You have to let go of the past.
You’re killing yourself.
The bottle or your family. You can’t have both.
Their words repeated in my head, even now as I laid stretched out on the cold, blue and white tile that was my bathroom floor. Robin and Sage. The Dutiful duo. My two older sisters who were never wrong, never in trouble, and always doing as they were told. Had I been more like them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Angry, alone…passed out on the bathroom floor.
“Is she dead?”
It took me a moment to realize that those words being spoken were not in my head. They were real and inside my apartment. Hurried whispers that echoed throughout the bathroom. I slowly cracked open an eye, sneaking a peek at my surroundings. Previous experience had taught me it was better to assess the situation while people still assumed you were out.
Two women kneeling, one on each side of me, one had natural curly black hair that fell to her shoulders, speckles of gray at her temples, and laugh lines in her face that placed her at around forty. She reminded me of my mother, or what I remembered of my mother anyway. The second woman wore a too large hooded sweatshirt that made it hard to catch the features of her face, although I got the sense that she was younger than the curly haired lady. There was something oddly familiar about the both of them.
“Are you certain she isn’t dead?” The curly haired woman repeated her question, worry evident in her voice. “Maybe you got the date wrong. Maybe-“
“She ain’t dead. Not yet, anyway.” The Hooded Woman cut in.
Why did she keep saying not yet? I hoped death wouldn’t come looking my way anytime soon. Not that I had much to live for.
“Then why hasn’t she woken up?” Curly Hair asked.
“She’s awake. Just busy feeling sorry for herself.” Was the reply by Hooded Woman.
“I’m not feeling sorry for myself.” I managed to croak out through dry lips. How did she know what I was thinking?
“So, what do you call it?” Hooded Woman asked as the two of them, each grabbing an arm, assisted me to a sitting position.
“Contemplating my circumstances,” Closing my eyes I dropped my head down between my knees. Sitting up had caused the world to take on a spin that made my head pound.
“You don’t seem to be too surprised to see us here.” Curly Hair spoke.
“Pass out enough times you learn not to be surprised by what you see when you wake up.” I mumbled to the floor. I took several deep breaths and tried to focus on keeping down the contents of my stomach.
“Must be proud of yourself.” Without looking, I knew the words came from Hooded Woman. The sarcasm in her voice was starting to become recognizable.
“Not proud. Just stating facts.” I leaned back, opening my eyes to take a closer look at my visitors. Neither of whom seemed to be in any hurry to leave. “But since you brought it up. What are you two doing in my apartment?”
“We were walking by, heard a yell and then a crash, so we rushed in.” Curly hair explained. “Door was already opened.” She added quickly.
“Okay, well thank you, ladies.” I stood, placing a hand on the bathroom sink for balance. The world had stopped spinning…for the most part. “But as you can see, I am fine now. So, you may leave.”
“We will. As soon as we’re finished.” Curly Hair spoke as she took my arm leading me out the bathroom with Hooded Woman trailing behind us.
“Finished with what?” I asked.
“Making sure you’re okay.” Hooded woman quickly chimed in shooting the other a look.
“I already said I was okay.” I snapped, shaking off the older woman’s hands as she attempted to steer me towards my living room couch. Instead, I redirected myself to the kitchen island where a half bottle of tequila sat next to an empty shot glass, which I quickly filled. I downed the shot before pouring another. “You two ladies can leave now.”
“We can’t.” Curly Hair says.
“Haven’t you had enough?” Hooded Woman blurted out at the exact same moment.
Haven’t you had enough? This stranger’s words echoed that of my sister’s just hours ago. Every occasion doesn’t require a drink. The Dynamic Duo. Always ready to gang up on me, just like they had earlier, at their so-called intervention. I should have known there was an ulterior motive to them wanting to meet up for dinner. I should have never let myself get so excited about them actually wanting to spend time with me.
“Like I told my sisters earlier today,” I downed my second shot, the hot liquor burning a path to the pit of my stomach. “I will say when I have had enough. No one else.”
“And you don’t think you’ve had enough?” Hooded Woman sneered from across the room. I noticed how she made herself comfortable, perched on the arm of my couch, foot on the seat.
“No. I. Don’t.” I downed another shot looking pointedly in her direction. “Get the hell of my couch.”
“Seems like you got a family that cares about you.” Curly Hair blurted out before the other woman could respond to my command.
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“They cared enough to have an intervention for you.”
“How did you know about that?” I hadn’t mentioned it.
“Lucky guess.” She answered with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Interventions are for people who can change.” I stated.
“And you don’t want to change?” The lady asked softly. She did not mean the question as a jab. She genuinely wanted to know.
