After taking Lanie home to Alex, I headed to the hospital to visit Becca.
Becca was lying in her bed, facing the wall.
The walls, curtains, decorations, equipment…everything around me screams hospital. Becca thought. Her head felt as if it were filled with lead, and she couldn’t lift it up from the pillow. This isn’t right. she thought. I’m a doctor, not a patient. I shouldn’t be in this bed, I should be helping patients, checking on my patients, I can’t take a nap, I…
I walked around the bed, pulling a chair up in front of her and watching as she slowly came awake. The wave of reality crashed into her waking self all at once, and she moaned Doug’s name.
“Becca?” I reached out a gentle hand and tried to turn her face towards me. “Becca? It’s me, Michelle.”
Tears ran down her face, and I found myself crying right along with her. My vision blurred through the tears as she whispered, “What’s…going on?”
I shook my head, choking on my words slightly as I answered, “There was an…an…incident, Becca, do you remember?”
She buried her head in the pillow, shaking her head. “No. That was a dream, Michelle. It was just a dream. I don’t believe it; I can’t believe it…I won’t. It was a dream.” Lifting her head slightly, she met my eyes in search of reassurance that I wasn’t able to give. “It was a dream,” she said, not quite as certain. “You have to tell me it was a dream.”
She rolled over so that she was flat on her back and lifted her shaking hands in front of her face, checking over the bandages. “It…It was all real, wasn’t it?”
When she looked to me for confirmation, I nodded slowly. “Yes,” I whispered.
Seeming to sink back into the pillow, her eyes grew very dark as they held on to unshed tears. “I keep going back in forth…I’m numb; I’m not, I…It’s all…Where am I supposed to go?” she asked very quietly. “What am I supposed to do now?”
It was a lot stickier for Becca, and I wasn’t at all sure of what to say. “I don’t think there are any easy answers.”
“I loved him, Michelle,” she said, turning so that her words almost disappeared into the pillow. “I know that you might not understand that, but I did. And I tried to hate him…but I don’t know how.”
“You shouldn’t have to hate your son,” I answered quietly, even though I was pretty sure that I myself hated him.
“He took my husband.”
“I know,” I replied, for lack of a better word.
“He planned it, did you know that? After sitting down for breakfast with me that morning, after shoving a pop tart in his pocket…he went to school and shot all those people. He shot my husband. And then, as I stood there and watched, he told me he loved me while he shot himself in the head.”
I was at a total loss for words. “I wish that I knew what to say to you.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” she whispered bitterly. “There’s nothing that you can say. I should have seen it coming, Michelle, I should have seen it coming, and I didn’t. Those kids are all dead because of me. This is all my fault.”
“You can’t possibly think that, Becca. This isn’t your fault.”
“I should have known. A mother is supposed to know everything about her child…and I missed this. I totally missed it.”
“Look…I know you mean well, but…I just want to be alone, okay?” She rolled back over so that she was facing the wall away from me without waiting for my response.
I grabbed my purse and coat and walked out the door.
Jenna looked up from her book. “Yeah, Rich?”
“What happens to us when we die?”
Frowning slightly, Jenna folded down the corner of her book and set it aside. “Why…why are you asking me that?” she asked, taken aback that her thirteen year old would be having any concept of death.
“I was just wondering,” he answered innocently.
“You have a lot of years yet,” Jenna said, forcing the quiver out of her voice. “You will drive, and graduate high school, go to college, get married have kids. You don’t need to worry about dying yet, honey, not for a lot of years.”
“But how do you know that, Mom? How do you know?”
As the phone rang again, breaking through Jenna’s memories, she very calmly reached over and yanked the cord out of the receiver’s base. The ringing ceased as she returned her gaze to the photo album in her lap.
“Mark should be back soon,” Carrie said as she came into the living room from the kitchen. “He went to…”
“I know,” Jenna said softly, breaking in before Carrie could finish. “I know where he is.”
Carrie sat down next to Jenna. “These are of your son?”
Jenna nodded, sliding the book over slightly so that Carrie could see. “I was thinking maybe some photo murals for the funeral tomorrow…but there are so many.”
She turned another page, and Carrie pointed at one of the pictures. Rich was sitting on the edge of a dock, his feet hanging off into the water. “That one’s nice.”
“Rich didn’t like swimming,” Jenna replied. “He only liked to get his feet wet.”
“Ah,” Carrie answered.
“Carrie? Your son…did you ever talk about where…what happens when we die?”
“A little bit,” she answered. “We talked about heaven. But I was afraid of it…I kept thinking that I had more time. And then, one day, I…I didn’t.”
“How did you make it stop hurting?”
“I didn’t,” Carrie answered instantly. “It just…It’s a little less every day.”
“You keep promising that,” Jenna said.
“Yes I do,” Carrie replied. “I believe it. I know it. I lived it, Jenna.”
“How do I do this?” I whispered, gesturing at the photo album. “How do I sum his life up in a couple of measly pictures?”
“With your heart,” Carrie answered.
There was absolutely nothing in my closet suitable to wear to her son’s funeral. Not one thing. Mark came up behind her as she was staring into the closet and laid a hand gently on her arm. “Jenna, you have to get dressed, we have to go to the church.”
She shook her head slightly, not turning away from the closet. “I can’t…I can’t go.”
He drew away from her, a frown creasing across his face. “What do you mean, you can’t go? You…” He shook his head. “You have to go.”
“Nothing is right…I don’t have anything that’s right,” she answered, gesturing at the various items hanging in the closet.
Mark reached around Jenna, pulling out a pants suit. “There’s this.”
