Chapter Nine; Part One
“Hey, I woke up, and you were gone. L.” I wake up to a text from Rembrandt. I feel guilty for slipping out, but I irrationally feel irritated as well. We’ve only had one date, and, yes, the fucking was phenomenal, but still. He doesn’t own me, and I don’t owe him anything. Then again, he did just give me the fucking of a lifetime, and that means something.
“Sorry. I sleep better at home with my cats.” I text back, struggling not to feel defensive.
“No prob. Would love to see you again soon.” I pause. Do I want to see him again this weekend? My pussy says yes, but my brain is ambivalent. I don’t like spending too much time with any one person, not even loved ones. Perhaps especially not loved ones. I decide to throw caution to the wind and agree to see him again, but not tonight.
“Tomorrow? Dinner? And dessert?”
“Sounds good. I’ll cook. Unless you want to do it at your place?”
“You cooking sounds great.” I stifle the guilt at leaving my cats for another long night, but I can’t turn down a home-cooked dinner. “I like Thai, Italian, and Taiwanese. Chinese.”
“Lasagna, garlic bread, and tiramisu for dessert?”
“Can’t wait.” With that, I get out of bed and take a quick shower. Then, I check my phone and see that I have two dozen responses on my latest post. Most of them say that I was fortunate to have someone like her in my life. MNsnowbaby says, “I met her once at a Picasso show at the MIA. She was so vibrant and intense. We only talked briefly, but I’ve never forgotten her.” SayItAin’tSo comments, “I have a bestie who I would die for. Or kill for. I don’t know what I’d do without him. I’m so sorry for your loss.” BasalTemp adds, “Fuck. What a waste. RIP, and may you find your peace.” QueenBee writes, “Know you are not alone. I will always be here for you. Always.” I frown. That’s a strange thing to say for someone who’s never met me. Unfortunately, there’s a weird thing that happens when you’re in the limelight in any way, even in such a small way as I am. People who read my stuff on a regular basis think they know me better than they actually do, and it can lead to some awkward moments. I had one guy declare in emails that he was in love with me from reading my blog—my old one. When I had to break it to him that I didn’t feel the same, and what’s more, it was inappropriate of him to say that to me, it got ugly. He emailed me twenty times a day, declaring that he couldn’t live without me. After my initial response to him, I didn’t answer any of his emails, but it didn’t deter him for weeks. Just as I thought I might have to take more drastic measures, he stopped. I was relieved, but I couldn’t help being curious as to what had happened to him. I Googled his name and discovered that he tried to kill himself by eating the business end of his gun. He somehow missed anything vital, but it messed him up pretty badly, obviously. This was a year ago, and I haven’t heard from him since. He’s the reason I closed down my old blog, and I’m wary of having the same thing happen again.
I sigh and shut down the browser with my website. I’m feeling morose, and I don’t quite know what to do about it. I perk some coffee and pour myself a cup. I sip at it while it’s still boiling because I like to burn my mouth. It’s a weird thing, I know, but I find it pleasurable, as long as it’s not permanently damaged. I drain the cup in three gulps, then refill my cup. Onyx and Jet stare at me hopefully, wanting more treats. I’m in the kitchen, so it should be treat time, which is probably their thought process. I give them each three Temptations before taking my cup of coffee to the living room. I peruse the news, but I can’t read much about politics because I start freaking out if I do that. I watch a couple Maru videos instead—one of the cutest cats on the internet. I follow that up with Shironeko videos—one of the calmest cats on the internet. Both of them live in Japan in impeccably-kept houses. Watching Shironeko chill with a cabbage leaf on his head is perhaps my favorite cat video ever. I feel better after watching it, and I decide to do a quick taiji set to keep the mood going. I do a Sword Form and the third section of the Solo Form, plus some stretches and single posture drills. It takes fifteen minutes, and I feel even better once I’m done.
I decide to go for a walk, so I pull on my tennis shoes and a pair of leather gloves. Even though it’s October, it’s been unusually mild, so I don’t need a jacket. Once I step outside, I realize that I don’t need my gloves, either. I stuff them in my purse as I walk at a brisk place. The sun is shining, and I inhale the fresh air. Suddenly, the hair on the back of my neck bristles, and I feel as if someone is watching me. I whip my head around, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Yes, there are people walking around, but nobody looks suspicious. I start walking again, but I still feel watched. I scan the area as I walk, catching a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. I whip my head around, but I don’t see anything. Feeling uneasy, I pick up the pace. I don’t feel as refreshed as I once did; now, I just want to get home. When I do, Onyx and Jet are waiting for me. They follow me upstairs and wait while I take a quick shower. After I get dressed in fresh sweats, I go downstairs to check my website again. More comments. More condolences. More shared stories about meeting Julianna. It’s enough to warm the cockles of even my cold heart. I decide to write a quick post of thanks.
