Chapter 2 – Tree of Life

My eyes open slowly and I lean up from the floor, the air, I can’t tell what it is. I’m suspended, but somehow I have weight and substance in the swirling grey-black of open expanse. I gaze out at the nothingness around me and find that he’s still here, my tormentor and my guide. I pull myself to a sitting position and notice an eerie incessant beeping that echoes throughout this limbo. If this is what I earned in life, then I’m not who I thought I was.

The expanse before me seems to open and a small sliver of warming light breaks through. “Come on baby…” Bette? Bette… I stand abruptly to run to her voice but no matter how hard I push to reach her, she is still just out of reach. “Come on darling…” I push harder but she’s still just beyond me. I hear Abraxas laugh as her thoughts reverberate in my mind. ‘God let me steal this moment from her now…’ I slow to a stop and instead I close my eyes as I listen harder to absorb the strength and confidence of her. “Come on angel… come on…” I’m here Bette. I’m trying, but I don’t know how to reach you. “…come on darling…” I push again to reach out to her, trying to grab ahold, to cling onto her voice, but I just can’t. I just can’t, and tears streak my face with this knowledge, this bittersweet paradise. How I wish I were as strong as her. ‘God, please, please… let me exchange this experience with her…’

Her voice is rough with recognizable tears and my own fall harder. “Bette! I’m so sorry. I don’t know how!”

 “T… don’t leave me… please…” I start running again and Abraxas chuckles as he watches me struggle and reach and plead and falter. “T… if not for me, then for our daughter… don’t you hear me?” I hear you… I hear you! I pick up my pace, sweat pouring from my non-corporeal body as I push and sprint and reach. “Our daughter needs you damnit! T… please… Angelica needs you. You haven’t even met her… don’t you want to?”

I cry out to her through my tears. “Yes! Of Course! I need you both!”

“She’s beautiful T… just like you.” I laugh through my tears. “She’s so tiny, and she’s struggling… just like you…” I slow to a stop, puffing with exhaustion and the heavy weight of grief as I consider her words. “They say… they say that she will make it, T… but with you…” She’s crying and my soul shudders at the sound. “…they just don’t know. Only you do…” Who are they? Who says I may or may not make it? Is there a chance to make it?

I turn back to Abraxas who has a dark gleam in his eye. “Don’t listen to her.” He walks up to me, circling me slowly. The hypnotic way he moves makes the inky black tresses of his shroud billow around him in still life relief, and the eerily beautiful flutter of it gives me reason enough to hear what he’s saying, to maybe believe him. “She’s lying to you. You’re dead, and you’re mine…” He stops in front of me and reaches up with his boney hand to stroke my face. I feel myself recoil from the icy touch but the tendrils of it cling to me, making me feel as if I’ll never know happiness or laughter or cheerfulness again. “…because you…” He smiles. “…are a liar…”

“Talk to me, T… tell me you’re going to be okay… let me hear your voice… just once… at least one more time…”

I push him away from me and he chuckles unaffected. “You know I’m right.” He points to the ray of light that is diminishing to nothingness. “See. See how she leaves you here… she leaves you. She has before, she is now, and with or without your daughter, she would have again.”

“NO!” I rush past him as fast as I can and lunge for the light, for her, only to fall and hit hard on the emptiness beneath me, as if I’ve landed on thick, suspended glass. The air is pushed from my lungs violently, and I roll to my back as I feel my eyes roll up into the back of my head. The wispy sound of my voice and the fading beeping rhythm are the last sounds to echo through the vastness as the light is shut out completely. “I don’t… believe you…”

 


 

“I cannot rest from travel; I will drink Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those that loved me, and alone…” I hear her and see the glow of red light shine behind my eyelids. I open them and gaze at it, my hope in the darkness, my wife. The beeping is back along with her velvet and proud voice as she reads poetry to me. She reads poetry… to me…

I smile around the single tear that escapes my eye and rolls across my nose to fall through my illusionary floor. Mom used to say that the only true intimacy between two people is when you read poetry. And so the only true act of betrayal is when you share poetry with someone other than your beloved. Abraxas hears my thoughts and scoffs. “Poetry? You buy that?”

