STORY 1: MAN OF SHADOWS
*EXCERPT FROM STORY*
Leigh burst out into tears, and Bastian stopped his dumb pacing and simply stared at Naomi with his mouth hanging open.
“One of you say something, dammit,” Naomi demanded, stomping her foot. She felt like a toddler throwing a tantrum, but she didn’t care. She was sick of being the least interesting of her friends, always passed over, and otherwise disregarded. They would have to answer her.
“We…” Bastian started, looking back and forth from Leigh to Naomi. “We didn’t say anything like that,” Bastian informed her, his usually confident voice shaking slightly. “We weren’t talking at all.”
Naomi stared at him, hearing his words but not able to make sense of them. “But I heard you guys, loud as shit,” Naomi stammered. The pounding in her head growing louder by the second.
She leaned herself up against the wall, the pounding now a high-pitched ring that echoed loudly in her head. Naomi looked over at Bastian to see that his lips were moving, but she couldn’t hear him. Only the ringing. He moved toward her with an arm stretched out.
Naomi pushed his arm away; as she did it, a picture frame fell off the nightstand and shattered.
Naomi watched as Leigh screamed in terror, fake tears turning into real ones as she jumped off the bed in fright.
Naomi felt like she might be sick; a flood of voices began to echo in her head. She left her two exes’ in the bedroom and stumbled her way down the hall, one hand against the wall to help steady her.
She made it to the beach-themed bathroom down the hall and sat hunched over the sink as she ran cold water and splashed it on her face.
Naomi stared at her reflection; her green cat eyes were bloodshot and her freckled face hot to the touch. Maybe it wasn’t a migraine. Perhaps she really was sick. Something must be wrong with her. She felt her phone blowing up in her pocket, vibrating like crazy. She took it from her jeans and tossed it on the counter but couldn’t bring herself to look at it. She could hardly think straight with the constant murmur of voices seeping their way into her head, and then, she heard it.
“Murder,” like a whisper of agony. The word made Naomi’s blood run cold, and a shiver shoot up her spine. Then she heard it again, louder. “Murder… Naomi.”
She leaned over the sink and threw up bright red punch, unable to hold it in any longer. This had to be some sort of prank, a sick senior joke, or something.
Naomi wiped her mouth and turned to face the door. “Who’s out there?” she asked, her voice trembling worse than her knees. Who the hell would want to murder her? A goddamn all-American honor roll student? The worst thing she ever did in her life was giving physics test answers to Janelle.
Again, she heard it, the whisper now a loud groan, “murder Naomi.” Wouldn’t someone else hear? Why hadn’t someone said something about this not-so-funny joke?
“What do you want?” Naomi screamed; tears gather in her eyes. Fear gripped her, strangling her to the point where she wasn’t sure if she could breathe.
The doorknob turned slightly, and the door slowly pushed open. Naomi walked backward until her back was pressed up against the hideous aqua tile that looked like it was from the ’80s. What a terrible way to die, in an old bathroom at a dusty party where she didn’t want to be in the first place. I should have stayed home, she thought to herself. Or, she should have left when she wasn’t feeling well; stupid, stupid, stupid!
A creature stood in the doorway, covered head to toe in black. A hood pulled all the way up over its darkened face.
“Go away,” Naomi screamed, curled up into a ball in the corner of the bathroom. She prayed someone would hear her, but the music downstairs was deafening. She was on her own.
The creature pulled back its hood to reveal a skeletal face with large black holes where its eyes should have been. Its hair was grey and stringy, hanging off its skull in greasy patches. Naomi felt the bile rise in her throat again. Before she could puke, it took a step toward her.
“Hungry. Murder Naomi,” it hissed. Its mouth remained unmoved, but Naomi should hear it as loud as if the creature was yelling it in her ear.
“No!” Naomi screamed, her head ready to explode when the water started running. Water pushed forcefully out of the sink and out of the shower, running loudly. The creature looked around, confused.
Naomi wanted to move. She wanted to reach for her phone and call for help. She also wanted to throw the phone at this monster’s head.
Just as she thought about it, she noticed her phone starting to shake on the counter. It shook harder and faster, bouncing wildly off the counter before shooting off and connecting with the creature’s jaw, sending its head-spinning clean around its neck.
Naomi let out a horrified scream watching the creature adjust its head back straight on its body. She jumped to her feet and grabbed the top off the toilet, gripping the linoleum in her sweaty hands. Naomi swung the tank lid at the creature with all the might she could muster. The monster quickly fizzled out and disappeared before her eyes, causing Naomi to almost fall into the running tub. It reappeared outside the bathroom in the hallway, hissing at her with a tongue like a snake...
Want to finish the story? Visit https://laurenwrites.online/the-kinetics-series/ to find out what happens next!
Plastic Voices and Pretty Faces
The asked specifically for orphans. Although I wasn’t technically an orphan at birth, I might as well be.
My parents died in a car crash when I was 20, not that they really raised me at all. My dad was a drunk and his job was a salesman. He thought his coffee or tea would hide the bitter smell of alcohol but it never did. Not from me or his bosses at work. My mom was a teacher at one point, making pretty decent money but as soon as I was born she quit to stay home and raise me like a proper woman. But she was unhappy. Filling her time with china patterns and tending to the every need of a baby wasn’t what she wanted. She ended up drinking with dad, and even got some pills prescribed by the doctor to help “take the edge off” as she used to say.
I remember standing alone at their graves on the warm, rainy day in April. They were just, gone. I had just seen them, swinging by my house where I lived with my husband at the time. My dad was quiet and brooding as always. He tried to corner my sweet John about pursuing sales but John wanted to be a college professor. He always jumped on the opportunity to try and change his mind. My mother had always loved to complain but it was a special treat for her when she came over because she hated everything; the color of the rooms, the mantle over the fire, the size of the backyard, everything. She pressed us about kids but I knew I wanted to finish college first.
“Maggie, it’s nothing but a waste,” she said, lighting a cigarette. A new habit that I hadn’t learned about yet. “As soon as you finish you’ll have a baby and then it all goes down the drain,” she took a long drawl and let the smoke curl around her lip.
I was relieved. So relieved when they left. And they were hit by a semi-truck on the way home. Some man who had been driving for 18 hours fell asleep at the wheel. They died instantly, or so the police told me. They wouldn’t let me see their bodies so their funeral was the first time I had seen them.
I could hardly recognize them. Laying motionless like some disfigured vampires; their skin painfully white and caked with makeup over thick black stitches that looked like the only things holding their bodies together anymore.
Five years later, John died. I hated myself for awhile after his death. We never got around to having kids, like I always promised him we would. I was just packing up my desk at the elementary school I taught at, reading over my lessons plans one last time before I was due to be home to get dinner on the table. I remember hearing heels hurry down the empty hallway, switching between a walk, tap… tap… tap… and a jog, taptaptaptap. Ms. Kealy’s face hovered in the door.
“Ms. Kealy, I was just finishing up for the day. What can I help you with?” I said as sweetly as possible to the secretary who just would not leave me alone. She always popped by at the end of the day, forcing me to make idle chit-chat for almost an hour. I swore that if she invited me to another potluck I would just flat out say no- no more excuses, it was time to be direct.
