The Final Blow
By Gary M. Miller
The words on the monitor, in their almost-elegant simplicity, delivered a blow fiercer than any I had encountered back when I was the nerdy kid in high school whom the jocks picked on incessantly. Each word on the page made an increasing amount of sense, and yet, they made no sense at all.
How could this happen?
I tried. I really tried to keep everything going, tried to keep the situation at a containable, acceptable level, yet all the while in the back of my brain something stirred—stirred like paint in a can, the thick liquid permeating, corrupting the ruler one used to mix it—and I cursed myself for not knowing what was wrong until it was far, far too late. Fourteen months of bliss came to a weak decrescendo, fading away from consciousness as if they’d never even existed at all. Fourteen months with the one I loved more than anything else on this godforsaken planet, whom I thought had loved me just as much. God, it seemed, had now forsaken me as well.
The letter came in my e-mail box while I’d been away at the campus production of Death Takes a Holiday. I’d only attended the damned play because I had to, for a theatre class assignment. I didn’t really have the interest in going, since my mind was on other things—chiefly the surprise I was springing for Jen, my beautiful Jen, that coming Halloween weekend. I’d go home, don the costume of the killer from the Scream movies, knock on her door, and she’d be shocked at my presence when I removed my mask because she’d thought that I was too busy to make it home—again. We’d be blissfully reunited, and maybe, just maybe we’d make love that night. I’d make my promise—that I’d never leave her, ever. I’d always be her man. It was an idea sparked in a moment of genius, in an attempt to inject life back into a relationship that I could tell was fraying like a rope at its edges. How could I know my endeavor was too late?
I arrived in my dorm room after the play, hoping that Jen would be online and that we could chat for a while, so my doubts (what doubts? I now reflect) would be assuaged and I could go on making my ingenious plans that would reunite us, rekindle the love that had blurred focus, made us nearsighted in recent weeks. The frostiness of the air conditioner in the window felt delightful, as the sweat on my brow began to cool like dry ice. I glanced over the scenery quickly, finding it to be just how I’d remembered it—with ivory white walls, upon which hung a Frankenstein poster and several wooden picture frames, in which were 8x10’s of Jen and me at various dances and social events: Homecoming, Snow Ball, Spring Formal, Prom, Homecoming again. We looked happy, truly happy, exhilarated by the fact the Fates had brought us together. How could two people be more perfect for one another? My roommate, Rod, with long golden hair and a face that was the spitting image of Jesus Christ, sat below all the pictures, at my computer, checking his mail, when I came in from the autumn weather. Unthinkingly, I plopped down on my half-made bed which sat beside the computer desk, and dove over it like a bored swimmer.
“Rod, y’mind if I check my mail really quick? I want to see if Jen mailed me back. Only take a sec.”
Rod eased his chair out a small ways from the desk, enough so that I could slink between him and the keyboard. “No prob, I’m done,” he told me, putting his hands behind his head and stretching. I suppose I’d bored him to death many times by telling about Jen’s and my antics. It made him, the consummate bachelor who never even dated, cringe whenever she came up in conversation.
My hand sweatily grabbed the mouse. Beneath it, on the pad, was a photo of my beloved and me. Within seconds I brought up Netscape Messenger, and clicked the button for New Mail. Circuits hummed and transmissions went through miles of fiber-optic cable until the mail flag onscreen went up, heralding electronic death in the form of an e-mail whose subject line cried: “please read this.”
Innocently, I opened the message. I skimmed it at first. The words blurred together, and in the back of my brain I felt a subconscious locomotive of guilt and rage begin to chug its way forward and invade my conscious mind. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I felt Rod move away, up and out of the wooden chair, walking to the far side of the room to his bed, near the door. He lay down on the bed, atop his wrinkled coat and bedsheets, sighing in heavy fatigue. But he didn’t matter; I couldn’t tear myself from the words on the screen. What she wrote wasn’t important; don’t all Dear John letters read the same? The words played with me teasingly, then began to cut into my very being like a farmer cutting through his harvest with a sickle. No, not a farmer—like the Grim Reaper, lopping off heads with his instrument of death, drawing ever closer. The sound of his scythe echoed, whistling through the air, over and over and over again, louder and louder, closer and closer every time until I could feel the icy chill of his dead breath upon my shoulder, smell the rancid stench of his rotting flesh. Death had come—for the relationship, for me. My enemies were rallying, the Reaper from one side, the train from the other, and I was helpless to avoid their gaze, their overwhelming desire to have me in the inescapable clutches of loathing and despair.
