Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Bonds Of Marriage

The Bonds Of Marriage

Five days. That’s how long it took. For me to find her, that is. Five days. Five. Fucking. Days.
I’m not mad, no. I’m sorry I cursed. Vulgarity is not exactly part of my vocabulary, and if you’re reading this I assume you expect a certain level of professionalism. On most days I’d entertain your expectations and provide you with elaborate detail full of colorful, profound thoughts.
But no. Not today. Fuck it. Maybe I am mad. I really don’t know what I feel right now. I was once a man impervious to the typical mundane apprehension commonly experienced everyday by the vast majority of fellow contributors to society. Life was good. That was before. A lot can change in such a small amount of time.
I’m writing this twenty days after the last incident. The shrink said it would be good to document my experience now while it's still fresh and share it with people not involved. No friends or family. Just like-minded strangers.
It was a Friday at 11:00am that I got the call. The call that changed my life. The familiar number was programmed into my phone as ‘Stephanie - Work’. My wife. It’s unusual for her to call me during the day as most of our correspondence is conducted through text messaging. If she calls, it’s something important. But when I answered the phone, it wasn’t her on the other end. It was her boss, Debbie.
“We haven’t heard from Stephanie today. She didn’t show up for work.”
You know that feeling where you suddenly have a gaping hole in your chest? Yeah, that’s what happened to me as soon as I heard those words. It was as though a piece of me spent years rotting away inside and then quickly died and vanished all in the span of a few seconds leaving a hollow cavity where my heart should be.
My wife is not the type to not show up for work. Never.
I stepped out of my office and called my wife’s cell phone, nervously pressing my phone against my ear with so much force I could feel it turning red from pinched blood vessels. Every ring that came and went without an answer felt like a bomb going off in my head until finally her voicemail picked up.
“Please leave your message for…’Stephanie Briar’.”
I hung up and tried again with the same result. Where are you??? I texted. imessage reported the text as delivered, and after waiting impatiently for a few minutes without it ever showing as being read, I went back into my office and told my boss I had to go home. At least I knew her phone hadn’t been turned off.
On the way to my car, I called my mother-in-law, Faith. Faith didn’t like me. I didn’t like Faith. Out of respect for Stephanie, the two of us acted on a mutual coexistence relationship. I wasn’t surprised when she didn’t answer the phone.
“Faith, it’s Shaun,” I said in a panic. “Stephanie didn’t show up for work today and she’s not responding to my calls. I need to know if you’ve heard from her or if she’s with you. Please call me back.”
Usually the drive home takes about thirty minutes. I made it home in twelve. During the drive I called Stephanie three more times without an answer. The text message I sent earlier remained unread. As I drove down our block I peered down the road hoping to see Stephanie’s car in the driveway. I leave the house before she does. If her car was in the driveway there was a shimmer of hope that perhaps she just overslept. Or perhaps she wasn’t feeling well and forgot to call her office to let someone know that she wouldn’t be coming in. I suppose it was a way for me to hold on to the prospect of her resting peacefully in bed. I had hope, but deep down, I know that wasn’t her character. She never oversleeps, and if she takes a sick day she always calls someone. It was just one of the many qualities I truly appreciated in Stephanie. Her honesty. Her dependability. She was the most reliable person I ever met.
As I pulled closer to the house, the driveway came into view. It was empty.
Another hollow cavity formed in my chest.
I held back tears as I exited my car and raced to the front door to find the deadbolt locked. Stephanie must have left, locking the door behind her. The only other person with keys, besides myself and Stephanie, was Faith, who lived only a few miles away in the same town. It was unlikely that my mother-in-law came and locked the door.
“STEPHANIE?!” I yelled as I walked into the house. “STEPHANIE?!”
The vibrating in my pocket from my cell phone ringing shot a burst of elation straight to my fingertips. It’s Stephanie, I told myself. She’s calling to tell me she’s alright. When I looked at the caller though, my heart sank. It was my mother-in-law.
“Hello Shaun.”
“Have you heard from Stephanie?”
“No why?”
“Didn’t you listen to my voicemail? Stephanie didn’t show up for work.”
I heard her gasp on the other end. “What do you mean? Where is she?”
“I don’t know, I was hoping you did. I’m home now but there’s no sign of her. Her car is gone. And she’s not answering her cell phone.”