She poked her head into the office but it was... different. Twisted up and puckered. I felt the words touch me before she even spoke. “Maggie… there’s…. There’s been an accident,” she said.
I don’t remember how I got home, maybe I flew or teleported myself although both seem unlikely. The police were already there, I could see the lights flashing in my driveway from down the block. Neighbors were gathering outside, sipping drinks and smoking on their porches, eyeing my front door.
The police told me that it wasn’t, in fact, an accident like idiot Kealy had told me it was. They informed me that my sweet husband had killed himself. He didn’t leave a note but just shot himself in the head right in his office at Boston University. Maybe he was having an affair, they said. I didn’t know. They left me in an empty house to pick up the pieces alone.
I didn’t leave the house for a week. Maybe I’m the kiss of death, everything or everyone that comes near me dies. I left the school to work at a perfume counter at the department store. I made enough to keep our house which quickly fell into ruin. Shrubs became distorted, the inside was dusty and dirty. I wasn’t sure how long I could carry on but carry on I did for years and years.
Until I saw the ad. The ad asked for orphans, and although I wasn’t an orphan I certainly felt like one and it said I needed to be over 18. I ripped it from the light post, folded it carefully and tucked it in my purse pocket.
I took the short bus ride that Friday. The ad didn’t give details, only to ask for Dr. Watts at MIT. I arrived only a short while later at the campus and found my way to Dr. Watt’s office. I waited outside for almost two hours and was about to go when he appeared. A young man with tousled brown hair that shot out at all different directions and small, circular framed glasses.
He explained the procedure to me and I signed the dotted line. Maybe this is the good that I can do with my life, I thought. Maybe this is how I can help humanity.
I was given a hospital gown and shown the room that I would spend the next 67 years in. I remember thinking that it was dark, only illuminated by the heart rate monitors beside each incubator tube.
“What if I get cold?” I asked.
“These incubators respond to your internal body temperature, so they will adjust the temperature if your body needs it,” Dr. Watts explained. I just stared at him, blinking. “You’ll always be cozy,” he finally said.
I smiled at nodded at him from the edge of the incubator.
“We will take care of your house for you and will provide you with a stipend for every year that you are with us in a special bank account that you will be able to access once you wake up.”
I nodded again, he had already told me all of this when I signed the paperwork.
“Any final questions?” he asked me.
Yes, am I insane? I thought to myself. What sort of person gives up their entire life to be cryogenically frozen for over a decade? Oh, that’s right, me.
“No, I think you covered everything,” I said, actually looking forward to a nice long sleep.
I was mostly connected to the tubes and the monitors when Dr. Watts asked me to count backwards from 10. I tried to get the words to come out but I drifted off to sleep before I could even start.
I can’t remember what it felt like, being born. But I imagine it was something similar to coming out of the incubation tube. Bright lights that blinded me, sounds that I thought might deafen me, and all the smells and movement at once made me want to cry.
The lab room looked… different. Bright white lights and clean tiles glistened. Not to mention updated incubators. The man I spoke to wasn’t Dr. Watts, I was told that he retired years ago but he would love to speak to me in the coming weeks. I nodded at the not-Dr. Watts but my ears rang when he spoke. I said a little prayer that I wasn’t missing anything important.
I was given my bank account that was a hefty amount now, over $100,000 and the house had been demolished twenty years ago. They set me up with an apartment and told me they would foot the bill to make up for it. I didn’t miss the house when I heard, a part of me was almost relieved that I didn’t have to go back there. They set me up with a teaching job at a charter school and said my training started next week. God, I missed teaching. It had been so long since I’ve been able to teach. I just had to check in once a week for the first year and we would “see how things go” from there.
Not-Dr. Watts handed me an updated passport and ID along with a folding brown wallet.
“Is this supposed to be mine?” I asked Not-Dr. Watts.
“It’s standard, everyone got the same,” he explained.
I opened the ugly brown wallet with a long sigh, feeling disappointed but unsure why.
“There’s no cash in here,” I shut the wallet and crossed my arms, “where’s the closest bank?” I asked, bracing myself for the answer. I didn’t want to spend my entire day in a new millennium taking the bus back and forth to the dumb bank. It used to take me hours to go get petty cash to keep at the house for John in case a salesman came by or we needed an extra dollar or two for groceries.
“That’s what the cards are for,” he opened the wallet and pulled out a plastic cherry red card, “the money is all on your debit card.” I blinked, looking at it. A debit card. Not-Dr.Watts explained that it’s just like money but easier. No more balancing checkbooks, just swiping cards.
He placed a small device on the table in front of me that lit up, showing the time.
“This is yours as well,” the man told me.
“What is it?” I asked, touching the reflective glass that had gone from a watercolor picture to glossy black. It lit up again at my touch.
“It’s a phone,” he told me.
I felt a smile creep into the corners of my mouth, waiting for Not-Dr. Watts to crack but he kept his serious charade up nicely which made me laugh harder. It felt so good to laugh, I let myself laugh until tears welled up in my eyes and ran down my face. I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed like that.
“That’s not a phone,” I finally managed to say, pointing at the technology. “So what is it really?”
He looked at me like I was growing a second head. “Its… a phone.”
I picked it up, turning it in my hand over and over. “Where?” I asked.
Now, it was his turn to laugh. “Let me show you how to use it,” he said through a bemused smile.
An hour later, I was finally ready to head out. I picked up my duffle bag that I had brought with me and took my last deep breath of sterile, filtered lab air. Apartment, job, I had everything I needed to succeed. I held the paper with all the important information on it tightly in my hand.
Not-Dr. Watts, whose name I eventually discovered was Dr. Page, set up my phone so that a driver would come pick me up outside the building and drop me off at my apartment only 10 minutes away and I paid for it with my credit card.
My brain buzzed when I finally pushed open the clean white door and the sun touched my face. I savored the prickly feeling on my skin until the wind came. A typical northeast wind, a breeze bit through me under my black dress and stockings. I was such a Prima Donna, committing to wearing all black for the rest of my life like some Little Miss Moffit of death. I wrapped my wool jacket tight around me. It was fall in Boston and the year was 2019. It smelled like a new city- a different city. The trees that lined the streets were vivid shades of gold, red, and orange and the ground was littered with leaves.
Kids rode by on bikes, buzzed past on scooters, used a board to slide down the rails of the a campus building. Other people rushed by, holding phones up to their ears and sipping steamy drinks from cups they just tossed in the trash.
Women wore jeans and pants suits, and short skirts with tights underneath. Men had baseball hats and converse sneakers on with their plaid shirts and tight jeans. They all looked lost, like a mishmash of style and personality that came from the generations before them. Nothing truly belonged to them, but to their ancestors. They simply had the luxury of picking the parts they liked and trashing the rest to create a style that was individual to each person. A tapestry of their life and their realities. It was beautiful, the variety. It made the blood pump through my veins a little harder and my breath catch in my lungs.
Women held hands as they walked down the street and one tenderly wrapped her arms around the waist of the other before gazing up, her eyes full of expectation. The other girl reached down to touch her face, whispering something that only the two of them could hear before their lips met. My eyes got large as I looked around, waiting to see if anyone else saw what I did. No one else noticed, or they simply didn’t care. I guess why should we care, that’s their business, I thought. I kept an eye out for the police, just in case. Maybe I could whistle them a warning before a patrol officer would spot them.
