Children of the Night
Why did they insist on putting me through this? I slammed the car door, and sat for a moment just staring dully at the steering wheel. It was round. Shaking my head, I reached up out of habit to put on my seat belt. My hand stopped of its own accord though, as a bitter smile reached my lips. What's the point? Life isn't promised to anyone. If God decides it's a person's time to go how naïve human beings are, assuming that a strap of polyester and a little bit of metal is going to stop Him from achieving His purpose.
For the first time that I can ever remember, I let my hand fall away from the seat belt, and started the car. It was a strange sensation, not having that belt over my lap and across my chest as usual. I felt oddly free, and even a little dangerous, and I grinned to no one in particular. I've had it with being me. Safe, responsible, dependable, always-turns-homework-in-on-time me. I was so busy being responsible for myself that I never saw it coming. The tears burned behind my eyes again, for the millionth time today, and for the millionth time, I shoved them away. I was not going to let them win.
"You hear me?" I hissed at my reflection in the rearview mirror, staring defiantly at those eyes that insisted upon betraying me. "You're not going to win. I will not cry today."
I grabbed the stickshift and threw the car into reverse, backing out of the long driveway and nearly hitting the mailbox on my way out. I glared for a moment at the offending black object, and it gaped back at me stupidly. The dark balloons twisted around the mailbox's little flag waved at me gently. I sneered at them. "You're fragile," I informed the balloons imperiously, forgetting the logic that said that inanimate objects could not be communicated with. Today was not a day for logic. Logic was dead. "And you just better be careful because someday all of you are going to shrivel away and get thrown out, just like everything else in this world. That is, if someone doesn't come along with a nice sharp pin first." Feeling strangely satisfied, I shifted into first and took off down the street. I had to get out of here.
The pavement flowed underneath my car's tires, as if it had a mind of its own. I felt numb inside, surreal, as though my whole life up to this point had been a dream and I was only now beginning to realize that I had never really lived at all. Life is ridiculous, isn't it? We're born, we live, we die. And for what? We go to school. Why? So we can get a good job. Why? So we can support our families. Why? So our children can get a good education, have a good future. Why? So they can support their families. It's ridiculous. We go through all of this crap just to ensure that our kids will one day be able to go through it themselves. Unless, of course, they get shot by some crazy maniac first
I could still see the faces, somber and tearstreaked and maddeningly sympathetic. I could hear their well-meaning, trite little adages, meant to provide comfort. But none of them knew. None of them understood. I had nodded and smiled, pretending that they were doing their duty, consoling the piteous bereaved sibling But they just didn't get it. What kind of world is it when a four-year-old can't walk down a street in safety? How much impact can their saccharine proverbs have on the stark reality of the end of a life? A fat lot of good it did. All the rational analyses in the world could never, ever make sense of this. Not ever. I glared down at the vinyl covering the steering wheel beneath my fingers.
But of course I could never tell them. I could never throw their stinging, artificial condolences back in their faces and walk away. I have been me too long to be capable of that. After considering this a moment, however, I was forced to amend my own thoughts. Or have I? I was separating. I could feel it inside me, a rebirth of sorts. Perhaps 'rebirth' was not the right word, though it was more like an excavation. I was somehow unearthing something that had been buried a lifetime underneath the layers of calm, scientific logic that the world had so carefully plated me in since I was a kid. A new me. A person that was not me, that I did not recognize, and yet seemed also strangely familiar. And this foreign identity was growing more independent with every turn of the tires.
Somewhere in another world, far away, I could hear a car's horn, and bright lights flashed in my face as they whizzed past on the left. I turned on my headlights, as the part of me that was still me realized that it had gotten dark. How long had I been driving? Where on earth was I? I didn't know. I didn't care. I just wanted to keep going, to keep on going until I drove right off the end of the earth. Drat Columbus and his whole the-world-is-round philosophy. Made things one heck of a lot more difficult for the rest of us.
The stars were shining awfully bright. Too bright. I squinted as I looked up at them; billions and billions of tiny twinkling lights. I'd never seen them so bright before. The part of me that I still recognized as me concluded that I must no longer be in the city, because the lights of the city had always obscured the lights in the night sky. But the deeper part, the me who was slowly being recreated, ignored this scientific analysis. I could fly right up to those stars if I wanted to; I was sure of it. They were getting closer and closer, brighter and brighter, and I could hear them now. I could hear them singing to me, giggling and laughing and calling me to come and play with them in their endless black velvet world.
