It went without saying that I outlive everything. Then Truth died; and after the memorial service, I met the first of a legion of challenges.
But that’s not why I walked in the back door of a church to my first support-group meeting. Abuse survivors meet Wednesday nights, though it wouldn’t matter if it were any other; my schedule’s been booked since Truth’s death and I’d have to miss something no matter when. But something’s wrong with me, I’m not myself lately. People keep mistaking me for someone else, which is concerning given how, as the therapist running the group says, “You teach people how to treat you.”
Maybe it’s that no matter what I actually say, so many people hear me say things like, “It’s fine to assess the beauty of every woman, you see” or, “It’s okay to take from other people when they’re not looking.” Maybe it’s seeing so many people die around me and not feeling a damn thing anymore, “Something’s got to change, man,” I told my buddy Scotch after assisting the NSA in hooking sixteen major US cities up with closed-circuit monitoring capable of facial recognition. The machines haven’t been taught to see this yet, but all I recognize on the conveyor belt of faces on every street surveyed is deadness.
“That makes me even more nauseous than the bombs,” he told me about group, though he can’t be counted on to attend, himself. People went around the circle sputtering their names; we were all expected to respond gently and in unison with a greeting. Still, several people jumped at the response. This is Survivors of Abuse, after all.
“I’m Power,” I said; and immediately, two group members offered me money. I briefly see myself plucking each of their fingers off. I shudder: I may have found this group too late.
Speaking of Scotch, he and I ran into each other at Truth’s memorial. We sometimes hang out, not as much as people think, but it had been a while. I hadn’t known how Truth died – it was in a mass shooting, he said, “Damn kids.”
“People look into the face of a mass shooting,” my friend Rage said later that same night, “And they don’t see you anymore.” I’m trying to console her and I can’t tell if it’s working. Part of it is facing my own mortality for the first time so I’m kind of distracted. Part of it is that her voice is getting pinched and her shoulders are jamming up into her ears, but it could be venting which I’ve read, is supposed to help. Seems kind of weird that it would: when I vent, innocent people die en masse in foreign lands, the price of life-saving meds blasts the roofs off the houses in the projects the world over; and people who are too lazy or old to work get dumped out onto the streets. Hence my need for a support group. The clinician’s name is Tomorrow. Procrastination is pretty good therapy, I think. Until it’s too late. No one makes any jokes.
With a black lollipop thing, Tomorrow hits what looks like a single, fat wind chime strapped to a wood block like a mental patient. A minute and a half later, air still ringing from the very flat E minor, intros. Dodge is interested in my friend, Rage even though he’s never met her. Grit’s being abused by her own grief. Bliss has a crush on Jesus Christ. Convenience always comes in with arms full of plastic, “Least I can do,” he says, dumping it into the enormous recycle bins lining the back wall for some reason.
And then it’s my turn to share. “I don’t know how to put this,” I lie. I don’t wait long enough to cover up the lie, “Everyone wants me. But none of my relationships are equal.”
“Can you pinpoint the location of the imbalance?” Tomorrow’s pen twitches over her notepad.
“Everyone always wants me to do all the work.”
“Do you let them?” She tilts her pen, touching it to paper.
“I don’t have the power to control anyone.” I throw my hands up, “Yet, when things go badly, everyone always blames me.”
“Well, absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Grit blows her chapped nose.
I sigh like a horse. “It doesn’t help to blame the victim.”
Tomorrow’s written nothing on her pad even as her muscles spasm like she’s ever just about to start writing, “I don’t know what you mean.” Grit drags a tissue across her eyes.
“Everyone says that tired old thing about people who abuse me,” I sigh.
Abuse raises a shaky hand with sharp rings on every finger. “I can relate,” Abuse says, turning to me; “If people met me as a kid, they think it explains using me as an adult.”
“Now who’s blaming?” Grit’s sobs have magically subsided for the moment.
I stand, “I have a date with the president.” I don’t remember in time to catch it that the door sounds like a gunshot when it closes, which will make Teen and Student and Survivor hit the deck. Before the PTSD ensues, I hear Tomorrow ask Grit who died.
Slam. I lean against the birch for just a moment to hear Tomorrow, flustered that she got an actual answer, ask, “Did you two have a special relationship or something?”
