This one comes with multiple warnings.
:::Distressing content. Domestic violence. Catastrophic injuries:::
I wrote ‘Unlocked’ a few days ago, having been inspired, if that’s the right word, by a poem and photo belonging to Souldier Girl. Two of the comments that story attracted came from gigoid and Addy (Adam), and both comments struck me for very different reasons. In this story, gigoid has been renamed as Bob and Addy is Doctor Adam. I hope neither of those good gentlemen mind. I think I’ve faithfully shown their perceptions of Unlocked.
I’ve written this in the ‘staccato’ style. It’s jarring, because it’s meant to be; a sort of stream of consciousness that’s intercepted by outside events. Getting this style right is difficult, because you still need to make the story comprehensible. It can’t be random junk thrown together and called ‘art-that-no-one-is-supposed-to-understand’.
I think I’m done with this topic now, although I said that last time, so obviously the topic wasn’t done with me.
Sparks are flying all around my head and occasionally some of them enter into a decaying orbit. Most of them burn up on entry but some of them break through the psychosphere and crash into me. I can feel the impacts and I wince as their sharp spikes bore down through the dermal layer, seeking out, in their final moments, an electro-chemical up-charge that might prolong their life.
There is a volcano growing behind my right eye and I’m scared it’s going to erupt. It’s drawing magma from my frontal lobe, and the more it takes the less of me there remains to witness it and to recognise it.
I’m scared of electricity. I need to keep calm. Whenever I get upset the electricity comes, and then the terrifying lightning storms in my brain begin again. There are times I feel the energy rising. I feel the discharges, small at first, that leap out of me as if they’re calling to the streaks of lightning that are always circling, always waiting. They’re out to get me, I know, and sooner or later they will. I’ve resigned myself to the fact but I still have trouble accepting the reality. One day, and I think it will be soon, the mother of all lightning strikes will completely neutralise the psychosphere, and I’ll be left unprotected from the space junk and meteors that it deflects.
The Doom Clock in my head keeps ticking, and that scares me, too. It never stops and it never goes away. I don’t fully understand it, but I think I’m getting a little better at predicting what it’s doing. When the ticking is at its loudest, the hands speed up, and I think that means time is racing toward the moment when everything crashes in on me and I will die. When it’s barely ticking at all, the hands move backward; sometimes a little and sometimes a lot.
I used to think, and hope, that if I stayed calm and small inside my mind, the clock hands would keep moving backward. If I could get them to go back far enough, maybe I could get my life back.
The clock began ticking and the electricity began arcing the day he hit me out of the park. I remember it, but I can’t let myself think of it too often or the clock speeds up and gets louder. It’s not good for me to think about it. I retreat into the only small chamber of safety I have left. There’s no electricity there, no satellites crashing into me, but the walls are closing in and getting smaller. I think I know what’s going to happen when it’s too small to get inside but I can’t think about that, either, in case thinking it makes it happen faster.
Molten lava sears through my veins; it’s racing toward my heart. I felt the pinprick in my arm and then the injection of pain and terror that followed. I want to scream in agony but I’m locked in. I am the black hole in my life, sucking in light and emitting none.
“With head trauma cases it can be difficult to tell if the patient is aware and ‘locked in’, or if they’re completely comatose. Non-responsive doesn’t always mean unaware; we know that now,” Doctor Adam told me when I visited his office, after they discovered my sister and brought her here.
My sister. ‘Somebody’s sister’ had become mine, and I was lost in the overwhelming disaster of the moment. Have you ever had one of those moments where, with stunning clarity, you can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when earth-shattering information came to you? I remember this, like that.
Sandra and I had never really been that close, not even when we were kids, and even less so when we grew into adults. She was alright, I suppose, but the difference in our ages was like the gaps between the notes in music. If there were no gaps there’d be no music, just noise. I think we made a better song by recognising the spaces and leaving them as they were, although over the years she’d tried, a lot harder than I had, to fill them with something. Meaning, perhaps.