I look to him with all the conviction I have within me. “Well, it’s true.” He grins at me as if placating me but I ignore him as I continue. “My father, he had an affair with this pretty, young law student who clerked for him at his first job, and my mother was never threatened.”

His grin grows maniacal. “So… you wouldn’t mind if Bette had an affair with… say, Kelly?”

I look to the light that’s so close yet infinitely far away as it grows dimmer. “I’m not saying that.” He smirks at me. “I’m not my mother.”

“So it wouldn’t be the ultimate betrayal?”

I sigh. “That’s what I’m saying.” I sit up and reach for the light but my hand is no closer. “See my father, during his first election campaign, had this um…” I drop my hand and place it with the other in my lap. “…old war horse of a campaign manager, Dotty Arbuckle.” I snort a short, incredulous laugh and face Abraxas head on. “Not a pretty woman, let me tell you.” He grins disconcertingly. “She worked for Bill Benton during the Reagan administration.”

“So your dad was in government?”

I look down at my hands. “Yeah, he was three term mayor of Yuma Arizona… rabid, right-wing Republican… hideous. Anyway, Dotty would send him home every night with a poem, and then he would call her late… and they would read it together on the phone, and…talk about what it meant.” I look back up to him. “And there was my father on the phone late at night talking symbols and literary illusions…” He smirks again and I raise an eyebrow at him. “…while my mom stood around the corner and listened.” I take a deep breath. “Then she told him it had to stop…” I purse my lips. “…and when it didn’t, she just picked up the three of us and uh, moved us… to Atlanta Georgia.”

His voice is a deep, knowing timbre as he says, “Mmm, harsh.”

I shake my head. “It was decisive.”

He nods and says, “I know.” I furrow my brows at him. “I’m the father of lies and deceit and I am as old and eternal as the primordial muck your pathetic kind crawled out of. You think I don’t know?”

I feel the anger his words inspire well up in my chest and I contain it before the fading light burns a little brighter. “She’s just so precious, T. I can’t wait to see your face light up when you meet her. She’s just so beautiful…” A watery smile lights my face as I close my eyes to not only hear her, but listen intently. “I visited her earlier today and the most amazing thing happened. I had my hands in the large gloves and I was touching her, just touching her, willing her to know how much she’s loved.” Quiet tears escape my eyes and I sniff as I swipe at them. “She reached up, T… she reached up to me with her tiny hand and grabbed my finger. It couldn’t even get all the way around it, but…” I hear her laugh and can’t help but join her. “…but her grip is so strong…so wonderfully strong…”

I hear soft footfalls and the light starts to dim again. “How… how is she?” How is who, and who is she talking to?

A detached but feminine voice responds. “She’s just fine. She’s resting comfortably. I’ll be back in to turn her in just a moment.” She’s fine… turn her… Abraxas laughs at me and I glare at him as I lay back down, listless and resigned to just listen to her.

“Why do you still ponder and dream and… hope? Don’t you know where you are, how hopeless it truly is?”

I consider his question for only a moment before the last of the fading light fills the room in a gloriously radiant beam. “I love you, T… so much…” Abraxas shrinks back from it in fear and it dies out as abruptly as it came. I gaze at him and realize that this is his weakness… love… hope…all the things he can neither comprehend nor tolerate. I smile at him and his face goes pale with feral cruelty. For a moment I’m afraid, afraid of him, afraid of what this all means, but it doesn’t last long. He can’t harm me, at least not my love and hope; I know it and he knows it, and the reason is because I love so fully its warmth surrounds me like a shield perfectly made just to thwart him in his desire to destroy my soul.

He leans in close in a disturbingly twisted manner that seems entirely unnatural and says, “Your love…” He says the word as if he has to choke on it to get it out. “…is flawed and faltered and lacks the trust to thrive. It would not have lasted there in life, and it won’t last long here in death. You lie to yourself. If you loved her, you’d have seen what was right in front of you. But you are too bound up in fear to know love. And believe me, he is a good friend of mine. I know all too well how deeply he has embedded himself in you.”

He smiles at me and I close my eyes against the truth undulating from his silver, serpent’s tongue. I love her and I know she loves me, but I neglected to realize the changes in her, to let that change and that love reach me. Instead I hurt her with it. He laughs triumphantly as he sits back smugly.

