. I know death is death, no matter the victim of the reaper. Death is the one thing that forces everyone to be equal. We all must face it, and the gravity of it is immeasurable. However, Devin’s paradoxical nature regarding her nascent freedom left me awestruck.
She murmured, “There’s something so wrong with my brain. All I can think is the first man who ever loved me is dead. The first man who taught me how to play soccer and to draw is dead. He was so much more than my tormentor, and I forgot that when he was alive. Even though he did all of these awful things to me, and even though he was going to murder me, I can’t help but love him.
“God, my brain is so screwed up. Why do I love him? Why do I love this person who destroyed my life? Why do I love this man who forced me to have sex? Why do I love this person who treated people like they were objects?”
I thought of all the times I found myself deeper in love with Devin. How she was so standoffish and aloof when it came to my friends. How she sometimes had a snarky comment or was poorly acclimated to a certain environment. How sometimes she would love me, and how sometimes I thought she hated me. How she forced me to ostracize myself from my family just because she was there. How she forced me to love her because I hate her all at once.
Because sometimes love is unconditional.
I whispered, “He’s your dad. Nothing can change that.”
She whimpered, “I know. I just wish something could so I wouldn’t feel this way. So I wouldn’t feel like a pile of shit steam-rolled. I wish I never knew him so none of this ever would have happened. You know, maybe if we didn’t know each other, he would have been a pretty decent pastor.”
“That doesn’t matter. It’s not wrong to feel upset about his death, Devin.”
“I wish I could change that. I wish I could just take out the part of my brain that feels this way. It’s just my brain. My body knows it’s wrong, but my brain is rebelling against everything else. I can’t be anything because I’m too hung up on everything going on in my brain.”
I whispered, “There’s nothing wrong with your brain.”
She peeled away from my embrace and stared incredulously at me. Her jaw dropped animatedly as if my words stung wickedly. Her lips trembled as if she had a thought coming to the forefront of her mind, but she remained silent. Her hands crumpled in her lap as her brow rose. “I’m another statistic, Ned.”
My eyes locked on hers, and then I noticed the new scars on the underbelly of her forearms, stretching all the way up to her elbow. I turned back to her navy eyes and felt my heart drop into my abdomen, pulsating and banging against my cavity walls. I recalled the butterfly across Heath’s arm, and I suddenly knew what it was all about. “Can you tell me something?”
“You know, I promised myself I wouldn’t end up like a sob story, but here I am. Here I am feeling sorry for myself because I let this all happen. I watched lives go by and end all at once. I’ve seen too many people die because of me, and I just wanted to make sure no one else would be dead because of me.
“You know what’s really stupid? People think suicide is so selfish, but aren’t the people on the outside the ones who are selfish? They sit there and want this person to exist in so much shit. They want me to suffer through all of this, and I can’t take it anymore. I know you came here because Esther told you to. She knew. She knew all of this was bound to happen all over again. And I—”
I snatched her forearm and gripped it tautly. Her scars writhed underneath me like tiny little snakes. “I came here for you, you idiot.”
She did not react. It was like she was indifferent to whether I cared or not anymore. Then again, a good friend of mine reminded me that one of the biggest weights of depression was apathy. Nothing could make you feel better, and so many things could make everything worse. But you remain in this state between emotions— this purgatory, this prison of the mind.
“I came here because I was worried about you. Can’t you see that? Can’t you see you aren’t the only one suffering?”
“I know I’m not.”
“Then why are you doing this?”
“Because my brain is scrambled. Because he wanted me to do this if he died.”
“Just because your dad wants you to die with him doesn’t mean—”
“Heath wanted me to, not my dad.”
“Heath wanted this to happen if he died. He said he didn’t want to be alone in the after-life like he was here. He kept telling me over and over again how alone he was and how much he was suffering. It was so fucked up, and I don’t know. It makes sense before I say it.”