A mom and dad walked by pushing a stroller. The mom, a beautiful black woman with wildly curly hair and rich brown skin, peeked inside the stroller. The dad, a white man with an angular jaw and long hair pushed back took out his phone and told her to smile. She flashed a dazzling smile, her cheekbones sharp enough to cut a diamond. She picked up the baby and together they cooed at it. Smiling like they just took the egg.
Again, I looked around nervously. Did they know people could see them? Did they know the police heavily patrol this campus area? No one else around seemed to bat an eye. A boy flipped his hair while staring at his reflection in a shop window and two girls sitting at the café across the street smiled at the phone, holding up their drinks and striking a pose. What could they be doing?
A man in a wheelchair came down the sidewalk with a small dog in tow. The wheelchair moved on its own, he didn’t need to crank the wheels in exasperation to move forward and the sight almost brought me to tears. He looked, happy. He seemed content and I realized that I had never seen a person in a wheelchair before. I mean, I had seen them on television and on advertisements that played early in the morning on basic cable but had never seen a person in a wheelchair in real life. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he moved along right next to his dog who excitedly grabbed a leaf off the ground and presented it to his owner. The owner graciously took the leaf and tossed it into the air making the pup dance in circles trying to catch it again. Such a small, simple moment. I had never seen anything like and, I had never shared in someone else’s joy like I did with this stranger and his dog.
Tears rimmed my eyes as my phone began beeping loudly. A black car pulled up to the building and it matched the picture of the car on my phone, so I jumped in.
“Margret?” the older woman behind the wheel croaked.
“Maggie, yes,” I said with my sweetest smile and a plastic voice. I heard my mom use the plastic voice first. She would scream at me to clean up my toys, put away my crayons and then answer the phone like a flight attendant. I learned that there is the voice you use in your head, where no one can hear you and the voice that people not only want to hear but need to hear in order to feel like they can approach you, that you’re nice.
I was always a ‘nice’ girl. A ‘good’ girl. A ‘plastic voice’ girl. Maybe it was my 67 year slumber or maybe it was the people… how different they are, the world seems to be. I felt a little tug on my heart. It felt like a nudge from my insides telling me to follow that voice. The voice that whispered for me to try something different. Try another way.
Hell, this is a new life. I can be anyone I want to be so why not be exactly who I always wished I was. Now was the time.
The driver didn’t utter another word the rest of the trip which was rather rude, I ended up staring out the window at the cars. There were huge cars that looked like celebrities could be inside. They had dark windows and wheels and vibrated with bass. Other cars were small and sleek, they had flashy wheels and sat low to the ground. John would have loved to see all these cars. Our Pontiac was his pride and joy. He would never believe that all of these other cars even existed.
Fifteen minutes later I was outside of a brown brick building that had small flower pots hanging from the first story windows. I entered my single bedroom apartment on the first floor that had large windows that flooded the living room in light. One window had a piece of stained glass on top that made rainbows on the white couch. Everything was clean and bright and boring except the architecture. The doorways were high arches, the ceiling was high and accented with two old beams. The floor in the kitchen was mosaic tile that made it look like waves. It made my heart flutter.
The closet was full of all my old clothes, some hung up but most in boxes. I sorted through it all and yet didn’t feel like I was quite ready to get rid of clothes. Not that they were anything special but they felt like the last little bit I had to remember my old life by. I hung up the dresses and sweaters I thought it made sense to keep and put the other 25 dresses or so back in the boxes.
I left my apartment, locking my door on the way out and looked at the P.O. Boxes across the hall. The door next door slammed, making me jump. I looked over, my nose puckered from being startled and a super tall man emerged. He was light skinned and had to bend half way over to make it through the door frame. His eyes landed on mine and I felt a blush come to my cheeks.
“Hi,” he said, his eyes unmoving.
“Hello,” I said, looking down at my shoes. Boy’s don’t like a girl that’s too forward, my mother would always say. They like the quiet, polite ones. That meant giving them the big doe eyes and being clueless. Or at least pretending to be. I sat through so many boring tutorials of things I already knew how to do in order to appease the ego of men. I wondered if maybe, she was wrong. That there was another way to be.
“Did you just move in next door?” he asked, leaning his elbow against the top of the mailboxes.
“Yes, I did actually,” I said, fiddling my keys, bringing my eyes up to meet his. Just be yourself, I thought. Which is easier said than done when you really don’t know who you are.
“Word, that place has been empty for years now. I was starting to think it was a hide out for a secret government agent,” he said clasping his hands together to make a gun.
I smiled at him, “Who’s to say it’s not?”
He smiled, clearly amused. One point for the new and improved Maggie. “I’m Paul,” he stuck out a hand.
“Maggie,” I said grasping his hand. He wrapped his fingers all the way around me and gave it a small shake.
“It’s nice to meet you Maggie, welcome to the neighborhood and I’m sure I’ll see you around,” his brown eyes melting me where I stood. He threw on a cap and walked out the front door.
Dabbing the sweat off my forehead, I slowly walked out the front door into a crowd of people walking with a purpose. I decided to explore the little town that seemed to be bursting with coffee shops and businesses.
On my walk into town I realized how hungry I was. My stomach gurgled to remind me that I hadn’t eaten real food in 67 years. I walked past a few coffee shops before deciding on a café called Café Luna and sat at the bar, next to another woman who was alone. The placed with afternoon diners. Low conversation rumbled around me and some witchy woman vocals echoed in the back over a guitar. I swayed a little bit, soaking up the buzz of energy around me.
The bartender was a pretty girl with smoky eye makeup. Her nametag said Jamie and it hung loosely off the tee that she clearly cut the sleeves off herself.
“I love your dress!” she cried when she made her way over to me with a glass of water.
“Really?” I had made the mental note to get some new clothes when I left the college. I’m not sure what I expected people to dress like but I knew that I stood out like a sore thumb and, quite frankly, that’s the last thing I wanted.
“It’s such a fucking mood! I’ve totally been feeling the retro vibe myself recently. Where did you get it? Does it come in purple, you think?”
Holy crap this girl just cursed at me. I felt my mouth hanging slightly ajar. I had never heard a woman curse before, not in public like that. Sure, I was guilty of muttering a curse word under my breath while cooking or even while teaching but not out in public. It took me several seconds before I was able to bring my brain back around to her question and she stared at me, tapping her nails on the counter while waiting for an answer.
“I honestly do not know,” I told her. 67 years on ice, my memory felt a little soggy. Things like where I used to shop for clothes didn’t seem to be one of the threads that my brain was able to hold on to but snapped at some point during incubation. I expected her to scoff at me and walk away, the standard treatment for a clueless woman.
“Oh em gee, I know. I can’t remember where half my stuff is from either,” she gave a small chortle. “I’ll give you a few minutes and be back to take your order,” she said with a smile.
Hm, no scoff. What a delight, I thought while considering the massive menu. I decided to order pancakes, corned beef hash, and “the kitchen sink” and finished every last bite without hesitation. I chided myself, feeling incredibly full and satisfied mixed with feeling guilty. If my mother were here should we tell me to “keep it light”, especially out in public. My cheeks flushed as Jamie came around again to collect my plates- multiple plates- and I braced myself for some snarky remark.