But now I know, and my soul feels the hope that none of this is permanent, that there is still a chance to learn and grow and tell her that I see her, that I accept the gifts she’s given me, that I trust her implicitly because she is my rock, my cornerstone, my hearth and home. His smile falters and I beam at him through my tears. My moment of joy doesn’t last long as he reaches out an icy hand and clamps it around my throat. I gasp and choke and grasp at him weakly before going slack and sinking into oblivion.

 


 

“Tina, I know you can hear me.” My eyes flutter open. There’s no light but the smell of coffee and pastries fills the void and a strong familiar voice sounds in my mind. “I believe you’re in there and I believe you’re fighting. Just fight… fight with everything you got baby girl… for your daughter and for my impossible baby sister that won’t leave your side until you wake up.” I smile. Thank you, Kit. I can win this; I can get through it… but how? I look over to a brooding Abraxas and wonder. What is it that’s supposed to happen here? What small thing am I overlooking?

“This is your home. Come on, baby girl. Come back home…” I smile a sad smile. I’ll find a way. I just have to figure it out. Abraxas stands abruptly and walks to me, not missing a stride as he leans down to backhand my face so harshly and with so much preternatural strength, that I swear I feel it tear open and cauterize at the same time. I hit the glass floor that tethers me here and a small, dim shaft of light breaks through for just a moment, and my tower, my wife’s playful voice, reaches out to me to lend me her infinite strength. “I know you can smell this incredible vanilla latte. Why don’t you wake up and I’ll let you have every last drop of it.”

The shaft is gone and I reach up to feel my shattered and broken face. The pain is searing and intense but I push it aside as I gaze up at Abraxas’s angry visage. “I know there’s a way…” My words are cut off by the sharp, puncturing pain that follows the heavy progress of his booted foot. I cough and sputter blood as I smile at him through the agony. “I’ll figure it out… I… I love…”

He kicks me again to shut me up and I curl further in on myself, clutching my now gaping torso. “…I love, Abraxas… I love…”

“SHUT UP!” The last thing I see is his booted foot come down hard on my face before utter blackness.

 


 

I feel the sharp pang of light sting my eyes behind my tightly shut lids. “Thank you for coming today, for being here. It means a lot.” I try to open my eyes, try to will myself up from the agonized depths of sleep and heaviness to listen to all she’s saying in the murky background, but I can’t even unfurl myself a small amount. The pain is too great. I’m not sure how much time passes before I finally hear her again. “T?” Bette… I’m here. I’m trying… I’m trying baby…“T… come on baby, what’s wrong…?” I feel my heart flutter and the beeping in the void increase. “T, can you hear me?”

I push myself hard to wake and meet her but the weight of the void is just too much. I feel a hand in my own and squeeze with all the strength I have in me before I cry out and collapse bonelessly. “T, if you can hear me, I love you…”

The light grows in intensity but I can’t open my eyes. I can feel the angry aura of my incredulous guide and hear his sweeping movements as he paces around me. I need to figure this out, to get out of here. “Babe… Babe… I’m coming… please talk to me, say something…” My voice is weak and mumbled, but I manage. God my limbs are so heavy. “Bette… BETTE… talk to me, help me, please…” Abraxas laughs but it’s neither demoralizing nor encouraging, and I realize that he hates because there is no hope of love for him. I pity him. “I pity you…”

He stops moving and I can feel his weighted gaze pierce me. “It must be… so, so lonely… to spend eternity like this…”

I feel his warm breath pant as he leans down and in close to me. “You think I’m lonely, dear one?”

I flutter my heavy lids and manage to gaze at him through the slits. “How could you not be lonely? I’ve been here… I don’t even know how long… but to spend forever… like this, it’s… it’s a fate worse than death. I can’t help but have…compassion… for you…”

He reaches into the hole in my torso and clutches my heart in his hand, the icy tendrils of his very lack of a soul hardening it more than his tight, painful grasp. I cry out and tears roll down my face to fall into eternity. “You can hurt me all you want, but…” I gasp as his grip grows tighter. “…I…I forgive you anyway…”

His face turns to stone before my eyes as he slowly withdraws his hand. I release a relieved sigh as the shudders of torture roll through my nerves so intensely it almost deadens them. His words are clipped as he spits them out. “You lie!”