All I could think about, in that moment, was Jen, nearly two hundred miles away from me, two months hence since I’d moved away to college. I dreamed of the way her deep blue eyes were like the fabled seas of the Caribbean; of the way her strawberry-blond hair cascaded down either side of her face, around her exquisitely shaped ears, curling gently at the ends, giving her features an unnecessary, but nonetheless lovely frame. I ran my fingers through that luscious mane many times, delighting in its luxuriousness, smelling every bit as sweet as freshly-picked cherries. I reminisced about the smoothness of her sexy alabaster skin, how its scent lingered like morning rain, and how delightfully creamy, silky it had been under my delicate touch, especially her long and lovely legs, stretching all the way up to her marvelous neck; how cute her little nose was and how I’d hover my head in close, then touch that nose gently with my index finger many times just before leaning in to kiss her full, tender red lips, our mouths opening, my tongue tangoing tastefully with hers, drinking in her sweet taste like vintage wine. I recalled eagerly massaging her back, neck and legs; tickling her sides and watching, hearing her laugh that angelic brand of laughter; hugging her shapely form so tightly I sometimes felt her head would pop off and go flying from all the pressure; and I remembered every sensuous curve to her body, every imperfection, every tiny birthmark, every dimple and freckle, memorized like a treasure map. Everything that had been mine.
And there were other moments I remembered in the flashes between words, each image coming more quickly as the train gained speed, chug-a-chug-a-chug-a-chug along the tracks of my consciousness. Each image, each scenario, seemed to be from a lifetime ago. Jen and I met at the Silverado on the day The X-Files movie premiered; she was the best-looking Scully I’d ever laid eyes upon, and I, apparently, the best Mulder she’d seen. I quaked in my Reeboks as months later we confronted our ever-increasing feelings for one another, successfully. My heart leapt for joy as she nervously put her hand in mine for the first time on the night of the Pirates-Cubs game at Three Rivers. We kissed in front of her house, and she melted into my arms, once, twice, a hundred thousand times. We made a habit of “half-watching” movies till 3 A.M. and her parents very nearly caught us making out (and more) in their basement so many times I’d long lost count. I took her to her first rock concert, Dave Matthews, struck by spontaneity. We’d give each other gifts, cards, and flowers at random, token reminders of how great our love was. “Of all the places in the world I like, I like being in your arms the best,” one such card read, touching my heart. She was the only person who’d ever convinced me to ride all the rides at Cedar Point. I was the only one she’d ever let into her soul. We were young but still planned for the future, often talking, not so jokingly, about maybe someday settling down—with me as a doctor and her as a burgeoning actress, raising a bunch of wonderful kids—foolish dreams to imagine so early, but yet, we did so.
Now, those dreams were gone, the Reaper slicing them to bloody ribbons. It wasn’t death, not literally, and yet, it was. But the train kept rumbling along, and before long, I couldn’t take any more. I rose up from the computer, only a few seconds having passed since I sat down to read the letter, running around the edge of my bed, around to the door, where the train finally blared its horn and jumped its tracks as my fists, feet and head slammed into the wooden door with potent force. Over, and over, and over. I couldn’t stop. The rage was too much with me. My roommate took immediate notice, but at the time, I didn’t acknowledge him. All I knew was that my dreams had been ground into so much pulp so suddenly it was making my head spin. I banged on the door until my hands and forehead were raw and red; then I looked over at Rod, then at the monitor, and the tears began to flow. If each tear that dropped represented one reason for the Reaper to spare me, I must have said thousands of words, if not millions, in my defense. But none of it seemed to help.
“What’s wrong?” Rod asked. He looked at me, almost crazily, not comprehending what happened just then.
