By Karine Lee
I was reading The Paris Interviews one evening, and George Plimpton stated, “Writing a novel is actually searching for victims. As I write I keep looking for casualties. The stories uncover the casualties.”
I placed the phone down and turned off the lights. I regretfully stared into the ceiling noticing a small hole in the right corner. I had to kill yet another character in my life, and this one hurt deeper than any teenage embarrassment, any first heartbreak, or any death that I wasn’t ready to encounter. Grieving someone alive is worse than grieving the dead. It is like having a broken leg that never completely heals. When it is cold, it hurts. When you walk, you will still limp, and when you dance to a song, it reminds you something is not quite right with your balance.
“Grieving someone alive is worse than grieving the dead. It is like having a broken leg that never completely heals.”
My first job was quite underwhelming. And, I– never having a job –was grateful that a clothing store hired me. An eighteen-year-old having free clothing was a win–win in my head. I assumed the role of either greeter for my friendliness or runner for my ability to organize quickly. Oddly on this day, no one was in the mall. I folded and unfolded shirts on the front table to occupy my boredom. As I was doing so, a petite, precocious and lost girl about my age was strolling past the store. She smiled and waved and I did the same.
“Hi Welcome to Lerners!” I said, ecstatic for my first customer of the day.
“Hi!” she responded with a perfect smile and a hefty tiny body. She was built the opposite of me. I had long legs and extra-long arms to which people often mistook me for a model. She was barely five feet tall. I towered over her and noticed how beautiful her hair was.
“Hey I’m looking for jeans and I cannot seem to find them anywhere. I’ve been to four stores.” I smiled, “Yeah you and I have the opposite problem.” She continued, “How tall are you?” It was my most asked question. It didn’t matter where I was, anyone and everyone would ask me this and at this point in my life, it no longer bothered me.
“I’m 5’10, but I tell everyone 6ft for the wow effect.” We both laughed and I motioned her to follow me to the jeans section. After about an hour, we exchanged colleges we attended, where we grew up, nationality, background, and age. Her name was Nathalie she was Haitian like me and lived about 15 minutes away from my house. Some people like to use words like ‘coincidence,” “serendipity” or ‘chance” when describing life events. At my age, I– through wisdom and much awakenings– believe the universe puts us exactly where we are supposed to be. This presses upon us the importance of taking care of people we love.
“Hey, do you need a job?” she asked me. “You are really charismatic. I think you would be great working with me! I’m a manager at a law firm. Here is my card.” She motioned to me her business card and told me to give her a call. A week later I did, and a week after that I had a new job collecting defunct debt from people mostly in Boston, and Michigan. The pay was great and I was never without cash.
During this time, Nathalie and I became sunrise and sunset. The world simply couldn’t exist until we saw each other. I broke away from my family’s strict structure and decided to live on my own and Nathalie decided she was going to start studying for the LSAT. We encouraged each other in every phase of our lives and constantly kept tabs on the people that entered it. She was motherly and disapproved of every friend I made in my 20s, and I in turn disapproved of the man she would later call her husband. His name was Corwin but he insisted everyone call him ‘Dana’.
It was a cold December night and our office was having its yearly Christmas party. I asked Nathalie to accompany me but she had a prior engagement. Disappointed I almost skipped the event. At the last minute I decided to have fun for once and purchased a cheap dress, did my hair, and nails and treated myself to new makeup. When I entered the room everyone was either overdressed or underdressed and the secretary daunted a hideous dress that Madonna would have worn in the 80’s.
I smiled and knew I would not be staying long. As the evening commenced Dana walked over and smiled. He lost his job and needed employment and Nathalie being the kind soul she was hired him. I thought it was a horrible idea as he seemed quite overbearing, working with him wasn’t much different.
As a child you don’t really know what intuition is. It takes practice, it takes a burning repetitive sensation that whispers to your entire being that something isn’t quite correct before you understand to listen to it. Your intuition knows what to write, it knows when to leave, and it also knows when someone is wearing sheep’s clothing. But this sheep didn’t have a wolf underneath, Dana was inevitably a rotten corpse. He was every snake in a pit of horse dung and even as he offered me a drink I didn’t even trust his warmth.
“Hey Dana, wassup?” I smiled often when I didn’t like someone. It was taught to me at an early age as a West Indian child. My mother would always brag to her friends that I was her “most polite child” it was conditioning that I am quite sure has helped me through life.
“Hey Tia, you here alone?” Dana was a high yellow in color and extremely pudgy. His hair was cut low and he didn’t have any fashion sense. He wore extra baggy jeans and oversized shirts with the collar buttoned. Dana was the extreme opposite of a man I would be attracted to. He stuttered when he spoke, so I knew he lied often. His eyebrows were thick and his lips were extra pink. “Yeah I am but I’m about to leave. I don’t see any one I really hang out with in the office. Did you have fun?”
