When she came to, she was walking. And crying.
She took inventory as she walked. Body parts ached, really hurt. She tried to understand how she could gain consciousness and actually be walking. She decided that she hadn’t been unconscious, just in a blackout, and then, now, not in a blackout. Is that the same as “coming to”?, she wondered. She kept walking.
It was chilly and by the light it was early, very early. Maybe 6 a.m. The last memory was late, very late, and dark, and drunk, so very drunk. She didn’t know where those hours went, but obviously something very bad had happened.
Her face in particular hurt. (“Does your face hurt?” “Well, it should, because it’s killing me!!” Such a bad old joke.) The whole left side of her face felt swollen, that she could tell without any mirror or reflection. The cheekbone just under her eye felt enormous, and she just knew if she touched it, it would sting. Could you break your cheekbone?, she wondered.
Her glasses were missing, but she didn’t feel she needed to see clearly. She was walking on the sidewalk of the service road of the expressway. No idea why she was where she was, it was a couple of miles in the wrong direction from the route between the bar and the apartment, but she was walking in the right direction.
She wondered how long she had been walking, and how much further away she had been. But at least it was a road, and there were cars, although she wondered who was on the road at this ungodly hour on a Saturday morning. So as she walked, she turned and walked backwards, thumb out. The cars continued by, no one slowing, no one stopping.
She estimated at least a half an hour walk to the apartment. The shoulder on the same side as her swollen face ached as well. Felt like it had been pulled out of the socket actually. Whatever had happened, her left side had taken the brunt of it. Although the right knee didn’t feel so good either.
She still had her purse, which was a minor miracle in itself. Guess I wasn’t mugged, she thought flatly. Although who would mug a drunk who had already spent her paycheque at the bar?
It was difficult to walk backwards and hitchhike at the same time, and it was even slower, and no one was going to stop or help. So she turned around and continued walking. Keep the pace up. No one is going to stop, no one is going to help. One foot in front of the other. Keep walking.
She told herself to stop crying as that wasn’t going to get her back to the apartment any faster. Deal with it. This is the reality, deal with it. She turned around to stick her thumb out every now and then when she heard a car approaching, and then she noticed her hands. They were full of blood. No, stained with blood, wet and dry. Both hands completely covered.
She smoothed her hair back, and realized it was sticky, and that it must be full of blood as well. She almost laughed, but it made her face hurt. Well, no wonder no one was stopping. Who would stop to pick up a woman full of blood with a smashed in face? She was sure she didn’t appear to be some vagrant killer, rather some pathetic assaulted victim. She didn’t feel like a victim. Except perhaps of circumstances, and her own stupidity.
She kept walking, face forward, giving up on the hitchhiking. No one was going to pick up a bloodied woman, if not for the simple fact that she was a mess, and would be likely to mess up a car if she were to sit in it. What if she needed the hospital?, she wondered. Was there such a thing as a good samaritan? Was there a risk in helping an accident victim? That is what she was thinking of herself as now.
She didn’t think she had been beaten, even in a drunken fugue one would awaken to remember that. She felt sure she hadn’t been raped, her clothes were still on, and almost every place hurt but down there.
No hospital for her, nothing could be broken, she was walking after all. Hospitals would probably mean photographs for evidence, or investigations, and both of those meant a record of the event. A record of her own stupidity, for whatever had happened, surely her stupidity played a part in it. If she needed a doctor, she would still be crying, she reasoned. And she wasn’t crying, although she was certain if something touched her cheek, she would scream out.
Walk on, walk on, one foot in front of the other. The dawn’s light was giving way to morning light, she estimated the distance she had already traveled since she came to. Wondered how long she had walked before that, and not for the last time wondered where she had been when the accident happened.
Perhaps she had fallen down some concrete staircase and not had the awareness to put out her hands to stop her fall. Her palms were scuffed, but not to any extreme. She remembered that if you broke your nose you had two black eyes, and wondered if she had black eyes, or purple, or dark blue, or green, or whatever other rainbow of bruises were already visible.