Jane’s calling incessantly on her future husband to comfort the startled kids and she’s right by the door, but I think I hear Grit say, “Truth was my child.” I change into bodyguard-mode and meet the president at The Justice Buffet – the one across the street from the courthouse, not the one next to the jail at the top of the hill. He ignores the rules about what’s available to whom and points at whatever he wants, expecting me to fill his plate. I glop a few scoops of admiration – the kind with the fear blendered in – and the other things he’s pointing to, wondering what the hell is wrong with me that I have no trauma response to death or being grabbed or death, woozy with the fear that it’s too late, that I’ve killed too many people for group to save me, trying to imagine why Grit hates me so much, trying to remember if I saw Grit at the funeral. I definitely didn’t see Rage – she’s at everything these days, so you really notice it when she stays home.
I used to feel sorry for her kids, but then I met Detachment’s babies. After we eat, the president drags me back to one of his satellite offices around town. On the way there, he feasts his eyes on the shape of every woman who passes us, and I say nothing. He snipes at the bellman who walks with a limp for being slow to get the door for us and I say nothing except thank you to the bellman. He signs a tax siphoning bill into law and I open the freaking champagne bottle. He orders the deportation of hundreds of parents. He illegalizes hurricanes. I smile for the press. I call Charity the moment I walk inside my door, keys still in hand. She’s been through this with me before, as has Humility but he’s got a speaking engagement he really wants to attend tonight – The Dalai Lama’s keynote. He never misses those events, “I don’t even know who I am anymore,” I say, skin prickling as the thought sounds out of my mouth.
“Remember that one time,” Charity says, “when we were driving across the country, you, me, Humility, Rage, Hope, Truth, Despair, all of us, and we were all talking about what the heck to do with our lives?”
“God, that was before Hope and Despair divorced.” It was the beginning of the end of our formidable group, the last time we ever talked about doing things in the world together.
“Do you remember what you said?”
My throat’s dry so I have to breathe through my nose to get any air, “Yeah.” I haven’t done the dishes in weeks; “You’d all already gone around the circle. And I said I could see myself in any one of you.” I stick my mouth under the faucet and turn on the water.
“That’s exactly right.”
My jaw burns, its muscles shove my cheeks outward. “I am not a doormat.”
Charity sighs her I’m-going-to-say-something-I’ve-already-said-and-so-know- you’re-not-going-to-like sigh, “That’s just not how you were made, friend.”
The funeral. Grit’s child’s funeral. She thinks it’s my fault. I bit blood from my tongue. She’s right. I don’t hang up. I let my phone die. I’ve put on my quietest shoes. I’ve skipped group and waited until two hours after closing. I’ve managed to get inside anywhere I want so far. No one’s walked this street for ten minutes. I punch the glass in, curl my hand carefully around the shards stuck in the doorframe and flip the lock open. I drop every dish, upend every chair, topple every table in the café, shouting the name of everyone I was used to murder, everyone I know, “And this,” I grab the buffet by the tray bar, “Is for all those I don’t,” uproot it, arc it over my head and smash it down over the hostess stand and the hallway where people who will never meet me wait as those who do breeze past them and take everything. The metal food holders hit the tile first and I curse their empty clangs.
“Someone vandalized The Justice Buffet last night, did you hear?” Bobby leans toward Abuse.
“Didn’t see you at Truth’s memorial service.” I wave at Grit.
Grit makes puppy eyes at Tomorrow, who nods and raises her eyebrows like a parent encouraging a toddler but is otherwise useless. Grit mouths the numbers one through ten and breathes audibly, “We talked about this last meeting, which you were absent for,” she says through gritted teeth; “I was in the front row.”
“I must have missed you.”
“Yeah, well, I was taking a break from myself.” Grit snarls at me; “I think losing a child entitles a parent to a bit of falling apart, don’t you?” The door whines open. Tomorrow is the only one who recognizes who comes in. She watches this person take a seat next to me. I am stung with a sense of home like nothing I’ve ever felt.
“I’d be jealous of how people worship you.” The voice sounds like one in the earliest and smallest of my memories, from the time before time, a voice that used me to destroy. I hold back the weeping so I can hear the rest of the sentence; “But I know in the end, I’ll get you back to myself.”
God has walked in through the door like a normal guy. Jane’s wish has come true and I have met the omega of the things that will outlive me.
Tomorrow shakes her head like she’s trying to wake up. “Your, uh,” she blinks, and her eyes are working so hard to focus, if they were gears, they’d be grinding in your ears; “Your…who’s…are you being abused?”
“No,” God shakes God’s head and the wind picks up outside, the carabiner securing a dirty, white flag at the building’s entrance smacking against the dulled metal, “I’m just here to observe.” God turns to me; before I instinctively drop my eyes, I see that God’s are mirrors.