Authors: Megan Nugen Isbell
“Try and get some rest,” she said, stroking Kathryn’s hair again.
Kathryn closed her eyes, wanting to erase the nightmare from her mind, but the moment her eyelids closed the horrific image of Ben tangled among the tubes, lying helplessly in the hospital bed
, consumed her. She shook her head trying to banish the memory from her thoughts, but it wouldn’t go away. She opened her eyes quickly and met the gaze of her mother, who looked down at her with worried eyes.
“I close my eyes and all I see is him,” she cried.
“I’m so sorry,” her mom said. She folded down the covers and crawled in bed next to her daughter, wrapping her in her arms. Kathryn’s tears soon soaked her mother’s shirt and showed no signs of stopping.
“Why is this happening?” Kathryn asked in vain, knowing it was a question that could not be answered.
“I don’t know honey…I don’t know.”
Her father sat
down at the foot of the bed holding a glass of water.
“Why don’t you take these
, honey?” he said holding out the glass and two white pills to her.
“What are these?” she questioned.
“It’s just something to help you get some rest,” he explained. “It’ll help put your mind at ease.”
“Are you kidding me
, Dad?” Kathryn yelled. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Nothing is going to put me at ease. Not you, not Mom, and certainly not some kind of magic pill! Ben’s dead! He’s gone and he’s never coming back! Do you get that? He’s
!” she screamed diving toward her father, smacking the glass and pills from his hand. The glass landed harshly on the hardwood floor, shattering into a thousand pieces among the puddle of clear liquid. Her father grabbed her tightly as Kathryn’s fists pounded against his chest. “He’s
!” she screamed again before giving up and collapsing in his arms. He held her as she hung limply in defeat. Her mother crawled out of bed and began cleaning up the mess on the floor. Her father picked her up again and without any protest from Kathryn, placed her back in bed.
“I’m sorry Dad,” she said quietly, but he knew he didn’t need to reply. “Can you get me those pills again?” she asked meekly a moment later, afraid to admit she wanted them, but knew she needed them. She wanted to close her eyes and escape this hell, even if it was just for a little while.
He nodded and left the room, returning a few moments later with a fresh glass of water and two new pills. She sat up just far enough to swallow them down and then returned her head to the pillow, curling up in a ball, trying to push down the torture that was consuming her. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly, willing all the images and thoughts of Ben, both good and bad, to stay away and let her be. She wanted to forget. She formed a black circle in her mind and focused all of her energy on concentrating on it to keep from letting any other thoughts in, but no matter how hard she tried, the visions of Ben found their way into her brain, causing the hole in her heart to grow larger with each tear and deeper with each breath. But soon, her head began to swim and she felt her body and mind relaxing, becoming tingly and calm from head to toe. Her thoughts all began to converge as one, meshing together until she couldn’t differentiate between one image and the next. Ben’s face swirled in her thoughts like a kaleidoscope, colors blending and separating creating indistinguishable pictures that were soon replaced with blackness and the feeling of falling until Kathryn was finally asleep and free from her pain.
She slept restlessly, tossing and turning and finally woke up when it was dark again. When she opened her eyes, the lights from downstairs were traveling up to her room almost willing her to wake up. For a split second everything seemed normal. She had forgotten for a brief moment about what had happened to Ben before she looked around, realizing she was at home in her bedroom and not her apartment. The reason why came flooding over her in an instant and she felt sick. Flinging back the covers and running, she barely made it to the bathroom in time. After vomiting, she collapsed into the corner of the bathroom and curled herself into a ball, holding her knees to her chest and burying her face in the darkness.
“Are you okay Kathryn?” her mother’s voice called from the bathroom door.
She looked up at her mother through swollen eyes and shook her head. She walked over to her daughter and helped her stand up.
“You need something to eat,” her mom said and began to lead her downstairs. She didn’t argue this time. She’d been sick and hadn’t eaten anything since dinner at the Bradley’s on Sunday night
, when Ben was still with her. Her stomach was aching from hunger and she knew she needed to eat.
Once downstairs, she saw her father sitting on the couch watching TV. He looked up at her and she could see the pity in his eyes, not knowing what to say. She went and sat down on the opposite end of the couch while her mother went to the kitchen. She stared mindlessly at the screen, not paying attention to the images or noise coming from it. She could hear plates and silverware clanking as her mother prepared her something to eat. Then she heard a familiar beep indicating a text message on her phone, which had been tucked away in her purse and was sitting on the counter. She hadn’t looked at her phone since Luke had called to tell her about Ben being in the hospital. She didn’t want to deal with it, but it beeped again.
“It’s been going off all day,” her dad said.
“I’ll go shut it off,” she said, getting off the couch and walking over to the counter. She reached into her purse and pulled out the phone. Her thumb began to hold down the
button, but she decided against it and quickly opened the phone, glancing at all the missed calls and text messages. She hit the arrow key and began scrolling through the list of people who had texted her since hearing about Ben. Carly…Devin…Heidi…Steve…Jodie…She kept scrolling through the list of people, some of who she didn’t even consider real friends. She didn’t want to see what they had to say. She just wanted them to all go away. She began pushing the delete button carelessly watching the unread messages erase one after the other until she looked down and her heart nearly stopped. Staring up at her was an unread message from Ben. How could this be? Her hand started to shake as she pushed the button to open the message. The time stamp said he had sent it shortly after he’d left her apartment late on Sunday night at 11:57 p.m. Her eyes began to well with tears and she began to shake again. There was a message…from Ben. With one touch of a button she would see the last words he had wanted to say to her. She took a deep breath and clicked:
So glad you said yes. I love you. See you tomorrow.
