by Remy Dou
The day after his three-day suicide attempt, Chris woke up to the sound of his father’s voice.
“It’s funny how life repeats itself. Your mom did the same thing to me,” said Chris’ father.
The older man sat carefully on the edge of the only armchair in the room. His features may have resembled Chris’ years before, but creases and wrinkles erased all similarities. In contrast, the old man’s button-down shirt lay flat and wrinkle-free against his palpitating heart.
Still groggy, Chris opened his eyes, turning his head to see his father. They hadn’t spoken in two years.
“Do you remember when you caught Carmen cheating on you?” continued the old man.
Chris did not respond.
“What did I tell you? Had you been a man she wouldn’t have done that,” said the old man, staring at nothing. “Once again, here you are, and had you been a real man this time, you would have finished what you started.”
The heart monitor attached to Chris registered a slight increase in pulse rate.
“Where’s Julio?” said Chris, forcing himself to ignore his father’s comments.
“He doesn’t want to come,” said the old man. “Your brother thinks this is another ploy to get attention.”
“What ploy, Abraham?” spat Chris. His family’s apparent disappointment in the miracle of his continued existence frustrated him.
“I don’t know, Chris. Your books, and your writing, and your trips around the world,” said the old man.
“Those aren’t ploys to get attention. He’s envious; he always has been,” said Chris resigned.
“Of course, he’s envious. Your brother works hard, but can barely make his rent, while you write a few lines on a piece of paper and people throw money at you,” said the old man.
Chris’ heart rate monitor beeped in the background.
“I’ve offered to help him hundreds of times,” said Chris matter-of-factly.
“He’s not going to take a handout. He has too much integrity,” said his father.
Chris wanted to tell him to leave, but didn’t have the fortitude.
“What did you mean about mom doing the same thing?” said Chris, changing the subject.
“Your mom did the same thing to me before you were born. She placed your brother on the recliner and told him not move while she opened all the burners on the stove,” explained the old man. “Obviously, she didn’t die or you wouldn’t have been born. It’s a miracle you survived the pregnancy at all.”
“Why did you never tell me or Julio?” said Chris, stunned by the revelation.
“For what? She should have finished what she started. You were born and she left. Why even mention it? Although maybe I should have, considering the current situation.”
Chris unsuccessfully tried grasping the fact that his mother attempted to take her life with him in it. Now more than ever he wanted his father to vanish.
“Abraham, could you leave, please?” said Chris.
“I just came to tell you that story about your mother. Next time you want to do something, either do it or don’t. Don’t expect help or comfort when you fail.”
“Don’t worry; I won’t ask for your help,” said Chris.
The old man stood, his calves shaking under his weight. Foot by foot, he made his way out of the room, leaving nothing behind but the smell of age and talcum powder.
Chris sighed. He didn’t know how to contend with this new piece of information. Less than twenty-four hours prior, he had accepted death, concluding he had no purpose to continue living for—nothing left to accomplish. Now, he felt his mother wanted him to know he had no purpose to live in the first place. If his father’s presence and words rattled him, this development shook him to the core. He couldn’t ignore it.
His mother knew she carried him within her. Chris mulled over the implications of her actions in his mind. All his writings, relationships, and achievements disintegrated before him. They stood for naught as he lay alone on a hospital bed in the sterile room of a mental health ward.
What Chris knew was that three years after she gave birth, his mother took off to fight for what she believed to be a greater cause: her own dreams. As a little girl she obsessed over Hollywood actresses, longing from others the same adoration she offered. She met an independent producer who promised her the world and eloped. The last childhood memory Chris had of his mom was watching her mount the back of her lover’s green scooter as he stood on tiptoes, peering through a window.
Years later he saw her again, almost unrecognizable from the few photographs he held onto. He watched her on a hotel television the night before a book signing in London. She played a supporting role in a local soap opera as a hospice nurse. Her skin sagged and folded from the weight she put on over the years. Chris watched the entire show, waiting for the credits to confirm the undeniable. The following morning, he called in sick and never returned to London.
His mother’s dreams stood on a higher plane than her children. Her boys weighed her down, keeping her from success. Rather than accepting the fact that she would be a housewife all her life, she sought to end it. When that didn’t work, she masked the burden of guilt long enough to forget the former life she chose to leave behind.