Maybe she had been thrown out of a car, landing on her left side, face-down planted on the asphalt. The morning air was chilly on the wet surfaces of her cheek and head.
Keep going, keep going, no one is going to help you, you have walked further than this, you have no other option anyhow. One foot in front of the other.
The cars going by, those that even looked at her, what stories were they imagining about her injuries? Could you fabricate a story that justified passing by a woman with a bloody face? She is a junkie? A whore? Homeless? Yes, that justifies an arms-length kind of pity. How sad, but please don’t make me touch her.
Would someone at least phone 911 to send help for her? Surely if an accident victim frightens you or disgusts you or just makes you want to stay away, far away, still you would send help if you saw her bloody and walking down the street at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning in an industrial park?
What if they were homes instead of factories and warehouses? What if she were to ring a doorbell for help? Would the person look through the peephole and pretend they weren’t home?
Then the vaguest of memories, she wasn’t sure if it was a memory, maybe a dream. But it must be a memory, so far away, so long ago, half an hour? An hour? There were at least 2 or 3 hours missing between last call (last memory) and this morning light.
Somewhere before the walk, before the trek, she had crawled to a factory or a warehouse. There had been glass doors and fluorescent lighting. She had crawled into a lobby and curled up for warmth and comfort, but there had been a man, a security guard? He had told her to go away, you can’t stay here. Not with pity, but with annoyance at making his job harder. Getting blood in his lobby. So she had limped out, and that was when she was crying for sure.
That was the real beginning of this long walk back to the apartment. Try as she might, the memory never got clearer, she couldn’t say if she would recognize the lobby or the security guard ever again.
And maybe that was just as well. He could take the memory home clear as day to look at it over and over and turn it around. But she wasn’t sure she wanted to remember a face without pity.
Ah, the overpass, she estimated she was half-way on her journey since consciousness. She felt she had a real cadence going now, hardly a limp, and as long as she didn’t make any facial expressions, she could sort of ignore the swelling face and the pain it contained.
As she walked, she started to plan the explanation she knew she was going to have to offer to those she would encounter at work, in public, not at the bar, oh no, not going back to the bar.
She realized she was lucky, lucky that the missing glasses had not broken in her mess of a face. Broken glass embedded in skin, broken eyes, now that would have been a problem. And her teeth were intact as well, how lucky was that?!
Any impact that hard on a face that didn’t hurt the eyes or the teeth, the really breakable, the really vulnerable parts of the face. How lucky was that?!
And surely the cheekbone couldn’t actually be broken, because wouldn’t there be shooting pain? Wouldn’t shards of bone be interacting with facial muscles if that were the case? Although she felt she wasn’t making any facial expressions, she knew that there would be twitches, reactions to the cold air on the bloodied surface.
Her chin had a split in it that was already scabbing, that’s a healthy body reaction, isn’t it? Not so bad, this would heal.
The clothes were not worth laundering, the sleeves, and chest of her garments were stained purple-red-brown and would hit the trash as soon as she had replacements.
The face, now how long would that take to heal? Need an explanation for work, need reasons to avoid family for a few weeks. Not out of shame (not really) but more so mom wouldn’t worry.
Well, whenever you need a false story, keep it as close to the truth as possible. Drinking, partying, face plant. Yeah that’s the ticket. Make it funny, add witnesses. Fell down the stairs in front of the bar, forgot to put hands out. Friends (ha! there’s a joke in itself!) said it would have been funny if I hadn’t hurt myself so badly.
Yeah, keep it simple, if you elaborate on a lie too much, it sounds like a lie. No one at the bar that night was an actual friend, just a drinking buddy, just a drug buddy. Not like they would be called upon to verify the story. Knew most of them by nicknames instead of real names anyhow.
Good story, act embarrassed, but not ashamed. People would take your cue. Sure there would be people that would give her the look, the look as if they knew, knew she had deserved it, knew she had done something to put her in that category. Innocent people didn’t walk around with smashed in faces.
