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Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
She is twisting the bottom of her shirt around her finger over and over again. A nervous habit. “I stopped eating when Finn left. That was about seventeen weeks ago. No, it was exactly seventeen weeks ago. Yesterday.”
“Do you keep count?”
Now she let it go, but the shirt was already stretched out. “I try not to. No, that’s a lie. I do keep count. On the calendar next to my dresser. It has those cute pictures of dogs in various scenes, you know those? My favorite picture is August. It’s a Dachshund puppy in a wicker basket. I like Dachshunds. I told my mom if I ever got one I would name it Willy. And call it Willy the Weenie.”
She is getting off track again. “Briardon.”
“Sorry. Yeah it was seventeen weeks ago. We only had four months to be together before he left for Baghdad. A whole year, gone.” Again she twists the stretched out section of shirt around her finger. She doesn’t look down.
“He didn’t leave you Briardon. He had no choice.” I keep my eyes steadied on hers.
“Yeah, I know that. It’s just not what you expect. You know when you first get married.” She pauses for a moment. “Married for four months.” She sighs. It makes me sigh too.
I try to talk slowly, a calming mechanism. She is starting to get fidgety again. “Does time really matter? You should be happy you were able to get married before he left. Some army couples never get the opportunity.”
She reacts as if I had physically stung her. “Don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly grateful for that. I would have been happy with four days. It’s just me being selfish, I guess.”
“What do you mean?”
“I consider myself to be a selfish person. That’s all.”
I pause, utterly confused by this statement. “But, why?”
“Because I tried to keep him with me. I took him away from everybody.”
Now I’m getting nervous. “I’m sorry I’m not following.”
“When we got together in high school, I was the one that convinced him to think about joining the army. He just had no ambitions, no goals. So it’s my fault he was sent away seventeen weeks ago.” She looks down at her shirt. It’s twisted so tightly around her finger that it’s turning purple.
I knew it was her that told Finn to join the army, but I had agreed. It was the best thing for him. “Then how did you try to keep him with you?”
“We were together for eight years. We met when we were fifteen years old. I mean, you were there. You know he never had another girlfriend. I kept him from branching out. I’m selfish.”
I couldn’t believe she was saying this. “Briar, did you ever consider the fact that he wanted to be with you? And only you?”
She actually contemplates this question, like if she says the wrong thing in response, she’ll lose this game. A game of what, I’m not sure.
Another couple of seconds goes by. “I suppose he does. Did.”
That even stings me. “Yes, he did love you and only you. What makes you believe he didn’t?”
Another pause, “Um, I’m not sure.” She unwraps her finger from the bottom of her shirt and pulls her legs in tighter. She’s fading away quickly. I can’t let her leave.
“Briardon, Finn loved you with all his heart. He told me, constantly, how much he loved you. It was almost sickening, and as his sister I put up with a lot of his s***. But you have to know that he loved you. Really.”
I didn’t know what else I could say in this moment. She was slowly disappearing, as if the Magic Eraser man was taking his Magic Eraser and wiping her away. It had been days since I’d seen her. She couldn’t leave now.
“Briardon stay with me. Stay here honey.”
But there are tears in her eyes. I try to reach for them, to close the space between us, but she won’t stay solid enough for me to help. For me to bring her back.
I wake up with tears in my eyes, just like the ones she had in my dream. I take my pillow and bury my face in it, letting the sobs roll off my body. I try not to shake and wake Derek, but he hears me anyway.
“Cara, sweetheart. What’s wrong?” He rubs my back in circles, the way Finn used to.
“She was in my dream again.” It’s all I can say right now, but he understands.
“It’s okay love. It’s only been a few days. You two were so close.” I don’t think he knows what else to say either.
I look around my room, trying to ground myself to the present and take myself out of that dream. But I can’t help but wish I were there, rather than here.
“We were in their living room. I was trying to get her to talk about her anorexia, but she was talking about something else. Stuff I had never heard her say. It was frightening Derek. I didn’t know she felt that way.” I shiver a little bit. He pulls me closer to him.
“Cara I’m sure there were a lot of things Briar didn’t tell you. I know you two were best friends, but she was not well at the end love. There wasn’t anything you could do.”
He is right. I know he is. But I don’t want to believe that Briar was crazy or anything close to it. “I tried though, don’t you think? When everyone else left her, I was there. I was there for her.”
Derek just keeps stroking my back in circles. I can feel my eyelids getting heavier so I let them close and focus on the rhythm of Derek’s hand. But before I fall asleep, I look at the Dachshund puppy calendar on my wall, and think about getting a dog. I’ll name him Willy. Willy the weenie.