We got off the phone and each of us called everyone we knew. Her sister, my sister, my parents, her friends. We even called family from out of state. Nobody had heard from her.
It became abundantly clear to us that something horrible must have happened to Stephanie. Left with no other option I called the police to report her missing.
“Are there any signs of forced entry or a disturbance in the house?” The operator asked me.
“No, everything looks normal.”
“I’m sorry sir, but if there’s no evidence of foul play we cannot take a missing person report.”
“You don’t understand, I called everyone we know who would have knowledge of her whereabouts...”
“Sir. From what you’ve described to me it sounds as though she left the house on her own free will. Your wife is an adult. She’s free to go wherever she pleases.”
I was shocked by what I was hearing. “Look, ma’am, I’m all for gender equality if that’s what you’re getting at, but I’m telling you...she didn’t just go out for a day at the beach. She is MISSING!”
I heard an audible sigh. For some reason, this woman thought I was wasting her time. “Since there is no indication that she is in any immediate danger, you’ll need to wait 24 hours.”
“She could be dead by then!”
“I’m sorry sir.”
I hung up the phone and decided to take a different route. I called our cell phone provider and asked them to ping her device. They refused, citing that the account was in her name, and mine wasn’t listed anywhere on the account. When that didn’t work, I called 9-11 again hoping to get a different operator on the phone who would be willing to take the report, but again they refused.
Nobody was willing to help. I stood on the back porch overlooking our backyard expecting to see Stephanie casually walking in the distance with that alluring bounce in her step that she always had. Her long, rich auburn hair swaying with every shift of her body from leg to leg. I broke down and started crying, wondering if I’d ever see that precious smile again. We bought our house three years earlier, right before we were slated to marry each other. I remember spending every day in the house after we closed making improvements before moving in. The previous owners hadn’t updated anything for years which meant we got it at a cheap price, but it also meant there was a lot of work that needed to be done. We had to replace a wall, rebuild a ceiling, remove wallpaper and skim coat the walls, sand and refinish the wood floors. Since we had cleared out our savings for the deposit on the house, we couldn’t afford a contractor. We did the work ourselves. Neither of us were experience in home renovations, but we followed instructional videos online and worked together. Even though we were already committed to each other, I felt like those long days tackling manual labor and building the perfect home to live in brought us closer.
One night we were both exhausted from working all day and we found ourselves on the back porch lying flat on our backs looking up at the night sky. We we were still in our paint-covered work clothes. The stars came out slowly but soon they were a sparkling blanket over the earth. We talked about our lives, where we’ve been, where we’ll go, and where we’d hoped to wind up. I felt her hand reach out and make peace with mine.
“Wherever you go, I go. Whatever you feel, I feel.” I told her. “I love you,” she whispered back to me. Our wedding day was one of the happiest days of my life. But that night...that night was by far the happiest.
Now I was standing in the exact spot we had shared that wonderful moment three years earlier having the worst day of my life.
Faith showed up at the house and together we hopped in my car and followed the same route Stephanie takes to work every day. We drove all the way to her office building and then all the way back without a single sign of Stephanie or her car. During the drive, Faith broke down a few times. Between the outbursts she asked me about my correspondence with authorities, asking me precise questions and objecting to the validity of their actions.
It wasn’t long before more relatives and friends arrived at our house to assist in the search. My sister, Carol, and I stayed out all night, driving all over the county looking for any trace of Stephanie. Carol was my bigger sister and she always looked out for me, protected me. If I was ever in trouble, she was there. I’m lucky to have such a great sister. But our efforts failed to reward any sort of result.
Late into the night we returned to the house to check in with Faith, who had opted to stay at our house in the event that Stephanie returned. My parents stayed with her to keep head straight. As soon as I walked through the door, Faith started berating me.
“YOU!” She sat at the kitchen table pointed her finger at me, her face filled with rage. “You did something to her, didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU?!”
“What?! How could you say something like that?”
“You never loved…” She trailed off as though she was unsure of what to say next.
“I know that you’re upset. I am too. But pointing fingers and jumping to conclusions is not going to help anything.”
“WHERE IS SHE?! WHAT DID YOU DO TO HER?!” She stood up and lunged at me, swinging her fist through the air at my head. I grabbed her arm and held it in the middle of the air. “I never should have let you marry her!”
