I am numb. Utterly frozen as I watch the doctor write out another prescription for Xanax and hand it to Mila. She promises to have it filled in case I need it. He tells her that I shouldn't be alone and she agrees. She won't leave me, she says.
I can't imagine why not- not after what she heard today. I've always told her that I'm fucked up. But this... this is fucked up.
The doctor spent an extra hour talking with me after I woke up, but I can't remember anything that he said. It was all words and blurs and noise. Static. It doesn't matter. There's nothing that he can say that will help. He has to know that.
Mila grasps my elbow. "Ready?"
I nod and we walk silently out to the car. My feet feel wooden.
"Want me to drive?" she asks as she looks up at me.
"I'm good," I tell her as I open her door automatically. I'm on auto-pilot now. I'm moving, but not feeling. Mila slides in and looks up at me again. I don't know what she's waiting for. I close the door.
I buckle in and sit still for a second, staring at the snow in front of us. Everything seems to be a blur to me. Blurs of movement, blurs of shapes. Colors that bleed into each other. Nothing makes sense.
"Pax," Mila whispers. I can feel her eyes on me, waiting for something. What the fuck is she waiting for? But I don't ask. She leans over and embraces me, wrapping her arms around my shoulders and burying her face in my neck. I don't feel her warmth. I'm too numb.
"It will be okay," she finally whispers as she pulls away. She's wiping her tears away and I wonder why I'm not crying. I'm the one who should be, but my emotions seem to be gone. I can't feel a thing.
As I start the car up and drive, the silence yawns between Mila and I. I keep my eyes on the road, unable to focus or concentrate. I feel numb, every bit as numb as I felt after I dove in the lake after Mila. My heart is like a block of ice; frozen, suspended.
"Pax," she murmurs, staring at me. I can feel her gaze, her soft expression. I don't want to see it though, so I don't look. I don't deserve it. I don't deserve her goodness.
"We should talk about this." Her voice is soft, but insistent.
She puts her hand on my leg. Her fingers are cold. Normally, I would grasp it, hold it, tuck it into mine to warm it. Not now. I don't deserve to touch her with the same hands that killed my mother. So, I keep mine clenched on the steering wheel and I stare at my scar. It is jagged and deep, the edges of it white.
I have marked you.
In my head, I remember the man with the yellow teeth tracing my mother's blood into the cut. My mother's blood is literally on my hands. It's engrained in my skin forever. I have marked you.
I swallow. "I killed my mother. There's nothing else to say. In my dreams, I kept thinking that she was begging me to do something. But she wasn't. She was begging for me. For my life."
Everything seems like it is closing in on me and I suddenly feel incredibly hot. I breathe deeply, sucking in air. The white of the snow and the sky seem to be swirling around me and I can't see straight. I pull over and crack my window, and then I stare into the distance as I try to get things under control; my heart beat, my breathing, my thoughts.
Mila is silent.
I can tell she doesn't know what to do.
"Pax," she tries. "There's everything to say. You know it wasn't your fault. He was the one with the gun, the one who was forcing a violent act upon your mother. It wasn't you. I love you. I'll do anything you need me to do. Just name it. We can get through this."
Her words fade away and I stare into the silent winter day.
I can't believe the world is going on just the same as it was this morning, like nothing happened. Crows are perched in a nearby tree and I can hear them cawing. I briefly wonder why they haven't flown south, but I really don't give a fuck. The snow drifts across the road; and down the way, I see a snowplow coming slowly, it's yellow lights blinking in the slush. People are bundled up on the sidewalk, leaning into the cold winter. Everything is cold. The day, the wind, the lump in my throat.
I swallow hard, but it won't go down.
I shake my head and start the car again, driving to my house. The road passes behind us in a gray blur.
After my tires crunch on the snow in my driveway, I turn to Mila.
"I'm not going to be good company today. I think I should probably just be alone."
She's already shaking her head.
"Not on your life. I won't bother you, Pax. But the doctor said you shouldn't be alone. So you do whatever you'd like. You think about things, you process it however you'd like, but I'm staying. I'm just going to run into town and get your prescription filled and I'll be right back."
I nod curtly, and go into the house. I don't look back, even though I can feel Mila staring at me.
I stand in the middle of my living room, limply. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to process this. How would anyone process this?
And then, all of a sudden, I think about my father and a white-hot rage passes through me, overcoming the numbness.
He knew about this. He's known all of these years and he didn't tell me. He allowed me to suppress the memories. He had to know what it would do to me.
But everything makes sense now. No wonder he had stayed at work for such long hours after mom died. He didn't want to see me. How in the world could he have looked into my face knowing that I had killed his wife? Or even if he didn't realize the part I played, at the very least he knows that I didn't save her.