My hand retreated from her alabaster flesh, no doubt bleached from the lack of sun in the winter. My eyes slithered from her face down her brunette locks and down her arm and down her scars to the palm of her hand, calloused and strong. I languidly blinked, disbelieving that my best friend would make a suicide pact with Devin, manipulating her emotions because she was unstable.
“That dumbass butterfly tattoo was a pact he made with himself to not self-harm anymore. The butterfly was supposed to represent you and his family because he didn’t want to be selfish, but I don’t care anymore. I don’t care if it’s selfish. I want to do something for me.”
I snapped to attention and blurted, “I’m sorry, but this is not for you. This is for everyone who ever touched you. This is for every time you were raped and every time you were violated. This is a victory for everyone who ever got in your head, Devin.”
She smiled with her tear-stained cheeks curving beneath her eyes. “God, you’re a dick.”
I gave her a solemn smile and patted her thigh. “That’s one thing I promised I’d be.”
“Why can’t you let me just end my suffering without all of this?”
“Because your existence keeps me sane!” I spat.
Silence fell upon us, and we just sat with our eyes trembling on each other’s faces, memorizing each apparent detail. I welcomed this silence as I finally was able to absorb the nuances of her beautiful, round face. Even with the bruising and swelling around her right eye, she could still move me with her glistening eyes and blushed cheeks.
She tucked in her bottom lip and turned back to the liquid glass. “You know, I’ve known you for so long, but I don’t remember your middle name.”
I shook my head. “Why does it matter?”
Her brow raised, and she confessed, “Heath never had a middle name.”
I shifted beside her, realizing she was still scouring her mind for things to say, things to do, things to survive. Things to keep her mind preoccupied. I gave her a small shrug and admitted, “Dennis.”
She chuckled and ran her fingers through her mane.
I scoffed, “I know. It’s a pretty shitty name. I don’t know why my parents felt the intense desire to name me Dennis. I couldn’t have a cool name like Cole or even Bertha. At least I could play off the Bertha name, but Dennis? Really?”
“I don’t know why I’m laughing. I just am. It doesn’t make any sense.” And then she buried her face in her hands. She groaned, “Nothing makes sense anymore.”
I reflected. “When did it?”
She pulled her hands away from her face and turned to me. “When you were here, here with me. When you made things seem okay.”
I didn’t know how to answer, so I didn’t. I just meekly stared at her with a furrowed brow because I knew I couldn’t be what she desired me to be. I couldn’t be that for her anymore as the slow revelation came upon me that I never could be her lover again. My mother was right.
She whimpered, “You know, I wish I did all of the things on earth with you.”
“There’s still time.”
“Not for me.”
“You know, I know you’re obsessed with quotes, and I saw one the other day and thought of you.” I poked her rib cage with my elbow gently. “You know what Oscar Wilde once said?”
She slowly shook her head, and the tears began to travel from her lids again, streaming down her cheeks like tiny rivers. It was like she couldn’t put a stop to them, and it forced me to try and remain calm for her because I knew if I outpoured with emotion, she would further call herself a burden.
“‘To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.’”
She choked back a sob and wiped her tears away with her sleeve slowly, as if contemplating what spouted from my mouth. I hoped she didn’t pay too much attention to what or how I was saying things because I didn’t want this to be the last conversation we ever had. I furrowed my brow and wrapped my arm around her shoulders again. She leaned into me and stared off into the horizon as the water and sky fought to build a barrier between the two.
The scariest part of this all was the fact when I was with her, I felt like I was alive again. After those months separated, I never thought I would meld back into the person I was before the accident, but all of the scars had been healed and nearly invisible beside her. Even though our parts were partly used, they worked. We worked. I had to scour to find her, and I had to scour my mind to forgive myself for ever raping her and ever violating her. But all of that didn’t matter anymore. None of that seemed to matter anymore. Because we worked. Without her, I just existed.
“You know, I used to think there would be statues of us. They would name cities after us. And then there would be a whole generation of kids named after us for some unknown reason. We’d be known, but I don’t know why. I don’t know why they would know us. They just would.”
“There’s still time for that.” I leaned my head atop hers.