“No,” she whispered. “Not that one.”
He rolled his eyes, so slightly that it was almost miss able. Throwing the pants suit onto the bed, he pulled out a dress. “There’s this one,” he said angrily, throwing that across the bed as well. “Or this one. Or this one. Or this one.” He threw outfit on top of outfit over the bed as Jenna burst into tears. “Any of these, any, Jenna, could you please just pick one, for the love of God?” Mark threw up his hands in exasperation.
Jenna sank down to the carpet, wrapping her arms around her knees. “Just…go…without me,” she sobbed.
As Mark stormed out of the room, Jenna curled into herself as the sobs wracked her body. Reaching up onto the bed, she whipped the discarded clothing across the room with everything she had.
“Maybe you’re right,” Mark said softly. “Maybe this isn’t working.”
Jenna sat down on the edge of their bed, folding her hands softly in her lap. “It hasn’t been for a long time.”
“So you’re saying it’s all my fault?”
“No,” Jenna stuttered, “no, not at all, I just, I…”
“It’s all my fault that you went and slept with somebody else?” Mark interrupted harshly.
“I said I was sorry,” Jenna whispered, unable to meet his eyes.
“You don’t get to be sorry. You don’t get to say sorry. You don’t get to say anything at all. I don’t owe you anything.”
“You were never home!” Jenna screamed. “You were never here! What did you expect me to do, sit around and wait every day for you to decide that you loved me?”
“How dare you blame this on me?” Mark shot back. “You were the one who went and slept with somebody else, not me! I didn’t make that decision for you! You did! You should have known that I loved you, I shouldn’t have had to say it every day!”
“You never said it!” she cried. “You never said it!”
Mark sat down on the bed suddenly. “You’re right,” he admitted. “I didn’t. But you could have come to me, you could have talked to me. You never even tried.”
“You didn’t want to listen,” Jenna replied.
Hooking his fingers through his belt loops, Mark studied the pattern on the carpeting.
“You’re just so angry, all the time. I couldn’t bring anything to you, you never would have listened.”
Mark face was drawn with acceptance. “We’re finished, aren’t we?”
“For now,” Jenna answered. “I think we both made some pretty bad choices.”
“We did,” Mark stated.
I knocked softly on Jenna’s bedroom door before letting myself in.
“Jenna? What happened?”
She shook my head, crying too hard to answer.
“Come here,” I said, pulling her up off the floor and onto the bed. “Talk to me.”
“Mark’s…gone,” she bawled. “I…I didn’t know what to wear…to…”
I squeezed my hand and walked over to the closet, selecting the perfect outfit within seconds and taking it off it’s hanger.. “This one, Jen. This is perfect.”
She nodded, her crying coming under control as she took several deep breaths.
“Let me help you get it on. We have to get to the church.”
She nodded obediently and held her arms up so I could slip the dress over her head.
I kept a firm grip on Jenna’s elbow, steering her up the steps and into the church. People tried to reach out and talk to her, but I kept them at bay with my steely gaze.
The funeral home had done a beautiful job with everything. There were beautiful flower arrangements lining the pews, and a book of condolences at the church entrance. Mark was sitting in the front pew, and Lanie was a pew behind him with Alex. I kept my eyes on my feet, trying to avoid looking at the tiny coffin that lay ahead, and trying not to imagine what it would be like if it was my child inside.
Jenna and I sat down in the front pew, right next to Mark.. She kept a grip on my left hand. Alex leaned forward to give my shoulder a quick squeeze. I glanced at Lanie, meeting her eyes to check and make sure she was okay, and it was then that I felt Jenna’s hand leave mine.
When I turned back around, Jenna had moved to the front of the room and was standing at the coffin. Alex and I both got to our feet at the same time, and I made it to the coffin just as Jenna laid her body across the top. I looked to Mark to see if he would go up there with her, but he made no move towards her.
I stepped up behind my friend, laying my hand across hers on top of the wooden lid. “Jenna? Are you okay?”
She shook her head, her fingers clutching at the lid and her breath coming in short gasps.
I gripped her face lightly under the chin and turned her to face me. “You have to breathe, okay?”
Jenna nodded, letting go of the coffin and standing up, swaying slightly. Alex was right behind her, and he put an arm around her waist so that he could support her weight. “You okay?” he asked her as she leaned into him.
Jenna nodded again, and let Alex steer her back to the pew.
I sat down beside her, rubbing her knees in a manic circular motion. “It’s okay, Jen, it’s okay.”
She clawed at her throat, ripping off the tiny cross necklace that she was wearing and throwing it to the floor. “No,” she said hoarsely, “not really. A parent isn’t supposed to outlive their child, remember?” She gripped my hand so tightly that my fingers turned white, all circulation draining away.
I reached out and pulled her face into my shoulder, whispering into her ear, “You don’t have to look at it anymore, Jen, don’t look.”
Jenna buried her face in the fabric of my sweater, the darkness blinding her against the sight of the coffin.
“Deep breathes, Jen, focus on my voice, okay?” I rubbed comforting circles on her back. “You can do this, Jenna, you’re okay, you’re okay. Focus on me. Don’t look, don’t look at it, just focus on me.”
After several minutes, she sat up, once again taking in the sights of the church.
“That a girl. You’re okay. We’re right here,” I said.
Jenna started to cough, and Alex produced a miraculous bottle of water from the depths of my purse. I screwed the cap off and hand passed it to Jenna, who took a grateful sip.
I looked around the church, everywhere and anywhere but the front. When the funeral began, Mark was nowhere to be found.