I looked back at him although the rest of my body was still facing the door. My throat was dry, all the fluid leaving out of my eyes. I could do naught but point behind me at the computer screen across the room, the words still in plain view. Pain, real physical tremors the like of which I’d never experienced before, wracked me from within and I held my belly even as my pointed hand turned, angrily, to a fist again. I don’t think I could have said it; I think I could only express myself through action at that point, not totally wanting the words to escape my mouth for fear that if they did, then they would become truth if they hadn’t done so already.
The phone rang then, cutting through the white noise of my recollections and of the pain. I turned my back to the door and sank downward, crashing against the door, my backside hitting the rock-hard floor with a thump. Rod leaned over between the beds and picked up the telephone, cocking his head so that the phone rested between his ear and shoulder. I didn’t hear the words he spoke. My fists were clenched, knuckles white, nails digging into the palms of my hands, demanding blood be spilt. The Reaper was acting through me; I was helpless to control him. I just didn’t want to fight any longer. How could something like this happen? Was there a God? A line from a television show I watched came to mind: “Better to ask, ‘If there is a God, must He be sane?’”
I looked about the room. It would be so easy to find something that would fulfill the Reaper’s wishes, wouldn’t it? The bedsheets could be tied together, strung from something high. Several pairs of sharp scissors lay in the tray atop my desk. I had enough Tylenol and other drugs in the room, certainly. I felt nothing could fill the void within me, which increased geometrically with each passing second. I had to do something. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, the Reaper cried out for Rod to leave so that he and I would finally be alone together.
“That was Mike,” Rod said, momentarily breaking the Reaper’s chanting in my brain. “Wants me to go up t’ his place and do some drinkin’. An’ he’s got his Halloween suit t’ show.” He looked down at me from his place high on his bed. Somehow, I think he knew what was happening to me. I wasn’t quite listening to him; instead, as the tears still streaked down the dry skin of my face, I looked up at him. My fists unclenched, as did my teeth, and I breathed in hard. All the power had left my body, though I was still filled with rage. My mouth was wet again.
“Jen left me,” I said. There. I’d said it. It was true.
Rod didn’t look surprised. He shook his head, although to this day I don’t know whether it was an act of condemnation, non-comprehension, or something else.
“Mike’ll be over in ten minutes,” he said, apparently ignoring what I’d just said. Didn’t he care? Anyway, that meant I had ten minutes until I could finally obey the Reaper’s silent order. Ten minutes, then I’d never worry about anything again, or so I supposed at the time. “You wanna come along?”
The words stunned me. Why in God’s name would Rod even suggest something like that when the whole world had just crumbled to my feet? Didn’t he know that now was my time to feel sorry for myself, to mourn a loss, to contemplate further losses? The last thing I needed was to go out and do some drinking, which I never really did anyway for fear of losing control of myself. And what was this about Halloween costumes? Dammit, I didn’t need this, I thought. I didn’t need some idiot roommate telling me what I should do. I didn’t need someone rubbing my nose in the upcoming Halloween holiday.
I’m not even truly sure as of this moment what convinced me as we heard the brown-and-tan GMC Jimmy pull up outside, but for whatever reason, the demands being chanted in my head lessened. The Reaper’s voice didn’t go away altogether, by any means; for several months after that it would continue, in a hushed, more silent tone until it would disappear for all time—at least, the Reaper that represented this failed relationship. I picked my ugly body up from the floor, brushed myself off, smiled ever so slightly, and reached for the door.
“I’ll go with you,” I told Rod, facing him as I wrapped my sweaty palm around the doorknob. I twisted it and opened the door towards me, and immediately felt as though angels were beckoning me outside to Mike’s truck. I wanted to be with them. What I had been thinking was fraught with madness, and in that direction there were no angels. My God, what had I been thinking?
Rod stood up and walked up beside me, grabbing the coat that he’d haphazardly tossed onto his bed. One step out the door was all it would take for me to begin the process of letting go, of that I am sure now, if I wasn’t then. Maybe, as the door swung open wide and I placed one foot outside into the hall, the situation was not so unworkable as I had believed, the consequences not as dire as I had imagined. Maybe, sometime later, I would see a way out of the seemingly hopeless situation. Maybe Jen and I could talk things out, I thought then. Maybe we could be lovers again, or, at the very least, friends. But that wasn’t to be decided at the moment. Then I only thought about drinking and forgetting—for the night, anyway.