The fact is, I never really liked my family. My father was remote, patrician, aloof, and he clearly wanted to be left alone. I formed the view over time that he wanted a fuck and a housekeeper, so he married my mother. My mother was shrill, selfish in the extreme, and didn’t believe in sparing the rod unless she could replace it with a pitchfork. I think she hated Sandra and I because we bound her to a life she didn’t want. She wanted a life where money she didn’t earn and adulation she didn’t deserve simply materialised because she wanted it.
If I’ve learned anything in life it’s that the biggest and most frequent disappointments come from within ourselves. Our ludicrous sense of entitlement to unearned ‘better’ can make us bitter, judgmental, and brittle. When the map and the ground don’t agree, the map is wrong. I wish my parents had understood that. The map of their life’s desires was never going to agree with the ground of their reality, and they were neither insightful nor motivated enough to change their reality. They took their frustrations out on us.
I moved out of home, and then far away, as soon as I had the money, the opportunity, and the maturity. Even as a kid I knew I was a human among aliens, and so I went to work, filling my free time with a range of after-school jobs and mowing lawns on the weekend. I hid most of what I earned; my mother was not above helping herself.
Sandra was a quiet one, which suited me just fine. It’s not that we didn’t get along well enough. We just had no common interests as kids. True, there were times when she’d follow me like a puppy, and times when my parents forced me to let her tag along, but I guess like my father I preferred my own company to that of the females in our household.
Now, here I was, looking down at a sister who was unrecognisable to me. She’d had the shit beaten out of her, her face a mess of burst skin and multicoloured bruises. The nurse, bless her, tried to prepare me for this, telling me the damage was not confined to Sandra’s face, but Sandra’s my sister and like most guys, I really don’t want to look at my sibling’s body. A sister is not like other women, at least not to me.
I admit, standing there looking down at her, I didn’t know what to feel or how to react, beyond the feeling of general horror and disgust any sane person would feel if they saw another human in such a state of distress. I just stood there for what seemed like the longest time but was probably only measured in minutes, looking at her and trying to take it all in.
Where does domestic violence begin? I sometimes wonder about that. Is it nature or nurture or both? Probably both, I suspect. I’ve met, unfortunately, a lot of people over the years who swear their parenting skills are amazing, and yet all I see is un-amazing. “Don’t do that, ‘Darling’,” they say, when ‘Darling is wrecking a supermarket and being a complete little shit. ‘Darling’ has a massive social calendar, dance lessons, music lessons, and every other sort of lesson except the ones that count; the ones about manners, consideration, self-restraint, and being an adequate human.
One day, ‘Darling’ is going to find that the rest of the world doesn’t think he or she is amazing, and ‘Darling’ is going to be in for a rude shock. So, yeah, I think nurture plays a part. I also think direct experience plays a part. If kids live in highly chaotic or otherwise dysfunctional environments then, of course, their perception of ‘normal’ is going to be skewed. If it’s in their nature to be horrible shitheads, then the nurturing part is going to feed into that.
I’m notorious for not answering phone calls if I don’t feel like it, and I often don’t feel like it. My reasoning is simple and straightforward. If I’ve given you my number then you’re welcome to call it. If I haven’t given it to you then you’re not. So, when my phone rings and I don’t see your number, I don’t answer. That was the way of it with Sandra. I hadn’t spoken to her for a few years and I’m pretty sure I didn’t answer her last few emails. In fact, I don’t think I even read them.
I don’t hate my sister; it’s just that I barely know her, and what I do know of her is that she’s a bit of a whiner and a drama queen. Too much like our mother, and too much like some of the romantic disasters I’ve had, when I picked someone who turned out to be a version of my mother. Too much hard work, they were, and not enough of what I like to justify the effort.