My parents intervened, running into the kitchen from the living room and restraining Faith. I quickly left the house as soon as they had gotten her off of me. My fucking wife was missing. I didn’t have the time or strength to deal with that crazy bitch. My parents eventually convinced Faith to return to her house. She would be able to patrol her house if Stephanie went there instead of our house. They would keep in contact with her if there was any news.
The night went by without any word from Stephanie. I sent her more text messages that all appeared to be being delivered, but still not read. The phone was on, and it needed to be pinged.
I called the police again the next day, but they still refused to take the missing person report. First they told me I had to call all of the hospitals in the county to find out if she was admitted anywhere. I did that and called them back where they then told me I needed to call all the individual precincts to find out if she had been arrested. When I finished that chore they told me to call the hospitals again.
More searching with no results. More pleading with the police to help without any effort on their part. More accusations from my mother-in-law exacerbating the whole situation.
Finally on the fourth day, the police finally sent an officer to my house. But not from my requests to file a missing person. It was because my mother-in-law kept calling them to report me. They took me into the station, sat me down and started interrogating me, making subtle hints that in missing person cases the husband is usually culprit. I told them how I loved my wife deeply and never harmed her in any way. For five hours they drilled me, all while I kept assuring them that they needed to focus their efforts elsewhere before it was too late.
They had no evidence that supported what my mother-in-law reported. On the fifth day, they finally started considering my story. They obtained a warrant that authorized them to ping her cell phone.
Low and behold, that’s what finally led them to her.
The ping led them to a desolate part of a major highway where her phone had bounced off a nearby cell tower. As they walked along the highway, they spotted her car. It had crashed into a ravine that was hidden from view. I had passed by that spot numerous times during my search for Stephanie. And every time I drove by, she was alive just a few hundred feet, struggling to survive.
But by the time they found her, she was dead. They estimated her time of death as only a couple of hours before they discovered the horrific scene.
By the looks of it, Stephanie had lost control of her car at a curve in the road and wound up driving into the ravine. The crash had left her dangling upside down by the seatbelt cutting into her chest and the seat pinning both of her broken legs. Her arm, collar, both legs, and a few ribs were broken along with multiple facial fractures as well as various lacerations on her body. The impact caused a collapsed lung, but despite all these injuries, the coroner determined the cause of death to be encephalitis - swelling of the brain - due to being suspended upside down for an extended period of time. They say a normal person can survive around 72 hours upside down. Stephanie lasted 120, all while battling numerous injuries from the crash.
I can’t really settle on whether Stephanie’s naturally defiant demeanor is what kept her alive, or if she suffered through 5 days of torture, begging for relief in some way. I have no idea what she went through. It’s hard to think about. I like to think that we shape incoming information as much as it shapes us. Perhaps it’s convenient for me to think that Stephanie went peacefully. Deep down, I know...she didn’t.
I was devastated. All of this could have been avoided by a simple pinging of a cell phone. All of it. If the police had just listened to me and weren’t so dismissive she’d be alive. My mother-in-law hugged me and apologized for even suggesting I was somehow to blame. The police formally apologized for their botched investigation. But it was all too late.
I tried. I did everything I possibly could. The world failed Stephanie.
I’d love to say that this story ends here. A devoted husband loses his wife and starts anew vowing to never forget the loving memories by honoring her in some way. But that’s not exactly what happened. Stephanie was dead, but she wasn’t gone. In the days that followed, Stephanie made her presence known. And she was angry.
Day 1
The police arrested me at home in front of family members in the early evening and took me in for questioning after my mother-in-law claims I locked her in the basement of my house for two hours. I had spent the day with my parents and given my mother-in-law the spare key, knowing she would be going by the house during the day to go through some of Stephanie’s belongings.
In her statement, my mother-in-law said she was in the basement sorting through some of my wife’s belongings when the door at the top of the stairs violently slammed shut and locked her inside. She pounded on the door and tried clawing at the hinges desperately trying to free herself, but the hinges are located on the other side and despite throwing all her weight into the door it wouldn’t budge. She cried out for help, but heard nothing outside.
For two hours she tried to knock the door down, becoming increasingly more hysterical the longer she was held captive. Then, according to her story, just as violently as the door had closed it swung open towards her. It opened at such a velocity that it pushed her backwards and she tumbled down the stairs. Luckily she was not injured aside from a couple of bruises and was able to exit the basement and leave the house.