“I can’t change.” My eyes fixated on the tequila bottle as if it held the answers. And if it did, I could never find them. No matter how many bottles I drank. A scoff from across the room caught my attention.
“You can’t change? Or won’t change?” Hooded Woman inquired.
Her tone was just like my sisters. Judgmental and self-righteous. “What the hell is your problem?”
“You. You are my problem.” She answered in a near shout as she rose from her seat, coming to her feet.
“You know what?” I slammed my glass down on the counter and stormed across the room. “I’ve had enough of you. You don’t know anything about me or –” I stopped midsentence as I stumbled to the ground barely catching myself as I fell to my knees. I guess I wasn’t as recovered from my blackout as I thought. I looked up and my anger disappeared as quickly as it had come. I was no longer in my apartment, I was…I was somewhere else.
“How did you-“ I stammered. “who are you two?”
“Do you know where you are?” I heard Curly Hair’s voice next to me.
I did. I had recognized within seconds the old two-bedroom, rundown apartment that I had shared with my two older sisters, our older brother Darren, and our mother. But how was it possible? I slowly turned in a circle. It was all the same. The yellow stained walls that had once been white, the ugly brown and tan checkered couch that had been fished out the dumpster, and the handful of secondhand toys that littered the floor. But what caught my eye more than anything was the half-eaten birthday cake, chocolate with blue frosting, that sat on a table in the middle of the room. The cake that my sisters and I had collected soda cans and scavenged change to save up for so that we could surprise Darren on his birthday. Seeing that cake, I not only knew where I was but when I was. It was that night.
“I do know you.” Hooded Woman’s voice taunted from behind me. “I know everything.”
“Get me out of here. NOW.” I demanded as the scene changed before my eyes, and I was no longer in the living room of the apartment, but in my old bedroom. I could see young three girls laying side by side on an old mattress that sat on the floor. I watched as one of the girls, in her threadbare and two small pink and purple nightgown, crawled out of the bed and started towards the door. At age five she was the youngest of the three but still she knew that they weren’t supposed to leave the room at night. Never. Their brother had warned them it wasn’t safe. Not with mother’s visitors. But the little girl, with her pressing need to pee, did not think about the rule.
I watched, frozen as the girl left the room and closed the door behind her. Her sisters never stirred, but I knew what was taking place beyond that door and what was about to happen. Still unable to move, I looked on as the young girl rushed back into the room, jumped on the bed, and pulled the covers over her head.
“Get me out of here.” I repeated. Crouching down, I placed my hands over my ears and squeezed my eyes shut. I knew what was coming. “GET ME OUT OF HERE, NOW.” I screamed at the top of my lungs. My scream was not enough to drown out the loud bang of the gunshot that had changed everything.
“You can get up now.”
Reluctantly, I slowly opened my eyes. Taking my hands from my ears, I uncurled from the fetal position on the floor and sat up. “What the hell did you do?” Looking around I could see that I was back in my apartment. There was my couch, bright red and far different from the ugly brown and tan couch of my childhood. There was the half dead house plant Sage brought me that I never remembered to water. And my trusted tequila bottle still sat on the kitchen island. Everything was back to normal. “For the last time, get out.” I pointed at the door, “GO!.” I shouted coming to my feet.
“We can’t. Not until we-“
“Not until you what?” I cut Curly Hair short. “It can’t be until you make sure I’m okay.” I said sarcastically as I waved a hand in the air. My body trembled and the ring of the gunshot still sounded in my ears. “How is this making sure I’m okay? Showing me things I don’t need to see.” I paused as a thought entered my head. Of course, it was obvious. “I don’t know how but my sisters…they are somehow behind this.” I accused pointing a finger at one woman and then the other.
Curly Hair shook her head. “You’ve never told your sisters about that night. About getting up. How would they know? They were asleep until the gun went off.”
She was right. In the twenty years since then, I never spoke a word to them. My sisters believed that the only people that really knew why our brother died that night was our brother and the man who had shot him.
“You need to let that night go.” Curly Hair placed a hand on my shoulder.
It’s time to move on. Once again, my sisters’ words from earlier in the evening found their way back into my head.
“I can’t. I can’t move on because what happened that night cannot be changed. No one can undo it.” I cried out.
“Why are you letting that one night dictate the rest of your life?” Hooded Woman had once again taken up her perch on the arm of my couch.
“You don’t understand,” I said to her.
“I told you once before, I understand. More than you know.” She said softly, speaking for the first time without malice in her voice. “You’ve let that moment shape who you are. You’ve got to stop, before it’s too late.”
