When you do something irreparable, it changes you. You push aside every little problem in your life to make room for the regret. Because it’s all you’ve got left. And it’s huge, it’s fucking huge, it invades every space and every crevice and every single thought. It’s inescapable. But, the thing is, you have to accept it. Because you deserve the regret. You deserve every single ounce of hatred you have for yourself. And that’s the worst of it. That’s how you know you’ve changed. Because there’s no possible way you could ever be the same again.
So as I stood there, my hand clasping Josie’s, tears streaming down my cheeks, I knew I deserved every fucking word that Adam screamed at me. Every word. I couldn’t say anything. Josie couldn’t say anything. Because his hatred was so heavy; so tangible. It was like the summer air; the humidity: suffocating but bearable. And he was crying, just like me. He was spitting and crying, screaming each word. At first I thought of his reaction as primal; I’d never seen him so mad. But, as Josie drove back to the motel, I realized how human his anger was.
He told me about our mother’s death. About how brave I was to show my face at her funeral. He told me her last words: Just make sure she knows how much I loved her. Tell her I’m sorry.
I could picture it, our weak mother whispering into his ear. Tell her I’m sorry.
“Can you even imagine it? Watching our mother lose everything? Can you imagine hearing her cry at night?” His eyes were wide, unpredictable. “I hate you, Greta. I fucking hate you. You disgust me.” He spit out the words like they were worthless, like I was worthless. “All she fucking wanted… all she wanted for the past twenty FUCKING years… was her daughter. But you couldn’t come back. After Sophie, you couldn’t come back. Because you’re a coward. You are a fucking coward. Fuck you.”
Shakily, Josie and I walked back to the car. Behind us, Adam’s wife rubbed his back while he sobbed into her shoulder.
We sat in our seats, Josie in the driver’s, I in the passenger’s. It was silent for a moment. I watched out the window. There was a small bird, wobbling around the parking lot. It had cloudy feathers, like the bed sheets I always used at my old house. Josie turned to me. “Are you okay?” she asked. She was concerned.
“Cover your ears,” I whispered.
“I’m going to scream.”
It’s hard to describe a good scream. But it’s harder to describe a bad one. This scream wasn’t cathartic; I felt no freedom or relief from it. It was ugly, guttural. It reminded me of my sister’s wails.
And now it’s been a week and I’m sitting in my car, outside of Adam’s apartment building. Listening to music with my eyes closed. Tonight’s my fifth night here. I tell myself I’ll knock on his door but I can never bring myself to do it.
I guess I should tell you what happened to Sophie. We went out camping in Montana, just her and I. She was always obsessed with that state. I found it funny because, who the hell is obsessed with Montana? But when we got there, I understood. It was rainy the first day, but the dark sky made the mountains look different; sullen but alluring. I think that, sometimes, when you’re with someone you love, everything just looks a little more beautiful.
I hear a tap on the window. It’s Adam’s wife. “Greta, right?” she asks through the glass. I roll it down and the cold night air rushes in.
“What are you doing here?” she asks.
“I… I dunno, I guess. I just. I dunno.”
“Do you want to come in?”
I walk behind her, up the steps to their complex. She’s wearing cuffed jeans and a knit
sweater. Two different socks and some old tennis shoes. I crack my knuckles to calm my nerves. We reach their door and she unlocks it. I tap her shoulder before we walk in. “What’s your name?” I ask.
“Nice to meet you.”
She leads me to the bedroom, where Adam is reading a book. It feels wrong, seeing him like this. In his home; at peace. I realize how old we’ve gotten. And how much time I’ve lost.
I stand behind her, cowering like a dog, as she tells him someone’s here to see him.
“I saw her in the parking lot on my way out,” she explains. There’s a glimpse of the funeral’s wildness in his eyes, but it’s quickly replaced by a cloud of tentative serenity. The book lies open in his lap and he stares behind Kaitlyn, at me.
“Well,” she breaks the silence, “I guess I’m just gonna go grab our food.”
Adam stands. The book slides closed on the comforter. I can’t read the title from here.
“Okay,” he says, uneasy.
She turns and looks at me, flashes a quick smile; a pity smile. Then she leaves. I’m alone. With Adam. And my hands are shaking, I know they’re shaking. I try to crack my knuckles again but it’s too soon and they ache. I wish I hadn’t come. But he’s right there. So I just open my mouth.
“I don’t know where to start,” I say.
“I’m sorry for screaming at you,” he looks down. “I know you came a long way.”
There is something in his face, but it’s not remorse. He’s grown older but he’s still the same Adam I’ve always known.
“It’s okay,” I whisper.
“Can I sit?”
She had looked so astounded, when she saw the mountains. She loved the rain, too. She just loved the Earth. She was thirteen but she knew exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up. I was twenty and I had no fucking clue.
