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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Portrait of an Apology, Revision: Part 1

I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, he thought as the burly biker’s fist plowed its way into his face. Gerard wasn’t thinking of the biker, no, he wouldn’t apologize to the biker. He wanted to be in this alleyway, he wanted to be punished. So here he was on all fours before this man he had just insulted in the bar. “Hey cocksucker,” he had said in a drunken coked up stupor, “the Outlaws are nothing more than pansy ass freaks. Why don’t you go back to your clubhouse and take it up the ass.” He was really thinking, Bring the pain.
            Gerard knew taunting a member of the city’s most notorious biker club wasn’t a bright idea, but at the moment it was punishment he wanted; that he needed. He pushed himself up onto all fours spitting up blood and possibly a tooth. Catching his breath he started to laugh. It was the reaction of a man who wasn’t done yet, the coke made him feel as though he could take anything, and he was ready to take it.
            All it took was one more hit, though. The biker’s fist came down, colliding with the side of Gerard’s face. Gerard collapsed to the ground, his head bouncing off the pavement. Before everything went black he heard the biker say, “I reckon you ought not come back here, shit’ll only get worse if you do.”
Gerard heard the biker spit, but he wasn’t sure if it was on him or not. He closed his eyes and listened as the biker’s steps, and his consciousness, faded away.
As he lay there a dream came to him, one that often came when he was in the deepest depths of despair; a memory of days gone by. It was his family, long before things went awry, back when they were all happy. Gerard stood on the bow of the family boat, he was nine years old. He was the navigator while his father was the captain at the wheel, his mom at his father’s side. Francie, his sister, sat in a chair on the starboard aft side of the boat, the wind blowing back her auburn hair.
They weren’t able to get out on the boat very often in those days; it often depended on Francie’s mood. She had a severe form of cerebral palsy that affected her as much mentally as it had physically. While taking care of her wasn’t easy, everyone in the family pitched in to help her and they all loved each other. In this moment they were all happy.
Gerard didn’t recall which trip this was, he didn’t dream of the specifics, he just froze the image in his mind: he stood at the front of the boat looking back to see his dad and his mom laughing while Francie sat in the back of the boat with a smile on her face looking up into a clear sky. Gerard and Francie hadn’t yet received the word that their parents had died in a car accident on Valentine’s Day coming home from a romantic dinner. Gerard hadn’t been scuttled off to his Aunt Cindy’s, a woman who remained perpetually drunk 24/7. Francie hadn’t been moved to a home yet because no one in the family wanted to deal with her many needs.
No, none of that had happened in his dream, and while he lay there unconscious waiting for the bartender to stir him from the pool of blood he lay in on the asphalt, he was happy.

While growing up at Cindy’s after the death of his parents Gerard took every opportunity he could to visit Francie. She was treated well by the nurses in her new home, but he could tell she wasn’t happy. As he got older he was able to spend more and more time with her, and he could tell this made her happier. Every time he came he promised that when he was able to move out on his own he would take her away from this place and they would live together, happily ever after just like in the stories he read her. Her cognitive abilities, such as speech, weren’t very developed, but he knew she was happy when she said, “I love you,” which always drove him to tears.
He spent as much time studying to graduate high school as he did learning how to take care of Francie when he did graduate. All of the money he earned from any jobs he could find during high school went into savings so he could get what he needed to take care of her. He quizzed the nurses when he went to visit Francie to find out exactly what they did, often shadowing them once they knew his intentions. Never once did he consider any career besides taking care of his sister; all he wanted was to have what was left of his family back.
And when he got out of high school that’s exactly what he got. Due to the fact that his sister was no longer a burden on any state system she received disability checks and he received checks from the state as her caretaker. It wasn’t easy, and he was expecting that, but they were happy together. Due to her developmental disability she had her mood swings, but he could tell the difference in her mental well-being almost immediately. They loved each other, and from now on they would never be separated.