When Sandra turned up on my doorstep I didn’t know what she wanted or expected from me. I invited her inside and it wasn’t long until I found out. Her husband had been hitting her around, and then blaming her for forcing him to do it. He didn’t want to, he said, but she made him do it. “Show me the gun you used,” I said to her. Sandra didn’t comprehend that remark at all. “Well, you’re talking about force, and not wanting to, and making him do something, so I want you to show me the gun you used to strip away his choice,” I said.
Of course, there wasn’t any gun, because what that piece of shit did was a pleasure for him, and he wanted to keep doing it. Thugs work on breaking down their victims’ sense of self. The thug tries to convince the victim that what happened was the inevitable result of the victim being a bully. “Sandra, what do you want for yourself?” I asked. She didn’t seem to know. “I just want him to stop,” she said. I shook my head sadly at her naivety. “Why would he stop? He likes it,” I said. Then she gave me the all-too-usual justification of the browbeaten. That her husband used to be good, and if she could just learn not to provoke him when he was tired and upset, he could change. “He has changed!” I said, my voice loud now. “He’s discovered that he likes hurting you, and he’s discovered that you’ll let him!” For fuck’ sake!
We talked in the circular fashion that goes with the victim defending the thug. Her husband, Tim, was working hard to provide all the things that are supposed to impress strangers who don’t know you and couldn’t give a fuck about you anyway. “So, you’re saying you’re willing to trade off having the shit beaten out of you for the benefits of living in a nice house on a nice street and driving a nice car? Suit yourself, then,” I said mercilessly. That wasn’t what she wanted, but it was. “What the fuck do you want from me, Sandra?” I asked callously. She didn’t know. Magic? Unicorns? The protection of a big brother when everything she said was followed by an injunction that I do nothing? I’d heard enough, and I’d had enough. This was exactly what I spent my childhood working and saving to get away from.
I grabbed my phone, a thoroughly pissed off look on my face. Sandra knew what was coming next, and I held her off while I typed in her home number. “Shut the fuck up, Sandra,” I said when she began to protest. The phone rang, and then he picked up. “Tim, it’s Mal here,” I said. “Yeah, okay I guess, but I’ve seen better days,” I replied to his question. “Look, Tim, I’m going to make this short, sharp, and to the point. My sister isn’t your punching bag. You ever lay a finger on her again, or try to twist her mind with your slimy self-serving bullshit, and I promise you I’ll hunt you down and wrap a fucking baseball bat around your head, so help me God,” I said, and then I hung up.
“Well,” I said, looking at Sandra. “I thought that went rather well, all things considered.” Sandra looked shocked. I bet Tim didn’t look too hearty, either. The first rule of engagement with an insidious enemy like Tim is to remove the veil of secrecy. I did that. The second rule is to threaten to overrun the enemy’s position. I did that, too. The third rule was up to Sandra. “Are you planning to live in a world where he keeps getting away with it?” I asked. She was shocked into silence, but I saw in her eyes she was still willing to answer “Yes.”
There are sparks on my fingertips. I can feel electricity jumping from someone’s fingers to my own. Even though I can’t open my eyes, I can sense through my closed lids and there’s a halo of colours wrapped around a blurry outline. I see red arcs of lightning and a dull yellow glow. I can see his psychosphere, and I know it’s Mal. The red arcs around his heart are frightening me; he’s angry. I pull back into my ever-smaller panic room.
It’s getting difficult to breathe in here. There are so many satellites and meteors flaring up lately, and I’m scared that my psychosphere won’t hold, or that there’ll be so much damage to it that I’ll bleed out into space. Once, I nearly let myself. To just be free to join with the universe; no more pain or guilt or fear. I know, though, that if I don’t keep holding on in here, if I let go, I’ll be letting go forever.
I’m scared of forever. Everything I hoped would last, hasn’t. I haven’t found forever, or happily ever after, so I’m frightened that the real forever will be full of more pain and suffering all the way into infinity. I feel the clock speeding up, and the ticking is getting louder. Why is it that the things I don’t want are so easy to come by, and the things I do want are so difficult to find and impossible to keep?