“Now that’s my kind of girl,” Jamie squealed at me while clearing my last dish. I patted the corners of my mouth with a napkin and smiled, maybe the times have changed. “I bet you’re always down for all you can eat sushi with! Give me your number, we MUST hangout,” she demanded.
For a moment I hesitated and thought about the two women holding hands outside the school building. Was this girl flirting with me? Was she just being friendly? I considered both options for a moment and decided that I really didn’t care either way. I had zero friends, zero known acquaintances in this, 67 years in the future, Cambridge so I might as well try. Even if it means making some mistakes. I put my number (that took me 20 minutes to figure out) into Jamie’s phone when a message popped up on the screen. I get off at 3 if you want to hang! The message read. I paid for my food and told Jamie I would see her at 3.
I decided to stroll around the city some more and after 10 minutes of walking I realized I had landed myself on the corner of Lexington and Dudley Heights. Where my small, two bedroom house used to be sat a huge building. An apartment building took up the entire block of Dudley Heights and must have hundreds of apartments inside. I wasn’t sure what I expected to feel, but a small hollowness is my chest began to ache. Not in a sad way, but in a finite way. The world continues turning, I thought. Good things happen and bad things happen but at the end of the day, people push forward. We are not a frozen in time or backpedaling species. We take inventory of the fire and smoke and damage and then we keep going forward. Sometimes things get better and sometimes they get worse but humans will continue to put one foot in front of the other until there is no scorched Earth left to walk on.
That’s what we do. It’s what I did. First with my parents and then with my husband. The world crashed and burned around me but I put one foot in front of the other until I ended up in the future. Where the world is a little bit more beautiful, a little bit more free, a little bit more authentic. I realized it’s something that I’ve been needing so badly for so long; authenticity. For so long I went along with what my parents wanted, what I thought I should be doing, and where I thought that I should be that I never took even a minute to ask myself what I wanted. I never considered my goals or dreams or even preferences. I never imagined that a world as vibrant and painful and full as this could ever exist but it does and I’ve found it. I’ll be damned if another second of it goes to waste.
I thought about how life used to be, so separate and sterile. Everything in life needed to be compartmentalized, we couldn’t be true to ourselves or even have real conversations. Admitting you had a problem meant admitting that you were a failure. Admitting you had feelings meant you were hysterical. Admitting that you cared for people that didn’t think or look like you meant you were an animal. We used to hide our thoughts and our feelings and our fears behind plastic voices and pretty faces. Maybe that’s what’s good about this world, this new world. People have learned to be more imperfect, they’ve learned to say what they think and how they feel. They learned the shit that worked and the shit that didn’t and they kept the parts they spoke to them; that lit their souls on fire that made them feel connected to something or someone. They don’t pretend to know they way or have all the answers but they are determined to figure it out. And I’m determined to figure it out with them.
She Tells Me
When my feet dig into the rich soil
and a breeze gentle ruffles the leaves
She tells me that she is always here
and I am safe
When my feet sink into the soft sand
and the waves crash along the shoreline
She tells me her worldly secrets
and I am mischevious
When my feet teeter on the edge of a moutain
and a pebble echos loudly on his fall as clouds gather
She tells me that she is a mirror
and I am vast
When my feet burn on hot coals
and the fire wood crackles beside me
She tells me that she is power
and, together, we can set the world ablaze
Dear Devils & Friends
When I was a little girl, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have proudly told you I wanted to be the first female president of the United States.
Can you imagine it?
Me, a stout 10 year old with short hair to accent my round face, my cheeks ruddy and flush from the sudden shift of the room, all eyes on me. But I'm not embarrassed of that girl any more. All she ever wanted to do was affect change on the sort of scale that I have right now, the whole world listening, waiting expectantly for something profound. All I really want to ask is a question, is this the best we can all do?
Is this the best that we can do for ourselves?
I know that we could all do a hell of a lot better. I've known ever since I was a little girl that we can do better which is what has inspired me to live my life helping other people. I've seen the worst of the worst in humanity and yet, I know that deep down inside, most people are good. Most people are simply living in a way where they are trying to get their needs met. I'm begging you to wake the fuck up.
We need to be kinder. Kinder to ourselves and to others. It wont be easy, we're all so used to beating ourselves up constantly, but it needs to change. It starts with how we treat ourselves and it ripples outwards, to touch and change the lives of others. Practice speaking to yourself with love, patience, and understanding. You will find that it gets you so much further than being your own harshest critic. When you speak better to yourself you start to speak to others in the same way. The world around you will shift, the energy you give off will change. Your world will become a brighter, more positive place.
Is this the best that we can do for our families?
We need to intentionally appreciate the relationships that we have in our lives and consistently show up as our best selves for those that we love and care about. We need to open our eyes and stop accepting the status quo and second best. We wouldn’t want that for ourselves so why would we give that energy to other people? Especially people that we truly care about? And if you find that you don’t care, change your relationships. Surround yourself with people that you do love, that do raise you up, that continue to color your world with love and light. Care like hell about the people you love. Care like hell about your neighbor and their neighbor and the neighbor that is next to them. Start doing better, start really living your life and you will see that this universe can be the most abundant and magical place.
Is this the best that we can do for our communities?
Listen to one another, and really fucking listen. Be empathetic. Put your Put your phones down and pay attention to what is happening around you. We stop living our life when we get sucked into a screen and the world will pass you by. Talk to people. Understand others. Hear their story. Speak their language. Eat their food. Share their culture. Celebrate the success of others. We only have this one life on this Earth, in this body. Don’t spend your precious energy on being negative, hating everyone around you because they're exactly like you. By tearing others down, you are tearing yourself down. By hating others you only deepen the hatred you have for yourself. We are all one. Start acting like it.
If this message scares you, good. It's meant to.
It is scary to believe that ONLY YOU are in charge of your life. It’s a hard pill to swallow to know that you are 100% in charge of your own happiness and success. You are in charge of your own damn life and its about time you start acting like it. Being a victim of circumstance and of other people is bullshit. From this moment on you decide what happens to you and you take charge of your own damn self because if not you'll be just another unfulfilled robot who lost touch with their soul and will never be able to find their way back.
This is your inner child calling to you.
This is your wake up call for today and all your tomorrows.
The world needs you to live out your fucking purpose and challenge the world that we know for a brighter and better future.
Better Luck Next Time/ Chapter 2
FEBRUARY 4TH, 2016
Nora pulled Sport into her sideways tilted, dilapidated garage. She has to get out on the low side which means constantly battling the wildly swinging car door that seems to want to knock her out. Some days, Nora thinks she wants to let Sport have a crack at her. Leaving her groceries and work heels on the dirty floor of her garage as she took a nice, deep concussion nap. She manages to get inside with her arms overflowing, kicking the side door open and using her hips to slide her way into the kitchen. She grabbed a box of cat food out of the 24 in x 24 in pantry and filled Riley’s bowl. The sweet tabby cat jumped on the counter purring and rubbing her fuzzy ears onto Nora’s stomach. Nora gave her pal a good ear scratch and started telling Riley about her day at Techtron.
