by: Kirk Windus
She was like a planet, if you were matter floating by in space she’d pull you in…
Tim Joseph’s toes hung off of the Cliffside, dangling over the deep blue, inviting water.
Definitely enough to break a leg, he thought. Maybe even for a back, but not nearly dramatic enough. And too much risk. Tim had resolved a long time ago to commit suicide. But like most of his decisions, the resolution had no deadline, and he never rushed things.
It wasn’t so much that he was sad. He was. It was more an issue of a lifelong dance with mediocrity. Tim and the word “memorable” were mutually exclusive concepts. “Two equally boring first names,” he thanked his parents ironically for naming him in his teens. For Tim, mediocrity equated with an insufferable sadness.
“Hey, hot stuff.” With just a slight turn of the head Tim saw her walking towards him. A hand ran innocently under his shirt up and up his back. It was nice, but not seductive. Still, he shook.
“Please don’t patronize me, Sarah.”
“You know, it’s not patronizing if you believe it,” she fired back without a second’s thought.
“I beg to differ. It is patronizing if you’re just saying it to be nice.”
“Sweetie, you know I don’t do anything just to be nice. Not my style.” He knew she wanted to believe it. She wanted to believe she could be the coldest person in the world. Yet even her spite had a subtle hint of emotional investment in it – an overcompensation to appear detached.
“You sure know how to take a compliment, Tim.”
He couldn’t help but notice the way Sarah’s features lit up under the Caribbean sun. Sarah was beautiful – but the type of beautiful that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. Her eyes were nice, but not overly striking. They didn’t quite match the sea below and didn’t look quite like emeralds either. Her lips were full and nice shaped, but nothing like out of a magazine. Her hair too fine to be a model’s. The sum of all of her parts, however, made quite an impression.
“It’s nice isn’t it?” Tim asked, changing the subject.
“Yeah, it kind of calls you home. Don’t you think?”
“Well, as much as it reminds me of old New York….” he said, half sarcastically. Sarah always seemed to operate on a slightly deeper level than he did.
Tim thought about New York for a second and shivered. He could see all the faces buried in their phones, hurrying along without ever looking up. He thought about the people in the diner, rushing even their sandwich order before sprinting out the doors.
It was nothing like yesterday morning, when the people took their time just to say Hi to them as they walked into town. Everyone they passed on the beach gave a smile and a wave. He didn’t miss New York, or the deli he waited tables at, in the least.
“Fuck off. You know that’s not what I meant. It’s just that, well, water is something universal. You know? We all need it to survive, but there’s something even more vital about it. I look down and it’s something more. I don’t want to drink it or take it in. I just want to be one with it. I feel that way about all of this,” Tim said, gesturing towards the endless plane of blue. “Well, how about a swim?”
Sarah laid her head back and kicked her legs up until her body suspended on top of the water – still and stiff. She looked so lifeless, Tim thought for a second, surprised at how shook by the thought he was.
“So peaceful,” she said, as much to herself as to Tim. “If only we could do this all the time. I’m weightless.”
Tim stayed silent. He didn’t want to interrupt her thinking.
“And I swear to God if you make a fat crack, Tim.”
“You already know that I don’t think that about you.” She flung upright until her feet dug back into the sand.
“Well, you don’t tell me either way,” she rebutted.
“You’re beautiful, Sarah. And you should know that.”
“What makes me beautiful? Tell me that.”
“You.” He couldn’t quite think of anything else to tell her. Romanticism was never really his greatest exploit. But he wasn’t lying. She was, and he didn’t know why.
“Well, that means nothing. So I’m going to assume that you’re full of shit.”
He could see the pain behind her eyes. Her eyes were distant, her pupils permanently dilated. She wanted more from him. Not so much from him, just from anyone. And he failed to give that to her.
“I really do love it here. Pretty ironic, why we’re here. Isn’t it?”
He hadn’t really thought of it through the trip. The thought made him shiver. He thought back to the first time he and Sarah met. Tim had just come off a short stint in the hospital. He’d had a rough stretch and took a handful of painkillers. He didn’t think it would kill him. He didn’t really know what would happen, but he knew he couldn’t take anymore of the same old routine.
Upon his release the doctor recommended a support group for people with depression. Tim’s psychological evaluation didn’t turn up anything too awful. The doctor told him he was just sad and lonely and turned him loose with the same insincere pat on the shoulder his parents had been giving him for years.
At the support group’s first meeting he sat with his head down, thinking of a way he could spice up his story, a way that he could make his road here a trepidatious one – a story so awful that even the saddest person in the room would pity him.
