TW: Mentions of death and self-harm.
A lot of people seemed to have deep and philosophical ways to understand others.
Me? I thought that everyone always had a blanket on them.
Like someone might have a blanket of nervousness and excitement around them before the first day of school.
What blanket did I have on?
Sometimes, in the winter, on the most chilly days, multiple blankets are piled on top of someone until they can barely count how many there are. They’ll fall asleep eventually, burying themselves underneath all of the layers.
My blankets were like that.
The screen door was wide open, and the cool Autumn breeze filled the room. I breathed in the smell of the crisp, clean air and sighed, content.
At least, I was until I caught a whiff of the lingering smell of sweat and alcohol.
“Ugh,” I typed on my phone, wheeling my chair over to a bottle of air freshener. “This place needs to get cleaned up.”
“I agree,” my best friend Anastasia said after reading, waving her hand to the trash-strewn floor. “I bet I can clean more than you.”
As expected, that was precisely the case. Anastasia zoomed through the rooms, dusting and sweeping and singing along with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Walk Like An Egyptian.”
Meanwhile, I had to wheel around in my wheelchair, picking up plastic cups and cans. It was maddeningly slow. I couldn’t even talk to Anastasia or sing while cleaning.
I wasn’t supposed to complain about these things. It was supposed to be easy to grow into being an amputee and being mute. At least, according to my father, it was.
But it wasn’t. There were so many stories out there with people who had disabilities that were like mine. I’ve heard stories about overcoming the grief that came with getting a wheelchair and being mute for their entire lives.
It was difficult for me to do the same.
I once had a life as a soccer player. Even if it wouldn’t be completely normal, I at least once had a chance at something close to it.
Being a mute person wasn’t as bad. I typed out words on my phone or wrote in a notebook, so at least I could “talk” easily. But I was still the “mute kid.” The “dumb kid.” The “freak.”
Then, my legs were amputated a few months ago, and things got a lot worse.
I didn’t care that a wheelchair made me different or made me who I was. I wanted it gone. After all this time, the pity, the strange looks, the harassment, and the avoidance still stung.
Many blankets came with these disabilities: Denial, depression, fury. They just keep stacking on top of me.
“So…,” Anastasia said, walking into the room. She plugged the vacuum cleaner into the socket. “Why are we stuck with cleaning up for your dad’s party, anyway?”
I shrugged listlessly, wiping a table. I set the wipe down and typed, “I guess my dad’s too busy.”
I tapped my chin with my finger. “What did he say? He was, ah, too busy doing stuff.”
“Stuff?” Anastasia asked, pulling her dark brown hair up in a bun, and turned on the vacuum. “How specific.”
“He didn’t elaborate. Because I don’t have legs and I can’t even talk, I don’t have the privilege to know about anything. I need to ‘grow up and be more of a man.’” I almost punched my phone as I typed on it.
Father and his talk drove me crazy. Ever since the incident, he had been acting high-strung. He would yell all the time, but silence always followed after. Then, it would start again, sounding angrier and angrier every time. Once, I found him inside the bathtub, sobbing while eating strawberry ice cream and staring at a photo of my mother.
Father hated me; I knew it. I almost couldn’t blame him. He had to place his bitter emotions and grief on someone. He washed them away with parties and food.
But was I any better than that?
The knife was an iron blade with a black handle. I held it every morning, running my fingers along the edge. It would cut my fingers, making them bleed.
The memory of the knife sinking into my skin over and over again still haunted me. I would consider cutting myself every morning. But I would remember Anastasia every single time and set the knife down.
The picture of my mother sat on my desk. She was African American, like my father. Her eyes were blue like the clear sky, as bright as the sun. We had the same eyes, so every time I looked in a mirror, I saw a part of her in me.
Every morning, I touched her single lock of braided black and blue hair and let the tears fall. It pained me how similar we looked. We had the same hair, same eyes, same smile.
I wheeled over to the garbage can and placed a wrapper in it, trying to imagine that I was throwing away my blankets of emotions with it.
The whirrs of the vacuum filled my ears. Good-bye, jealousy. Good-bye, depression. Good-bye, guilt. Good-bye, grief.
It didn’t work.
“That’s not true!” Anastasia exclaimed. “You’re the best person I know!”
“You truly think that?” I asked incredulously. “But I’m an amputee! And a mute person! I’m a freaking freak! I—I even caused...”
My hands shook, and I almost dropped my phone; I gripped my wheelchair to steady them.
“Look at me, Jameson Okello,” Anastasia said in a no-nonsense tone, bending down so she could look me in the eye. “Having no legs and not being able to talk makes you a weirdo.”
“I certainly feel like one,” I typed. “I feel so encouraged and touched.”
“You’re weird; that’s a fact. But so is everyone else. Everyone’s different. Who cares if you’re not normal on the outside? Screw being normal; it’s boring! It’s the inside that counts.”
“You sound like you’re in a movie,” I told Anastasia.
“You’re my best friend, and I’m not friends with any jerks.” She grinned. “But apparently, I’m best friends with sarcasm experts.”
“My mother died because of me! Are you friends with killers?” I burst out. I felt tears rush into my eyes; I didn’t bother to wipe them away.
I remembered that day.
There were sounds of gunfire.
The customers were screaming.
And I was terrified.
My heart pounded a million miles an hour.
My mother was assuring me.
She was telling me that it’ll be okay.
She told me that she loved me and that this situation would all be over soon.
Those were the last words she ever said.
After a second, my mother started to push my chair to the right.
