Another fragment from an unfinished tale -- a nightmare-memory of trauma past for an older and wiser main character. The dream – much like the train wreck of a relationship that inspired it – started innocently enough. I was over at Jeremy’s place, sitting at the table in the little kitchenette. It was a cramped attic apartment in an old house on Summit not far from Ohio State’s campus. The rent was cheap and all the furniture was second-hand, with a kind of half-hearted yard-sale charm.
I remembered eating pancakes at that table one of the mornings we both skipped classes and slept in. We rarely spent most of that time sleeping. Jeremy was an artist – passionate and intense and focused on experiencing every moment to the fullness of his senses. He was an amazing kisser and a pretty good cook. The pancakes were perfect, and he stood at the stove behind me in nothing but his boxers, frying up bacon to go along with them. He never minded the spatters of grease as they hissed against his skin. Maybe that should have told me something. But I didn’t question it at the time.
Not that it really mattered. All of this was old history, and even caught up as I was in the sights and smells of the dream, I knew it was over. There was nothing to be done. The dream cared little for my awareness of how this was all past history, dragging me through each agonizing detail as if it were fresh and new.
I’d gotten an offer for grad school at UCLA. It was an amazing opportunity, and it came with an assistant teaching position and a stipend that meant I could support myself. I was so excited.
Then came the phone call. It was Jeremy. Those four dreaded words. “We need to talk.”
If only there had been more talking. But he was drunk or high already. Why had that never seemed like a problem before that night? I wanted to reach back in time and shake my naïve twenty-two-year-old self and tell her to get the hell out of there, to run before things went south of good.
The thin ginger-haired girl sitting at that table wouldn’t have listened anyway. That past self knew everything in the world there was to know about love, and she believed with a faith both blind and unshakable that if she just sat there and let him work through his anger, everything would turn out ok. It always had before.
But then he pulled the gun. It had been his grandfather’s. An old police-issue revolver. I wondered if his dad even knew it was gone from the case in the den at their house.
With the benefit of hindsight, I could see half a dozen opportunities for taking that gun away. There was a point where he still had the safety on, swinging it around almost carelessly while he ranted about how I was putting my career over our relationship, how I was selfish. A blind cow. He actually said that. All the hushed and lovely things he had whispered in that back bedroom were burned away with the acid of those words.
I should have used the anger from his insult to spur me into action. Should have kicked him. Fought. Fled. Half a dozen sensible, survivable things – and yet all my twenty-two-year-old self managed was to sit there, stunned and weeping. I wanted to grind my teeth and shake her – shake me – because I could feel all the old emotions in the dream, even the ones I knew to be patently stupid.
The worst was the fact that I felt like it was my fault. Like I needed to apologize to the maniac threatening me with a revolver.
The dream played on to its inevitable conclusion. Jeremy yelled about how he was nothing without me, swore I couldn’t abandon him, that I would be killing him. He went from waving the gun around to pointing it at me, demanding my apologies, making me swear over and over that I would never leave him.
The problem was, I was scared silly and couldn’t manage more than a hoarse whimper. I just sat there, feeling sick to my stomach and gawking at him, the words strangled in my throat.
Then he put the gun against my chest and I found my voice, at least enough to say “no” and “please stop” in between the hiccupping sobs. The dream, of course, was hyper-real in that way that some trauma dreams can be, so I could feel the cold, hard muzzle of the gun pressing against my sternum. Jeremy pressed it so hard against me, the tops of his knuckles grazed my left breast. He leaned over me, gun still shoved into me, and buried his face in my hair. I wore it long back then, and it was strange to feel the thick, heavy curls spilling down my shoulders and my neck. Jeremy was weeping now, too, and he murmured things into my hair, his breath hot against my ear. And even with the hard edges of the firearm digging into me, I still couldn’t bring myself to believe that he would actually shoot me. If I could master my fear enough just to talk to him, my twenty-two-year-old self truly believed that love conquered all – even this madness.
And then he was screaming again, pushing the gun hard against my sternum to punctuate each insult. I was paralyzed by all of it, my arms held loosely at my sides. I think that was the worst of it, at least from my current perspective. It’s not like I was ever tied down or restrained. I just sat there stupidly, enduring the whole thing. That part made me sick. That I could have been such an idiot about it -- ever.
I closed my eyes at some point, finally realizing that I was probably going to die in that kitchen, my blood spilling across the ugly yellow tile. In real life, my eyes had been closed for what came next, but that never stopped me from seeing it in every gory detail in the dream.
Very suddenly, Jeremy whipped the gun away from me. He had been shoving me so hard into the back of the chair, I fell forward a little bit in the absence of the pressure. Jeremy screamed the same refrain I’d heard on and off through the whole ordeal: “You’re killing our love!” Flecks of spittle flew from his lips – his terribly kissable lips – and his hazel eyes were wild.
Then he took the gun and he shot himself. He was smart enough to know not to put the gun against his temple and fire. That was never a guarantee. No. He put the barrel of the gun just behind his front teeth, I could hear them clicking on the metal. Then he angled it up and back, pulling the trigger.
My eyes flew wide at the sound of the bullet leaving the chamber. There was so much blood.
Jeremy crumpled to the floor at my feet and I still couldn’t move. I was literally paralyzed with fear. I sat there shaking and crying and staring at his corpse until sirens started up in the distance. And even when the cops arrived pounding on the door, I couldn’t bring myself to get up from that chair. They had to break down the door.
I could still hear the plaintive wail of the sirens –
And then I woke with a start, so drenched in sweat that the thin T-shirt I wore in lieu of pajamas was stuck to my breasts. My wild mess of curls clung damply to my forehead, tangling over my eyes.
The sirens were still blaring.
It took me the better part of a minute to realize that I was hearing my cell phone – which, for the record, didn’t sound siren-like at all. Squinting blearily at the clock on the nightstand, I cursed half a dozen obscure Celtic deities and fumbled for the phone. It was three in the morning. The only good thing about my phone ringing at three in the morning was that it woke me from that damned dream.