I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Those are the words that have been playing in my head for the past few months, but they’ve never made their way across my lips. Now I find them mingling with ink as they drip from my pen onto this page. This is my letter of reconciliation for things that can never be reconciled; my apology for things I know that will not be forgiven. I just hope that the details contained within will allow you all to understand my plight. Maybe then I can earn back your respect.
“You need some time to yourself, Gerard,” my friends always used to say. “Live your life.” No one ever seemed to understand that Francie was my life. She couldn’t take care of herself, what was I to do; she was my little sister. No one else knew how to care for her the way I did. Who else would provide her with the compassion and the love that I gave her? God knows none of you wanted the burden; hell, I was the only one who didn’t see her as a burden.
Eventually, I relented though. Lord knows I wish I hadn’t. Some of my old high school buddies were going to a concert and invited me along. It took some convincing, but I finally decided to put to use the caregiver’s number that Aunt Cindy had given me a while back. Why I decided to take Cindy’s advice in the first place I’ll never know; she can tell you more about vodka than her own children (wherever they’ve been all these years), she’s constantly soused. But, hey, if you can’t trust family, who can you trust?
Sure, I had an appropriately good time at the concert, but when I got home I learned that the fleeting moments of fun were not worth the time spent away.
Most of you remember the first time you heard the news, and I’m sure it came as a shock. At least I hope it did. As many of you only saw us once a year, I would like to think that being family would not preclude you from the civility of feeling sadness for a family member in pain. As much as it might have shocked you though, you cannot imagine the heart stopping feeling I felt when I came home that night.
I remember most of it vividly, and I probably will for the rest of my life. As I walked up to the front door I noticed that it was slightly ajar. I recall stopping for a moment as my heart started beating faster. Before I could bring myself to enter the house I called out to Beatrice, the lady Aunt Cindy said would be a great help if I needed some time away from Francie, but there was no answer. I slowly pushed open the door and as I did my stomach hit the floor as my heart leapt into my throat.
There, right in the middle of the living room lay Francie’s overturned wheelchair and her lifeless body. The stains on the carpet, that must have been deep red long before I had arrived home, were already turning a deep dark brown. Next thing I recall I was holding her body in my lap, her forehead pressed against my cheek. I begged and I pleaded for her to come back, but there was no use: she had left me long before I had arrived. The horror of her condition still haunts me to this day, and even then I tried not to look at her violated body. Words cannot express the depravity of whoever had done this, of the condition they left her in.
I don’t remember much else about that night. The police arrived with an ambulance to take her away, but I recall I didn’t want to let her go. That was the last time I ever saw her, even her funeral a week later was a closed casket. Never again would I feel her skin against mine. Never again would I kiss her cheek. Never again would I take care of her. I had let her down once, and that’s all it took for her to be taken away from me forever.
The week between her brutal death and the funeral is all a haze. I know some of you came to visit me expressing your condolences, but I can’t remember who. I do want to express my gratitude for those of you who did come. Unfortunately, I had been prescribed enough sedatives and tranquilizers to take out an elephant for a month. I say unfortunately but in reality it was the only way I could function in any capacity at the time. When Francie died, I died. I had given up everything to take care of her. It’s not that I regret doing it, but when she died I had nothing. Not only had the demon who broke her taken her away from me, but they had taken away my livelihood. I spent every waking moment with her and she was the only person who had ever loved me unconditionally. What was I to do after that?
Her funeral came and went, and I was able to wean myself enough off of the sedatives and tranquilizers to the point where I was lucid. I still remained sedated enough to keep a lot of thoughts to myself at least, which was beneficial when it came time for me to make a statement. I was also still grieving at the time; anger hadn’t replaced sorrow by then.
It wasn’t long before anger, hatred, betrayal, and a need for vengeance replaced the deep well of sadness within though. It ate through me; bore a hole in my gut as if I was rotting from the inside. By then I would do anything to take my mind off that night, but no matter what my vision turned toward Francie’s scars and the malice of the one who did it.
This point is when I started going to the local dive bars looking for fights. I just wanted to find the toughest meanest son of a bitch in the place and take him down. I didn’t care if I would win or lose. If I lost the physical pain would fill the emotional void for a short time, if I was knocked unconscious I didn’t have to think at all for a while. It was never enough though, and picking a fight wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Often I would get kicked out of bars for causing problems, or I just found myself wasted, puking my guts out on the side of the street or in a back alley.
It’s in places like that where you begin to make friends, but not with anyone you’d want to see in the light of day. It was puking in a back alley that I learned a line of coke could keep you from throwing up when you drank too much. All it took was a few more tries to learn that with coke I could drink all I wanted, but then I also couldn’t sleep. By the time I realized coke was the cause of my insomnia I couldn’t stop, and I didn’t want to. It made me feel like I was in total control; I just didn’t realize I was spinning completely out of control.
I remember bits and pieces of the family reunion. I remember being sick of everyone telling me how sorry they were about Francie. I knew none of them gave a damn, if they did they would have come to visit every once in a while, said more than a word or two when we came to these family gatherings. I remember Cousin Theresa telling me that I looked pale and sick; that I should go see a doctor. I remember making myself a plate of food wondering when was the last time I actually ate something. Even then I think I choked down a fry before throwing the plate in the trash.
I looked around and saw these laughing smiling faces all around; except for the ones that looked at me with worry and concern in their eyes. I looked at them, I looked at all of you, knowing it was nothing more than an act. It was all a lie. These were the faces of hypocrites. I desperately wanted to tell you all so, and according to Theresa I did. That thought was the last thought to pop into my head before I began shouting at you all in more colorful language than Theresa cared to repeat. She told me all of this as I sat confined to a bed in St. Julia Hospital.
Apparently, after going off on everyone at the reunion I collapsed. The doctors blamed it largely on dehydration, but also noted from my chart that I had lost 20 pounds since I received a complete physical after Francie’s passing. As she recounted the story of the reunion I noted how Theresa averted her eyes from mine. The look on her face was a mix of shame and concern. It struck a chord deep within me; she was the only one I ever felt was truly sincere in her concern. She was the only one to come and visit Francie and me on a regular basis.
A deeper pang of guilt hit me that drove tears to my eyes, tears of the saline they were pumping into my veins rather than any reserves of water that had been stored in my body I’m sure. This guilt stemmed from the thought of what Francie must think of me if she were able to see me right now. Where was she? Can she see me? If she can surely she must be devoid of the maladies that plagued her in this life, her mind no longer feeble as it once was. There with Theresa by my bedside, for the first time since the night of Francie’s death, I sobbed until I could cry no more.
This is why I write to you today. Maybe I’m not even seeking your forgiveness or respect; that time may have passed. I do know that if Francie can see how I acted she would be ashamed, and so I do this for her more than for you or even myself. I’m also writing to let you know I’m going away for a while. I know there have been murmurs that maybe I should go to rehab, but my mind is in a much different place than it was after Francie’s death or at the reunion. For now I need to get away from this place to further my reevaluation of myself. Where I will end up is anyone’s guess, but I’m sure things will be brighter there than they are here and now.