Nora turned some James Vickory on the speaker and really thought about her hellish day. Most days working at Techtron were hellish but on Fridays, Charles always turns up the harassment. Charles, her boss and the man Nora had interviewed with, unsurprisingly turned out to be a huge creep. Today he must have walked by her cubicle over 20 times, each time trying to say something that Nora poignantly ignored by putting in her headphones between calls. He would rub himself up behind her when trying to “get past her” in order to grab a single sheet of paper off the printer. He would make jokes about her tits growing when she would touch one of the huge bags of muffins in the faculty room. Charles made the hair on her arms and legs stand up and the more she worked at Techtron the more she realized that her job was taking her nowhere. Collecting money from other broke people seemed like bad karma to Nora but a job is a job for now.
She considered taking one of the little blue pills sitting in her medicine cabinet. A doctor prescribed them for her once in college and she still had more than half the bottle waiting for her. When they don’t make her violently ill, they put Nora in a trance, where she feels like she is watching everything from underwater. She decided against the blue pills, Nora lit up half a joint that was waiting for her on her kitchen windowsill and cracked the window. She took a deep breath in and let the jazz music soothe her, her day dissipating from her like a bad dream. She felt her jaw relax and realized she had been either grinding her teeth or biting her nail beds intermittently throughout the day. She needed to unwind. She grabbed the last of the cheap merlot out from her fridge and poured it into a mason jar that looked clean. She needed to cook. She was the furthest thing from hungry but cooking had always given her a sense of calm. It was the only time she felt like she could stand to live inside of her own body- hear her own thoughts happening in her head. She removed the eggs and the English muffins from her shopping bag. It was nice to be able to afford her own groceries instead of having to stock pile staff room doughnuts like she did for the first few weeks at work.
She got some water boiling on the two-burner gas stove top. She stirred some vinegar into water bubbling in the shallow pan and kept stirring while she gentle added the two eggs. As they poached gently in the liquid she grabbed sliced off some pork roll and started to crisp it in the pan. She remembered the first time she learned to cook scrambled eggs. Her dad taught her and it was probably the only thing of value he had ever given his only child because being a chef was the only thing he was ever decent at. She remembered he would yell at her, make her practice scrambling eggs over and over again until they were fluffy enough. She was only 6 years old at the time, and her wrists would be tired and her arm sore from whisking all those eggs. She would cry whisking eggs until he became so enraged by her tears he spanked her until she stopped crying and had her practice again. He tried to share with Nora the only thing he had ever liked or been good at but he didn’t know how. He was never a dad, only a chef and a person that she couldn’t rely on.
She grabbed a knife and lathered both sides of an English muffin with butter she dropped them into the toaster. She moved around the kitchen like an artist, a dancer. The gurgles and dings of the kitchen around her were like a symphony where she could get lost, just moving with the music all in perfect timing. Her whole life all she wanted to do was not suck. She didn’t even need a bunch of money or a crazy house, all she wanted was to have life be as easy as cooking. But Nora knew life was hard. She watched her dad, who was once cooked at a Michelin star restaurant, sink into a deep hole filled with booze and drugs when her mom left them when Nora was only 2 years old. The debt piled up and even though Nora wanted him to be a dad- wanted him to just be there to witness her life- he couldn’t. In 5th grade she remembered making them both breakfast for dinner. They had nothing but Miller light in the fridge so Nora collected all her change and went to the corner store to pick up some cheap eggs. She remembered carefully plating the scrambled eggs with a side of white toast. Clumsily cutting up green onion in different sizes and shaped before sprinkling it on top. She set out the small container of cream cheese and new jar of jelly she had enough change to pick up as well. Her dad came home with a bottle already in his hand and tossed the plate of food at the wall. She wanted to run away and hide but she found herself cemented to the spot, unable to keep from crying. When he finally left the house again with a slam of a door, Nora knelt on the ground crying, cutting her fingers while picking up the pieces of shattered plate and wet egg.
She shook the memory from her mind and began to whisk the eggs and butter together with a squeeze of lemon, careful not miss any seeds trying to sneak into her hollandaise. She dressed some spinach with olive oil and a tiny bit of balsamic that she mixed with water to get it to come out of the bottle. She put the browned muffin neatly on the plate next to the greens. She topped it with the crunchy pork roll, followed it with the smooth but jiggly pouches of egg before smothering the meal with her hollandaise. She diced the last of her green onion and sprinkled it on top. With a click she snapped a picture and threw it up on her Instagram account like she did with all of her favorite creations. Nora ate mindfully at the counter with Riley, savoring every slow and decadent bite between sips of wine. She felt her shoulders drop away from her ears and she allowed herself to sway a little bit with the jazz in the background. For the moment, she felt light. She relished the feeling and knew that it would be the only thing to get her through the sleepless night that would lie ahead.
Better Luck Next Time/ Chapter 1
DECEMBER 19TH, 2015
The weather was cold and snow was almost certainly looming. The heavy clouds hung permanently above Nora as she drove her two door Ford Explorer into a half ice and half snow-covered lot. Both options were less than ideal but she knew her tank of a car could handle snow better than her bare tires could handle ice. She pulled her car into one of the first two spots in the row right in front of the brick building, coated thickly with yesterdays snow.
Nora checked the time and put her car in park, 1:47 pm. Her interview was scheduled for 2:00 pm. She liked to be on time but her fingers were still tingling from the bitter cold. She decided to use the spare minutes to heat up her bare hands in front of the luke-warm heater, the vents forcefully pushing resembling a dragon breathing fire but unlucky for Nora, had a drastically less warming effect. She popped out of her car once the dexterity returned to her hands and checked herself in the reflection of the car mirror. Her brown, wavy hair tangled in the icy wind. She noticed the dark bags under her eyes and made a mental note to grab some concealer on the way home since the medication from the doctor either makes her sleep for 18 hours at a time or makes her vomit. Both side effects she’d prefer to avoid.
Nora knew she needed this collection agent position. She was 9 months out of college, business degree in hand, and no one wanted to hire her. Nora expected college to be a fun place, where she got to try new things and experience life for herself but that was far from the truth. Nora had always gotten okay grades, which continued in college but was disproportionate to the endless hours studying, thick packs of opened flash cards scribbled with multisyllable words, and review tests she had done herself to get those mediocre grades. Pushing herself to pass her senior year was truly a test of will.
For Nora though, college wasn’t a complete waste of time. She learned, without studying she might add, that she hated most people and preferred to spend her time alone. Her revolving door of roommates always thought she was a freak and, just maybe, she was. Truthfully, Nora wasn’t sure she would ever figure out who she was. Some days, she’d stay locked in her dorm room and would sleep all day. Other days she would work herself into a fit of anxiety and wouldn’t sleep for days; reading books, painting her walls, going for runs in the middle of the night only to close her eyes for 5 quiet minutes. College was hard. But she quickly found out that real life was harder. Nora had already been on 6 different job interviews and hadn’t gotten a single call back. Her luck needed to change today.
She walked through the front office doors that were only a few quick steps from the lot, good for living in such a pervasively cold state, she thought. She welcomed the burst of hot air on her face with a relieved sigh. The young guy sitting behind the front desk watched her carefully as she buzzed in. She wondered if the smile she had plastered to her face looked as fake as it felt and she felt immediately self-conscious, like she wasn’t doing it right. Nora reduced her toothy grin to a more mild, closed mouth smile. Much better, she thought as Jay pointed her to the correct office to wait in.