“What was I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do?” I asked. No one answer came. A glance around showed me that I was alone but once again not in my apartment. Only this time I didn’t recognize the place. It wasn’t a rundown apartment, or any apartment at all. I stood in the middle of a kitchen. Through a window I could see a spacious backyard with a patio setup that probably saw a lot of get togethers. On the fridge there was a family photo of a man, teenage girl, and a woman who looked just like me.
The kitchen door opened and in walked the woman who was my mirror image. I stepped back looking for somewhere to hide when I realized there was no need to. Just as the little girl couldn’t see me, neither could this woman. She held a phone up to her ear. “We’ll see you there. Okay. Love you too. Bye.” She hung up turning around, and I was able to get a clear view of her face. I was looking at myself. I watched as she went to the door she first came through, opening it just wide enough to call out, “Will you two come on. We’re going to be late.”
A few seconds later, a handsome man, with warm hazel eyes walked through the door, and he greeted the woman with a kiss on the cheek. “I don’t know why you’re rushing. You know Robin and Sage aren’t ever on time for anything.” He said with a laugh.
My sisters Robin and Sage?
“Where is our daughter?” the woman asked the man.
“She’s right here.” A voice answered, and I turned to see a beautiful young lady, probably about fifteen, walk through the door. I watched in awe as the three of them laughed and joked. The love between them was evident. The thee of them looked so…happy.
Is this life I would have had if that night never happened? I wondered as the family gathered their things and exited the house. Is this the family I would have had had my brother survived?
“You and your family are on the way to meet your sisters so that you can all put flowers on your brothers grave. The three of you get together every year. “ The soft-spoken words of Curly Hair broke my thoughts.
“I don’t understand”
“This is not a scenario in which that night did not happen. This is what happens when you don’t let it control your life.
I remained silent as Curly Hair stood before me. I studied her face, she looked like me and yet so different, older. “You’re…me?”
She nodded. “I’m the you that could be. This is the life that you could have.”
“And her?” I motioned to the Hooded woman that had remained unusually silent throughout the exchange. At my words she moved closer stopping once she was standing directly in front of me. Pushing back her hood she looks me in the eye. Our eyes are the same, we are the same. Only her skin has a grayish tint and her hair, matted as if it hasn’t been combed for days. Her cheeks are sunken in giving her a sickly look.
“I’m the you that never has a family, a home. Never finds happiness. Which is something that Darren would never have wanted for you.”
“How do you know what he wants?”
“He was there when I—you – or maybe I should say we died.”
“Died?” I repeat almost in shock.
She nods. “Alcohol poisoning. Drank too much one night and never woke from the blackout.”
“When does it happen?” I ask.
“Can’t or won’t?”
“Both. But what I can say is that our brother was there in the afterlife, waiting and he wasn’t too happy about how our life was spent.”
“Did you..did I get a chance to say sorry?”
“He doesn’t blame you. It wasn’t your fault.”
I broke down in sobs. How could he not blame me when I blamed me? He always told us to stay in our rooms, and I didn’t listen. I was using the bathroom when a man, one of mother’s men, walked in. He had a look in his eye that terrified me. He made his way to me, as I sat frozen on the toilet, too scared to move when he was suddenly jerked back. Darren stood in the door yelling at me to get back to my room. As I ran past, I saw the two of them fighting, but I didn’t stop. I ran as he told me and jumped into bed pulling the covers over my head. That when I heard the shot.
“How can he forgive me?” I asked aloud.
“There’s nothing to forgive.”
I quickly looked up, wiping tears from my eyes. I could have sworn I heard Darren’s voice, which any other night I would have thought impossible. But he wasn’t there. I only heard banging at my front door and then a loud crash.
“What the hell?” I say as Robin’s husband, Lance came rushing through my now broken front door both my sisters right behind him. “What are you guys doing?” I asked, not knowing what’s going on. But no one answers. Not one person looks my way as they move frantically about the house calling my name. “I’m here.” I shout, but still, no one listened.
“I found her.” Sage’s voice yelled in near hysterics from the bathroom. I rushed to find both my sisters and Lance kneeling on the bathroom floor. “Call 9-1-1.” She yelled at Lance who immediately stood up, pulled out his phone, and started dialing. When he stood, I could see myself on the bathroom floor. I flinch and shifted my eyes. Sage called my name as Robin sobbed and shook me.
“Looks like they do still care.” Curly Hair said.
“What is happening?”
“They came over to check on you when you didn’t answer your calls after throwing a fit and leaving your intervention.”
“Will I die?”
“Not yet.” Hooded Woman said.
I look on as EMTs rush into my apartment and load me onto a stretcher.
“You better go with them.” Hooded Woman says.
“What happens next?” I asked. But there is no answer. The women are gone. I follow the EMTs and my family out of the apartment.