Then it came Sarah’s turn to speak. She raised her hand in a wave, her fingers curled like she didn’t have the strength to open her hand all the way. Her eyeliner looked like it had been tossed in a hurry, her makeup a little smeared. He’d been too busy staring into his palms to notice her before, but now he couldn’t tear his eyes away.
“Hi everyone, Sarah’s the name,” she started in a hesitant whisper. “I’ve been coming to this for a few weeks now, and as much as I’ve been enjoying this, uhm, theater of tragedy, I suppose I’m not getting my money’s worth if I don’t participate.” Even through her sarcasm, Tim could hear the hurt in her voice, a slight whimper lurking behind her diction.
“So here goes nothing.” She drew out her words and stroked her wrists with her fingertips. “My mom was not good with men. A lot of guys were in and out when I was growing up. Dad was off God knows where. Hit the road as soon as the old lady said she was with child. Until she met one guy who stuck around for a long time. They talked about getting married, but the money was never right. He was cool at first. Until he lost his job. He then started drinking a lot. He’d curse her out. Throw beer cans at her. Roughed her up a little, but I never heard it get too bad. I was pretty little. It went on like that for a couple years. Then it got worse. He started beating her up. He her with bruises a lot. Her boss thought she was the clumsiest bitch around, with all of her ‘accidents’ and all.
“It all blew up one day,” Sarah continued after a pause to compose herself. “Mom came back from work, and he’d been drinking whiskey all day. He immediately accused her of cheating. Kept pushing her into the wall, then hitting her across the face. Push. Hit. Push. Hit.
“I tried to step in and stop it. I screamed and grabbed his wrists. I was twelve at the time, so he just tossed me off. She started screaming ‘Please stop. I didn’t do anything.’ But he kept beating the shit out of her. Her face was bloodied and she was choking on the blood running down from her nose and spitting it back up. And then she went quiet.
“It was like a switch flipped. He checked her pulse, and when he didn’t feel anything he started to writhe around. He pressed on her ribs, but since he didn’t know how to do CPR it wasn’t much different than when he was beating the shit out of her. He told me to call an ambulance immediately and to shut my mouth and not say a word when they arrived. I didn’t have to, since she looked like she had gone ten rounds with Muhammad Ali. All the paramedics could do when they got there was announce that she had expired.” Sarah said the last part with an almost cruel distance, saying it like a jingle. Her lips curled up in the corners and she mumbled a subtle chuckle.
“So yeah. And my grandparents were already dead, so I got booked into the foster system to find my Daddy Warbucks, along with six other kids. They were nice, but raising an offspring of your own is hard enough, let alone raising other people’s leftovers. The system kids got me into some pretty heavy shit. I was doing a lot of drugs, sleeping around a lot. Basically I was a twin of my old lady! And that’s why I’m here.”
Sarah stood up and curtsied like a Broadway performer, but the room sat in silence. Tim felt her story pressing heavily on his chest. He could hardly breathe. “So who’s next?” she shot out.
The support group moderator asked Tim if he’d like to share anything. He went back to staring into my hands. “Tim, anything?” she asked again.
“Well, I don’t have a story like that or anything. I just feel like no one has ever remembered me. Like I could die tomorrow, and no one would have a clue. I left my parents at home to move to the big city. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I just moved. I can’t get anything more than a waiter job. And who the fuck remembers their waiter? So it just sucks. Barely anyone knows who I am.”
Sarah ran after Tim on the way out of the meeting. “Hey waiter boy! Hold up,” she called. “Was that some kind of joke back there? There’s got to be more than that to your sob story. An angry drunk father? A sex-depraved mother who molested you? Something. Come on.”
“No. That’s really it.”
“Well then,” she scoffed. “I have to admit, that makes you a little bit of a pussy. But that’s okay. How about you come back to my place and we work through your shit? If that’s all you got it shouldn’t take long.”
Hesitant, yet curious, Tim followed Sarah back to her apartment. They stayed up and talked all night. She was like a planet, if you were matter floating by in space she’d pull you in.
Before Tim knew it. They were hanging out every day. She’d tell him stories. Awful horror stories about her life, but she told them like the best of the world’s standup comedians.
Their days apart were no better. He still waited tables. Still went completely undetected most of the time. But he felt like he at least mattered to someone. It was a pretty one sided relationship, but there’s something to be said for being a great audience.
One night they were laying on the roof of her apartment smoking cigarettes together when she asked if he’d ever thought about suicide. He said he had, his whole life. He was going to someday, probably, but just didn’t know when. It was an answer he’d rehearsed forever.
When he asked her she responded, “Every. Single. Day.”
“Let’s make a deal, Tim. We go on one last trip together to Jamaica. It’s like when old dying people do items on their bucket list. Same thing practically. And while we’re there we plan how we do it when we get back. Deal?”
