Burn it Down

Submitted by Trischa Buhler to Contest #5 in response to: Write a story about someone striving for a "comeback."... view prompt

Olivia Madsen woke up most mornings from a tumultuous night of tossing and turning. She had an itemized list that she had to go through - she didn't need to follow the written list line by line anymore, but it was tucked into her bedside table, just in case she needed it. Each item had to be followed in order, and you weren't allowed to skip to an item without doing the one previous.

Item one: Open your eyes. Sounds like just about the easiest thing in the world...most mornings it's easier to do than the morning before. She looked up at the white ceiling with the fan spinning lazily and took a deep breath through her nose and exhaled through her mouth. Then she did it again.

She didn't remember the accident, but she did remember waking up in the hospital with a soundtrack of screeching tires, blaring horns, and a long gap of silence playing on repeat in her head.

Item two: Get Out of bed. This was not a fan favourite. These days it came more naturally, and overall she did it right away before the demons took hold.

Item three: Open the curtains. For a while there, she closed her eyes again before she did this - she couldn't put a finger on why she did it, but suspected it was to make sure she was actually alive and awake and not still living a nightmare. She always used her left hand, avoiding seeing her right hand until it was absolutely necessary.

She didn't remember smashing the glass cabinet door when the doctors came to tell her about Mark's death, but the scars on her right hand told her that it happened.

She went into the ensuite bathroom to finish items four and five, which are itemized separately on her written list, but now she combined them as one: morning ablutions. The light flicked on and she grabbed the toothbrush and toothpaste. Dean had found a "smart" toothbrush that told her how well she was brushing, and had an app that they could check to make sure she was actually doing what she was supposed to. She pulled a tea tree oil face wipe out of the package of thirty, inhaling deeply as she did so - the scent of the wipe was faintly medicinal, but Olivia thought of it as cleansing. She almost never bothered with makeup - that hadn't changed since before the accident.

Item six: don't leave the bedroom without changing out of your pyjamas. The first few weeks of therapy, the petulant child inside her took item 6 very literally, and would take this as permission to stay in her pyjamas in her room all day. After day 20 of arguing with a four year old in the body of her thirty-one year old cousin, Renee took it upon herself to add Item six-A...

Item six A: LEAVE YOUR BEDROOM! Love Renee :)

She sighed and got dressed - never anything fancy, always purely functional: underwear and bra, no socks (not right away anyways), yoga pants and t-shirt. Long sleeved if it was chilly. She stuffed a pair of socks into the waistband of her pants and went downstairs.

Item 7: Make the coffee. It wasn't high-end coffee, just brewed from the same little blue can every morning. She knew she was starting to turn a corner in her recovery when she told Dean she found the whole ritual very grounding...and then the three of them laughed themselves silly until the tears came...then the hugs once the tears turned sad.

item 8: First we make the coffee, then we eat the breakfast.

Renee and Dean - well mostly Renee - were on this plant-based diet, and had been for years. It made breakfast a pretty low-key affair. If Olivia was the first one up, she made herself an avocado toast, then waited for the others to wake up before making a more substantial oatmeal or fruit salad. She figured it would be a little while still before they woke up, so she cut up two bowls of mixed fruit, minus grapes - Dean had read the Top Ten Fruits to Avoid on Buzzfeed or something - so grapes were out for the next little while, anyways - and put them into the fridge. Perversely, Olivia ran a small stem of grapes under the tap and then popped them in her mouth, tossing the skeleton into the garbage.

She didn't remember much of the last year, but she knew that if her cousin Renee and her husband Dean hadn't stepped in, she would still be in a fetal ball on her bed, unmoving, unresponsive. After the accident, she was grateful that someone stepped in to act on her behalf: to manage the funeral, the therapist appointments, the sale of her house...to hold her during the breakdowns, the random crying jags that seemingly came from nowhere, the night terrors, the periods of silence and shut down that traded places with the periods of anger and thought of self-harm...she owed them everything a million times over.

She sat in the living room and had her coffee and avocado toast. Took another deep cleansing breath. When she first started her daily list, every item was an ordeal. She fought the imposed order, craving the chaos that made it easier to drown her grief in - the resulting mental and emotional white noise was a balm to cover the newly jagged edges her soul had acquired. But it wasn't how life was meant to be lived. So gradually, she coped. She carried on. She worked hard to silence the demons that beckoned her to revert, to lose her way. Again. The process wasn't perfect...hell, SHE wasn't perfect - but for now, aside from her family of two, it was all she had. For now.

Item 9: go for a run

She grabbed her wireless earbuds, stuck her phone into the armband, pulled the socks from her pants and tied her shoes. This was an item she found herself craving every day - having something to temper her thoughts with made every day a little easier to deal with. If Dean or Renee were up, she would go with them, but they'd gotten to the point that they didn't feel the need to hover 24/7. So this morning she ventured out on her own.

Item 10: Think about Mark and baby Bean for twenty minutes during designated times. must have a minimum of one hour before another designated time.

This item had been added after she had already completed six months of grief therapy, in an effort to exert more control over the process. It seemed like an insignificant amount of time for the two people in her life that had been her whole world, but she had found twenty minutes seemed to be the maximum amount of time that she could think about them before her thoughts went in a darker direction. Designated times were: a) after the other nine (and a half) items had already been completed, and b) when she had her journal handy to record her thoughts. When she first started completing Item 10, she was using a timer for the breaks, and grabbing the journal again as soon as she could. Six months on, a good day meant she was using the journal twice, usually in the evening - definitely right before bed. Bad days were getting better - her last bad day last month saw her writing six or seven times. She hadn't used a timer to time the breaks for the last three months, so she saw that as a small victory.

She had also had to set a time limit to her running. The first day she had run a full hour, killed her phone battery, gotten lost, and had to listen to angry, hysterical Renee give her a lecture on the car ride home. Olivia had tried to apologize and explain to Renee that this was the first good thing she had felt in months, that she had forgotten what "good" felt like... that she hadn't wanted it to end . Olivia's apology was accepted with the proviso that she only go out for a maximum of thirty minutes, with a fully-charged phone.

As she ran back down the lane that led to the house she shared with the only two people in the world that meant anything to her, she felt a slight tug of despair, that she was able to mentally brush away before she came back in the front door.

She didn't remember much, but she knew that she needed to start to heal and "move on" (as her therapist called it) without the love of her life or the child they were going to have together.


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