A man wearing an outfit of entirely khaki walked in. His name was Rich and he looked like a walking contradiction with stains on his jacket and scuffs littering his dull brown shoes. Despite that, Rich clearly thought very highly of himself. He showed Nora all his accolades hanging on the wall behind him and told her that she could maybe one day earn the same. Nora wants to make a good impression, show Rich that she had done her homework for the interview. Not only that, Nora knows people- especially men- and she knows how to stroke and ego. She made her eyes wide with wonder and let Rich talk about himself. She smiled and laughed at his corny jokes and by the end of the interview was pretty sure that she would get the job. She had to get the job. It was the last chance for her to get paid before the 1st of the month, when her rent was due and an eviction notice was likely looming.
She stepped out of the cramped office feeling a little a little lighter now that the interview was over. She glanced at her watch, 3:08 pm, definitely had time to grab something from the corner store before heading home all while avoiding the rush of afternoon traffic when she looked up and her heart dropped. Her car was gone. It definitely was not in the spot where she parked it. Was she going crazy? She ran to the spot where her car should be, and in the thick snow she could see tire tracks. Did someone steal her car, right from in front of this office? Her mind couldn’t fit the pieces together. She hustled back inside, out of breath now, and asked the front desk worker, Jay, if he saw what happened to her car. He looked at her with a pout on his face, his frosted tips made Nora pretty sure he was about to answer her with a Backstreet Boys lyric but he said, “Oh, honey. I’m so sorry but that car was towed because it’s in a handicapped spot…”
Nora expected him to say more but he just sat there pouting at her. She wanted to scream. She felt the anger bubbling up in her throat like lava that was about to pour out. She took a moment, with both hands bracing her body weight on the front desk and with a squeak in her voice Nora replied, “But there are no signs...” desperate now, “you can’t even see the handicapped paint because of the snow!” She felt herself basically begging, choking back the tears burning her eyes, “I just had an interview, I didn’t even know…” her voice trailed off and the hot tears came. Defeated.
“Oh sweetheart!” Jay had true pity in his eyes that made Nora sick, and his hands moved to frame his slender face, “I’m so sorry but there is nothing that I can do. Better luck next time hun,” he said and gave her hand tightly gripping the counter a little pat before disappearing into the back. Leaving Nora to figure it out alone, just as she always did.
I remember being a little kid and having nightmares so real, even after I woke up screaming and sweating I would still be scared to close my eyes. The flashes of distorted, smiling faces looking down at me coupled with the screams that never escape from my throat haunt me even when I’m wide awake. I roll over in an empty bed and savor the smell of the clean sheets. I feel my jaw untighten just a little and my shoulders relax as I moved to check the time. My phone read 8:30 am and next to it, a picture of myself and my sister caught my eye. Both of us were smiling, my hair a mane of brown and blonde, hers a cropped bob. Our arms were slung around one another, just happy to be together and excited for life in a new city. God, I miss that girl. I miss being free from the scary consequences of the world and feeling like there is always someone breathing on the back of my neck.
I forced myself up and into the shower. I don’t remember ever showering so much in my life. Showering until the scalding hot water runs cold. Showering four or sometimes five times a day, scrubbing my skin so hard in places it has become red and raw. I almost didn’t notice until I looked down at my legs while I was getting dressed. I felt disgusted. My body only served as a reminder. I hated looking at my body so much that I covered my mirror with a sheet. I didn’t want to see myself, my body, a tool for that man to do whatever he liked. But today it the day. The police are coming over and hopefully, I can hear the conversation now, they’re going to tell me that they have been working hard and they think they’re getting close. I sometimes have daydreams where I get to go into a police lineup and point out the man that did it. Feeling that power surge up within me, taking back control of my life. It almost made me salivate.
I heard a knock on my apartment door. I live in an apartment building and didn’t buzz anyone in. My stomach immediately started doing flips as I tiptoed to the door. I held my breath before looking through the peep hole only to see two men with badges looking impatient on the other side of the door. My heart continued to pound in my chest as I let them in.
I offered the police officers, no- detectives, coffee as they made themselves comfortable at my grey and glass dining table. My apartment is a loft and very spacious. From the table you had a vantage point of the whole room which was plain but messy. I hadn’t cooked food or cleaned, hell, I’ve hardly left my bed in at least a week. I poured them coffee into two matching mugs and saved my extra-large, chipped college mug for myself. I sat at the table, shifting my weight trying to be comfortable under their gaze but constantly found that I wasn’t able to relax. Every interaction with a police officer or detective just leaves me feeling like they don’t believe my story, my account, of what happened last Thursday night. They ask the same questions over and over like they are expecting me to slip up and tell them something completely different and wild.
The first detective finally looked at his partner and then back to me. “I wish we had some better news for you. We were able to catch part of the struggle on the camera outside your building and we’re waiting on our tech guys to scrub it so we can try to get a license plate number. But until then, why don’t you recount your… story, for us one more time since we aren’t the cops who took your original statement.”
My face flushed and I continued to stare into my coffee. A sort of numbness takes over me each time I recount what happened. Like I’m telling a tale about someone else and that this all didn’t really happen to me. I took a deep breath and started at the top. “Okay,” I mumbled, “if you insist.” The second detective clicked open a pen and opened up a tiny notebook that he had taken out of his pocket. He gave me a nod as if to say, go ahead.
“I went out with a few friends on Thursday night, just to hang out for a little bit with some friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. We had a flight tasting at a brewery downtown before just me and Kate went to another bar.”
“And why was it only the two of you going?” the first detective asked.
“I hadn’t seen her in a while. We used to see each other two or three times a week but we hadn’t and wanted time to catch up, just the two of us,” I replied. He gave me a nod, and I continued.
“We got to the next bar, The Peacock, and things seemed fine. It was really crowded and Kate and I sat at a table outside. She ordered us both a drink and a water. I remember that it was so packed on the roof but Kate felt like this group of kids in the corner was looking at us the wrong way. Everything happened so fast. Kate went to the bathroom and I guess on her way back she started yelling and getting into a fight with a girl who was sitting at that table. I don’t know what the fight was about but Kate is like, the sweetest girl in the world. She would never have started something unless she felt like she had to. But I told the waitress that stepped in that Kate and I would leave. As we were going down the stairs Kate started acting weird. She couldn’t stand up, she wasn’t making any sense when she was talking. My only thought was to get her safely to my car so I could figure out what to do next. But I had to carry her, literally carry her, and her purse and stuff and in all the craziness my purse fell and was picked up by someone who later stole my money and my credit card. Someone saw Kate passed out on the ground and called an ambulance. They took Kate away, the doctors told her that she had been roofied with Ketamine and had an allergic reaction. I think I was roofied too but I’m double Kate’s size and I don’t think it impacted me as much. But anyways, Kate was taken away in an ambulance and a cop told me he would take me to a homeless shelter for the night or back to my apartment. I didn’t have anything- no purse, no phone, no car keys, no apartment keys, I mean nothing. The cop took my back to my apartment building and left me there.