For ten years he hadn’t done anything without Francie by his side. He didn’t date, he didn’t go to parties, he didn’t go to bars, and outside of Francie he didn’t have a life. To be honest, he didn’t expect one and didn’t want one. She was the only true family he felt that he had left. After he had left Cindy’s she felt that he hadn’t been appreciative of her hospitality. He didn’t know her hospitality, after all she knew more about vodka than even her own children (who had left her and disappeared years ago). The only member of the family who visited them regularly and seemed to enjoy their company was their cousin Theresa. He liked her visits, mainly for how she treated Francie like a real person and not as a plague on the family.
Gerard kept a few contacts from high school, even though he was always preoccupied with Francie and learning about her care he had been fairly popular and they were always trying to get him to spend some time with them. "C'mon man," they would say, "you need some time for yourself, and don't forget about us!" He wanted to, but he was always worried about leaving Francie with someone else.
He began making plans and his first choice was Theresa, she was the only one he trusted with Francie. Unfortunately Theresa was going out of town the week he had plans. She promised to keep a look out for caretakers for him, and that resulted in Cindy giving him a call.
“I know you’ve made it abundantly clear you want nothing to do with me,” she said in her croaky cigarette ruined voice, “but I might know someone who can help you.”
“Honestly, Aunt Cindy, I’ve never tried to make you feel that way,” he said, lying through his teeth, “I just felt like I was always a burden to you and I really wanted to get Francie back.” The next words that came out were some of the hardest he ever felt he would say: “I’m sorry if I made you feel that way, and I really do appreciate you all you’ve done for me since the accident.”
“I accept your apology boy,” he hated when she called him that, but his fake apology got her to give up the contact information. The woman’s name was Alice, and she specialized in temporary medical care. He didn’t have much to go on as far as recommendations, but he called Cindy and she spoke very highly of her character. While he didn’t relish ever taking Cindy’s advice on anything, he reluctantly called Alice and booked her for the evening.
That night he met his friends at Speak Easy before going out to a Kings of Leon concert. Every once in a while his mind returned home to Francie with an urge to call Alice to find out how things were going, but he resisted the urge and kept his mind in the present. He had a great time, and even questioned whether he could make a monthly plan of going out without Francie. He said his goodbyes mixed with let’s-do-this-agains and they went their separate ways. Gerard drove home humming random verses of “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody”. As he pulled into his driveway he began wondering what they would do next time.
As he got out of his car, though, something wasn’t right. Where was Alice’s car? He looked around; he could have sworn she had parked in the driveway. As he walked to the front door he noticed that it stood partially ajar, with the lights still on. He stood there for a moment looking around the neighborhood. Most of the neighboring houses’ lights were off; a few had the soft dancing lights of TV’s playing in bedroom windows. The neighborhood was mostly quiet though. Fear washed over Gerard. What awaited him inside? He didn’t want to answer that question; he knew the answer wouldn’t be good.
Slowly he pushed the door open. His breath caught in his throat. Momentary paralysis seized him. His eyes fixed to the scene greeting him in the living room. There Francie lay, next to her overturned wheel chair. She lay naked in a pool of her own blood; stab wounds gracing her stomach and bite marks on her back and neck. Her face was filled with cuts and bruises, the places where the ones who had done this had beat her to a pulp. Her body had been violated by multiple entry wounds in other ways as well. He didn’t need anyone else to tell him that some sick individual had beaten and raped her before stabbing her to death.
Paralysis fled making way for limpness. He fell to the floor losing complete control of himself. He let out an agonizing howl as tears fell to his cheeks and splashed to the floor. Later on he wouldn’t recall any of his entry of the house beyond Francie’s mangled body lying on the floor, a sight that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Now he crawled and clawed his way across the floor trying to get to her. Not even thinking about the pool of blood or anything else he drew her to him, cradling her lifeless body in his lap wailing at the ceiling. How long he held her there he didn’t know; he refused to let her go. Even when the paramedics and cops came, called by a concerned neighbor woken up by his screaming, he wouldn’t let them take her from him. She was all he had, she was his everything. Finally the paramedics had to sedate him to remove the body. Even as they removed the body and he lay on a stretcher near loss of consciousness he could only say, “She can’t be dead, she can’t be dead.”
He was taken to the hospital and kept there for a few days and kept largely sedated. The cops came to question him and he told them all he could remember.
“We’re sorry for your loss sir,” the two officers said as they prepared to leave his hospital room.
“Wait, I haven’t heard anything from Alice, she was watching Francie,” Gerard asked in his drug induced haze, “do you know what happened to her? She was gone when I got home.”
“She received an emergency call,” one of the officers responded, “her son had been rushed to the hospital.”
“Do you know for what?” Gerard asked.
“Unfortunately we can’t offer you those details sir, we’re sorry.”
“Do you have any leads?”
“We believe so, but we can’t give you much more information on that either sir.”

“Oh…okay, thanks.” The officers left the room and Gerard sat there in silence. He tried to process the information, but the sedatives made it hard. He drifted back into uneasy sleep with dreams that teetered between highlights of the best and worst moments of his life. The early life boat rides with his family. His parents’ funeral. Francie’s smile when he brought her to their new place away from the home. Her violated body. He found himself waking in a cold sweat. The dream lasted for hours in his mind, but it was only a short while in reality.

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