The stars have children's voices, you know. I couldn't tell if my new identity was simply making an observation, or trying to remind me of something I'd forgotten a long time ago. They are as carefree and innocent as a group of four-year-olds frolicking in the park. Listen! And so I listened.
The night's children were calling to me, hypnotically pulling me towards their tiny, glittering little lights. I could feel the starlight, the starsong, pouring strength into the unfurling person inside. There was the strangest sense of becoming. This new being, the conciousness that was growing more powerful by the second, was growing. Was adopting me. Was becoming me. And it was then that recognition set in I knew this person, this soul that was now in full bloom inside of me. This new person was the real me. The me I had been born to be, the one that the rest of the world had gilded and molded and stuffed into their little picture of what they wanted me to be. I could see it now and I could feel the freedom set in as I once again became that which I had been meant to be.
The stars were laughing again; they knew. They could feel my rebirth just as surely as I could. And I began to laugh right along with them, unable to contain the pure joy that surged through me as I found myself within myself. If only Caleb could see me now. He was so innocent he would have understood. He would have been proud of me. He tried so long to tell me that I wasn't really being myself, and I never got it. I never got it until now and now it's too late to tell him that I finally know what he'd been trying to explain. I felt no tears now behind my eyes, only a breathless anticipation. But for what? I strained my newfound hearing, listening intently to the voices of the sparkling stars, who I now recognized as old friends. They were trying to tell me something
And it was then that I heard it. Somewhere in the chorus of giggles and songs, I heard his voice.
"Jaimie? Jaimie, come play with us."
For a moment the world stood still. I forgot how to breathe. Caleb? There he was! I could see him now, dancing in and out among the stars, that ever-present smile plastered all over his childish face. My little brother's red, curly hair twinkled in the glow of the moonlight like it was on fire, and he winked at me with those huge chocolate eyes. "Come on, Jaimie. I want you to come play with me."
The old, logical me was still there. I had forgotten for a moment that that part of me had ever even existed, but the moment my brother's face came into view, the old me tried to explain it. Be reasonable, Jamie. This is an illusion, brought on by too much unspent grief. Your little brother is not dancing with the stars, calling to you. He's dead, remember? Gone. Forever. The best thing would be to turn around and drive home, have a drink, and go to bed. You can sort this out tomorrow when you are rested and rational. For a moment I was uncertain. I looked at the boy's face, all freckled and happy and light, and then back at the cold, solid steering wheel. My eyes went back to my brother, and my decision was made.
"I'm coming, Caleb. I'm coming." I took my hands off the wheel and reached for him, and he giggled again as his fingers stretched out towards mine.
"NO!!!" The part of me that had been me struggled with a pitiful urgency to take control, to force my body to respond. I could feel the panic welling up as the old me finally realized the truth of what was happening. But I was finished with the false me. I was going to win this one. I was stronger.
"Go away," I said, out loud. I could feel the former person, the person that I no longer was, cringe. "I don't need you anymore." The old me protested, fought, screamed but it was no use. I took over completely, banishing forever the artificial identity that had stifled me for most of my life. I was ready to rule again. With a cry of frustration, the part of me that was no longer me seemed to dissolve away, to glimmer vaguely and wink out of sight like the extinguished flame of a candle. And I could expand. I could stretch out and fill all those places in myself that I had not had access to for a lifetime. With a shriek of glee, I swelled into myself and began a little renovation. I was myself again, for the first time.
Caleb's chubby little fingers wrapped themselves around mine, and he drew me up with him. I began to laugh myself as the stars surrounded me, singing merrily in their youthful way. "We have someone to play with!" they exulted. "Welcome back, Jamie!" I giggled right along with them. I was free. I was real. I am finally real.
The car was falling now, though I was no longer in it. I turned to watch as it tumbled over the edge of the cliff, turning, dancing in the air, hurtling towards the star-filled water below us. So far below us. The clanking as the metal struck the rocks, and the explosive splashing that followed sounded rhythmical and musical to my new-born ears. The car struck the water and began to sink slowly, melting into that starry expanse And I giggled again. Who needs a heap of metal and plastic anyway, when you have the stars?
"Gotcha, Columbus," I chuckled, my voice echoing, childlike, among my old friends. "Looks like I found the end of the earth in spite of all your efforts to prove there wasn't one."
Caleb touched my shoulder then, and I turned to look in the direction he was taking me. Blackness delicious, velvet darkness for as far as I could see. Our eternal playground. The car vanished completely beneath the surface of the waters, and the night swallowed up her children. I was home.