"James?" came the sobbing voice from the phone. Always sobbing. No, that was lie. She wasn't always sobbing. It took a very specific kind of person to hear the pain that she buried away all the time. I'm friends with two such people, and I'm one of them myself. They're frightened for me all the time. It isn't healthy to deal with this sort of pain. Not for me. Not for her. Not for anyone. But, I always answer, she can't deal with it alone. And she has no one else. I'm the adult, and I will take responsibility for this.
"What is it Sam?" I asked. I knew what it was. I could hear it already. The same fight. The same accusations.
"Why do you hate me?"
"What are you talking about? I love you." I love you so much, I would cut my heart open for you. I would fight any demon, cross any ocean. No one ever tells you how much simpler those are.
"Why don't you ever call me? And you never pick up when I call you!"
"I just picked up. When did you call?" Earlier today, when I was off with other people? When I was trying to act like I actually am alive, act like I was over everything? "What's the matter? What happened?"
"Nothing..." she breaks off, crying too hard to keep a hold of the phone. It wasn't nothing. I could hear every bit of it. It was the holidays, and her family got together. Her mother, who hated her and claimed she had driven her out of the house. Her father who said that she was the only reason they were still married, who never raised a hand to help or protect her. Her brother, who threatened to kill her if she asked him to turn down her music, who told her what a worthless bitch she was who ruined their family. Her uncle, who beat her.
I don't know you, and you don't know me, but know this. There are two people in the world who, if given the opportunity, I would kill. Her uncle is one of them. This is why I'm going to hell, even though I am a devout Christian. I would commit murder, gladly, cheerfully. Without hesitation.
"I'm sorry I'm not there," I whispered into the phone. Maybe she heard me. Maybe she was still feeling blindly around the bathroom floor, in the corner where she always hid, ever since she was in elementary school, trying to keep that drunken bastard from breaking her head open on the kitchen floor. Where she hid to try to get over the next concussion, the next broken bone. No one ever helped her. No one ever answered. No one but me.
"Why aren't you here?" she begged weakly. "I..." she gulped convulsively, cutting herself off, "I need you James. Please." I could see her clutching the phone desperately. I always thought that she looked so beautiful when she cried, and I could how broken she was, just from the sound of her voice.
"I'm sorry." I'm sorry, and I don't even know all the things I'm sorry for. I'm sorry I ever left. I'm sorry I can't fix her, so that me being there wouldn't be good enough. I'm sorry I lost faith, that I stopped believing I could fix you. I'm sorry I kept enough, enough that I just couldn't let it go. God, I'm sorry I even think about that. Who the hell would abandon someone they love just because they couldn't do any good? I love her, and even if I was helpless, I would be there for her. You don't fight because you get something out of it. You fight because your cause is just, because failure is such a wrong and terrible thing that you can't get hurt more by dying in the fight. "I love you."
"Please come back to me James. Please. I love you." Sobbing was coming through the phone weakly. "I hurt. I just can't do this."
"Shhhh... yes you can love. You can."
"No," she insisted. I could hear her hair moving as she shook her head. "I hurt so much. Everywhere. I can't sleep. I haven't slept in days. I dream about.. about ... and I'm scared all the time. I just can't do this. I can't." Everything hurt. It hurt to think. It hurt to move. It hurt to try and hope, because there was no hope. There was nothing to believe in or hold on to. Dreams were just stalked by murderers and sadists. Just like reality.
"Don't talk like that," I order sternly. "You can. You're strong and smart and brave and beautiful, and I need you. You're the only thing that makes me happy. The only thing I love. I would have nothing without you."
"You're lying. I'm not strong or brave. And I'm ugly and stupid. and scared. Oh god, I'm so scared," she breathed into the phone. "I think ...I just can't. I hurt so bad... please... it isn't going to get better. It doesn't get any better. It just gets worse and worse and worse. Every time I think it can't get worse it does. Every time! There's always something else and I don't want to be here anymore. It'll kill me. It'll hurt me so much, worse than I hurt now before it does."