We both snap our heads to the light as we hear Alice’s voice. “…but I think I figured it out. I just… I never got to tell her.” What is she talking about?

Bette’s voice is angry and her words short. “If she needed to talk to me, she would have come to me, Alice.”

Alice snorts. “You two have come a long way, but you’re both still so fucking blind. Worse than me and Dana were…”

God Alice… not now… please not now. “Alice, I really… really… don’t have any patience for this right now.”

“No, you were too patient before and now…” There’s a loaded pause. “Now… I don’t know… it might be too…”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence…” There’s a loud crashing sound. “…in fact, you need to just mind your own fucking business. I’m so sick of it Alice. I’ve swallowed it and swallowed it and you choose here and now of all fucking times to attack me!?”

“She just needed some advice, some help, I thought that…” No, what I needed was Bette but I was scared. I was scared and I ran, just like I have been this whole fucking time…

You thought…?”

“Bette, you know what… you wouldn’t tell her what was wrong… she didn’t feel like you wanted to participate…”

I close my eyes. I was such a fool, such a fool. I should have just told her… everything. I wanted her to trust me, to tell me her inner most thoughts, but I couldn’t do the very thing I was asking. “So you decided to just step in for me; you’d talk to her for me; you’d help her find a donor?!”

Alice’s voice becomes whiny and agitating. “I just tried to be there for my friend!”

Bette, it’s not her fault. It’s mine. Yell at me. I’m here; I’m listening. “Fuck you!”

“Fuck me?!”

“Yeah, fuck you! You know, weren’t you my friend?” I sigh. That’s not fair.

“I’m still your friend, I’m totally your friend, but you can be a little cruel…” I close my eyes and shake my head. Alice, don’t do this. This is my job, not yours damnit. “I’ve been there, I remember…”

“That’s low…” It really was. “You and I dated for six weeks. It was never going to go anywhere. I did us both a favor…”

“It’s just… Tina needed someone and you weren’t there…” No Bette! Don’t you dare believe that! You were there! I was the one not seeing it! I was the one not believing and trusting despite everything you’ve done.

Why would Alice do this to her now? “Well, tell you what, my friend, you can judge me all you want to but don’t you dare interfere with my life like that, okay? Don’t cross that line again. Tina’s my wife, that child out there struggling for her life is our child. We still have things to work out but it’s neither your business nor your place to get involved. Next time, why don’t you practice some self-control and give advice that would have her come to me… not keep her coming to you…”

I should have come to you Bette. I was wrong… I’m so sorry… “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to cross a line…”

I lower my head and feel the tears fall and escape through the barrier beneath. I’m so sorry Bette. There’s just so much to say, to explain. “Did you hear all that? You should have come to me!” I close my eyes and cry harder. “I should have helped you look for donors!” I’m so sorry babe… so sorry. “Wake up damnit! Wake up and talk to me!” I push up from the floor with all I have in me to go to her, to find a way, but Abraxas puts his boot on my back and slams me back down hard. The air escapes me and I reach my hand towards the light. “I’ll tell you anything… everything! You want to know what I’m keeping from you?! Fine! Wake the fuck up and talk to me!”

“Yes… I want to talk to you…” My arms falls to the floor as the light dims and his boot grinds hard into my spine. “No!” The tears fall harder. “No, please let me go… I forgive you… I love her… I forgive her and she needs to forgive me…” I manage to get somewhat to my side and grab at his knee, sending him tumbling to the ground, and start to crawl toward the light that’s shutting as I get no further than where I started. It closes completely and I feel his icy hand clutch my leg and shatter the bone in his crushing grip. I cry out in pain and the blackness takes me, relieving me of it.

 


 

I wake with a startled yelp as I feel myself free fall through the imaginary floor, the annoying hum of a steady note fills the void along with my terrified cry. I pant heavily as the free fall continues and feel a sudden jolt of pain and bone clenching intensity sweep through me. I curl in on myself and the fall grows steadily faster.

My muscles release me only to do it again, but this time I just let go and let it have me. I have no idea how long this goes on as it repeats, or how many times I’m washed in electric agony as I fall; but they keep coming, each pause to catch my breath shorter and each new jolt harsher than the last.