He smiled and gulped whatever brown liquor was in his glass. “I’m on my way out too. These people are doing a lot. How you getting home?” Placing my glass down and looking for my coat I noticed the man I had a crush on who also worked with us. Jacques was tall with freckles on his face. His body was strong and built like a football player. He had a brother that looked exactly like him but opposite in color and clearly he was the asshole of the two, as he constantly made terrible jokes towards women.
I liked Jacques because he was quiet and just looked at me any chance he could. Every woman in the office threw themselves at him and I refused. His dreads were long and thick and he daunted a slight gap in his smile that I noticed immediately. Jackques would later become my first love, but that night we just stared at each other from across the room.
“I’m going to walk, thankfully for me I only live a couple blocks from here.” Dana touched my hand, “oh no you can’t walk, it’s too late out. I will give you a lift.” I objected and told him casually, “I do this all the time”.
He insisted, and we walked to his car. I noticed on our way to my home he was driving extra slow and I started to become nervous as he was drinking heavily. My thoughts were I hoped he didn’t get stopped or worse. He pulled into my apartment complex next to my campus. I thanked him and started to open the door and his face became overwhelmed and confused.
“Can I talk to you about something?” Dana put the car in park and turned it off. He took fifteen minutes to talk to me about how awful Nathalie treated him, how he had such a hard time talking to her, how she yells as often as she can. I let him continue this odd behavior as my thoughts began to run: Why is he telling me this? Does he know Nathalie is my best friend? What is his angle? Is he drunk? I wonder how much he had tonight. He interrupted my thoughts with a question that sealed and delivered to my brain that my intuition was in fact correct.
“May I come up?” I paused and thought to myself, ‘I must be dreaming’. I looked at his face and I distinctly remembered his smirk. It was the same smirk men wear proudly when they know they are violating spaces. “No, you can’t, and good night”. Eighteen year old Tia was still polite. She was still hopeful he was better than that, but my intuition knew better. As the years progressed Dana would prove time and time again, he was worse than the wolf. The lining of his skin was not soft, it was constantly fighting the person he wished to be.
I struggled for weeks to tell Nathalie about this interaction and after having a meeting with two other girlfriends they insisted I had to. The way I saw it if I didn’t someone else would eventually. That’s how life works when you try to mute indecencies: It rears its head under a drunken night where someone drank too much liquor and suddenly has courage in their tongue. What would follow from this unraveling was a wedding that I was forbidden to attend, two kids, a family move to Georgia, several affairs, and constant abuse from Dana.
I heard the siren when she went into the bathroom to tell me precisely when to call back. I even heard the siren when the kids would ask, “who’s on the phone Mama?” I even heard the siren when she paused to listen to her environment when she thought she wasn’t alone. The sound increased in our 18 year friendship, and every year it become unbearably louder.
“This was one reason why our friendship was sinking rather swiftly. I represented a hazard sign as I knew the truth.”
That’s the thing about a lie: If you tell it enough times, eventually it will be believed. This was one reason why our friendship was sinking rather swiftly. She knew I could hear the siren and I could never receive the lies she was telling everyone else. I represented a hazard sign as I knew the truth.
The lights were low in the room and I turned to my lover exhausted. He looked at me quietly, “what’s wrong?” I didn’t know to be honest. Intuition was talking to me again but this time I didn’t know what was wrong. I was safe, my parents were ok, my friends were all happy, and work was exactly as I needed it to be. “I am not sure”, I responded nonchalantly. I grabbed his hand and he instinctively did the same. It was what I did to calm my anxiety and he knew this and would rub my thumb to calm whatever was in my brain.
At precisely 11:50p.m. my iPhone rang. It lit up with Nathalie’s name and a picture we had taken years ago during Christmas. I frantically answered, as this was unusual of her to call me at this time at night. “Nathalie are you ok?” I could tell she was nervous and whatever words she was saying it was with someone listening closely. “Well… its just that … ummm .. .my husband said we can’t be friends anymore … its just like … I have to keep my family … and I have tried so hard to do what I can to make this ok … but I have to do this last things to move forward.”
I interrupted confused, “What are you talking about? Do you know how late it…” She squirmed her last words as if she was in pain, “I just can’t talk to you anymore Tia, ok?” I groggily answered and hung up the phone. My love looked at me, “Who was that?” Sadly I looked at him, “It was Nathalie. She was rambling and said she couldn’t talk to me anymore.” He looked me straight in the eye and responded, “And you do just that. Don’t talk to her anymore.”
Months turned into a year and I deleted her number from my phone. She tried in every way to stay in contact with me. She sent news articles, messages on several social media sites. She even went so far as to ask me to join a mediation group. With every message she sent I simply deleted them. Underneath the anger was a deep sorrow for her. She was dying slowly. When someone would ask her how she is doing she is programmed to say- FINE.
In Church when I light candles for all those I’ve killed, I light one for her now.
My only wish is that the pain would stop.
Most importantly, that she makes it to the end of this life by only the hands of God; not the one who convinced her that the truth I told her about the car ride when were 18 years old was a complete lie.