Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Morning of the Fourth Day (Part III of III)

by Remy Dou

(final installment)

      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.

The End.

The Morning of the Fourth Day (Part II of III)

by Remy Dou

The morning of the third day of his suicide attempt, Chris woke up with a migraine. The sunshine beaming in from the window behind him caught the gloss of the coffee table and sank into his eyes like sharp needles. Squinting, he brought his hand up as a shield, dropping the bottle of rum. The thick glass shattered, the sound jostling his brain cavity. He tried opening his eyes slowly to regain composure. Though he shielded them from the sun, his vision remained blurry and opaque. As if taking inventory of all his maladies, his mind scanned his torso, registering nausea in addition to his headache.
A sudden impulse to stand seized hold of him. Leaning his body forward, he pushed up with his legs. His stomach lurched. Chris lost balance and landed hard on his knees. The glass shards on the ground buried themselves into his skin. His forearms kept his face from slamming into the coffee table, but his bones absorbed the blow, forming hairline fractures that spread out like veins. The sour taste of vomit crept up the back of his tongue. His body heaved reflexively, catapulting the contents of his belly all over his arms and the coffee table. The semi-clear liquid dripped down, mingling with the blood that had slowly leaked from his knees onto the floor.
Minutes passed before Chris attempted to move. His arms pulsated and his head throbbed. He pushed his body up with his hands, but that sent a jolt of pain shooting across his forearms. Resting most of his weight on his feet, he wobbled into a standing position. Glass clung to his kneecaps and the mixture of blood and vomit dripped down his shins until it was absorbed by his white socks.
Trying not to slip, Chris slowly made his way to the bathroom. The clean white tile and porcelain toilet reminded him of a hospital. Stumbling in, he leaned his hip against the sink to keep from losing balance. Chris used his elbows to pry open the medicine cabinet. His eyes scanned the bottles, not quite knowing what to look for. The writing on the labels swayed back and forth, refusing to let itself be read.
Frustrated, Chris snatched up an orange prescription bottle and twisted off the cap to peer inside. The little blue pills laughed at him as they flew across the room and crashed against the hard glass of the shower door. He stared at his medicine cabinet, realizing that the one thing that could take away his headache was what put him in this state in the first place.
Sighing, he picked up the bottle of mouthwash to dilute the taste of vomit in his mouth. The weight of the bottle in his hands sent fresh lightning shooting across the microscopic fractures in his bones. The bottle crashed in the sink, spilling its green contents like toxic waste. The smell of the mouthwash rose, gathered in Chris’ nose, and stimulated a second bout of heaving.
The abdominal contractions forced Chris backward. He slammed against the doorframe, which tripped him to the ground. Bile splashed against tile on the floor, dripped down his chin, and soaked his shirt. He laid face up, spread eagle on the ground, the lower half of his body inside the bathroom, the upper half in the hallway. Hoping not to choke on his own reflux, he turned his aching head over on its side.
An hour later Chris could no longer see out of his right eye. His head still throbbed. His body screamed out in pain. Fluids leaked out of him uncontrollably. If this was death, Chris decided to welcome it, closing his eyes.
*    *    *
Rays of sunset warmed his face. Chris opened his eyes and realized he must have slept for hours. The vision in his right eye had returned, but coyly. His arms still hurt, but the nausea vanished. He wanted to get up, but could not. The two legs attached to his body trembled at the thought. Accepting that he couldn’t do anything on his own, he managed to call the only person he knew would drive over at a moment’s notice.  
 Carmen picked up the phone, registering Chris’ ringtone. Last time they spoke it was over brunch six months prior. She remembered him mentioning his lost desire to write.
Her thumb slid over the answer button. “Hi, Chris,” she greeted.
“Carmen, are you far?” he asked.
“Huh? Far from what?” she said.
“I could really use your help. I’m sorry to call you this way,” he said.
“Are you okay?” said Carmen, concern creeping into her voice.
“Not really. I need someone to take me to the hospital,” said Chris.
“Yeah, of course. I’m on my way. Would you prefer I call an ambulance?”
“No, no. This place is a mess and I’m not quite sure I want people seeing this. You never know what might get on the news,” he said.
“Okay, I’ll be right there.”
Carmen arrived at Chris’ home within half an hour. In that time, he dragged himself onto the couch, scooting glass out of the way and wiping the floor with his pants. She came in using her key and yipped when she saw glass and blood on the floor. Running up to lift him, she managed to bear some of his weight, placed him in the car, and drove off to the hospital.
At the hospital, she asked the staff to help her place him in a wheelchair. She told them she thought he might have tried to commit suicide. They asked what her relationship to him was and she explained she was his ex-wife.
     The nurses took Chris’ vitals as they rushed him to the ER. Thoroughly dehydrated, the head nurse asked that he be placed on intravenous fluids. Moments later a doctor came in, asking questions.
     “Can you explain what happened?” asked the doctor.
     Chris did, describing his three-day endeavor.
     “Can you get someone to bring in the empty Tylenol bottles from your home?” said the doctor.
     “Yes—my ex-wife is probably still in the hospital, waiting to hear from me.”
     “Okay, I’ll have someone find her. I’m going to Baker Act you Mr. Miller. Do you understand what that means?”
     “Yes,” said Chris.
     “If what you described to me is true, there’s nothing we can do restore your liver, other than an emergency liver transplant, which is not guaranteed and will depend on whether you have renal or other organ failure. You are facing an almost certain likelihood of death,” said the doctor grimly.
     “I’m prepared for that,” said Chris.
     Surprisingly, Chris’ blood work came back negative less than an hour later. A second test confirmed the results. The doctor began to doubt Chris’ story despite seeing the empty bottles of painkillers Carmen recovered. Thinking the entire ordeal might have been a cry for help, he transferred Chris to the mental health ward. By midnight Chris slept profoundly in his new hospital room, arms carefully suspended on slings.