Just as the last sweep of pain washes through me, a bright light fills the void and I slam hard into the imaginary glass floor, leaving a spider web of unsteady fissures beneath me, threatening to release me again. I find the will to lethargically pull myself up onto my elbows and crawl away, but the creaking shriek of breaking glass follows me. I lie still and the hum of shrill noise turns to a rhythmic beep once again. I cry, I cry piteously as Abraxas approaches me, spreading the breaking fissures even more. “Don’t,” I cry, but he doesn’t seem to care. He’s a demon, a demon of lies, why would he?

He crouches down with a crunching sound that reverberates in my soul and meets my gaze. His face suddenly morphs into my father’s and I have to catch my breath. “F… father?” He glares at me in that familiarly disapproving way as I hear my brother’s voice. “Thank you for letting me be here. I’ve missed so much already.”

We both turn to gaze at the bright light. “I’m just glad one of you cares.” Tom? Tom’s here…?

“I deserved that.” There’s a loaded pause. “But I do. I truly do.”

I close my eyes as the tears fall harder. “Then that’s all that matters. Do you… need a minute alone with her?”

“No. There’s nothing I would say to her that I wouldn’t say in front of you. You’re her other half. You complete each other.” I can’t help but smile through my tears. We do. I turn to my father with renewed strength and his dark black eyes become even cooler with menace as we listen.

“Thomas…”

I close my eyes with satisfaction at this confirmation. “Please call me Tom, Bette.”

I turn back to gaze at the light and I feel like I can almost see him. “Tom… where do you plan to stay?”

“I was in such a hurry to get here I hadn’t really given it much thought. I’ll find a room somewhere close-by.”

“Nonsense. We have a fully stocked guest room. You’ll stay with me.” Thank you Bette. Thank you so much for honoring what I would have wanted when I know it must be so difficult for you right now.

I can hear the warm, disbelieving grin in his voice. “If it’s no trouble… I’d really like that.”

“Come with me. I have something to show you and then you can go get settled.” No, please don’t go… don’t leave me here… stay with me… I’ll find a way to you, I promise, Bette… I love you…

I turn back to my father’s gaze once the dimming light is swallowed by the blackness. His black eyes gape at me curiously as he opens his mouth. “You were always so pathetic, even as a child. You really think that you can make it with her… with, with a woman?” He stands and the glass gives a little beneath me but I refuse to lay here and take this… ever again.

I pull myself to a somewhat standing position. It takes several long moments, maybe even hours or days or months… there is no conception of time here, but I finally face him with renewed determination.

He approaches me swiftly and reaches his arm back to hit me but I manage to reach a shaky arm up and glance it away with a weak block. I gaze hardly at him and release a deep breath, and with it all the wrong, the pain, the years of needless neglect and indifferent benevolence. Tears fall quietly from my eyes as I gaze at him with compassion. “I forgive you…”

His face turns stony and he crosses his arms over his chest before he morphs into Katherine, my sister. She leers lecherously at me and I close my eyes against the onslaught of memory. She scoffs and I meet her eyes again. “Don’t pretend, Christina. We both know you liked it. After all…” Her Cheshire grin reaches her black eyes and she reaches a clammy finger up to run it across my lips down to my breast. “…you turned out to be a dyke, and now you’re going to hell…” She giggles. “…wait, no, you are in hell.”

I let a single tear fall as I gaze at her and find it within myself to mean what I’m about to say. “I forgive you, Kathy…” Her grin falls and her face hardens before morphing into Bette. I know… I see it… I know it’s not her. The soulful eyes are black and empty and so unlike her.

The power radiating off of her isn’t the usual comforting security that I crave like the very air, but the menacing aura of indifference. However, just seeing her… hearing her voice even as it says, “Well I don’t forgive you, T…,” is like a dream come true.

She says my name so harshly that I have to swallow the grief it causes, my greatest fear playing out before my eyes. She sighs. “Listen, I’m just tired of you. I’m tired of following you around like a lovesick puppy. I’m tired of bending over backwards to meet your needs when you don’t even see me. I just… I don’t want it anymore…” She snorts and meets my gaze with her cold one. “You couldn’t even give me what a carpenter could.”

