No one thought that she would actually have the nerve to show up. I think that’s why she was able to get inside, truly. No one moved. No one stopped her. She just… she just kind of showed up at the door, sat herself on the edge of a chair and smiled. By that point, there was nothing we could do to make her leave without causing a commotion.
It’s not that I hate her, you know. I mean, I don’t. My aunt Susan is another story for sure, but I’m just sort of following the flow on the matter. Everyone in my family hates her. I simply see no reason to try and fight against the general consensus. She’s not worth it. I mean, you know, it’s not as if she had been actually fucking nice in the first place.
I just want to clarify that I don’t really have anything going on against her specifically. I don’t like her, but I can put up with her – and I did put up with her in the past, so really, that should speak to my neutrality on the matter. It’s just that – come on. You can’t just show up to a family dinner if it’s not your actual family, can you?
She sits there with a smile on her face that is made up of nothing but hate. They all stare at her as if she had grown a second head – and quite an ugly one at that, judging from the way Susan’s mouth is twisted to the side. She pretends not to notice the sudden silence, the unsubtle glances they exchange. She smiles, she smiles – she wants to rip their heads out and smash them on the ground just to show the world how empty they are.
They hadn’t been expecting her. The mere idea of it is so laughable it takes her a long time to consider it, yet once she does it’s painfully obvious. They thought they had heard the last of her. They thought she had vanished into thin air, never to bother them again, they thought she would let this go and pretend it never happened.
She watches them watch her, and wonders if they regret that she hasn’t died along with him.
You know what, I’m going to say it: it’s simply disrespectful. Again, I have nothing against her, and these kinds of situations are always messy. I understand that she’s grieving, that she desperately needs someone to blame in order to deal with the pain and the rage. But that doesn’t make it okay. We’re grieving as well, you know? We can’t deal with her anger and her accusations on top of Adam’s death. It’s too much. For me, for everyone; it’s too much.
I think Aunt Susan was already close to snapping. She hasn’t really been herself lately – since Adam left, to be truthful. She watched Emilia enter and it broke her right away. It was a reminder, you know? He wasn’t there with Emilia, as he always was before, he wasn’t there because he was dead. Sometimes it’s the little things that hit you the hardest.
My dad tried to cheer up the atmosphere, he did. He can’t stand Emilia, but he’s always been very good at hiding it, so he’s usually the one to include her in the conversation – he and Adam, obviously. It didn’t work this time though. She smiled and answered, and it was polite, you know, but… under the smile and the nice tone of voice, it was sharp and poisonous, and it felt like a declaration of war. I couldn’t really explain it. I remember her eyes, icy and bitter, and the way she looked a you just a bit too long before moving on.
Looking back, I don’t think any of us could have stopped any of it. She knew exactly what she was doing by showing up today.
She doesn’t have a plan. She doesn’t have anything but the certainty that she has to be here anchored deep and heavy inside her stomach. She woke up this morning, and knew that she couldn’t let them go on about their lives as if they were innocent bystanders, or grieving victims of a devastating tragedy. It’s as simple as that.
She smiles at Terry when he inquires about her parents and wishes that he would drown and shut up forever. She’s playing nice. She doesn’t know what else to do. Tension is building up in the empty space between them, and all she can see is the crying face of a dying man. How can any of you pretend you ever loved him? she wants to ask, yet the words can’t seem to escape her yet. She senses, hot against her skin, the strain that foreshadows a terrible explosion.
Terry is carefully avoiding any sensitive topic. She looks at Susan, at Mark, at little Spencer, and knows that sooner or later, one of them is going to look her in the eyes and say Adam’s name with as much resentment as they can manage. Her hatred is so strong that she can feel it fluttering in her chest, vibrant and ferocious, waiting for the tiniest opening to erupt out of her.
I can’t die yet, Adam had said in a tiny, desperate voice just before losing consciousness and never waking up again. Please don’t let me die, Emilia, I can’t die, I haven’t – I haven’t seen the lights, I can’t, please –
I mean, this whole thing started ugly anyway. I think Aunt Susan had a hard time accepting the idea of Adam having a girlfriend even before she ever met Emilia – but the rest of us were quite happy seeing him so in love. He would talk about her all the time, but he would talk more about other things too, and he just seemed so… I don’t know, so free. I don’t think I had ever seen him seem so free. Then he brought her home for a family dinner, and it all went downhill from there.
Emilia, she was just… I mean, as I said, I have nothing against her, but even I have to recognize that she was intense. She came here, into our grandparents home, and acted as if she – well, I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s like, you have those courtesy rules for when you go to someone’s place for the first time, right? Especially if they’re your boyfriend’s family! But Emilia straight up refused to play by those rules. When she disagreed with someone, she said it loud and clear and refused to give up, and that’s… I mean, she simply couldn’t do that, you know?
She made a terrible, terrible first impression. The only ones who didn’t hate her by the end of it were Adam, me, and maybe Spencer – but that’s just because she was nine at the time and worshipped the ground that Adam walked on. And for a time she was just that. Adam’s rude girlfriend who nobody liked.
But then she started… well – Adam had those… those dreams, you know? Impossible dreams. He wanted to trek across Iceland alone, to see the northern lights, to – I don’t know. He said he needed to find himself or something. Insisted on doing it. Insisted on doing it alone.
And I mean – and I say this as his cousin who did horribly irresponsible stuff with him when we were younger – that was absolutely impossible. Not with his condition – not with him potentially having a crisis at any time. I mean, there would have been no hospitals out there, and alone on top of it all? That dream was a death wish, and we weren’t about to let him kill himself, even by indirect means. That’s what we told him for years. And somehow, somehow – Emilia didn’t agree.
