14 – I Just Want My Life Back
Vena crashed into the side of the house. Images flashed into her mind as she fell. Hank’s mother Brenda, dead, on the floor. Terrence staring up at her, his eyes crazed. Brenda’s eyes glazing as Vena stabbed her in the chest, minutes later the woman clawing at the air as it escaped her lungs. The last gasp gave at Terrence, who hovered over her, unaware.
Why did he pick up the knife? Why did he stab her again? Why did he call her a zombie? What was he doing at my house?
It didn’t really matter. Not now. Eventually the police would figure it out, piece it all together. When that happened, they’d search for her. Until then she had to find somewhere to go. She couldn’t call Hank – he was back in prison. Plus, she had just stabbed his mother. Not the most auspicious moment to call your boyfriend in for help.
Is he still my boyfriend? We were supposed to get married…
Vena ran. Somehow she had managed to grab her phone. When she couldn’t run any further Vena sank to the ground and stared at her phone until she lost herself in the little square bits of light.
“What makes you the happiest?”
“That’s a hard question to answer. See I’ve gone down such dark paths, that sounds so much cheesier when I say it out loud…heh. You know I’ve just lived some extreme things and it’s only after hitting one of those dark lows and coming back out that I realize what happiness is. That what I thought was happiness before was just a shadow or something.”
“That sounds awfully reductive. Infinite. Because unless you’re saying you’ve hit the final low then you’ll always be looking towards some new level happiness which invalidates the previous definition.”
“Well that’s stupid.”
“Maybe. See I used to think all the answers were locked in pop culture. That was all additive, you know? The first humans find fire and cook food and discover, ‘Shit! That tastes GREAT!’ Then time moves on and we start farming and realize farmed food plus fire is the SHIT! Fast forward through history and each new discovery enters the meme of human thought and is compounded over time until it’s all interconnected, like a massive brain of ideas folded in on itself. So when someone writes a hit love song, or a romantic comedy, a teenage Vampire novel, it’s unintentionally folded up with those connections, the accretions of past human knowledge and if you tease the work properly, all the answers are there.”
“That..actually doesn’t sound so stupid.”
“Well yeah, but I’ve never been able to as Clairee said in Steel Magnolias ‘parlay that into a reason to live.’ I needed something more. So what could be more inductive of continuing to live that the Neverending Story of happiness always waiting around the corner? And the only thing it requires is that you suffer in comparative misery before? Seems like a really…well, perfect actually, way to live.”
“There’s no perfect way to live. Even Atreyu and Bastian figured that out. Wishes are just that – wishes.”
“Except in the end they saved everything, didn’t they?”
“I guess so. Doesn’t prove anything.”
“Yes but ever does?”
“Science proves things.”
“Not really. It just gives a really good impression of it.”
“It’s best Angie Dickinson, eh?”
“Something like that. Nice to see you’re a fan.”
“Well, all the answers ARE in Tori Amos.”
“I’ve felt that way most of my adult life. Even other fans haven’t always agreed.”
“I tend to think the meaning of life is in the song Leather.”
“I mean, no way, because I feel the same way.”
“Oh God, could it be the weather?”
“Oh God, why am I here?”
“So, is this happiness, then? Is a new happiness or an old one?”
“I don’t know. But it’s nice either way.”
“Maybe it will end up becoming something truly dark and terrible…..”
“If it’s not forever…hand my leather!”
“And you’ll hit a low so miserable that you’re next happiness will be the ultimate.”
“That sounds depressing.”
“I guess so. It would mean the end, right?”
“Well would could possibly happen after that?”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
“Is that an invitation?”
“Do you want it to be?”
“Maybe. Yes. Depends.”
“Well. What exactly the invitation entails…”
“Look I’m standing naked before you…don’t you want more than my sex…”
“Now isn’t THAT presumptuous…”
“Such a loaded question.”
“I can think of a few, but none worth asking.”
“Aren’t all questions worth asking?”
“Solipsism at its worst.”
“That is NOT solipsism. Clearly you don’t understand the meaning of yourself.”
“Wouldn’t you like to think so?”
“I know so. Because I know myself so well.”
“I’m beginning to think this could end up being the exact opposite of a dark path.”
“Or perhaps the exact definition of one.”
“There’s the presumption again.”
“It never left. It never does.”
“So, what makes YOU the happiest?”
“That old trick? Turning my own blade against me?”
“Don’t avoid the question! It’s not all the easy is it?”
“Of course it is. I’m only avoiding it because it’s pointless.”
“Pointless? Then why did you ask it?”
“The same reason you think that all the answers to life are folded into Mariah Carey songs or Nicholas Sparks novels.”
“I have never, nor will I ever, read a Nicholas Sparks novel.”
“But you’ve seen The Notebook…”
“I have NOT. I REFUSE.”
“Oh? Such a great moral stance for someone who ‘takes such dark paths.’”
