Of Layers and Pain

“Die.”

“Die!”

“Die. Die. Die. Die!”

I placed both palms over my ears and closed my eyes as if that would stop me from hearing it.

“Hahahahahahaha. Die!”

I shook my head. “No!” I replied.

Silence.

It seemed my firm reply had shut the voice up. Slowly, I moved my hands away from my head and opened my eyes. I was still in my bedroom; still seated cross-legged on my bed. The unopened bottle of pills still lay in front of me. I took a deep breath.

“You know dying is better than living, right?”

“Aaaaarrrrgh!” I shouted. My hands flew to my ears again. “Leave me alone!”

The voice chuckled. “Why?” It asked. “I’m your only friend. I’m the only one who cares. Do you really want me to leave?”

I jumped from the bed and rushed out of my bedroom, down the stairs and into the kitchen. I turned the faucet and washed my face in the sink, then wiped it with a paper towel. I was panting. I looked out the window above the sink and saw through our overgrown lawn the house across the road from ours. Mr. and Mrs. Sunders and their three children Maya, Sarah, and Justin lived there. Mrs. Sunders was out on their lawn playing with her three toddlers. They looked happy. Justin was the youngest, and the love his older sisters had for the little chap was obvious as they played. I looked down into the sink, blinking away the tears that had formed in my eyes.

The voice was no more. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. I won’t kill myself. Not yet. I thought.

“You should.” It was the voice again.

This time, I decided to engage it.

“Why?” I whispered as I walked back to my bedroom.

“No one will notice. No one cares.” It responded.

“And how will killing myself solve anything?”

It chuckled, “You will be happier. You will finally rest.”

I opened my bedroom door, walked to the bed and lay down. “I feel like I need to stick around to protect mom,” I said.

Another chuckle, “She couldn’t care less. She’s far gone now. Why do you think she won’t leave Jeremy? Why do you think she won’t press charges?”

I sighed.

“You know I’m right.” It coaxed.

“You are,” I replied.

My mother and I constantly fought because she continued to allow Jeremy hurt her and treat her like shit. Even after he murdered my little brother Promise in a fit of rage by repeatedly slamming his head against the bathroom wall and later claimed it was an accident, she believed him. She didn’t report to the police. She said she was in love and that Jeremy was her soul mate. During one of our fights, she threw a kitchen knife in my direction as she screamed obscenities at me. The knife grazed my neck. An inch closer and I would have been dead. That day, she called me a mistake. She called my late father a weakling; she said Jeremy was strong; that Jeremy would not die on her like my wimp of a father, who died of Malaria shortly after returning from a brief working trip to Malawi. She said she hated me. I no longer existed to her. She spat at me and warned that if I didn’t quit bothering her about Jeremy, she would throw me out of the house. I couldn’t believe my own mother had thrown a knife at me. I was only trying to protect her from a monster. She was the only family I had left. That day, over a month ago, was the day we had our last major fight. It was the day I started hearing the voice.

I heard the door slam shut downstairs. Someone had just walked into the house. I sat up abruptly and my eyes flew to the round clock hanging on my wall. It was 4:12 pm. I sighed, relieved. It could not be Jeremy, probably mom. I never knew where she went these days. She would just up and leave the house once Jeremy was gone to his truck-driving job for the paint company ColorWorld. She would not return till early evening to make dinner for him. I didn’t matter of course. I had to care for myself. The time Jeremy arrived from work at nine and mom didn’t have dinner ready yet because she had been sick all day and slow to finish, he unleashed his rage on her and almost killed her. I tried to intervene and ended up with the wide scar on my upper arm where he twisted it so hard, it broke. My mother woke the next day with one eye swollen shut and bruises all over her body. She did not go to the hospital, and she did not send me to the hospital either. She tied my broken arm in a tourniquet and applied cold compress to her wounds. She fed me with Ibuprofen pills till I was almost numb. I couldn’t believe she was going to let everything slide. The voice, which had started as a whisper, became louder and more frequent.

I could hear clattering sounds coming from the kitchen and I knew for sure that it was mom who had returned. Before Jeremy, whenever she returned from work, she would call out my name, or Promise’s name, to know if we were home from school. We would run downstairs and engulf her in a hug. Now, she didn’t call. The voice was right. If I killed myself, she wouldn’t care. These days, she didn’t care if I was alive or dead anyway. She had thrown a knife at me. My life meant nothing to her.

I walked down the stairs into the kitchen. Mom was by the sink; in the same spot I had been standing and washing my face just minutes ago. Her head was bent and I could hear her quietly weeping. What has happened now? I thought. I looked over to the stovetop. Something was cooking. It smelled like potatoes. She was obviously in the process of making dinner. I was afraid to walk up to her, but something drew me. I took a step forward and she raised her head. She turned around to face me and I swallowed a gasp. Her eyes were darkened from her mascara running. They left black marks on her face where her tears had run. I took a good look at her. We had not seen much of each other lately although we lived in the same building. I did my best to avoid her since the last fight we had. She looked terrible. Her eyes were hollow sockets and she had wrinkles all over her face. She looked seventy when she was only thirty-eight. She was gaunt, her thin neck extending from her very visible collarbones. Her arms were skinny and covered in light purple scars in different places.

“W—would you like dinner?” She stammered. “I’m m—making mashed potatoes.”

My head spun. I could not believe what I had just heard, but I slowly nodded a yes. Mother had not asked me if I wanted to eat in a long time. “Why are you crying?” I whispered hoarsely. My mouth was dry.

Fresh tears ran down her face. “J—Jeremy died.”

This time, I couldn’t hold back the gasp, “What?”

“His truck was in an accident.” Mom replied. “He died instantly. I just identified his body at the morgue.” A pause. “Would you—would you like dinner? Would you?” She asked again. Her eyes, bloodshot and brimming with fresh tears, were pleading. They were apologetic. They showed regret. They were penitent.

I knew she was trying to say how sorry she was, but she couldn’t mouth the words. I saw it all in her eyes, in her offer to make me dinner, in her tears, and then I knew. I knew that if I had killed myself today someone would have cared. She would have cared. Relief washed all over me and tears brimmed in my eyes as I whispered, “Yes, mom. I’d like dinner very much.”

She smiled, nodded, then turned around and began sobbing. I watched her for a few minutes, wiping my own tears with the back of my palm. My mother was still in there somewhere, buried deep within the shell whose shoulders were now shaking vigorously. All hope was not lost. I turned around and walked back up the stairs to my bedroom, leaving her to grieve.

Once inside my bedroom, I closed the door and rested my back on it, let out a deep breath and whispered to the voice, “I knew I shouldn’t have killed myself today.”

Silence.

“Are you there?”

Silence.

I smiled. “Well, goodbye then.”

I walked to the bed, lay down and soon drifted into a peaceful sleep.