Kathryn slammed the phone down and began sobbing, bringing her parents running to the table.
“What happened?” her father asked nervously.
“Ben,” she cried. “There was a message from Ben on my phone.”
Her mom reached over and looked down at the phone, holding her hands to her heart after reading the last message her daughter would ever have from the man she had loved for so long. She reached over and hugged Kathryn.
“He’s still with you, sweetie. He is,” she said holding her tighter.
Kathryn wanted to believe her mother, but she knew it wasn’t true.
The emptiness inside was even greater the next morning if that was possible. She had resorted to taking another sedative the night before in order to sleep and she crawled out of bed knowing she would be going with the Bradley’s to the funeral home to prepare for Ben’s service. Val had called asking if Kathryn would join them. She hesitated before agreeing, not wanting to intrude on their family’s time. They were his flesh and blood and she was only Ben’s girlfriend. But then she found her eyes drifting to the ring on her finger and her heart ached knowing she was to be his family. She was supposed to be his wife. She had been his fiancée, even if it had only been for a night.
“Ben would want you to be a part of this,” Val had insisted and Kathryn knew she was right.
She forced herself into the shower and turned the water up as high as she could stand, allowing it to scald her, leaving her skin a light shade of red. Her mouth hung open, filling with the hot water. She willed it to consume her throat and lungs, to eliminate any feeling she had left in her body. She wasn’t sure if she was crying amongst the water splashing over her face. It seemed as if she hadn’t stopped crying since she’d said good-bye to Ben.
She let the shower wash over her until the hot water had run out. She only turned it off after the frigid water had caused her to shake and chatter to the point she could no longer stand it. Once out of the shower, she wrapped herself in an oversized green towel that had been in the house for as long as she could remember and lumbered into her bedroom where she haphazardly pulled on a pair of jeans and a soft black sweater. She ran a brush through her hair only out of necessity, leaving it to air dry however it desired.
Once downstairs, her mother offered to make her breakfast, but Kathryn couldn’t eat. Her stomach still felt queasy and nauseous and food was the last thing on her mind. Instead of eating, she laid on the couch like a lump staring at the blank television screen.
“It’s time to go,” her mother said at ten o’clock.
She followed her mom into the garage and buckled herself into the car, resting her head against the window and not saying a word during the drive to the funeral home.
She’d driven by Stanson’s Funeral Home periodically throughout her life, but had never been inside. The large, white Victorian building was a lie, Kathryn thought when they pulled up to it. The neatly tended lawn and autumn decorations lining the porch created a false sense of happiness and normalcy, when it was nothing but a house of death and despair. As she stood at
the foot of the walkway, looking up at the old building, she didn’t want to believe that somewhere in that cold house was Ben, alone and afraid.
Her mother gathered the strength she knew Kathryn did not have and led her by the hand down the walkway and up the stairs to the ornate double oak doors. As the brass knob turned, the click seemed to echo in Kathryn’s ears signaling the beginning of the end of her life with Ben. The stinging tears returned, but the words Grandma Val had said to her at the hospital suddenly rang in her ears:
Be strong for him
, and she quickly wiped the tears away and walked a little taller…for Ben.
Once inside she expected to be overcome with the smell of formaldehyde and bleach, but was surprised when the scent of lilacs and vanilla greeted her. A tall slender man with thinning gray hair, dressed impeccably in a navy blue suit entered the foyer. He smiled in a polite, gentle way that Kathryn was sure he’d perfected over the years working at a mortuary. It was a smile that was pleasant and cordial, but one that also sent condolences without any words.
“May I help you?” the man asked.
“I’m Maggie Lane. This is my daughter Kathryn. She’s here for um…for…” her mother struggled not knowing exactly what to say.
“Ben Bradley,” Kathryn spoke up.
The man nodded solemnly, folding his hands and bowing his head.
“Yes, the Bradley’s will be here shortly. Would you like to sit in the parlor while you wait for them?” he said showing them to a room off the foyer lined with floral wall paper.
Kathryn and her mother walked silently over to the couch and sat down side by side. She glanced around the room, admiring the lie from the inside. How many people had sat on this very couch feeling this same pain she was feeling now? Why did funeral homes even bother to try and mask what their real purpose was? She wanted to jump up and start clawing off the cheery wallpaper with her bare fingernails and paint it black. If the walls were black she wouldn’t have to hide and pretend that she was all put together like the perfect Victorian room.
Just then, she heard the click of the brass doorknob and the sounds of footsteps entering the foyer. The tall man in the navy blue suit walked slowly past the doorway to the parlor with the same smile he’d greeted Kathryn and her mother with. She could hear his muffled voice and then the voices she would know anywhere: the voices of Ben’s family. Grandma Val’s figure appeared in the parlor a moment later. She smiled through her glistening eyes that were obviously wet with tears. Kathryn stood up and walked over to the frail woman who hugged her immediately. She looked over Val’s shoulder and saw the rest of the family: Dom, Scott, Luke, Allie and then Sharon, who seemed to have aged twenty years since she’d last seen her, even though it had only been a couple of days. The same empty eyes she’d had at the hospital stared at nothing. She looked haggard and tired as if she hadn’t slept and her face was puffy and swollen from the constant tears.
Then the sad eyes of Ben’s mother met those of his
fiance, the only girl Ben had ever loved, and Kathryn could’ve sworn she saw a light flicker in them. Sharon walked past her family and over to Kathryn, who she immediately embraced and held onto tightly.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Sharon whispered softly into her ear. “Ben loved you so much.”
With those words, Kathryn joined in Sharon’s sobs and the two women who loved him most in the world found solace in each other’s grief.