The pain of it is still real and tears fall, this time crashing into the broken floor, but I won’t hold it any longer. “I forgive you… and I love you… and I’m so sorry I failed you.” She smirks incredulously and something tries to snap together in my mind. It’s on the very tip of my tongue…

Her face starts to melt and she lets out a cry of frustration as she reaches up and pulls the soggy flesh from bone, revealing Abraxas. “You lie! There’s no hope! Stop thinking it!”

The light pierces through the darkness and this time it’s so bright I am forced to close my eyes. Abraxas crouches down and covers himself with his shroud as my life, my wife, calls to me from the other side.

“Is it worth it… letting someone in?” Shane?

“This may sound cliché, but it’s something daddy used to quote to me, and it struck a chord in me. ‘Life is a storm, my young friend. You’ll bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man,’ or in this case a woman…” I can hear the proud smile in her voice and it revitalizes my heart. “…a wonderfully warm, loyal, and trustworthy woman that deserves to know unconditional love…” I hear Shane sniff and I smile. “…‘is what you do when that storm comes.’ Is it worth it?” I can almost see her look at me with those gorgeous almond orbs, strong jaw, and proud, sure smile. “Without a doubt.”

I smile through my tears, absorbing some of her strength. She is my tower, my stronghold, and I let the honesty of that, the sheer and utter honesty of it, absorb into my dry and weary soul. Whatever I did in life to deserve this place of nothingness, I must have done something right for her to even look at me, let alone love me so thoroughly. “Bette… I’m sorry for… hitting you… and for not being here…” There’s a loaded pause. “…if it’s any consolation, staying away was eating me alive.”

“You’re here now; that’s all that matters.” I smile again. She’s right. It’s never too late.

I hear Shane clear her throat. “I should go…”

I would give anything to go, to wake up and go to my wife, my shelter throughout this storm. “Shane?” I close my eyes and wish she’s say my name with that smoothly controlled voice. “Even if you have to face something like this, it’s still worth it. Just… think about it.”

The light dims but it doesn’t fade completely and I marvel as it stays put. I can’t hear anything from the other side but the gentle thrum of one high pitched rhythmic noise but there is a warming calm that settles over me that I feel like I haven’t experienced in an eternity.

I look back to Abraxas and crawl up to hobble over to him, crouching down to remove the shroud from his eyes. He flinches and I cover him in revulsion. In the light, he’s wearing his hate and deception so fully, that he’s hideously mutated. The floor beneath us cracks a little more and I realize time, whatever that is, is running out. “I understand now. I’ve figured it out. Love isn’t enough.” He flinches at the word and I continue. “Love is helpless in the face of unforgiveness.” His clutch on his cloak turns white knuckled with angry intensity. “I forgive you…” He turns to me in his own revulsion. “I forgive you, I forgive my father, and I forgive Bette.”

 He sneers snidely. “You still haven’t figured it out.”

“Feeling better rested?” I close my eyes turn back towards the bright beacon that is my wife’s strong comfort, letting it wash over my face in its reassuring strength.

“Sorry I slept so late.”

I hear Tom scoff at Bette and my hope is further bolstered. I look back to Abraxas. “I forgive my mother, I forgive my brother…” I lean in close to him but he doesn’t pull away. “…I even forgive my sister.”

He laughs a shaky laugh at me. “You still haven’t figured it out, girl.”

“You needed it. I’m glad you got it.” I look back to the light and try to think. What am I forgetting? “Cute bear…”

I love them all. I forgive them all. I’ll forgive anyone to get back to my family. “I bought this for Angie and Tina had been sleeping with it so that it would smell like her. We planned to put it in her crib to comfort her…” Tears well in my eyes. I was so blind. She wanted this family, so much. I just couldn’t seem to realize it. How sad that it took this for my stubborn heart to accept it. I was a fool… an utter fool. Abraxas laughs at me again and I turn back to his smug but pain filled face.

“You missed your sister. She decided to let you rest. She is quite the character.”

What am I missing? Is love and forgiveness not enough? “What time did you get here?”

“About seven am. I spent most of the day reading and talking to her.” I must have been passed out. “I don’t want to alarm you or give you false hope, but… she moved.” My eyes widen with hopeful longing at his words. I’m there, there’s a way, I just have to find it. “They think she was in pain, but she didn’t wake or have another episode like yesterday. I… I’m so sorry Bette. I hate to tell you that, but I thought you should know. She settled down quickly and she’s been normal for the last several hours.”