I’ve been overwhelmed with my grief. It’s such an isolating and singular thing. I try to go about my day, but then I remember Julianna’s dead, and I break down again. I have people in my real life who have been invaluable to me these past few days, and I have you guys. I want you to know that I’m very appreciative of the support I’ve received from my readers. You guys have warmed my heart with your stories and your well wishes.
I don’t know how to thank you other than to straight out say it: thank you for supporting me. Thank you for metaphorically holding my hand as I grieve. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to read your loving comments when I’m feeling despair.
I keep the post brief for me and hit publish, then close out the tab. I’m feeling good about my blog, then I remember Julianna is dead. Guilt washes over me. How can I be as selfish to care about my blog when Julianna’s dead?
I suddenly remember that her tongue was cut out after her throat was slashed. I wonder why the stories about the murder haven’t mentioned it, and I conclude that it was supposed to be kept a secret. I go to the Strib website, but none of the articles on Julianna’s murder mention tongue being cut out, and the picture is gone. I wonder if the tongue was found by her body or if it was missing completely. I gag at the thought of someone taking it as a trophy, but there’s nothing in my stomach to throw up.
I skim a few more articles, and I learn that one of Julianna’s fellow slam poets, a black guy named Duncan Carson, is the one who found Julianna’s body. He had gone over to her place to pick her up for a practice, then let himself into her apartment after he didn’t get any response. Once he saw her, he immediately called the police. He’s just lucky they didn’t assume he was the murderer when they got there. There’s a picture of Duncan in the paper. He’s a short, skinny black guy with dreads, and he looks like he’s in his early twenties. He’s wearing a BLM sweatshirt, so he’s doubly lucky he didn’t get shot when the cops saw him. He went to her house at seven in the morning, which is early for practice. That means Julianna was murdered between three-forty-five and seven. That’s not a big window of time, which means it should be theoretically easier for the cops to winnow out suspects. Who do I have on the list? Ramona. Her husband, Ricardo, despite Ramona’s protestation that he was at home all night. Simon, of course. Pinky X? I really don’t think so. The chick who copped Ramona’s style. Paula? Paola. That’s it. Any number of Julianna’s exes or the significant others of her exes. The list is endless, but I’m convinced it’s someone from her present and not her past.
The Strib lets it slip that the police are searching for her ex-husband as a person of interest. The article also mentions that her brother, Eric, owes a hundred thousand to some very shady characters. My eyebrow lifts at the number. It seems as if Eric is up to his old tricks, and I have to wonder if he’s been in town lately. He lives in California, and I haven’t seen him in five years. That doesn’t mean Julianna hasn’t, however. I Google Eric, and I discover that he is couch-surfing with friends and has been for the last six months. His thoughts on his sister’s death? “It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bitch.” My face flushes in rage. How dare he say that? She did everything she could for him, and this is how he pays her back? I itch to punch him in the face, but I know it’s just my id talking. Misplaced anger because I can’t bring Julianna back, and I can’t seem to find who did this to her. More to the point, I’m mad at Julianna. I’m horrified at the realization, but I can’t deny it. I’m furious that she left me alone in this world, and I don’t know what to do about it.
I put my head in my hands and weep, this time out of rage. How the hell can she do this to me? How dare she leave me like this? I feel two wet noses press against my cheeks, one on either side, and I take a small measure of comfort from their presence. I gather them to my chest, and to their credit, they don’t struggle. I cry onto their fur, and they take it stoically. After a few minutes, however, they pull away and settle down beside me on the couch. I pet their fur as I cry, ragingly hopelessly against Julianna. I beg her to come back to me. I try to bargain with the gods I don’t believe in that I’ll do anything they want if they give me back my Julianna. I slam my hand down on the coffee table and immediately regret it as the pain radiates up my arm. My cats squeak in protest, and I murmur to them my apologies. They fall back asleep, and I fume in a quieter manner. Julianna had always been reckless, no matter how often I scolded her. She laughed and called me ‘mom’, which was always guaranteed to get my dander up. It would be just like her to get in a situation that—I stop, appalled at where my train of thought is heading. I’m coming dangerously close to blaming the victim, Julianna, for her own demise. No matter what she did, no matter who she fucked, she didn’t deserve to die like this. She didn’t.
I can’t help but think that she made a misstep somewhere, though. She’s reckless, which is one thing I love about her. She’d get a wild idea in her head, and then she’d go after it, no matter what. I’d warned her more than once about going home with someone she didn’t know, but she always laughed it off. She said I was making trouble out of nothing, and up until now, she’d been mostly right. There had been a hairy moment or two, but nothing too serious. Still, I couldn’t help but feel as if she had rolled the dice once too often, and now she’d come up with nothing. Don’t blame the victim. Don’t blame the victim. Don’t blame the victim. I keep chanting it to myself, but there’s a corner of my brain that is mad as hell at her and wondering what she did wrong that led to this.