Not too long later, I was sitting on the corner crying when an Indian man in a red car pulled over. He listened to me, he told me he would help me and the next thing I knew he punched me in the eye,” I lifted my hand up to my green, swollen face, “and drug me into the alley next to the apartment building. He threw me on top of a dumpster, pulled my dress up and raped me. I don’t remember if he finished. I don’t know how long it went on for. I only remember the smell. The stink of the garbage, it smelled like rotting beef. The next thing I remember is him grabbing me by the ponytail and throwing me in his car. I don’t remember a lot after that. He kept stroking my bare legs telling me he was going to take care of me. He would take me to a motel and take good care of me. Maybe he said it was his motel? I’m not exactly sure. He touched me all over my clothes. I remember we drove on roads that didn’t have a lot of lights. Suddenly, I looked out the window and saw a fire station. We stopped at a red light and when it turned green I jumped out of the car, ran over the median, and went straight to the firehouse. From there the police were called again and they took me to the hospital to wait for Kate to wake up since they didn’t have anywhere else for me to go. And that’s it. That’s what happened,” as I concluded I glanced up. I realized how quickly I had been talking and how fast the second detective had to scribble to keep up.
“Thank you,” the first detective said. “I know its unpleasant to talk about.”
I half laugh and half snarled. It was the first time I looked up to the detective’s scrutinizing brown eyes. “Yes,” I spat, “it is.”
The first detective continued, “We will let you know when we have some more information from the security cameras and go from there. That’s all we have for you today. Thank you for the coffee. Where should we leave our cards?” The detective was finished with me. Just like all the others, came to take from me and leave. He had no intention of sharing anything in return. I walked them out before returning to the comfort of my clean smelling bedsheets for the remainder of the day.
I laid on my side in a tight ball, sweating. Another nightmare, I thought, as the images of hands squeezing my throat from behind and eyes looking down on me started to fade from the front of my mind. Curled up like this, I felt safe, my body felt protected. I made a conscious effort to slow down my breath and wipe the tears from my eyes as my heart continued to vigorously pump blood through my veins, ready to escape the danger that lives inside my own head.
That’s it, I thought, switching on the light. I am done. I am done sitting and waiting for something to happen. I am done hiding away from the world. I am done being a victim. I need to go out and find him. I need to know that he can’t hurt me or any other girl ever again. As if I was hit by a bolt of lightning I realized that justice was probably never going to come to me. The police weren’t ever going to help me, they certainly couldn’t keep me safe so why should I trust them to help me now? The answer, I’m not. I felt the gears of my mind shifting, finally fitting pieces together so that I felt like I had a handle on how to run an investigation like this. I know the guy who did this. I talked with him, I spent time in his car. I know how to find this guy if only I can remember some more of what happened that night. If the police won’t do the work that needs to be done, then I will.
I walked into the plain brown office building situated in a large plaza close to town. I had never done anything like this before but I figured that I might as well try. I walked inside and scanned the building directory plastered to the wall near the entrance until I found the office number for Dr. Benson. She was the most well reviewed hypnosis doctor that I read about online. I walked into her office and filled out her intake forms which she reviewed with me once we were seated together in her office. She asked me a few questions, mostly about my willingness and goals for the session. Her demeanor was honestly refreshing. She didn’t look at me like a broken Barbie doll, she looked at me like, I would imagine, she looks at all of her clients.
I closed my eyes and let Dr. Benson walk me through a narrow hallway in my mind with short, navy blue carpet. I saw identical closed wooden doors scattered on sides of the hallway. I walked forward, carefully considering each door. Which one was the right one? How do I go back to the right parts? As if she could hear my thoughts, I heard Dr. Benson’s voice tell me that I would be able to see the broken door and to start there. I continued to walk, unsure of how far I had gone until I came upon a wooden door that looked different. It hung off the frame a little and looked as though it had been punched. A fist sized crater in the door sent wood splintering out at weird angles. I grabbed the door knob to find that it was warm, like someone had been holding their hand on the knob for a while, constantly using this door. Just as Dr. Benson promised, I knew this was the one.
I twisted the knob and slowly pushed the door open. It was dark inside, like when you’re standing just on the outer glow of a street lamp. I realized that I was now sitting in the back seat of the red car. The seats were grey polyester and the car still smelled new mixed with the spices of cumin and curry. I watched the large, heavy-set man stroke my leg in the front seat. I heard him tell me that he would take me to his motel soon after he picked something up. He said his motel. So, he does own it. Just then the car stopped at a red light. I looked up at the street signs. Madison Avenue and… the light changed. I saw the passenger door fling open as the car began rolling forward. My black t shirt dress was short and loose and bounced up as I clamored over the median in the road. The car continued forward as the bottom sole of my favorite black boots came half loose and slapped the ground as I ran toward the fire station door.
The fire station itself looked brand new. The sand and grey colored bricks of the building looked hardly tarnished. But the entire station was well lit and I watched from the backseat of the red car as I dropped down to my knees outside the fire house and cried. I sobbed there for what seemed like an eternity before two men in their boxers and white tee shirts knelt down beside me and helped carry me inside. The darkness around me started closing in, all the sharp details looking fuzzier and fuzzier until I opened my eyes to Dr. Bensons sterile, white office.
I rushed out of Dr. Benson’s office with clarity. Now I knew for sure that the guy who tried to take me owned a motel. Probably a motel close to the fire station I ended up barging into at 3 am. I situated my new whiteboard on the wall near my kitchen table which is also where I set up my laptop. I started writing out what I know. Red, mid-sized car. Maybe a Toyota or a Honda. I don’t remember exactly but I know it wasn’t anything flashy. He was Indian and talked about taking me to a motel. Not just any motel, HIS motel. I’m sure property records for the motel could give me a name I just need to figure out which motel it is. He definitely said motel not hotel, right? No, I know it’s a motel, likely near the fire station. The new looking fire station near Madison Avenue. Now, at least, I know where to start.
I began my search spree. I started looking up all the fire stations in Albuquerque, focusing on ones that are within a fifteen-minute drive of my apartment. I don’t know how long I was in the red car for but I know that if you drive more than 15 minutes in any direction from my place downtown you’re basically in the middle of nowhere. I tried to see images of the fire stations online but couldn’t see all of them. The fire stations that do have pictures online were definitely not it. I made a list of the fire stations that it potentially could have been and I set out to see them. I drove in a circle around the outskirts of Albuquerque looking for the shining new structure until I found myself driving on Madison Avenue. After four hours of searching, my energy was low. I felt like maybe I couldn’t trust my memory of things that happened that night, even what I remember through my hypnosis session. Maybe it’s all a crock of shit like the real doctors have said again and again.
I drove until I pulled up to a red light. I came to the end of the road. With a sigh, I looked left and right, unsure of where to go next. I decided to turn left and immediate got light headed. When I turned the car, I saw it. A big, light tan and grey brick building. It was the fire station. I pulled into the parking lot and sat there, my hands trembling, gripping the wheel with white knuckles. I had really done it, I found the fire station from that night, I almost couldn’t believe it. Suddenly, I felt bile rise up in my throat, barely making it out of car before the vomit started spilling out of my mouth.
I found the fire station, Station 7, on my list and circled it with a pen I found in my dash. I debated going inside, thanking them for their kindness towards me that night. I paced outside my car with the driver side door open. As I paced, I felt like someone was watching me. I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder. Was that a person in the bushes? Or just a shadow? I wrote a note on some spare paper in my notebook and stuck it to the door of the fire house with some gum. I couldn’t stay a minute longer. I got in my car and drove to the safety of my parking garage, sprinted to my apartment and I went directly to the comfort of my bedroom to try and get control of my racing heart. Baby steps, I told myself, baby steps.