But even still. I was a kid. My logical thought tells me that Mila is right. It wasn't my fault. But I was the one who was there. It was my hand that bumped the man's gun. And it was my father who allowed me to hide it all of these years.
I punch his number into my house phone, but of course, he doesn't pick up. I leave him a voice mail.
"I know what happened to mom," I say icily. "Call me."
I hang up and throw my phone against the wall. It shatters into pieces. I guess if he wants to call, he'll have to call my cell.
Self-loathe floods through me, swirling with the anger that I feel toward my father. All of a sudden, I am consumed with so much emotion that I don't know what to do with it all. It's overwhelming. And it fucking hurts.
I head to the kitchen and grab a bottle of whiskey. I glance into the cabinet and see that I have two more. Thank god I re-stocked the other day. I gulp a few drinks, then a few more. Thankfully, the familiar haze soon descends upon me, the quiet numbness that I enjoy so much. But it's not enough.
The ache is still there.
I take the stairs two at a time and change into sweats, a sweatshirt and running shoes. Without another thought, I dart out the back of the house, jogging down the path to the beach. The sand is packed and frozen into hard ripples that hurt the bottom of my feet.
I don't care. I deserve it.
I jog at a fast clip, sucking in the cold air that burns my lungs.
I don't care. I deserve it.
The lake swirls and crashes against the shore on my right as my feet beat angrily on the rigid beach. The wind blowing from the water is frigid and wet and I suck it in, inhaling it into numb body. Flecks of the icy water hit my face and drip onto my shirt, freezing there.
I stare into the distance, not noticing as the beach falls away under my feet. I don't even know how far I go, until at last I can no longer breathe. My fucking lungs hurt so much and there is still a fucking lump in my throat, lodged so tightly that no amount of swallowing or running or heavy breathing will move it.
I turn and shout at the lake, screaming as loud as I can. The vibration of it rips against my vocal chords, bruising them in the cold.
But I don't care. I fucking deserve it. I shout again and again, until my voice grows hoarse. And then I drop onto the beach, leaning against a big piece of driftwood. I am limp and spent. My forehead is somehow sweaty, even though it is cold outside. The cold wind blows against it, giving me chills.
But I don't care.
I fucking deserve it.
I deserve to get pneumonia and die out here in the cold.
I stare blankly at the lake now, trying to tune out rational thought or logic or memories or emotion. I don't even know how long I've been here or how much time passes before I see someone making their way down the beach. I see a flash of red and a long coat.
I can just barely see the neck of her red turtleneck sweater poking out of her heavy coat. She trudges along the beach, her slim form bent against the wind. I can tell when she sees me because her pace quickens and it only takes her a minute more to reach me.
"Pax," she shouts. "Oh my god. Thank god. What are you thinking? It's cold out here. You're going to get pneumonia."
I stare up at her. It's the weirdest feeling, but I simply don't care about anything. I don't care if I catch pneumonia. It wouldn't bother me at all.
She leans down and grabs my hand, pulling me to my feet.
"Come on," she tells me. "We're going back to the house. You don't even have a coat on."
And I don't care. But I don't tell Mila that. I just let her lead me to the house, up the stairs and into the kitchen.
"You're frozen," she says, turning to me. Her face is stricken as she strips off her coat and tosses it onto a chair. "I'm going to run you a hot bath. You have to warm up."
She disappears down the hall and I remain standing limply in place.
I know now what the void was that was always in me. It was this. This horrible knowledge. Even though my mind was concealing it, deep down in a hidden place, I knew. It's why I've always felt empty, why I always welcomed oblivion.
Only now, the void isn't empty. It's filled with overwhelming pain and guilt. And I don't know what to do about it. I feel like I'm being pulled under.
Mila comes back and seems surprised that I haven't moved. She looks at me uncertainly, her green eyes liquid. She doesn't say anything though. She just grabs my hand and tugs me to the bathroom. She pulls off my clothes and kicks them into a pile on the floor.
"Get in," she instructs me firmly. "Your skin is bright red."
I obediently step into the tub, even though I haven't taken a bath since I was small. The hot water sends a thousand needles prickling through my limbs, but I don't care. I settle into the tub and close my eyes, blocking out everything.
"Pax," Mila begins. But then she changes her mind. "Never mind. I'll check on you soon. I have your prescription, but since you drank so much whiskey, I don't think you should take it."
I don't say anything.
When I open my eyes a moment later, she is gone. I close them again.
The problem is, when my eyes are closed, I see her face. My mother's.
Her eyes are wide open and staring at me. Dead. I did that to her. It was me. The guy wasn't going to kill her - I bumped his finger on the trigger.
It was all my fault.
Pain rips through me and I lurch to my feet, punching the tiled wall. I don't even feel that pain- the pain in my chest far overshadows it. I grab a towel and dry off, pulling my underwear on.