I can hear talking, as if it’s coming from a long way away, as if someone is mumbling under their breath and they very much want me to hear but they aren’t speaking clearly enough so that I can.
I tried to listen more closely, and as I pulled my attention away from everything else the Doom Clock slowed and began reversing. The cracks in the psychosphere began closing, and the lightning and lava seemed to abate.
“… and so the knight rode away, his sister now safe from the hell-spawned demon that had captured her life and tormented her soul.”
“I hope you liked it, Sis. I wrote it a few days ago. For you, and probably for me, too. I guess it’s a morality tale, and I think violence is probably the last thing you want to hear about right now, but until we find better answers the knights are all that stand between the innocent and the demons.”
It was Mal! My brother! I looked out on his shape through my lidded eyes and there he was, and here he is! I heard wild beeping and I saw sparks exploding to my left, but they weren’t aimed at me. My heart filled with hope and joy. My brother was here, and that meant I was safe.
I felt a waterfall of lava cascade out of my eyes and over my cheeks. My brother! When I was a child I had followed him, or wanted to follow him, everywhere he went. I never could bring myself to tell him about the horrible things our mother did to me; the things she put inside me, and the pain they caused. I was so scared of her. I tried to tell our father once … twice … but he slapped me and said I was a liar. I think he knew I wasn’t. I think he didn’t want to trade hot dinners and fresh sheets for the truth, though.
I loved Mal but I was wary of him. Once he said I was tailing him, and that little girl I was imagined myself as a tail, always attached to him and his quiet strength and determination. When he left home I was devastated. I learned that you can love someone, really love them, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to love you back. I knew the truth of that then, but I didn’t understand the reality of it until after I married Tim. He didn’t love me back, either.
The scene in Sandra’s hospital room was one of controlled madness. All of sudden machines sprang to life, and their noises scared the shit out of me. Two nurses were there in a flash, checking and rechecking the machines and my sister. “Please don’t be too hopeful,” one of them said to me, “Spikes in brain activity and automatic flushing of the eyes are more common than people think.”
It had been nearly seven years since that bastard Tim had beaten my sister senseless, and into a persistent vegetative state. By the time the trials had come and gone, nearly two years had passed. By the time I got out of gaol, here we were at the seven year mark. Sandra’s bruising had long ago healed and vanished, but she hadn’t. She was still here. In prison I had nothing but free time to think about her, and our lives, and all the events that had brought us to this. I realised that I loved my sister. When that hit me, I saw everything in a very different light. She wasn’t tailing me to be a pest; she was looking to me for the love and protection she needed at home.
Our parents were strangely reluctant to visit Sandra, and I wondered why. When the old man succumbed to Alzheimer’s I found my answer. There is truth in the words of poets and madmen. I think I read that somewhere. My father, rambling, let slip the truth about what my mother had done to Sandra. For that deranged confession, I promised myself not to piss on his grave when he died. My mother, at first embarrassed and then aggressively outraged, tried to pass it off as the ramblings of a sick man, the swill of his mind overflowing. I knew better. I slapped her face so hard I think I heard her brains rattle. “Stay away from my sister, forever, you filthy old bitch,” I hissed at her. She did, and I was relieved when I eventually heard from a neighbour that the old cow had died. I hope it wasn’t peacefully, but I take solace in the fact that all her evil has died with her.
No wonder Sandra was such a fuck-up. The poor kid never had a chance. To her, she thought pain and abuse was normal. What it must have cost her to come to me that night so long ago!
I was sorry I wore my favourite Firefly tee shirt that night. It had been pretty much torn to shreds, and what was left was covered in blood. Blood. I heard it dripping onto the porch, such was the quietness of the night and my adrenalin-charged hyperawareness. The door opened and Bob pretty much caught me as I staggered a little. I had overestimated my righteous rage and underestimated Tim’s natural ability. I went there to beat the shit out of him and here I was, a bloodied wreck with a few ribs telling me they were broken, a broken nose, bruising everywhere, and a shoulder I suspected was dislocated.