“Mockery doesn’t become you. Maybe if you tried it naked…”
“The only kind worth doing.”
“What if I told you there was no way this date was going to end with us naked?”
“I’d call you a liar.”
“Does all your pop culture knowledge tell you that?”
“No. Just common fucking sense. I can see the way you keep smiling at me.”
“Maybe I just find you funny.”
“Of course you, I’m pretty fucking funny.”
“You still haven’t answered my question. Or really. Your question. What makes you happiest?”
“Awfully single minded, aren’t you?”
“What if I absolutely refuse to answer my own …I mean your question?”
“Then I absolutely will refuse to sleep with you.”
“Who said anything about sleep?”
“Now who’s being presumptuous?”
“Which of us isn’t?”
“This is getting us nowhere.”
“Then answer the question. I answered it.”
“No you didn’t. You artfully skirted it with pointless philosophy disconnected from anything approaching reality.”
“Well it’s a hallmark of mine. I watch TV and read books and listen to music exactly so I CAN disconnect from everything approaching reality while also engaging in pointless philosophy. Haven’t you been listening. So answer the question!”
“What makes me happiest?”
“Don’t try and avoid the question again.”
“Well if I knew the answer do you think I’d be here on a date with you?”
“Again…avoiding the…wait. So you DON’T have an answer to the question?”
“No. I don’t. I have no idea what would make me happiest. If I did I think I’d be so depressed I’d die.”
“Well. When you put it THAT way….”
“Oh, so now who’s avoiding…”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“It’s more difficult than it seems. Especially for me.”
The slap shocked Vena awake. She huddled away from the woman with the protective vest. A pair of orderlies hovered behind the protected woman, glaring down at Vena, bright fluorescent lights over their heads.
“Wha… where am I?” Vena asked. Her mouth tasted… metallic. She wiped at her lips with her hand, saw the streak of red across her thumb and wanted to scream. Brenda’s last gurgling breath came rumbling back to her. Memories of the last few months in isolation clawed at the edges, but Vena had her mind back and she didn’t want to lose it again.
“No.” Vena said. “I won’t go back.”
“Vena?” the protected woman said. “Ms. Lennox?”
Vena glared up at her, pushed herself deeper into the padded corner. The room about her was pulled straight from the set of a movie, the walls and floor covered in soft-looking tufts. Only they weren’t soft at all, but were hard and slick, their roundness deceptive. Like so many things.
“Where am I?” Vena said, looking away, her eyes hurting from the light as though she had just opened them from a long, dark sleep.
“East Louisiana State Hospital.” the protected woman said.
“The fucking crazy hospital?” Vena said, her voice rising an octave. During one of Hank’s many trips to prison he had been held at East Louisiana for almost three solid months, “under observation” had been all they ever told her, or Brenda. It had not been a pleasant time. Thinking it of it reminded Vena of Brenda and she blanched, seeing the dead woman’s gasping mouth in the air before her. With a force of will she pushed the image away. Her breath was hard and fast.
“We don’t call it that.” the protected woman said, her eyes flashing for the briefest moment, with something akin to buried rage.
“Well whatever the fuck you call it.. why am I here?” Vena said, struggling to push herself upright, to begin the process of climbing away from the dark hole she had been in.
“I’ve got a 25 bucks and a cracker…do you think it’s enough?”
“A cracker? 25 dollars?” the protected woman said. “Vena!” she snapped her fingers under Vena’s nose. Far enough away that Vena could not have bitten at them, though the thought did not occur to her.
What the fuck is going on? Why does she think I’d bite her? Oh fuck. Why am I singing Tori Amos songs… I hate Tori Amos.
“Are you here with me, Vena?”
“Um, yes.” Vena said, suddenly aware how dry and cracked her lips were. How long has it been since I’ve had water?
“You’re here because you had a pyschotic break. You killed a woman, Vena. You and your lover, Terrence MacNally.”
Oh, fuck. Ter!
“I didn’t kill anyone! I swear!” Vena rumbled. “I don’t know what is happening.”
The protected woman pursed her lips. One of the orderlies leaned in to whisper over her ear. Vena could read lips. She saw the words, then heard snippets of them in her mind, as though they were whispers in her own ears.
“..Dr. Ramsey…need to go…before she gets violent again…”
The protected woman nodded, a distracted look on her face. She looked down at Vena, pity etched in relief across the rage on her features. To someone not used to finding the rage behind people’s eyes, not used to getting hit and learning how not to get hit, it might not have been so apparent. But Vena was not one of those people. She could read this doctor, could see the secret enjoyment the woman took from watching bound people struggle against bonds she knew they could not break. It gave the wretched bitch a fascinating sense that all was right with the world at the same time that it, for some reason Vena could not divine, royally pissed the doctor off.
“I just want my life back.” Vena said, mostly to herself, but loud enough she could be heard.
The doctor made eye contact with her and twitched a bare, mean little grin.
“You never left it, Vena. Good luck.”