Okay, now for the tricky part. I needed to find the motel. I made Station 7 the center point of my search. From there, there were seven motels in a five-mile radius. I know in my gut that the motel is close to that fire station. Out of the seven motels that came up in my search, one was no longer in operation and another would probably classify more as a hotel than a motel. I kept it on the list but moved it to the bottom, as I thought it was least likely. The five I had left weren’t far from one another and I didn’t need to see them so much as I needed to know who owned them. If I can find the business records or maybe property records for all of them, then maybe I could find the guy who took me. But that also meant I needed to call in a favor.
I got the number for Alejandro through a girl friend of mine. She didn’t ask a lot of questions but she knew something was up. She told me that Alej knew I would be calling him. So, I walked the length of my apartment over and over again, maybe hoping that this would power me up to make the phone call. Alejandro is not someone I know well, I knew him as a nice police officer that sometimes hung around at Sasha and Roone’s house. Sasha and I had become really good friends in the brief time I have lived here in Albuquerque. She was like family to me, inviting me over for Sunday dinner and always including me in happy hour at the breweries. Her house was always the place to be and there was always a diverse group of people coming in and out of Sasha and Roone’s house. Alejandro was one of them and I trust him more than any other police officer I know.
I hit the number and my phone started ringing. When Alej finally picked up I realized it was just like talking to an old friend. I told him what happened to me that night out with Kate and I told him what I had already found out. “You need to be calling the detectives, Mija, not telling me,” he lectured, “but if you promise me that you up will update them, I will find this out for you. And I will find out if you tell them,” his voice was stern. I agreed and thanked him a million times over. After hanging up with Alej, I thought about the detectives that came to see me earlier this week, how different he was than them. I thought of how cold and detached they were even listening to me speak while Alejandro couldn’t have been more kind. And, even better, he agreed to help! This meant that I had to call the detectives and update them if I wanted Alej to follow through on the names of the owners and their addresses. I called the detectives to update them and they sounded less interested than if I had told them I found a penny on the ground. I don’t even really think they have ever actively listened to a word that I’ve said. I thought back to the detective taking notes at my kitchen table. I’m fairly certain that he was actually just doodling on a sketch pad, not noting any important breakthroughs in my case. So what, I thought, I don’t need them. I am going to end this all on my own.
I couldn’t take my eyes off my cell phone for two days. For a full 48 hours I wouldn’t go anywhere, even to take one of my four daily showers, without it. Finally, around 8:00 pm on that second day, Alej called me back. He carefully went over all the names that he was able to pull for the five business licenses and property reports. Some of the hotels had two or three different names on the different licenses but I had Alejandro give me all of them. I thanked him again, choking back tears as I spoke. I told him that I spoke to the detectives and I don’t think they’re going to help or do anything. Alej was silent for a moment. “Not all of us are as committed to helping people as they are to getting their paycheck. I’m sorry that they didn’t help you and I’m sorry for what happened to you,” it was like a warm hug over the phone. After we hung up I ran down the list of eight names and my pulse quickened.
I quickly opened up my laptop and went to Facebook. First things first, I wanted to see if I eliminate any of these names as the man who attacked me. I searched, and searched, and searched again. Three of the men I definitely found and between their names and their pictures, I could rule them out. I crossed their names off the list. Three of them I couldn’t find on Facebook at all, and the other two I found but couldn’t see any pictures of them on their pages. The five names that stared back at me from the paper taunting me. I know the man that took me was Indian, I know it. Only one name on the list had an Indian surname, Patel. Mohamed Patel, to be exact. I felt all the blood drain from my head and started seeing spots. I reached out an arm for my bed and slowly lowered myself to the floor. It had to be him. It had to be.
I called Alejandro on my way to the Motel 6 that is only a twelve-minute drive from my apartment. I got his voicemail and told him that I was going to the Motel 6 to confront Mohamed about what he did to me. I told him I figured it out and I was going to make it right. I sped all the way there, ignoring the quick changing lights and traffic signs telling me to yield. Every part of me started sweating despite the air conditioning pumping icy air through the car. The only thing I could think about was the rotting smell clinging to my nostrils, smelling rot in hair for days, smelling rot on all of my clothes, showering over and over again to make the smell of rotting meat go away. I thought of being filled with smells of lavender and soap. I thought of smelling wet dog and coffee. I thought of smelling anything but the smell of rotting meat for the rest of my life.
I pulled into the parking lot. My heart racing and my mind blank. I asked the woman at the front desk to call the owner and tell him that I need to speak with him, it is immediate and important. I remember that she looked at me, I think she asked a question, but all I could do was repeat myself. I saw her eyes open wide, her lower lip tremble as she reached for the phone. Next thing I knew, the elevator door opened and there he was. Only a few inches taller than me but much heavier. He had broad shoulders, thick, hairy hands, and a substantial beer belly. Without missing a beat, I walked up to him and punched him in the eye. He turned to face me, looking both surprised and enraged. Before he could react, I kicked him. With blood trickling out of his nose, I kicked him as hard as I could. I thought about all the years I spent playing soccer and all the soccer balls I had tried to boot down the field and I kicked him again, even harder. He doubled over, onto his side, his arms scrambling to protect his most vulnerable body parts. I kicked, and kicked, and kicked until I felt someone grab me from behind and pick me up. I screamed, loud and wild, until I realized that I was being carried out of the motel.
There were three police cars that I could count with lights flashing and an ambulance pulled up to the entrance of the hotel right as I was being carried out. Paramedics swarmed me, each holding an appendage while another held a small light up to my eyes, prompting me to take deep breaths. Deep breaths, I thought, deep breaths. I noticed my breathing was short and shallow, basically a wheeze, before everything turned black and I passed out.
When I woke up, I was laid out on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance, my arms restrained on the stretcher. I asked the paramedics what happened and they told me that they gave me a sedative as they released my arms. They called me hysterical. Ha, hysterical. If only you all knew. I got out of the ambulance to see only one police car remained, Alejandro was inside finishing up his conversation with the hotel manager. I thanked him for coming when he said, “We arrested him, Mohamed Patel. I just thought you should know that he’s going to jail. You did it.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you,” I replied, my eyes fixated down at my shoes. I gave him a hug and walked back to my car, feeling numb for that first moment. Is my nightmare really over? Can someone pinch me so I know that it’s real?
A sudden relief washed over me. Tears came pouring out of me and I started to hiccup once I was alone in my car. He’s behind bars, never to hurt anyone again. And I’m the one who did it. I walked with a weight lifting from my shoulders. I stood up straighter, with a bounce in my step. No longer feeling unwanted eyes on my back. No longer feeling hot breath making the hair on the back of my neck stand up. No longer smelling rotting garbage everywhere I go, filling the air all around me. I felt the shackles that had tied to me to my apartment crack and crumble. I felt the invisible chains come loose from my mind. The evening Albuquerque air smelled crisp and fresh. The world pulsed with life and possibility. In that moment I vowed to never allow myself to lose this feeling ever again.