“Jesus, Mal!” he said as he helped me inside. I assumed he was talking about me, but he was such a fan of Serenity it might have been about the state of my tee shirt. I’d know soon enough. If it was about the shirt, he’d give me another pasting, and this time I wouldn’t get off so lightly.
I looked at my old friend, smiling-grimacing through the swollen and bloody lips my teeth had lacerated. “When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl … when you can’t do that …” I said. “You find somebody to carry you,” Bob finished.
I survived that beating. I even survived Bob’s heavy-handed ministrations. I told him what had happened, sort of, but I didn’t tell him who it involved. I know Bob. He’s a man of peace, a thinker, a poet, and a philosopher. He’s also the guy with no back-down in him and he’ll take on whole countries, armed only with a bazooka, a bandaid, and as a last resort a book of Chaucer, if they get all up in his grille. If I gave him all the details he’d be out the front door like a shot, and an hour later he’d be back, our roles reversed.
After a few days the worst of it was over. I was stiff, sore, and in occasional bad pain as a nerve protested at something I was doing, like breathing. Nurse Bob did a great job but I did have to pay a visit to a hospital for x-rays of my ribs, because it felt like the broken ones were amputating parts of my gizzards. Bit by bit, Bob caught the drips of information that leaked out of me, until he had a pretty good picture of what had happened. He went that kind of quiet that speaks of danger, and I knew it was best to let him process it in his own way.
My poor sister. She had left Tim but then, missing her home, she had gone back a few weeks after Tim had sorted me out. It cost her her life, in a very real sense. A doctor, who introduced himself fully but asked me to call him Adam, called to tell me Sandra was in his care, and asking me to come in to see him.
When I looked at her there, so small in the bed it looked like she’d been half drained, I wanted to break down and cry, while I was destroying the universe. That bastard Tim had done this to her. He’d been arrested after he called the paramedics and tried to convince them someone had broken in and done it. It didn’t fly, and the police took him away.
It’s a damning indictment on our system that he was released on bail. It’s a pity there wasn’t any bail for my sister; she could use it a lot more than Tim. Bob looked at me, as if he was weighing something up that had huge implications. I was right; he was. “I’ll hold your coat for the first few minutes, and then you hold mine, okay?” he said. I knew exactly what he meant, and I warned him off. “This is going to get fucking ugly,” I said. He replied that it couldn’t possibly get any uglier than me. He had a fair point there.
I’m not going to go into too much detail because Bob – who wasn’t there – would be compromised if I did. I’ll just say he’s very handy at holding coats, and I’m not bad at it, either. What brought me undone in the end was the whole baseball bat thing. That was premeditated, see? And so I got five years for the grievous bodily harm thing, which had been substantially reduced from the twelve the prosecutor was asking for, because of the circumstances leading up to it. Juries don’t like it when a husband has a history of spousal abuse, especially when his curtain call is to put her into a coma.
I’m reliably informed through hints and half sentences from Adam, the doctor, that Tim suffered terribly at the clumsy hands of the medicos attending him. They were, apparently, friends and colleagues of Adam. Not all heroes need to take up a bat and play an innings. Tim would be out of gaol in another four years, but he’d be eating his lunch through a straw forever, and any more beatings he offered would be delivered to ants by his walking frame.
I hope someday Sandra will wake up. I have a feeling she will. Until that day, I’ll sit by her side and read her the random shit I write. Captive audience, and all that, so she has a vested interest in waking up if she wants to escape it. She’s my sister, and I love her.
Five years in gaol and a possible lifetime of nursing her? I can do that; I’ve done the first part. Beating the shit out of that toad Tim? It was one of life’s rare pleasures. I rediscovered my sister. I’m so sorry for what brought it all about, but I’ll never be sorry for what I did.
Fuck it; it was worth it.