In the Stillness
Author:Andrea Randall

“Yeah, I do. Fuck you for forgetting that that kid has a name—it’s Lucas, Lucas Fisher. Fuck you for pretending I don’t know exactly how Danielle felt standing in your office. And . . . just . . . fuck you.”

 

I turn again to leave and he tugs me back once more.

 

“Let go of me,” I let out in a low, calculating tone.

 

He shakes his head, hopeless panic in his eyes. “I’m not going to let you go. Not ever. We need to figure this out, Natalie. I know the past few years have been hard for you, Honey, I really do, but I’ll be done with my degree in just a few weeks. Then the boys will be in kindergarten in the fall and you can go back to school.”

 

“If they even accept me, Eric. I got my master’s, taught a few community college classes, and then had the boys. I’m not super employable either; I haven’t worked in so long. And, even if I did get in to the program again, we’d have to spend another two semesters in residence at the university. For research I’ll have to travel, study, and move. A lot. That’s what excited me about the program in the first place, moving all over the world in the name of research.” I tug my hand away. “No one cares about the anthropology of Amity Street. I’m taking a bath.”

 

“I’m sorry,” he says so quietly I can’t be sure if he’s talking to himself or me.

 

Yeah, me too.

 

*

 

“Jesus, Nat, you’re a mess. Come here.” Tosha led me to the bed when I got home from saying goodbye to Ryker.

 

“Oh my God, Tosh, it was awful, just . . .” I broke into heavy sobs and pressed my face into the pillow as she rubbed my back. “Little kids were saying goodbye to their dads, and moms, and a guy’s wife was pregnant.”

 

“Yep, it’s a bitch. Not all soldiers are unattached eighteen-year-olds,” she sighed as she played with my hair.

 

“I’ve gotta shower or something,” my voice stuttered uncontrollably against my tears. Screaming wouldn’t help, crying hadn’t helped, but something had to.

 

I ran to the bathroom and fell to my knees in front of the toilet. I painfully heaved my breakfast for several minutes before leaning back and thumping my head against the tiled wall. I slammed my fists behind me a little harder than planned. But, it felt good, somehow, to force the frustration, anger, and fear out of my body onto the cold tile. The pain it returned was a physical echo of my emotional hell. I punched it again. And again. And again.

 

Ryker’s gone.

 

My parents don’t care.

 

They think it’s great that this “distraction” is out of the picture for a while.

 

 

 

 

 

At some point I started yelling and screaming between my punches, causing Tosha to force her way into the bathroom.

 

“Natalie! Natalie, stop, you’re bleeding!” She grabbed my wrists.

 

Yep. I was bleeding. The skin on the outside of my hands cracked open against the ragged grout. I was breathless with adrenaline when I met Tosha’s eyes.

 

“Sorry,” I panted, standing to head to the sink.

 

“Feeeeeel better?” She stretched out with exaggerated question.

 

I gripped the sink and stared at my reflection as relief washed over me.

 

“Yeah, actually, I do.” My hands shook but I felt amazing. It felt like I was literally bleeding my anxiety away.

 

“Okay,” she spoke cautiously, “look, your mom called earlier. She said she called your cell phone a bunch of times . . .”

 

My mom and I had a huge argument the day before when I tried to get her off the phone to spend time with Ryker.

 

“Make sure you don’t lose your focus on school,” was her main concern.

 

My dad was more understanding; told me to tell Ryker he was proud of him. I’m sure he said that out of my mother’s earshot. She thought soldiers were all dumb or poor; it ruffled her cashmere fucking feathers when I told her Ryker was a student at Amherst College.

 

I didn’t call my mom back. I took a shower instead, and washed all the blood and the pain from the morning down the drain. The pain felt strangely good. I controlled it. It felt like the only thing in my life I could control inside that moment.

 

*

 

Now I sit in the bathtub, feeling good again. Pulling the razor across my hip, slow like a bow on a cello, every skin cell bursts open along its path. Just one time will do. Just one. My hair stands on end; my body jumps into fight-or-flight mode as my heartbeat thuds through my chest. My body knows a normal person would run away from this pain, but my brain knows I’m not normal.

 

That poor fucking girl.

 

Seconds after Danielle left I was reliving Ryker’s deployment, and I wanted to cut. The urge muscled its way to the front of my brain to focus on a pain I could control.

 

Inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth, I revel in those first few seconds when the pain goes away. It feels so good to have pain go away, just like that. Then I make another cut. Just one more, I promise this time.

 

As I drain the bathtub, I reach for the almost-empty bottle of peroxide splash it over the razor; wincing a little as it spills across my hip. I sit in the empty bathtub until I hear Eric get into bed.