I’m sinking deep into the water and I refuse to open my eyes. In this moment, there is no world. There is no flesh. I am my mind, lost in a dark, cold space. Don’t be fooled; I may be lost, but I’m not afraid. And I may be without flesh and without world but I am not without shame. Even here, I can’t escape it.
I swim up for air. I enter my body. I can feel the sun on my skin and see my wife, Laura, watching me. She’s standing on the shore, enjoying the calm of cold water on bare feet. Her light-wash jeans are rolled to her ankles and her oversized red denim flannel flaps in the salty wind. The flannel was her father’s. I like to think of that. It’s sweet. I guess it makes me feel warm.
I swim forwards and rise out of the sea, smiling at her. “You look really pretty, you know that?” I say. And I mean it. She’s beautiful. She smiles back, “You look wet,” she responds. I towel off and look back at the ocean. Goosebumps dot my skin. She’s looking at the ocean too. I wonder what she’s thinking. I wonder if she’s proud of me. I don’t want her to be.
We’re driving to the bar Matt and Evan told us to meet them at. We’re listening to Mitski and Laura is singing along. She’s watching the road. The sun is setting now and I’m watching the trees wisp past. The sky is yellow and I think of the man who killed those girls. He told me he always showed them the sky before he cut them.
“It’s like, I know they’ll never see it again. And that excites me. Everyone loves the sky. They’re terrified because they know they’ll never see it again.”
I wish I wouldn’t think of him anymore.
Matt and Evan have a booth. They’re sitting next to each other, talking. Big windows paint the walls of the bar with the natural beauty of the northwestern seaside. The tables and floorboards are the same color; chocolate-colored wood, glazed but not sticky. Evan has his hand on his glass of water and Matt is smiling. They look happy. Their eyes light up when they see us. It’s a good feeling.
“Hello, hello,” Evan says.
“Hey guys,” Matt chimes in.
I smile, nod at them. Laura says “Hey,” and she drags it out, like: “Heyyyy!” We sit across from them.
“So,” Matt says, “How are you guys?”
“We’re good! We’re really good.” She looks at me. “We just got back from the beach so we’re kind of tired. But it was worth it, it was so nice today.” She rubs my back. Her nails are painted red. “We were celebrating. Did you hear? About Abby’s case?”
I turn to her. I don’t want to talk about my case. “Oh, I don’t kn-”
“Hey y’all!” A waiter stands over us. He’s wearing a striped button-up shirt. He has a Keith Haring tattoo on his forearm. He can’t be older than thirty. “Do you want anything to drink?” He asks.
“I’ll have water,” I say. Laura asks for a long island iced tea. He scribbles our orders down and hurries off.
“We heard about the case!” Evan breaks the silence. “I’m so glad you got that monster off the street.”
“Don’t call him a monster,” I say. I look him in the eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s not a monster. He’s just a man. When you call him a monster you kind of forget that. That he’s just mortal. He’s just a man. He’s a terrible man but he’s just a man. A man who hates women. There’s plenty of them, and none of them are monsters. None of them are unstoppable.”
Silence, for a moment.
“Ugh you’re such a badass,” he laughs. I smile. For that short moment, I feel like a badass.
But then I remember those girls’ fathers. I remove myself from the conversation, stare at the wooden table. Those men feel like they failed their daughters. Failed their families. Like they’re not “real” men, since they couldn’t protect their children. They’re broken. The mothers are broken, the daughters’ friends are broken. A community of broken people. That’s what I hate about these men who hurt people. It’s what I hate the most. Even once they’re gone, put away in jail for the rest of their lives, there’s still that trail of broken, breathing bodies. People who won’t heal for a long time. Broken people are always dangerous.
Murder is a human desecration. I like to believe humans are miracles, and most of us enjoy life, even when we don’t. When it’s stolen from us, in a violent, humiliating way, what is there left for us to do? We rot.
And I don’t think the victims of murder ever truly die.
Laura nudges me. I realize I’m gripping the booth cushions. I relax my shoulders and jaw and smile at her. She gives me a look like, “are you okay?” I soften my eyes. “yes,” I speak wordlessly, “i’ll be alright.” I stand, “Just gonna use the restroom,” I say, and I walk to the ladies room.
For a few minutes, I stare at myself in the mirror. I feel unrecognizable. When you work to catch someone, you kind of lose yourself. You focus so much attention on one man, one evil man, and you lose your body in the process. He colonizes your thoughts and seeps into your dreams.
I’m holding myself. My skin is cold and my fingers are soft. The room is clean but I make it dirty. I don’t want to pull it out. I can feel it, cold and grounding. I close the toilet seat and sit. I stare forward, before I lean down. I look at the tiled walls. They’re dark gray and smooth; contrasting to the rest of the woody bar. I’m not going to cry. I’m stronger than tears.
I wiggle my foot out of my shoe. I’m wearing slip-ons. Taped to the bottom is a razor blade. I pick up the razor blade, walk to the sink. Wash it off with soap and water, dry it with a paper towel. Sit back down. It’s a routine, you see. I rest my foot on my thigh, so I can see the bottom. Puffy, pink, horizontal scars line it. I slice two more. Two feels like enough.
Hop over to the sink. Wet the paper towel, ring it out. A small squirt of soap. Wash out the cuts, dry them. Slip another clean paper towel in the shoe. And the release is finished. I’m lighter, now. The blade is back in its spot. I go back to the sink for one final wash. I smile at myself in the mirror, but I can’t hold it long. There’s a drip of blood on my naked thigh. I wipe it off. I leave a little bit, though; enough for me to know it’s there, but not enough for Laura and Evan and Matt to notice. I like it there. It’s a reminder.
As I walk back to the table, I stop for a moment. It’s dark out now. In this part of the state, streetlights don’t blot out the stars. I tear up a moment, staring at them. I’m raw. I wish I could tell you he didn’t break me, like he broke all those other people.
As I sit, Laura whispers: “Are you alright?” I nod, smile. “Yes,” I say. “I’m fine.”