Her hands were trembling.
I didn’t know why until a second later.
Somehow, my mother sensed the bullet was coming.
I thought that was only something that happened in movies.
The bullet was coming toward me.
She had tried to push me away.
Her safety had been secondary to mine.
She died because of my disability.
I realized four things at that moment: Blood was a strange color. It was bright but dark.
The ambulance siren made my ears ring.
A look of fury and grief could never look as deadly as my father’s.
Grief and guilt was a chilling feeling.
It settled over my body like a blanket.
Blankets usually comforted, but they could suffocate.
And that’s what my guilt and grief did.
“You are not a killer!” Anastasia practically shouted. She lowered her voice. “Your mom jumped in front of that bullet for a reason. It wasn’t because you weren’t good enough or able enough to get out of the way. Your disabilities aren’t your fault, Jameson.”
“Yes, it was,” I argued. “You don’t know that.”
“Maybe I don’t, but I know you. Your mom sacrificed herself for you because you’re special, Jameson. She loved you so much! She thought that her son deserved to live and wanted you to have the best life possible like moms tend to do.”
Anastasia took a deep breath and took my silence—well, I was always silent—as a sign to continue.
“You know your mom. She was a selfless and brave woman. Even if you had no wheelchair, she would die for you in a heartbeat. Anyone who loves you would. Can’t you see that?”
The only movement was an empty soda can dropping from a counter and onto the floor as two pairs of eyes stared at each other, blinking. I was one of those pairs.
Ever since that day, I blamed my disability for my accident. It didn’t make sense that someone would lay down their life for me. That blanket was on me for the last month. But now—
“You think so?” I asked, typing slowly.
“Yes,” Anastasia said without hesitation. She bent over and hugged me, wrapping her strong arms around my back. As she did, my old blanket of guilt started lifting from my body, and a new one settled. But it was different. Warmer. Cozier.
“Thank you,” I typed out when Anastasia let go. “You’re the best friend I could ask for, Lil Anas X.”
“And same for you, Jelly Jame.”
I started to smile, but then I heard something in the backyard.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
It left a ringing in my ears.
“No, no, no, no!” I could barely type; my hands moved too fast and couldn’t seem to function. I fumbled for my phone and dropped it. It cracked, and the screen went black. Terror started a flame in my heart, spreading across my entire body. And it had nothing to do with my phone.
Anastasia could get the same end as my mother; I could get the same end as my mother. I couldn’t move. The gunshots filled my ears until they were the only things I could hear.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
“Come on, already!” Anastasia yelled. I could see the fear dancing in her eyes, but she managed to start pushing my wheelchair toward a different room as fast as she could.
I sat, paralyzed in my chair.
I didn’t want to move.
But I looked back.
A man and a woman were standing inside the room.
We had forgotten to close the screen door.
They looked nothing like murders or burglars.
They wore crisp suits like they had just returned from an important meeting.
But they still had guns.
It was so silent that it was eerie.
Anastasia’s back was to them.
She hadn’t looked back.
She got tunnel vision like that.
In her mind, the gunshots were still going in the backyard.
The men weren’t inside the house for her.
I frantically tapped on Anastasia’s shoulder, trying to warn her without typing.
She turned around.
One gun was pointed at me; another was pointed at Anastasia.
“You’re in the wrong house,” Anastasia said, her voice quivering.
The man grinned.
“I’m afraid that’s not a part of our plan.”
Anastasia sprang toward the man, her hands outstretched as if to strangle him.
In the back of my mind, I wanted to join her and at least go out fighting.
I shouldn’t be such a coward, paralyzed while my best friend risked her life.
But the fear got the best of me.
The woman pointed her gun—this time at her heart—at Anastasia before I could do anything else.
“Don’t die for me!” I wanted to yell.
Her life was more important than mine.
I wanted to say anything, anything to save her.
But I was silent for my entire life; it was going to stay that way.
I would never be free from the blanket of silence.
Anastasia could die.
That thought made me snap.
As fast as I could, I picked up a can from the floor and threw it at the woman.
There was no use.
She just dodged it easily and pressed on the trigger.
So much blood.
Anastasia’s body was on the ground, limp and still.
A science lesson I had a long time ago flashed in my mind.
If a person fell into a black hole, they would fall towards the center at the speed of light.
The gravity would crush them until they stretch like a noodle; that was called “spaghettification.”
Time would be meaningless; they would seem to fall forever until they hit the center and become part of the singularity.
I felt like I was falling into a black hole, stretching and getting closer and closer to the big pit of despair.
It was even worse than the blankets.
I wanted to scream.
I wanted to cry.
I wanted to release all I felt inside: destruction and pain.
But no sound would come out.
If I had warned her; if I had protected her; if I had been the brave man I was supposed to be, she could still be alive.
All I could do was throw a can.
I was a coward.
I was a disabled, useless coward.
The old blanket was back, stretching to fit on top of my noodle-like body.
It was somehow even colder than before.
It clung to me, and it wouldn’t let go.
That was two people.
Within a month, two people had died because of me.
Anastasia was gone.
My mother was gone.
Anything I could've done wouldn't change that unfortunate fact.
The first tear came.
More and more until I couldn't count.
They rolled down my face.
I threw another can.
My tears had blinded me momentarily, so the landing of the can was unknown to me.
The man and the woman aimed their guns at me.
The blanket of death is coming.
This story is for Bill Cipher, who always takes off my low self-esteem blanket when I don’t have the strength to do it myself.