I've got to do something.
I can't live like this.
As Pax soaks, I put some water on for tea. As I do, his cell phone rings on the counter. I glance at it and see Paul Tate's name. I reach for it hesitantly. Should I answer it? My gut says yes.
"Hello?" I am still uncertain.
"Hello," a surprised Paul Tate answers. "Is Pax available? This is his father."
"Just a moment," I tell him. I want to say so much more, but I don't. I just climb the stairs to the bathroom and open the door, only to find the room empty. The tub is still full of water, but Pax isn't here.
"He's not where I thought he was," I tell his dad. "I'll have to find him."
I start walking down the hall, but Paul interrupts me.
"Wait," he says. "How is he? I received a voicemail from him. He said he's remembered what happened to his mother."
Anger rips through me. This man concealed this stuff from Pax for years. He had to know that it was going to come bubbling to the surface at some point. Didn't he care about that? Didn't he care what it was doing to Pax all along?
"How do you think he's doing?" I ask coolly. "Not well. Nobody would handle it well."
There is a loud sigh on the other end.
"I've always been afraid of this day," Paul admits and he sounds distant and sad. "I've never known what to do, how to prevent it."
"You can't prevent it," I tell him incredulously. "Pax saw something tragic and devastating. He should have dealt with it years ago with the help of a therapist. To allow him to suppress it was unforgivable. I'm sorry. I don't know you and I'm sorry to judge, but I know him. And he didn't deserve this. Any of this."
There is a long silence. Finally Paul speaks again.
"You don't understand. After Susanna died, Pax refused to speak of it. I did hire a therapist and Pax refused to speak to him. He had nightmares, but he would never describe them or tell me what they were about. I couldn't help him because he wouldn't let me."
"He wouldn't talk about it because the man who killed your wife threatened Pax. He told him that he would hunt him down and kill him, that if he spoke of it to anyone, that Pax would go to jail for killing his own mother. As you can imagine, he's not dealing with it well. At all."
"Do you think I should come?" Paul sounds hesitant. I am appalled and shocked. If it was me and Pax was my child, I would be here immediately. I wouldn't ask, I wouldn't take no for an answer. But Paul Tate is hesitating. I can't believe it.
"You do whatever you feel you need to," I tell him angrily before I hang up on him. I know I didn't make the best first impression with Pax's father, but I don't care. How can he be so selfish?
As I gather my wits, I hear a thumping sound, loud and frequent.
I crane my ears and follow the noise. It's coming from downstairs in the basement. Curious, I pad lightly down the wooden stairs and find Pax in his underwear, punching a punching bag that is hanging from a ceiling beam. I didn't even know it was down here. But then, I've never had a reason to be down here before.
He's sweaty and his muscles bulge and flex as he repeatedly punches at the bag. Over and over, with all of his strength. He doesn't even notice that I'm standing here watching him. He's focused solely in front of him.
My heart feels shredded and I suck in a breath. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help him. I tiptoe back up the stairs and slide to the floor, sitting against the wall. I can hear him still, punching. Over and over and over. I'm afraid he's going to hurt himself, or tear a muscle. But I know he won't stop, not even if I ask him.
I sit for at least another hour, my elbows on my knees, my face in my hands. And then the pounding finally stops. There is silence and then there are footsteps on the stairs.
I look up just as Pax emerges.
He looks down at me, then bends down and scoops me up.
He's sweaty, but I don't care. I lean my face against his chest.
Wordlessly, he carries me up the stairs and into the bedroom where he strips off his underwear and reaches for me. I'm surprised, but I fold into his arms. If this is the way he needs comforted, then so be it. I'll do anything to take the hurt off of his face.
His lips crush mine, hard. I kiss him back, but I quickly realize that this isn't going to be our normal sex. This is hard and primal. Anguished. He bends me onto the bed, and slides into me from behind with no foreplay. I wince just a bit, but it doesn't take long until I am wet.
He slides in and out; hard, rough, fast.
He grips my ass and thrusts harder.
My hands grip the comforter on the bed and I stare at it. Pax isn't really here with me. This isn't him. This is just him trying to block everything out. I know that, even if he isn't telling me.
It doesn't take long before he shudders against me; straining, pushing.
He falls with me to the bed and when I look at him, for just a second, it is Pax again. His eyes are open and wide.
"I'm sorry," he tells me softly, clutching me. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry."
I don't know who he is really apologizing to, me or maybe even his mom. I just don't know. But I don't care. I stroke his back as he shakes until he finally is still. He lies there for the longest time before he climbs out of bed and closes the bedroom door behind him.
I don't follow. I know he wants to be alone. And for the life of me, I don't know how to help him.