"Shhh, it will get better. We'll be together soon, and I'll never leave you again. I'll hold you every night when you go to sleep, and I'll be there when you wake up in the morning. I'll hold you and pet you and kiss you, and I'll never ever let anything hurt you, and I'll never let you out of my arms." I heard her sobbing into the phone. It's slightly different. She might be listening a little. She might believe me just a little. "I love you. And I want to share my life with you. I want to spend every second of it with you Sam. I love you. I need you." I was crying too. It's easy to cry, around so much pain. It wasn't fake tears. I cried for all the hurt she was in. I cried that I would never know her as beautiful and whole as she might have been, if none of this had happened to her. I cried for my own lost faith, the belief I used to have that I could save her. I cried for the love that destroyed so many lives, just like this.
We were on the phone like that for hours. I don't know how long it was. I whispered to her, promises that I was hers, and she was mine, and that nothing could ever change that. That our love was more perfect than anything, that it was impervious. That I lived and breathed only for her. By the end she could talk, laugh again even, though only a little, laughing self deprecatingly at her pitifulness.
"I'm sorry," she said, laughing slightly. "I... I don't know why I was like that. I can make it. It's hard, but it's worth it right?"
"Of course it's worth it. You're worth it. We're worth it," I breathed into the phone. "You're worth anything."
"I love you James," and I can hear the smile in her voice. The hope, that I put there. The love that she believes in again, as she once did. It was worse than any drug, hearing that. Knowing that I held that kind of power. I was like any other addict. I couldn't put it away. But I could tell myself it was for a good cause. Smoke so that someone could live. Shoot up so that you are saving a person.
"I love you too Sam."
"Will you call me in the morning?" she asked. "I'm so tired. I think I might try to sleep."
"I'll call love. Call me anytime, if you have a nightmare or anything."
"I've been doing better, not calling for every little nightmare, for every little thing," she insisted, taking pride in the strength she forced on herself.
"You hide the phone, love, so that you can't find it when you're panicked and can't remember where you are."
"You can't prove it," she said proudly, as if it was some great feat.
"I love you. I hope you get some sleep."
"Thank you, James. For everything."
"I love you," I whispered, as we finally hung up.
And I was alone again. I was not on the white tile, feeling pain shooting through my whole body, pain so bad I can barely think. I was back in the apartment alone. Left to once again wonder if it was worth it. If I could hold on long enough. Because it was all a lie. I loved her, and I wished I could fix her, but I was nothing but a stop gap. If I could just hold the line, just give her enough strength, maybe someone could actually find her and fix her. Surely it was worth it? Surely, if someone demanded a lifetime of slavery in return for the life of someone you love, you would tell them yes, just to spare the person. Just so that you coud gain another second of life for them while you tried to free them, tried to find someone who could actually free them. And that was why I was going to hell. Because I would lie to her about that. I would tell her any lie that I needed to. I would make her think that we would get married, have kids, grow old together, if that was what she needed right then.
I dried my eyes, and went to make some of my left over food. I had a piece of pizza, and some hot dogs, and a dozen eggs, to last until Saturday, when the dorms opened up again. I heated up the pizza while I called Paul.
"Hello?" he said, picking up the phone.
"Hey, you back in town?" I asked him.
"Yeah. What are you up to?"
"Nothin'. Want to play some zombie killin'?"
"Sounds like a plan."
"Sweet. I'll head over in a few."
I pulled the pizza out of the microwave, and had a bite. It was still cool in the center of the huge deep dish slice, and I couldn't have cared less. I'd been so hungry and short on cash and crying takes such a toll on me, that pizza was even more phenomenal than when it was fresh. The sauce was perfect, that cheese was delicious, the crusty was just flakey enough. I finished eating, and pulled on my coat. My giant, army green, hoboesque coat. My armor against cold, and against interest. No one thinks to ask about your personal life, when you have a coat that is so unfashionably awesome. You look like you don't care about such things, and it's an easy act to do. I zipped my coat up as I walked out locking the door behind me.
All the traces of what had happened were gone long before I arrived at Paul's apartment. No tear was left, no sign at all to show that I had been back there, holding a beautiful girl as she begged to die and refusing to let her. I didn't talk to anyone but Paul that night. I didn't do anything but eat dinner and play Left for Dead.
Sam? I still talked to her some. We weren't dating though. I was over her. Water under the bridge. She was doing ok, form what I'd heard.