“I wanted to once go to cities where no one knew me, no one knew my story. I would just be a nameless face in the crowd. People would pass me by without a second glance. I would go to a place where no one knew me.
“But then I realized that was here. I was here in a city where no one knew me. They knew my past, and I worked so hard to not abide by that reputation that I ended up a failure, which was worse than what people thought of me to begin with. I had searched my whole life for a place where people had no clue who I was, and I realized it the other day that I never needed to leave my home.
“Because I’m the girl who sent her father to prison. I’m the girl who got raped. I’m the girl who had a teen pregnancy. I’m the girl whose sister was perfect. I’m the girl who played soccer but quit because she lost all hope of a scholarship. I’m the girl with epilepsy. I’m the girl who fucked Heath Frey. I’m the girl who was in the car when he died. I’m the girl who’s a slut. I’m the girl who tried to kill herself and failed. I’m the girl who’s a failure.
“But I was never the girl named Devin who didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up because she didn’t want to narrow down the opportunities. I was never the girl whose head was in the clouds with her feet never firmly on the ground. I was never the girl who focused on how I could be less of a burden to everyone involved. I was never the girl trying to fix what was so wrong with herself.
“I was never Devin.”
Her brain rambled on, and I didn’t even understand where to begin to comprehend her thoughts. They were intertwining and mixing together, and my fingers brushed against my cell phone in my pocket. As she distracted herself with images of the lake and the frosted trees, I quietly dialed 911.
I wish I could say I did this for her benefit, but it was more for me. I couldn’t let her kill herself, and this was the only way I knew she wouldn’t have the opportunity. My family and I could keep constant vigilance of her, and I knew I would fail her in that capacity if I even attempted it. All in all, if I allowed herself to perish, I don’t think I could live myself because there was no way I could live without her.
I allowed the line to stay open as I asked Devin, “Where is this place?”
She nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders. “The dock by Wrighout’s bridge.”
“Oh really, Devin Sebold?”
She cocked a brow and turned to me, twisting out from underneath my arm. She hissed, “What are you doing?!”
“What?” I whispered, furtively hanging up the phone, hoping the dispatcher had enough information to send emergency vehicles. Just anyone who could help her.
“Why did you call me that?! You never call me that. You never have called me that.”
I tried to pat her back, but she violently batted my hand away. I nonchalantly noted, “You’re being paranoid, Devin.”
“You think I’m crazy because I know you called the police. I saw you dial those three digits, and I know why you stated my name. I know why you did all of this, Ned. I know why you did all of this. It’s because I’m the crazy Sebold girl. I’m the girl who needs to be hidden. I’m the girl who needs help.”
“Devin, no, that’s not why. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
“They’re going to put me in prison, Ned, just like my dad. Just like him. I’m the same as him. I’m going to be the same as him.” She began to hyper-ventilate.
“No, no, you won’t. You aren’t anything like him!”
Devin for a moment froze in time, be it my time or her sense of the word. She glanced at the water and then back to me. Her body turned back to the water and slid off the dock. She submerged under the surface of the glass, and she sunk below the green fog of the water easily. I popped onto the balls of my feet and stared over the ledge of the dock, terrified. I screamed at the top of my lungs, “DEVIN! DEVIN!!!”
Nothing happened. No bubbles escaped to the surface. No ripples spread out from a pinpoint. Nothing moved beneath the shroud of aquamarine, and my heart continued to rattle inside its cage as I fought back the urge to jump in after her because I knew that most drowning people are frantic enough to drown their saviors.
Sirens whirred to life, and I saw the flashing lights from behind the trees. Figures behind the mist hurdled over the roots of the trees to make it to the shore, and they meekly stared out toward the dock, hesitating for some stupid reason.
I stood up and ripped off my shirt and threw it to the side. I readied to dive into the water, and then she broke the surface of the water. She released a suppressed gasp and treaded in the water. Her hair plastered itself to her face as she meekly stared at me. She grinned from ear to ear suddenly and shook her head, laughing.
And then the police and ambulance showed up.