She was already formulating the plan, to look them right in the eye and dare them to accuse her. People don’t. Things are said in hushed tones behind people’s backs (or faces, in this case) but would anyone challenge her story to her face? The story of her face? Not likely.
Closer now, been walking awhile, soon to be at the traffic circle, then across the mall parking lot, and soon to the apartment building complex.
She felt good that her mind felt clearer. Nothing like a beating to put things in perspective.
Things seemed incredibly simple now. “Face hurt bad.” She felt like Tarzan-speak was the most honest mode of expression. “Me stupid bad.” Could she think of a sentence that didn’t have the word “bad” in it? Not likely. Again, she would laugh out loud if she thought it wouldn’t hurt so much.
Now the conundrum, as she passed the bar, well it was on the other side of the expressway, on the other service road, going the other way. But if she had walked back to the apartment directly from the bar it would have taken, what, ten minutes? Even drunk and doing the “S”-walk. So what sequence of events landed her so far away and in the wrong direction?
Well, why get that drunk in the first place? How embarrassing. Over a man, of course. I’ll show him!! How does not caring about your own sanity and your own safety “show” someone else in any way?
First the beers, then the shooters, then the pot, then the coke, whatever she could find, whatever she could buy. She wanted to forget, forget how much it hurt to be so unimportant, forget how the other women were important to him, and she was just an afterthought. A postscript, a footnote.
So tonight she had a plan, the plan was to get so wasted he wouldn’t matter, nothing would matter. Well, another fine mess… clichés abound… She was mad, she was loud, she saw his ex there, oh god, she remembered she talked to the ex, she talked to the ex about him. Did she/the ex have something to do with the accident? Did she have an accident happen to her by accident, on purpose?
That’s ridiculous. As ridiculous as her motives were in the first place.
Crossing the parking lot. Seagulls on the pavement by the puddle. Did that mean rain was coming? Seagulls further in from the water, on the concrete land. Omens. Everything she saw, she saw omens.
Rain’s a coming. Does rain cleanse? drown? nourish? She couldn’t even decide what metaphors she wanted to believe in.
Choose. choose. Choose your story. Stick with it.
Now her head was hurting, not her face, but her head, from all the thinking, all the deciding. A bath, a warm bath. That’s the first thing she was going to do. Warm, wash away all the blood. Finish off the job.
Don’t be ridiculous. She was a survivor, if ever she needed proof of that, here she was. Who knew what threat she had survived? Not I, said the little red hen. Oh god, was she delirious now?
Close, much closer now. One foot in front of the other. Through the parking lot, to the apartment.
No one would be up yet, no one would see her in this state.
Now she was getting tired. As the goal came within reach, the walking became more laboured, as if each step measured some different kind of distance. Left step, the pain in her heart. Right step, the pain in her face. Left step, the pain of embarrassment. Right step, the pain of her soul. How can it be measured? In steps, in feelings, in bruises, in blood? In discarded clothing, in lost belongings, in forgotten memories?
Broken, bruised, tired, so very tired. Nearer, nearer, walk on, walk on. And now, inside, the warm water, the bath so inviting. Discard the bloody clothes. Damn that was her favourite T-shirt, sad to see it go.
The ring, the skull ring survived. “Memento mori”. Remember death, in Latin, no less. Remember death, in death we are all equal, in death we are reduced to equality, we all have a skull, don’t we?
Warm, warm water, slide under, wash off the blood, the pain, the hurt, the differences. She remembers shopping for the ring, finding the artisan with the fold out case of hand crafted silver jewellery, the serendipity of it actually fitting perfectly. The weight of the ring on her finger, the mocking silent grin of the skull, looking up at her, understanding her.
Of all the things she lost tonight, and she knew there were many: facial nerves, eyeglasses, reputation, self-respect… somehow the retention of the skull ring redeemed her. She had her Memento Mori, and in remembering death, she knew, she knew that she must embrace life. And that would always help her walk on.