I hear the rustling of a bag and I swear I can almost feel Bette touch my face. I close my eyes as the soothing miracle of my wife’s touch tracks over the gaping and bruised skin there, a warm tingling left in its wake. I reach up to find the hole has been healed and tears fill my eyes. Her love, her very touch, heals my very soul. “I’m sorry I slept so late, T. But you only come to me in my dreams, so sleep becomes addicting.” I’ve been so blind. “I… I miss you. Please come back to me.” I’m so sorry Bette… so very sorry…

I turn back to Abraxas knowing that I’m safe in the light, in her, and just like the light, one flickers on in my mind. I smile warmly at him. “I forgive myself Abraxas… I love myself, and forgive myself.” He glares at me as he shrinks further in on himself as he starts to dissolve right in front of me with a terrified cry of anger and pain. The intensity of it starts to shake the expanse and the unstable glass beneath me starts to give way and part in places.

I struggle back onto my broken leg and clutch my sucking chest wounds as I start a slow crawling trek toward the light. Time is up, and I’m not sure if I’m making any progress, but if this is my last, then I’ll give it my all. I hear her, my wife, talking to me. “Dear Lucky but Wounded…” Lucky but wounded? “The pain of failure runs only as deep as the love you possess, for you cannot feel remorse of that magnitude without first feeling the high reaching hope of devoted faithfulness…” Is this a poem?” “…And while the aspiration to honor your beloved is passionate and profound, it’s the failure that has the power to haunt you for the rest of your life, when you should instead be focusing on the very reason you’re living it.”

The floor is giving way and pulling apart, and I’m starting to have to jump over pieces as her words empower me. My broken leg and weakened condition are trying to hold me here, but I won’t allow it. She calls to me like my champion, my siren, her sweet song instilling her strength into me, helping me find the way home. “If the anguish of your failure is as deep as you describe, then take heart that your love and devotion are just as strong, if only you would choose to acknowledge that truth. If your love for each other is as soul rending as mine and Romeo’s, then do not do as we did. Have the courage to live and live honestly. The bravery of being truthful is the only way to honor the depth of your commitment and prove your goodwill.”

I jump over a wider gap and stumble, falling to the side and clinging to its jagged edges. I look down below into the swirling grey-black oblivion and panic. “Love is the only power that can overcome any obstacle, right any wrong, and transcend even the finality of death, because it is utterly honest.” I pull with all I’m worth, tearing new holes in my worn and destroyed body as I somehow heave myself up over the serrated edges, utterly exposing myself from the inside out with a cry of pain and anxious desperation. I love her; I can do this.

How can she see you if you don’t expose yourself? How can she truly consider you if you aren’t making yourself known? Give yourself over to that love, and if she is half as devoted as you are, she will see you, she will see your desire to carry a child and contribute to your growing family. But most importantly, you will have shaken loose the destructive grip that clutches at your heart.”

I slow at these words or maybe the hot, slowly creeping flow of thick blood running out of me. She wants to carry a child, our child? I close my eyes against the tears of just how much I have to make up for. On our honeymoon, the donor list… that’s how I hurt her. That’s why she was so withdrawn. I can’t let it end like this. I have to make this right; I have to get to her.

The void shakes and rumbles and I start to try to run, limping and struggling on my way to her. “So to answer your question, if it had all worked out so differently; if I had been honest with my family, and if I had been blessed with even one lifetime with my Romeo, I would grab onto that opportunity with both hands and shake every last drop of forgiveness, love, strength, and fortitude from it with jubilant revelry. You need only the courage to follow your heart. I have faith it will lead you straight to her, and her straight to you. After all, all roads go both ways.”

I see the light starting to shut as the glass falls away into the utter blackness below, and I reach my hand out to touch the light, to touch her. I need to get to her. I need her, no matter where I am. I will always need her. The portal is closing and I reach harder, push myself harder, try to walk faster on my twisted and shattered leg, clutching my broken and gaping torso, but I’m just not fast enough, not strong enough.

Just as my hand reaches the light, the remainder of the glass beneath me shudders and groans and falls away, sucking me down with it. I watch my hand fall through the blinding depths of what should have been my future, and cry out as I free fall into oblivion. “NO!”


Continued in Chapter 3 – Death is the road to awe.

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