Sometimes I think I could’ve stopped it. I could’ve gotten the mace like that ranger suggested. Could’ve stabbed it harder and in the right places. Could’ve told her to run when she saw the cubs.
I look up. “Hm?”
“Why are you here?”
For a moment, we stare at the floor. I know that I’ll start to cry once I start talking, I can feel it in my throat, but I talk anyway. And gradually, the tears fall.
“I’m sorry, Adam. I’m sorry. You were right. I was too scared to see her again. I didn’t think I’d ever see any of you again.”
I think about how it sounded. I think about the smell of its breath. I think about how, after I closed my eyes, I saw a door ahead of me. And I knew not to open it.
“But, you weren’t there,” I continue. “You didn’t watch it happen. You asked me if I could imagine our mother’s slow death. Can you imagine your little sister shrieking as a bear rips her apart? And don’t say it’s not my fucking fault, don’t say you’ve moved past that. Because it is and you haven’t. Okay? She was there because of me. And I thought I was dead. I thought I was fucking dead. Did you know that? I was lying there, on the ground, and I could feel the blood on my skin, I could feel the opening in my chest and I could hear Sophie screaming, and I had this realization that I was about to die. I was about to die. In that moment, my future was nonexistent. I’d never fall in love, I’d never get married, I’d never leave the country. I was cold and in indescribable pain and she was just screaming. And I told myself it wasn’t true, I told myself that what I was hearing was a lie, an auditory hallucination, fucking anything but what was really happening. Even when she was done, even when she was whispering her last words, I didn’t let myself believe it.”
I want to go home, Greta
“And when I closed my eyes, I truly believed that I’d never open them again. So when I did… can you imagine that? The guilt? To learn that you miraculously survived this horrific event while your little sister, the one you were meant to protect, didn’t? It hurt worse than the stitches, worse than the bear tearing at me. So, I just had to keep running, you know? Because it meant I’d never have to see you or Mom. Because you’d both remind me of what I did. Not verbally, just… just your presence and her absence. That’s why I ran. But, I’m back now. I’m back and I need you to understand why I left. I need you to forgive me.”
I want to go home
“How could I, Greta?” he frowns. His eyes are watery. “I’m sorry, but, how could I?”
“Just look at me. Remember me. I’ve been gone for so long but I’m still your sister and you’re still my brother and we grew up together, you know? We were best friends back then.”
“But you left. You never made any attempt to talk to me. I thought you hated me. Mom thought you hated her. She didn’t just lose Sophie, do you understand that? She lost both of you.”
I begin to sob harder. It’s true, it’s all true.
“I know,” I choke out, “I know, and I’m sorry, okay? I’m so, so sorry. That’s all I can say. Because you’re right.”
My voice goes quiet. He pities me, I can see it in his eyes.
“Listen,” he whispers, “I don’t hate you. Okay? I don’t hate you. That’s what I can offer you. Just, don’t disappear again, please. I want to learn about you, you know, about your wife and your career, and all that stuff. So just don’t disappear. Please, Greta. Please don’t.”
“I won’t,” I wipe my eyes and force a weak smile. “I swear.”
“Good,” he stands. “How about we meet up for coffee in a couple days?”
“Okay. Do you want my number?”
I give it to him and we have a quick, awkward hug. His face has lightened.
Then I leave.
You have to listen
I’m emotional as I drive to the motel. Not in the sense that I’m crying; I just feel many emotions, all at once. The light pollution hides the stars; all I can see ahead of me is the tree-lined road illuminated by my headlights. I love nights like these.
I decide to take a detour. As I drive through the neighborhood I grew up in, I feel a tightness in my chest. I wonder if I’m strong enough for this.
It’s the happiness, I think. It’s sad, but, I’ve never felt the same happiness I felt while I lived here. I’ve never been able to recreate it. I think it may be lost forever. Being reminded of it hurts, you know? It really fucking hurts. But I’m still driving, I’m still watching the unlit houses of childhood friends pass by. I’m still remembering them and the little adventures we’d have. I wonder what they’re up to now. I wonder if they’ve done something they regret.
I think the earth is singing
I reach the house. It’s exactly the same. I step out of the car and smell the air. This is the worst part of it, I think. The smell of these trees. It’s so familiar. All the memories rush in; the regret taints them. This is when I cry. Because when you do something irreparable, it changes you. And glimpsing at your old self, at your old innocence and happiness, is unbearable. So I let the tears fall.
I just want to go home
I didn’t tell Adam the whole story. I wasn’t lying when I told him I didn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t believe her small, pained voice. But I still spoke back. I wasn’t thinking right, but I tried to calm her with words I whispered through a veil. I tried to make everything okay again.
We’ll get there eventually