April 23, 2020
This is a first. Journaling. It's a form of therapy, they say. They say a lot of things, tell me a lot of things.
They tell me to forgive him, that he was only seventeen with a promising future ahead of. They tell me that he has a little sister who is only a nine, a father in the military, and a depressed mother. They tell me that he has friends and he is a teacher’s pet, that he loves basketball so much that he wears his jerseys on weekends, that he didn’t mean to do it. They tell me it was an accident.
I know it was an accident. I know goddamn well that he can’t live with himself. I know what grief feels like. I know, I tell them, I know.
I don’t tell them that an accident still killed my husband. I know better. They will say it is the grief talking when I mean every bit of it.
My husband and I were driving back home. We were listening to Come Together by the Beatles. He loved that song. My husband. Jim. He loved that song, and every time the “over me” part came around, he would say Car-ree because that’s my name. Jim was like that.
We were newly-weds, and we would still go on weekly date nights, would still whisper I love yous while holding hands, and would still order coffee for each other. I know now how selfish we were. To think that we had the world when we only had each other.
We were driving home, and it was misting lightly outside, the mist gripping our car with its insubstantial fingers as we drove home. We were laughing still. Jim was driving, and we had the right of way at an intersection. The green light pierced through the fog like nothing else, but Jim still slowed down to check. Jim was like that.
Jim gently pressed the accelerator, and we went through. We saw the red truck too late, and it didn’t even see us. Jim didn’t think to accelerate or brake, he just froze. I didn’t even have time to say good-bye before the truck slammed into Jim’s door, shattering glass and metal, warping glass and aluminum and rubber and time and my life and-
I didn’t even have time to say goodbye.
So, now, they tell me that I got out lucky. It hit my spinal cord, and I am paralyzed from the waist down. It hit my spinal cord, and I will never walk again. It hit my spinal cord not my heart, so why am I so goddamn sad?
Jim died at the scene. I held his hand, or what was left of it. At least, I imagine I did. I slept so much those weeks after the accident that dreams and reality warped together into a shadowed haze. When I woke up for the first time and stayed awake, they told me everything. I already knew it. I could tell.
You don’t get hit by almost twenty-five tons of force and walk out with a smile. If Jim had survived, he would have already been next to me with a carton of warm chicken broth. He would have smiled and brushed my hair and told me that everything was going to be okay.
I was going through his things in a little box. He didn’t leave behind much. Just a little box and some money. We were so young. He left behind three orange buttons, his wedding ring, two soy sauce packets from our first date, a bowtie keychain I gave to him, and a key.
The key intrigues me the most. It is a small heart with a small circle at the dip of the curve by the bow. There is another heart at the collar and the blade sports three small notches. He has attached a note that says to the rooftop.
It’s not a real rooftop key. I know better. I’m not stupid. It’s not the grief talking. Our apartment doesn’t have an accessible roof, and it wouldn’t open with a necklace pendant. Still.
He told me of a rooftop where you can see all of the stars in the night sky. Like a bed-ridden child, I believed him with all of my heart. If you don’t believe in something, what’s the point? He used to remind me of that when I told him that there was no way that I could see all of the stars from one shabby, small city rooftop. Because, you know, Jim was like that.
I talked to the landlady though, an overweight woman with overlined red lips with an apparent love for the word no. She glared at my wheelchair, then at the scuff marks it left on her wood flooring. She glared at the key, then at the notion that it might actually lead somewhere. With a tight-lipped frown, she reminded me that the roof was unaccessible for all apartment residents. I reminded her that my husband had died, and I was confined to this four-wheeled beast of a wheelchair, and the only thing that I wanted was just to see the rooftop.
I know that it was uninspiring, and she told me that I would have a better view from the parking garage. So, my dear Jim, I went to the parking garage. I had nothing else to live for. You were my everything.
I couldn’t see all of the stars. It was noisy and cold up there, and the wind was ruthless. He told me that I could see all of the stars, galaxies, and meteors in the world. He told me that every single shooting star would grant me a million wishes. Jim was like that, spinning away fairytales and dreams and promises until every last one collapsed around me.
I could see a few stars, through the clouds. They glittered and they were there, but it was unspectacular. Everything was just that. Unspectacular. Unspectacular in the worst way possible. I could scream his name, I could forgive the boy, I could wear the key but it wouldn’t bring him back.
So, that is how I threw the key off of the parking garage roof.
Life just felt so unspectacular. I didn’t have anything. I pushed myself out of the wheelchair, falling on my cheek with a sharp smack. I could taste the metallic bite of blood as I struggled to rise. My wheelchair shuddered from the released weight before toppling to the cement anticlimactically. I crawled my way over to the cement ledge and looked down. It was dark. Even the orange street lights had evaded this corner of Hell.
I could have fallen. I knew I could have. There was no stranger to dissuade me from it, no Prince Charming to remind me that everything was going to be okay, no skyful of stars to remind me of tomorrow. There was no tomorrow. There was only the parking garage roof, the starless sky, and me.
I heard the deep rumble of an engine before a car’s headlights flashed over the cement ledge on the level below me. The key glittered there on the ledge for a minute before it was plunged back into darkness. I sat there, gravel grating my chin and digging into my palms.
Then it started snowing. Fat flurries like you’d never seen before. I pressed myself against the cement, felt the wind in my hair. Snow like stars, keys to find missing things, cement when there should have been grass.
We were driving home from the hospital. We were trying to get pregnant, and it was the fourth hospital visit with a negative. On the way home, he promised me that he would fill our house with laughter and toys and bubblegum and candy, even if it wasn’t today. He held my hand, and I begged him to tell me my favorite story, the one of the stars.
I wish my story would have ended there, that I would have found the key and found a treasure worth guarding the key for. But it doesn’t end there. I can’t find the key when I search for it. It’s gone, and I just want it back. Where was the rooftop, Jim?
I think I found it. I’m standing on the balcony of our apartment, a one-bedroom flat on the fifth floor of an apartment complex. I can’t see the stars yet, but I’m close. I hold out my hand, lean over the edge, and I catch a glimpse of a dim glow. I lean farther, a glimmer. Farther, a sparkle. Farther. Farther. Farther.
I fall, but I see everything, a sky full of stars and heart-shaped keys and spectacularity and everything he wanted to show me. Dreams.
I didn’t fall to die, Jim. I fell to fly.