Past, Tense (Lucy, part II)

Submitted into Contest #51 in response to: Write a story about someone who's haunted by their past.... view prompt




More than anything else I think about my past. As I ponder what will happen when I get out, that balance may shift. But for years I’ve thought about the past. The past, the past, the past. Always the past. Sure beats thinking about my present.


You know, some people tell us to leave the past where it is - behind us. We can’t go back and change anything about it. And that might be a very good thing. When you think about changing the past, especially if you’re thinking about ending yourself because of that past, just think about that movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I mean, that will really get you to thinking.


Other people suggest that we must remember the past, so we can learn from it. Not so we can go back and change the past, but so we can forge a brighter future. I suppose on a global scale, or even a national scale, it’s important that we reflect on past mistakes and learn from them. But when it comes down to the personal level, the individual life, I’m not sure I agree with that.


Why? Because my past haunts me; doesn’t yours? Doesn’t everyone’s? Aren’t there some things in your past that you wish were different? Things you wish you had done differently, decisions you thought more about before making them, things you wished you said, or didn’t say?


I killed the love of my life. That’s why my past haunts me. No, that’s not why I’m in prison. I didn’t actually commit murder. But I killed Lucy, as sure as I’m sitting here talking to the wall, because of that list of things from my past. Things that I wish were different. Things I wish I had done differently. Decisions I made thinking about myself too much. Things I wish I had said, and those I wish I hadn’t. I suppose I can tell you. You’re just a wall. You can’t tell anyone else. And you can’t judge me.


Let me start in reverse order, telling you about the things I wish I hadn’t said, and those I wish I had.


I wished I hadn’t said “I love you” to Lucy. No, I wasn’t lying when I said it. Those words were true then, and they’re true now. Lucy is . . . sorry, Lucy was the love of my life. She meant more than food, water, air, and sunshine to me. She was my food, water, air, and sunshine. She breathed life into me and made me whole. And I made the horrific mistake of saying “I love you” to her. I wish I hadn’t said those three painful words.


I wish I had said “I can’t,” when she asked me if I wanted to go have ice cream with her. I could have said I didn’t like ice cream, I had to go, I had something to do; anything but “I’d like that.” I could even have said I didn’t want to do anything with her. It would have been a lie, but it would have been a kinder lie than that monstrous truth.


Or maybe I could have thought more about things as they were, and made a different set of choices. Even after I said those three deadly words “I love you.” I could have decided to ignore her, to be with someone else, to push her away. I didn’t have to bask in her sunshine when she said “I love you, too.” I could have skittered into the shadows and run like Hell. Away from Lucy, away from her life, away from those horrible, wonderful, terrible, powerful feelings. But I made a bad decision. I made several of them in a row.


I embraced our love. I accepted her. I dated her. I asked her to marry me. I put a ring on her finger. And I did all of that publicly, for all to see. For the world to see and gawp and gasp and point fingers and whisper and judge and condemn. 


Because things weren’t different. They weren’t the way I wanted them to be. They weren’t the way Lucy wanted them to be. They were messed up and messed up bad. From what I hear within these walls, they’re a little better now than they were. If I had decided to wait, maybe I wouldn’t have killed my Lucy.


We were young, we were in love and we were foolish. We thought love would conquer all. Lucy made me feel like I could conquer the world, that I was important, that I was immortal. She made me feel more alive, more than myself, more than my family. I used to think I made her feel the same way. I hope I’m right; I hope I made her feel above the world. And I think maybe I did. Maybe that’s why I killed her, thinking so much of her, and me, and us.


We went on the bus to the nation’s capital. A bus full of people like us. Like us, but not like us. Mostly couples, like us. But most of those couples were the same as each other. Black man and black woman; white man and white woman; Asian man and Asian woman. There were even some couples totally unlike us. Two men, two women, two people who didn’t seem to know if they were men or women. But we were all in love. And we all thought we knew how to make the world a better place.


Our leaders followed the rules. We had permission to be gathered there and to speak our minds. Funny - we are supposed to have free speech in this country, but we need to have permission to speak out. At least we did back then; I hear it might be different now. But we needed permission then, and we had it. We were granted the privilege of going to the nation’s capital and raising our voices in protest.  Peacefully. And we did just that.


There was a police line anyway. A whole mess of policemen, probably some policewomen too, in riot gear, with tall, plastic tower shields. And tasers, and batons, and guns and smoke grenades and teargas and rifles and I don’t know what else.


They had permission to be there, and to speak their minds, too, I guess. And they had permission to be forceful, not peaceful. Supposedly they were there to “protect the public.” I’m not sure why the public needed to be protected from our horde of peaceful protesters, but apparently, they did.


But things were going to be OK. They were in a deep formation down the street, behind their shields. There was a large, wide-open space between us and them. Nobody in that space. Sort of a DMZ, a demilitarized zone. 


On our side of the DMZ, there was a barricade made of sawhorses and yellow tape. We were supposed to stay behind that barrier. I guess on our side of the barrier we had permission to speak, but not on the other side.


I hate to tell you this next part, but I should. We’re the ones who messed up - not the police. At least, not at first. That time, anyway. We listened to our leaders as they gave speeches. On our side of the barricade. About how we were being denied equal rights, our children were being given a lower standard of education, we were restricted to a lower economic status, and so on.


Then they started talking about black men and women who had been beaten and killed by white policemen. How those who were supposed to serve and protect were only serving and protecting the whites mostly, while they preyed on the blacks. 


I believe they were telling us the truth. And I believe they were telling us in a peaceful manner. But I could see the crowd getting all worked up because we wanted things to change. And that was just and right. Things shouldn’t have needed to change, but they did. We should have had the same rights and privileges as everyone else, but we didn’t. We should have had the same respect that those policemen and the white people in power had, but we didn’t. So of course, many of us were getting all worked up. Angry. Frustrated. Upset.


Things turned ugly. Some people on our side of the barricade started breaking store windows and stealing stuff. Not peaceful, not right, not fair. But they were venting their anger and their frustration by physically taking some form of restitution. Maybe even letting their righteous anger lead to material violence instead of violence against other people.


Then the police started moving. They tossed some smoke grenades into the group of us. They tossed some teargas. I think they even fired a few rubber bullets into the crowd. And the crowd reacted.


We tore down that barrier and rushed the army of police. We wanted to stand in another part of the country, beyond that DMZ, and speak our minds, even without permission. 


Our people were pushing and shoving, running and yelling. Lucy and I got separated. I started going against the crowd, like a salmon swimming upstream, trying to get to Lucy. Then I saw one of the blue-clad policemen pull out his handgun and shoot her. If Lucy hadn’t come with me to that protest, she would still be alive. If I hadn’t told her I loved her, she would have lived a different life. If I hadn’t charged that policeman and shot him with his own gun, I wouldn’t be here in San Quentin. If I had killed him instead of just wounding him, I wouldn’t be here either; I wouldn’t be alive.


Now you know why my past haunts me. If a wall can know anything, that is. I’ve often heard that walls have ears, so maybe you understand.


July 21, 2020 22:39

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