11 June, 2011

A Travesty at Ten

My friend Anastasia was eighteen and ridiculously in love when the gun was brought up to her face and fired. She was weeks away into her first year at college, and dreaming of marrying her boyfriend, Justin. The shock of her ugly death was exceeded only by news, agonizing days later, that twenty-year-old Justin had shot himself in the head before investigators even learned Anastasia's name. There followed turmoil, and grief for both of them that words could never express.

But you know this story, don't you? Hell, you may have even read the book. So you know what came next: that in a sense my own life ended three and a half years later, when I was arrested, charged, tried, and found guilty of Stasia's murder — even though I had nothing to do with the crime. The epigraph on my metaphorical tombstone reads

BYRON CHRISTOPHER CASE
1978-2001
BECAUSE SOMEONE HAD TO PAY

Today I'm ten years gone.

Consider your own life a decade ago — where you were, what your days were like, how young you were. Consider the distance between then and now. Imagine next that it had all stopped then; imagine your past self exiled to a limbo where little changed and you experienced the passage of time only through the betrayals of your own body and the aging of those who graced your purgatory with their occasional (if transcendent) presence. Who might you have become in such a place? What thoughts there might've consumed you? At what point do you suspect you'd have collapsed under the weight of it all, a snap rending in two your bitter little heart? When, in other words, would you have broken?

Ten years gone. Three thousand six hundred and fifty-two days spent in the shadow of oppression, denied rudimentary comforts, and tortured by the threat that it will go on and on and on, to the end of me. Not one of these days has passed without my thinking, This has to end. Something must make it right. I am obsessed with the idea that truth and justice will eventually be done, never mind the universe full of evidence to the contrary.

With so much time passed since the awful events that set the stage for this miscarriage, I often have to force myself to remember the long, rusted chain of causality that brought me here. It would be easy to forget that my circumstances are entwined with that twin tragedy of half a lifetime ago — that I am sharing my friends' fate; that a lie is bound us beyond the grave, cruelly.

I vividly remember a dream I had around Day Two Thousand. I was in an empty old warehouse. Gaps between boarded windows let dust motes swim listlessly in streams of light from a setting sun, and I was calmly searching for an exit. Battered wood floors creaked under every footfall. Turning a corner, I happened on Justin and Stasia. They were standing in front of a towering window, peeking out at the world. They looked exactly as they had in life. By dream logic, I instinctively knew that they'd never actually died but come instead to that place to be together and young forever. I choked. Years upon years of sadness from their disappearance suddenly meant nothing, which was itself a kind of loss to mourn. I wanted to rush to hug them but was afraid. Would touching them destroy whatever allowed us to share that space, like trying to capture a soap bubble in dry hands?

"I've missed you," I told them, my face burning with emotions. "So much bad shit has happened since you left."

They looked at me strangely; though, not unkindly. They both spoke. "Who are you?"

"What?" The rejection was a sting. "It's me — Byron."

"You're not Byron," laughed Stasia. In the murk of our weird meeting place, her teeth shone.

Smirking in the way I'd almost forgotten he did, Justin adjusted his wire-frame glasses. "Yeah," he said, "Byron would never dress like that. Plus, I think he was taller."

"No, guys, it's really me. Don't you remember?"

They didn't. I tried desperately to convince them of who I was — that I needed them to come away with me, back to the outside world, to straighten everything out. Proof they were alive would save me from lingering death. Except they thought it was all a joke and laughed away my earnest pleas. The harder I pressed, the less they believed me. I awoke on my upper bunk in a dark cell and hugged my chest until morning, feeling as if my heart were a fractured vacuum tube about to implode.

Everyone has a limit on what they can bear. The trick is rebounding from collapse with a sense of purpose. I like to think I keep purpose foremost on my mind. Every day I wake up dreaming of the end. Every day I wonder how I might bring it about. Every day I focus on freedom. Every day I imagine a future in which every damned day doesn't begin and end locked inside a concrete box. I'm not even angry anymore at my ex, Kelly, the pathetic character whose lies put me here —Aesop taught us we can't begrudge the scorpion for stinging — I just want back what was stolen. I just want the bad dream to be over. I just want to live.

1 comment:

  1. Guadalupe C. Miercoles12 June, 2011 14:14

    My heart aches when I read this, for all parties.

    ReplyDelete

Lacking computer access of any kind, Byron cannot respond to your comments but is relayed them and appreciates your kind remarks.