Tim hadn’t given the suicide thing much thought lately. He supposed he actually felt much better now that he had met someone he cared about. But he still felt like in the grand scheme of things he was the definition of forgettable. And that’s how they found themselves under the hot sun in Jamaica.
“You know, Sarah, I’ve been thinking. Maybe we don’t have to do all of this.”
“Tim, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me. I didn’t come all the way here just to turn around and go home and pretend like everything is fine.” He’d never seen Sarah like this before. He’d seen her cry. He’d seen her frustration. But even then there was the hint of a sarcastic smile. All he saw now was rage.
“You said it yourself. It’s beautiful here. We could move here and live together. Go fishing and walk on the beach every day. Just think about it.”
“And do what, Tim? Live together in a dysfunctional little family? Have miserable kids just like their miserable parents? No thanks. I don’t want to bring anyone into the world to deal with the same bullshit we’ve dealt with.”
He’d never thought of them as a family before. There was never even a hint of romance in their relationship. But he liked the sound of having a family with Sarah.
“No, I’m out Tim. I need a walk. When I come back we’re making plans or I’m going home.”
Sarah swam back to shore and stormed off on a foot trail. Tim stood in the water, stunned. He looked out onto the horizon, deep out into the sea. The vastness of it all overcame him. He felt tiny. But that thought didn’t hurt. He couldn’t decide how to position himself in all of it, and all he could hear was the swell of the waves around him and a pulsing in the water. Tim closed his eyes and dove down under the blue water. He felt his body swaying with the tide and the waves above, the pressure pushed on his ears. He didn’t count the seconds like he used to as a kid, and he pushed back to the surface and swallowed the air before deciding to go for a walk of his own.
He walked up the path from the beach to the bar across the street. He sat down next to a man he recognized from the plane ride.
“Hey! You’re that guy from the plane,” the man said. “You were with that woman. Very pretty one she is.”
“Yeah,” Tim replied with a sigh. “She’s something alright.”
“No, no. Just friends,” Tim said.
“Oh, one of those. I can drink to that.” The man raised his pink colored drink, with a pineapple pierced on the rim, to his lips.
“Yeah, she’s a complicated one.”
“You can’t worry about what you can’t control,” the man replied. “You’re in paradise. These are the things you worry about when you get home.”
Tim looked out and watched a pelican land in the sand. Watched kids splashing in the tide. He stayed for a while before excusing himself to go home for a nap.
Tim awoke to a knock on the door. “Good news, Tim. I’ve decided not to kick your ass. Although your sudden reluctance is completely emasculating to you, you may help us along. Now let’s plot.” Sarah walked to the bed and flung her body onto it like a kid eager to jump on the boxspring. “I’m thinking antifreeze.”
“Sarah, I’m not doing it.”
“Okay, Tim. Shut the – “
“Sarah, I’m not doing it,” he said with the hint of a smile. It was only the second time he’d ever seen her so furious. But the word family rang in his ears, and he kind of liked the look on her face, her lips pursed out, inviting.
“I can’t do it, Sarah. I’m not sure I ever wanted to. And since meeting you, I definitely don’t want to. Let’s stay here. We’ll figure it out.”
“I wasn’t joking earlier, Tim,” she said, less angry now. “I’m not staying here to have some weird sexually ambiguous relationship with you. And I can’t do kids. Period.”
“Wait, sexually ambiguous?” he started. She stood up and started emptying her clothes into a bag.
“Look, Tim. You’re a good guy. If I was a little less fucked up I might consider it. But I can’t do it anymore. I can’t. I give you credit though. Takes balls.”
He didn’t know what he’d expected, but he expected more of a dialogue than Sarah’s quiet soliloquy. He sat in silence while she packed her bag. He’d known her long enough to know he probably couldn’t change her mind.
She finished packing and looked at him with a subtle smile, one half of her lips tugging upward. “This is where we part my friend. I’ve enjoyed every second. And I can’t say that about much, especially any prior sexual engagements. But I’ve got to be moving on. If you won’t join me on my journey, I have to find someone else.” Sarah leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. She lingered close, like Tim knew she always would. The taste of nicotine hung on his lips as she walked away. He knew she was gone. She was gone the moment he met her.
“Sarah, I’ll see you on the other side.” Tim started to say more, but she nodded, knowing what came next.
“I’ll be waiting, love,” Sarah winked, sweet and mocking.
Tim walked out to the shore. Steel drums echoed in the distance, and the mountains sang behind him and the wind rustling the trees. The waves rolled onto his toes. He heard the gentle crash of the waves and the sea’s swell.