One week before
“Doctor Everly?” a soft voice calls out, breaking me from my distant thoughts as another early spring chill whips through my thin jacket and sends goosebumps down my body. I slowly turn my head to Karen. Her cheeks are a little too pink from a combination of the harsh wind and a heavy-handed application of blush, and the tip of her nose is a bright red.
I grip my thin jacket closer, huddling in it as if it can protect me from the brutal weather. It’s too damn cold for spring, but I suppose I’d rather be cold and uncomfortable out here. Today especially.
I give Karen a tight smile, although I don’t know why. It’s not polite to smile out here, or is it? “How are you doing?” I ask her as she walks closer to me.
She nods her head, taking in a breath and looking past me at the pile of freshly upturned dirt. “It hurts still. It’s just so sad.” Karen’s only twenty-three, fresh out of college and new to this. I’m new to it too. Marie was the first patient I’ve had who killed herself.
Sad isn’t the right word for it. Devastating doesn’t even begin to describe what it feels like when a young girl in your care decides her life is no longer worth living.
I clear my throat and turn on the grass to face her. The thin heels of my shoes sink into the soft ground, and I have to balance myself carefully just to stand upright.
“It is,” I tell Karen, not sure what else to say.
“How do you handle…” her voice drifts off.
I don’t know how to answer her. My lips part and I shake my head, but no words come out.
“I’m so sorry, Robin,” she says and Karen’s voice is strong and genuine. She knows how much Marie meant to me. But it wasn’t enough.
I try to give her an appreciative smile, but I can’t. Instead, I clear my tight throat and nod once, looking back to where Marie’s buried.
“Are you okay?” she asks me cautiously, resting a hand on my arm, trying to comfort me. And I do what I shouldn’t. I lie.
“I’m okay,” I tell her softly, reaching up to squeeze her hand.
As I tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear, a gust of wind flies by us and a bolt of lightning splits the sky into pieces, followed a few seconds later with the hard crack of thunder.
Karen looks up, and in an instant the light gray clouds darken and cue the storm to set in. It’s only the two of us left here and it looks like the weather won’t have us here any longer, leaving Marie all alone. I think deep inside that’s how she wanted it all along. She didn’t want a shrink to give her advice.
Who was I to help her? The guilt washes through me and the back of my eyes prick with unshed tears as I take in a shuddering breath, shoving my hands in my pockets and turning back to her grave.
As much as I’d like to believe I’ll let her rest now, I know I’ll be back. It’s selfish of me. She just wanted to be left alone. She needed that so her past could fade into the background. I know that now; I wish I knew it then.
“She’s in a better place,” Karen whispers and my gaze whips up to hers. She doesn’t have the decency to look me in the eyes and I have to wonder if she just said the words because she thinks they’re appropriate. Like it’s something meant to be said when talking of the dead, or maybe she really believes it.
Karen turns to walk toward her car as the sprinkling of rain starts to fall onto us. She looks back over her shoulder, waiting for me and I relent, joining her.
I’m sorry, Marie.
As the cold drops of rain turn to sheets and my hair dampens, my pace picks up. It doesn’t take long until we’re both jogging through the grass and then onto the pavement of the parking lot, our heels clicking and clacking on the pavement with the sound of the rain.
I barely hear her say goodbye and manage a wave behind me as I open my car door and sink into the driver seat.
I just wanted to help Marie. I could see so much of myself in her. We were almost the same age. She had the same look in her eyes. The same helplessness and lack of self-worth. I wanted to save her like my psychiatrist saved me.
But how could I? I’m not over my past. I should have known better. I should have referred her to someone more capable. Someone who had less emotional investment. I pushed too hard. It’s my fault.
The pattering of rain on the car roof is eerily rhythmic as I dig through my purse, shivering and shoving the wet hair out of my face. The keys jingle as I shove them into the ignition, turning on the car and filling the cabin with the sounds of the radio.
I’m not sure what song’s on but I don’t care because I’m quick to turn the radio off. To get back to the silence and the peace of the rainfall. I slump in my seat, staring at the temperature gauge. When I look up, I see Karen drive away in the rearview mirror. Watching her car drive out of sight, my eyes travel to my reflection.
I scoff at myself and wipe under my eyes. I look dreadful. My dirty blonde hair’s damp and disheveled, my makeup’s running. I lift the console and grab a few tissues to clean myself up before sluggishly removing my soaked jacket and tossing it in the backseat. The heater finally kicks on, and I still can’t bring myself to leave.
I look back into the mirror and see that I’m somewhat pulled together, but I can’t hide the bags under my eyes. I can’t force a false sense of contentment onto my face.
I close my eyes and take in another deep breath, filling my lungs and letting it out slowly. I need sleep. I need to eat. It’s been almost a week since I found out about Marie. A week of her no longer being here to call and check in on. Tears stream freely down my cheeks. I tried so hard not to cry; I learned a long time ago that crying doesn’t help, but being forced to leave her is making me helpless to my emotions.
That first night I almost cried, but instead I resorted to sleeping pills. A wave of nausea churns in my stomach at the thought of what I did. It was so easy to just take one after the other. Each one telling me it’d be over soon. After downing half the bottle, I knew what I was doing. But the entire bottle was too much and it all came back up before I could finish it. Thank God for that. I’m not well, and I’m sure as hell not in a position to help others.
My hand rests against my forehead as I try to calm down, as I try to rid myself of the vision of Marie in my office, but other memories of my past persist there, waiting for this weakness.
I can’t linger any longer. Putting the car into reverse, I back out of my spot, turning and seeing Marie’s plot in the distance as I back up.
Grief is a process, but guilt is something entirely different. It’s becoming harder and harder to separate the two, and I know why.
She reminds me of him.
Of a boy, I knew long ago. The turn signal seems louder than ever as I wait at the exit to turn onto the highway. Click, click, click.
Each is a second of time that I’m here and they’re not. Click, click, click.
The cabin warms as I drive away, merging onto the highway.
Maybe all this has nothing to do with Marie.
Maybe it’s just the guilt that summons the vision of his light gray eyes from the depths of my memory.
Maybe it’s because I’m to blame for both of their deaths.