The Morning of the Fourth Day (Part I of III)

by Remy Dou

On the second day of his three-day suicide attempt, Chris woke up feeling just fine. This frustrated a man of his caliber, who excelled at most things. Chris’ unique mind had propelled him to the highest statuses of the literary world. Millions of people read his poetry; his writings reverberated with the fragile souls most kept hidden in the inner confines of ignorance. He could do that because long ago he embraced the fragility of his own person.
Not one to give up easily on a task, Chris dressed and walked out the front door, grabbing the keys to his car. His reflection in the mirror framed above the key holder caught his attention. Beard stubble soiled his cheeks and jaw line, accentuating the age imposed on him by the bags under his eyes and lines quadrasecting his forehead. As if repulsed, the mirror pushed his alcohol-sodden breath toward him. Without reacting to the smell, Chris left the house.
The “Engine On” button of his coupe lit up. He drove back to the convenience store where he purchased the first bottle of painkillers. His father’s words buzzed quietly in the back of his mind, Don’t start anything you won’t follow through to the end. Swiftly, he pulled into an empty handicap space and walked straight toward the medicine isle.
The clerk smiled a polite smile. She was a cute girl with pretty eyes and auburn hair tied in a ponytail. He smiled back, placing the bottle of extra strength Tylenol on the counter.
“How’s your day going?” he asked.
“Good,” she said, scanning the bottle.
“Do you always wear your hair like that? It looks nice,” he said.
“Oh, thank you,” she said, a little surprised by the compliment. “I keep it like this at work.”
“My mother always wore her hair up. It accentuated her sharp features. She was very pretty like you,” he said.
The girl smiled again and wished him a good day. He did the same.
Walking back to the car, Chris peered across the street toward the liquor store. He made one more stop before returning home, picking up a liter of white rum.
Only a few days had passed since he decided suicide was his most reasonable final step. He came to that conclusion logically, without the sentiments of sadness or despair often expressed by those on the precipice of taking their lives. He had no children that he knew of, family he barely got along with, and only a little money left. He could write another collection of poems, meet a new lover, or take on a hobby, but he didn’t see an end in those things. He had done it all already.
Chris had taken full pleasure in his wealth and fame. As a young man he spent many months, on and off, traveling across Europe, eating the best foods, meeting high society, and making love to young women aspiring to become models or actresses. At the age of thirty-five he moved to south Florida where he married his first and only love. There, they purchased a large home in a quiet, private community. After the relationship’s demise, disillusionment drove Chris closer to the sun’s engrossing heat. So, he traveled to the Dominican Republic where he did nothing but drink with the men that gathered at a family owned cafĂ© in Puerto Plata, write poetry, and sleep with prostitutes. At the age of fifty, Chris settled back in Florida, this time in Miami, closer to the family he had forgotten about—his father and younger brother.
Only one passion remained in his life: writing. He wrote about his childhood; he wrote about his many love affairs; he wrote about the emptiness he discovered in European nightclubs; some of his writings even flirted with activism, taking stances against the unjust treatment of political prisoners. Chris infused every poem with meaning, symbols, and allusions that transported readers to the streets, bars, and hotel rooms he wrote about. Reading his poetry was like consuming a drug that inoculated a person against apathy. 
Yet, even writing lost its purpose. For him, the content of his poetry mattered less than the process of writing, so the day Chris fell out of love with the process he decided to find new ways to enjoy the money he amassed. A tiny part of him hoped the experiences would reinvigorate his passion for brining pen to paper. Instead, he discovered nothing gave him pleasure—not women, or alcohol, or traveling. In falling out of love with writing, he fell out of love with life.
Chris stood the bottle of rum on the coffee table beside the four suicide notes he had written—one for his father, one for his ex-wife, one for his nephew, and one for himself. He pressed down on the top of the Tylenol bottle to disarm the child-safety mechanism, twisted the cap off, and tipped a handful of pills onto his right palm. Trapping the pills in the cusp of his hand, he unscrewed the top of the rum bottle, took a swig, tossed the pills into his mouth, and chased them down with a second mouthful of rum. 
Emblazoned with the names of their eventual recipients, the suicide notes clasped his eyes like magnets. He sat on the couch, staring at the letters, half-heartedly remembering their content. The one addressed to his father held a message from a son grateful for a happy childhood. To his ex-wife, he also left a message of gratitude for the years of joy she brought him, daintily glossing over the thorn that split them apart. Although he decided against writing to his brother, he spent some time thinking about whether or not to write a letter to his nephew. His nephew, an aspiring writer, admired him to no end. The final letter, addressed to himself, read like an autobiographical eulogy. It concluded with a recounting of the reasons for his action, as if reaffirming the soundness of his logic--the dignity of his decision.
Sitting back, his consciousness blew past trees of memories firmly planted in his mind. Caught in a gentle eddy of his past, his eyes glazed over for a few moments, his thoughts not quite settling on any particular branch. Slowly regaining awareness, losing sight of the forest, he tipped more pills into his mouth; the rum followed close behind. Three hours later, Chris passed out, an empty bottle in each hand.