She shakes her head no when Charles offers her a glass of wine, and somehow, this is what triggers the bomb. Susan snatches the bottle from her nephew’s hands and fills up the glass anyway; Emilia can see fury burning on her face, yet Susan still smiles a horrible smile at her while handing her the glass.
“Now that you’re here, might as well have a drink. You wouldn’t want to ruin the mood, now would you Emilia? That would be so unlike you!”
She feels calm all of a sudden – detached. She looks at Susan and finds that all of her white-hot rage has gone terribly cold inside of her, like an ice armor that keeps her from moving; the entire world has gone still.
“I would never accept a single thing coming from your hand,” she hears herself answer.
She doesn’t even register Susan moving before the glass shatters on her cheek.
I think sometimes dreams are just that – dreams. Creations of your imagination that belong in your head, that aren’t even meant to be remembered. I think Adam’s dream was one of those. When we heard about Emilia encouraging him to pursue it, I… I mean, I think we all collectively lost our minds.
All I’m saying is, this isn’t Aunt Susan’s fault. Anyone would react like that, I mean, Adam was her son, and I think that she feels… well, to be honest, I think we all feel like Emilia is part of the reason why he’s dead – and I think that Aunt Susan felt that way before he died, when he first started speaking about that damned trek again. And that’s… that’s horrible, you know? How can you live with such a feeling? Deep down, she just feels guilty for not trying to interfere with their relationship until it was too late. She probably believes that if she had gone to see Adam and tell him to dump Emilia sooner - say, before he proposed - he would have cared about her less and he wouldn’t have reacted so harshly.
And you know what? We shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but still: that last decision was probably the dumbest Adam ever made. I mean, running off to Canada with Emilia just because he ‘needed some air’ and he was ‘disgusted with our attempts to break him up with his fiancée’? I can’t emphasize this enough: he was sick. He just couldn’t do stuff like that! Deep down, his biggest problem in life had always been that – he wanted to do things that he couldn’t do, and he refused to recognize that he couldn’t do them. I mean, just look at how he blamed us for not being able to achieve that dream of his! He said we were suffocating him, that he had a right to make his own decisions, that he wanted more from life than perfect, dull security. That he was willing to take the risk if it meant living life at its fullest. I’m sorry, I truly am, but this line of thought is – was – simply stupid!
And I know that Aunt Susan blames Emilia for this change in his behavior – as does Uncle Mark, as does everybody, really. But I think that’s not true. I think those are things that Adam always thought, always meant. Emilia was the catalyst – she gave him a voice, but that was it. All that crap about throwing away their entire lives to run off to Canada, and from there deciding that Adam is going to Iceland alone to spend the rest of the year while Emilia renovates that ridiculous family cottage of hers? That was all him. All him.
I’m probably the only person to be aware of it, but in the end, Adam really killed himself, you know?
The pain is surprisingly long to come. She’s numb, her mind too slow to figure out what happened; it seems to take her forever to raise a hand to her cheek. She feels a wet slickness there – blood, her blood. Then suddenly, the world starts moving again.
“You are not welcome here,” Susan hisses, “and I don’t want to see your disgusting little face ever again. You are a murderer, you stupid, nasty little bitch. You killed my son!”
She sees Adam, furious and scared, crying as he tells her that his dad has called, that his family is hurt and angry, that they threatened never to speak with him again if he was going to continue acting like this. She can still distinctly recall his suitcase wide open on the bed, spilling warm clothes on the sheets, and the sad, bitter way he had to empty it. Are you really telling me that you’re going to let them do this to you? she had asked, heated, disbelieving. You are going to Iceland, Adam! They can deal with it once you’re back! Instead, he had had a panic attack followed by a crisis.
“I killed your son?” she repeats, and wants to laugh just to ease the weight of her hate in her mouth, “I killed him? Oh, you took great care of that on your own!”
Susan starts crying.
It’s so unnatural, so unexpected, that Emilia stills for a moment. She feels despair, hanging low in her throat, chasing the rage, and the horrible emptiness of his loss takes up all the place all of a sudden. She chokes on a sob. She chokes on a sob.
“How dare you,” Susan says, and though she is still crying, her voice is vibrant with hatred. “How dare you. If not for you, none of this would have happened. We were happy – he was happy before you entered the picture. He died because of you.”
She hears, don’t let me die, I haven’t seen the lights yet, please, please, don’t let me die… “He died crying,” she says, and it feels so dirty, so ugly once let out in the open, that she feels immeasurably relieved that such a heavy secret is not festering inside her anymore. “He died pleading for more time, pleading to see those fucking lights, to spend a night gazing up at them and feeling like he belongs in a beautiful world, a world worth fighting for. He died crying because of you.”
“Get. Out.” Susan spits.
I’m pregnant, she doesn’t say, I’m pregnant and terrified because this wasn’t planned, because I didn’t even want children and now Adam is dead. And I am going to raise my child so much better than you raised yours. I am going to tell him that I love him, every day, and I am going to tell him that this love is entirely unconditional, and that his dreams matter, to him, to me. I am going to be everything you couldn’t be, and you won’t even be there to know it. You broke your son, did you know that? I won’t let you do the same to our child.
She gets up. The air smells toxic around her, but she feels light all of a sudden, and powerful. “I hope never to see you again,” she tells them all, and leaves without ever looking back.
We let her go without putting up much of a fight, obviously. I don’t even understand why she came here in the first place. Grief will make you do desperate things, I suppose – but still, I can’t figure out what she came looking for.
In any case, it’s her loss. What exactly did she think she had, that we should be sorry to watch her disappear entirely from our lives?