Chris understood that. For that reason, he never had children. He loved himself too much. When Carmen had conceived, he demanded she terminate her pregnancy. Like a bolt of lightning striking him in that hospital bed, Chris realized history had repeated itself without his awareness. But Carmen had refused; later, she unexpectedly lost the baby. After her physical recovery, she stopped loving Chris as she had before.
The door to the room opened with a gentle creak.
“Hi Carmen,” said Chris softly. “I was just thinking about you.”
She smiled. “What were you thinking?”
“A lot of things,” he responded, avoiding a real answer.
“Do you feel any better?”
“I don’t know,” he said, adding, “Abraham was here.”
“I saw his signature on the visitors’ list,” she said. She knew the kind of bitter person his father was.
“I found something at your house when I went to get the bottles for the doctor,” said Carmen, a telling tone in her voice.
Chris sensed exactly what she referred to.
“Did you read them all?” he said.
“Yep,” she said, nodding her head. “They’re very beautiful. You should probably publish them,” she added with a chuckle.
Chris smiled back. “Well, I meant every word I wrote you. I’m sorry you had to read them in this way.”
“Do you still remember those years we lived together?” asked Carmen.
“Sharply,” said Chris.
“I remember, too. I want you to know that I envisioned us together the rest of our lives,” she said.
“Me too. I can’t apologize enough for how I acted. I should have been excited with you,” said Chris.
Carmen remained silent a few seconds. Chris watched her, remembering how she used to be with him, her laughter, wondering what would have happened had their child lived. His thoughts returned to the miracle of his own birth despite his mother’s attempt to extinguish it.
Without warning, tears welled up in Chris’ eyes. A painful lump formed in his throat. His face contorted as the salty tears forced their way out. The hot liquid streamed forth. He wanted nothing more but to wail and ask the Universe to take it all back, to let him do it over.
“All my life,” began Chris through sobs, “I thought people left me, that they were more concerned about themselves than me. My mother left me and never turned back. My brother wanted nothing to do with me because he didn’t think life was fair. And you left me, too.
“But it wasn’t you. I left you. And it wasn’t my brother either, or Abraham, or even my mother. I left them all, too. Instead of dealing with the pain, with the struggle of fixing my relationships, I left to do my own thing, follow my own desires. Even now, I wanted to leave for good. I thought everyone around me was looking out for themselves and I needed to do the same. And looking back, the person I hurt the most is the person that’s loved me the most. I’m sorry, Carmen.”
With a deep breath she held back tears. “You’ve always had a gift for words,” she said.
“They’re not just words,” said Chris, gently. “If I can take all I did back, I would.”
Carmen looked deep into his eyes. “Well, I’m still here, Chris. Maybe not in the same way, but there’s still our friendship, and I want you to know I’m here for you.”
A slightly warm feeling spread inside Chris. “Thank you.”
“Phew,” said Carmen, breaking the tension, a smile growing on her face. “That was intense.”
Chris laughed loudly, brightening the room.
“You know,” began Carmen after a few moments, “I was a little surprised you left a letter to your nephew. I didn’t know you thought of him much.”
Chris remembered the contents of the letter. “Not often,” he began, “but it’s hard to ignore that look in his eyes when he hears me talk about writing.”
“Have you seen him recently?” said Carmen.
“No. You know I haven’t talked to my brother in a long time,” said Chris.
Chris’ teenage nephew adored him. He wanted to be a writer just like his uncle. In the letter, Chris encouraged him, telling him his writing shone with the dull brilliance of gold in its impure form, then listed the names of authors he should read to bring out the best. Chris left him with one final piece of advice: Once you hone your craft, committing the stylistic and grammatical things to reflex, he wrote, go out and live life. After you live—experience real hardships—and love, you will have all the material needed to write that great American novel you long to produce, and you will do it.
Chris pictured his nephew reading the suicide note he had left for him. The image stirred him.
“Do you want me to deliver his letter?” said Carmen.
Breaking his train of thought, Chris responded, “No. I don’t think he’s going to want that.”
Carmen considered his reply, wondering what he meant.
“Are you sure? What should I do with it?” she asked.
“Rip it up,” said Chris calmly. “I think I’ll just tell him what’s in it.”
Carmen did just that, saying nothing else. She remained with Chris until the nurse came in to tell her visiting hours had come to an end. He had fallen asleep shortly before that. Carmen took the remaining letters from her purse and ripped them up, too, throwing them in the bin beside his bed on her way out. She left Chris to the comfort of his new dreams.