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Prisoners of War
By Ren Martinez
*Disclaimer: This is a fictionalized account of actual events. Names have been changed. Mentions of suicide and self-harm.
I sent her to a hospital on a Saturday night.
In the weeks previous, I had cleaned more than my fair share of shot glasses, handfuls like shotgun shells left in the sink. There were never any bowls or plates, though I once balled up a napkin that had held exactly twelve almonds and threw it in the kitchen trash. When she passed out on the living room couch, I would lean over her just to feel her vodka-soaked breath on my cheek, counting them like sheep so I could get to sleep. The other roommates no longer used the living room. Instead, they hid in their rooms, soldiers forced to remain in their trenches.
(She had spent long hours in one, making his bed a battlefield, whispering words of love that only later turned out to be grenades.)
When the paramedics came, she insisted that she was grieving - that the handle of Smirnoff and two bottles of narcotics were just to help her sleep - that the reams of paper screaming “I HATE HER I HATE HANNA I WANT HER TO DIE” were just exercises in journaling. Officer Stephens had kind words for her all the way outside, kindness that only expanded as her voice rose and her words sharpened and her tears burned through well-worn tracks. She sat in the back of the ambulance, paramedics securing her arms as she screamed that she was fine.
I could still hear the sirens as I went to Aaron’s room, an unwanted raven knocking on his door. His eyes were dry as his bones, creaking beneath the weight of misplaced guilt.
“Are you okay?”
He was sitting on his bed, still littered with landmines. “I didn’t know this would happen.”
“This isn’t your fault.”
(Hanna had confessed to me once that she had never before had sex when she was sober, dressing clumsy just after orgasm and deleting each man from her phone as if they had never existed. Her mom had first named her a whore in the eighth grade and called her anorexia the family embarrassment. When Aaron had finally broken it off, returning them to roommates again, I had held her as she howled into my shoulder every night for three weeks.
She once had lamented that she deserved anything that happened to her.
“This is why I don’t do relationships,” she explained. “No one should have to put up with me, and, if they do, anything that happens to me is karma.”
Scars in my own chest ached. “It scares me when you say things like that. That sounds like what someone in an abusive relationship would say.”
She looked at me. “If Aaron ever decided to hit me, I would deserved it.”
I hadn’t been able to say anything else for the rest of the night.)
Back in the trenches, I sat down beside him, careful not to set off any residual explosives. On the corner of his desk was a stack of paper all bearing her feminine script. I wondered how often she wrote love notes to others while scribbling hatred in reams and reams to cover the walls of her room. I wondered if Aaron could describe how their kisses tasted without the tinge of alcohol and bile. My cell phone was shoved in my back pocket, the last number dialed 911, and I realized that my hands were shaking.
“It’s not your fault,” I told him. “If it hadn’t been you, it would have been something else.”
His knuckles cracked as his hands twisted further. “That doesn’t make me feel better.”
In the weeks to come, none of us would feel better. Four days in the hospital would teach Hanna to hide her bottles and keep her laxatives in her purse. She would still remain on the couch every night, staring at the staircase that led up to a room she could no longer enter. The fourth man in this conflict would finally take it upon himself to call the landlord, citing his fear that one day he would come down the stairs to find the empty shell she had hated so much. When Hanna finally left, it would be the first time in three months that we didn’t wake to the sound of gunfire.
“She’s alive,” I reminded him. “That will have to be enough.”
We sat together, comrades-in-arms, and silently waited for the smoke to clear.
#Real #Memoir #WaitingForTheSmokeToClear #ResidualExplosives #Trenches #BottlesAndLaxatives
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