“Meeeeow,” Onyx butts her head against my thigh before dropping it on said thigh with a thud. Her voice is thick with sleep, and I stroke her head methodically. Jet burrows into my other thigh, flopping his front paws on that thigh before placing his head on it. I stroke his head, too, grateful that I have my cats to comfort me. I don’t know how I’m going to make it without Julianna, but at least I have them. I have Jasmine. I have Liz. I might have Rembrandt, at least for sex. I have Lydia. I have taiji. It’s not nearly enough, but it’s all I have. I will never have Julianna in my life again, in any way, shape, or fashion. I cry, trying to keep it minimal. I don’t want to distress my cats again, but I can’t keep my whimpers to myself. I rock back and forth, my arms wrapped around myself. I squeeze my eyes close tightly, but the tears trickle out from them, anyway. I wipe them away, but they keep coming. I see Julianna in my eyelids, and I want so desperately to touch her. I reach out my hand, but there’s nothing there. I let it fall, useless, back to my side. I have never felt so helpless in my life, and I don’t like it.
I check my post. Please2MeetU says, “Grief fades little by little every day. You think you’ll never get over it, and you never do. But, one day you’ll wake up, and it won’t be the first thing on your mind. In a way, that’s almost worse. You become afraid you’ll forget the person forever.” SaysWho adds, “When I lost my mother, I wanted to die. I thought I would never smile again. It was three months later when I did. For the first time. It felt foreign. Strange. The second time I smiled, it felt less weird. Three months later, I was able to be a facsimile of my old self.” VikesFan writes, “Grief is a bitch. It hits you when you least suspect it. I can go for days without thinking about it, and then, a smell, a sight, a taste can bring it all back again. The only good part is that it’s shorter each time. Or is that the bad part?” QueenBee says, “The best thing you can do is move on. Not think about it any longer. You have to stop dwelling.” I actually laugh at the last comment, albeit in disbelief. Stop dwelling? Not think about it any longer? What planet is she on? I type off an angry comment, but I don’t publish it. She’s just trying to be helpful, even if it’s in a clumsy way. I erase the comment and close down the website. I don’t want to think about Julianna’s murder any longer, even though I can’t stop thinking about it.
Do I want to write another post? No, I don’t. I know I should to keep interest up because that’s the way content production works, but I’m just so tired. I gently move my cats to the side so I can lie down. I put my head on a pillow and close my eyes. I see Julianna’s mangled body the second I do, and my eyes fly open again. I’m panting lightly, my heart beating in fear. I sit up, my cats mewing sleepily in protest. I smooth their fur down and close my eyes again. This time, I don’t have any disturbing images, but sleep still doesn’t come easily to me. I guess it’s good to be resting my body at any rate, but it doesn’t feel like enough. I can’t remember the last time I got a full night’s sleep—it had to be before Julianna’s murder.
I veg for the rest of the evening, not checking the internet at all. I know I need to stay inform, but I just can’t. I need a break, otherwise I’m going to completely lose it. I lie on the couch with all the lights off and the blinds closed. Time ticks by, slowly, as I stare at the ceiling. Well, at the dark, really, but where the ceiling would be. I flip on the light on the coffee table before turning it off again. I can’t bear the light on my eyes, or the weight on my soul. I want to cry, but I have no more tears. I close my eyes, and inside, I’m numb. How can I feel this empty and still be alive? I briefly consider the leftover Xanax I have in my medicine cabinet. I have half a bottle left from when I broke my ankle because I don’t like taking meds. I figure they would do the job if I want to kill myself. I try to rouse myself from the couch, but I can’t. I figure the pills will be there if I need them, but there’s no hurry. One more day won’t matter. Except. I can’t stop thinking about the endless gap of time stretching in front of me. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, in which I won’t get to see Julianna again. I don’t think I can stand another minute, let alone a week. A month. A year. Would I really be able to make it that long? I pull myself off the couch and drag myself into the shower. I sit on the floor because I don’t have the energy to stand. When will I have any strength in my limbs? When will I not feel as if I’m alternately filled with lead and hot air? One minute, my body is heavy, and I feel as if I can’t move. The next, I’m limp, folded over, and still feel as if I can’t move. Once I’m done, I drag myself back to the couch and flop down on it. Onyx and Jet take up their usual spots on my chest and stomach, and I don’t have the strength to push them aside. I can’t breathe. Is this the way I’m going to die? I would be fine with that, but just as I think that, they move to the couch. Damn cats know that they won’t get food without me, so they deign to allow me to live. I would be grateful except I can’t give much of a damn about anything.
I remain on the couch for hours, not doing anything other than existing. I suppose it’s a victory of sorts, but whatever. At some point, Jet migrates to my legs. Onyx remains on the couch as her brother settles down. My legs go numb, but I don’t move. They start to tingle, and I welcome the pain. I need some feeling, anything other than this continuing sense of dread. I grope for my phone, but I can’t find it. I decide it doesn’t matter and let my hand fall to the side of the couch. I hear the front door open, but it barely registers. I know it’s not Julianna, so I don’t care.