My mother-in-law was convinced I was responsible. Perhaps she thought I was trying to prevent her from making any more outrageous accusations that I killed Stephanie. Maybe she thought I pulled this stunt out of revenge. I don’t really know. But I wasn’t there and was certain she was making it all up. I poked holes at her story. Not only did I have a solid alibi for my whereabouts during the day, but I pointed out one glaring flaw to the police.
“She said that the hinges were on the outside of the door?”
“That’s correct,” the investigator responded.
“Right, because the basement door swings outwards into the kitchen. If the hinges were on the other side as she claims, how did the door swing towards her and knock her backwards?”
They quickly dismissed the charges and drove me home.
Day 2
This was the day she first appeared to me.
The day was long and filled with planning the wake. I went home, exhausted. My sister stayed for a while to keep me company and insisted on staying the night again.
I wish I told her to stay. I didn’t want her to leave. But I also didn’t want to be a burden on anyone. I needed to get used to the idea of being alone. Realistically I couldn’t expect my family to stay with me forever. Asking for help is something I consider a weakness. No one should be forced to help me.
She left the house and I stood by the front door after it clicked shut, my ears ringing in silence as a reminder of the perpetual solitude I would somehow have to get used to.
I walked into the living room and felt my legs buckle. It was too much for me to handle. I fell to my knees and lost control of myself. The tears came so rapidly I lost my breath at times. I looked at the couch and remembered all the times I saw her sitting there when I came home from work. She’d look at me with those large marble eyes of hers, smile and ask me about my day.
I’m just a grieving husband now. A broken man. I have no value to the world. Without her, I’m incomplete.
After nearly an hour on the floor in the living room I mustered up the strength to go into the kitchen and chug half a bottle of whiskey. A man can really destroy himself when he feels he has nothing left to lose.
Eventually, I’m not exactly sure when, I plopped into bed with the room swirling around me. My eyelids were practically sewn shut and every so often I’d struggle to open them. The combination of alcohol and an emotional breakdown placed a hefty strain on the overall function of my eyes.
I was laying on my side when I heard the scratching in the corner of the room and struggled to open my eyes one more time before passing out. Slowly I persisted attempting to open my eyes in order to investigate the sound. And once they were open, she slowly came into focus. She was standing in the corner with her back turned to me, but I recognized her clothes and that long auburn hair. It was Stephanie.
“S-Stephanie?” I muttered. She didn’t respond.
I rubbed my eyes to try and get a clearer view, and once I opened them again, Stephanie was floating upside down in mid-air, her long hair dangling off the top of her head. Her neck was bent and twisted around, contorted so she could look at me on the bed with her mouth wide open in a silent scream.
I rolled over on my other side and cried myself to sleep.
Day 3
I think at some point in all of our lives, we’ve all thought about suicide. Some more seriously than others of course. But we all have. We know what we’re capable of and we’re constantly surrounded by various methods to end it all. And the thought just sort of sneaks up on you, leaving you to wonder what garnered these thoughts so suddenly. You could be casually browsing through your local drug store and come upon a bottle of painkillers and think I wonder how long it would take for me to die if I swallowed this whole bottle. Then your mind starts to wander. If I did kill myself, I’d leave a note. Would anyone miss me when I’m gone? What would my funeral be like? Would people cry?
It’s all an innocuous process of our self-awareness of existence. We (well, most of us at least) would never actually do it. But still, it crosses our minds.
That morning on day three I woke up hung over. A pounding headache coupled with bloodshot eyes from crying too much left me somewhat disoriented. I sat in bed looking at the corner of the room where Stephanie appeared to me the night prior; the ghastly image of her tortured face imprinted into my thoughts. That morning, I thought about suicide. While I know that I’d never do it, thinking about it somehow made me feel calm. It put things into perspective for me. I understood my mental state was somewhat unstable. But in a weird way, coming to terms with the fact that I had literally reached the lowest point in my life gave me optimism. Knowing I had nothing to live for meant I could only go up from here. It’s when we feel as though we’ve lost everything that we can begin to appreciate what little we actually do have, and pursue happiness once again.
A cold tear fell slowly down my cheek as I laid motionless on my side in bed allowing my thoughts to run wild for a while. That’s when I heard the doorbell ring and remembered that my sister was coming by to help with the final preparations for the wake. I was still in my clothes from the day prior, and I was sure that I reeked of alcohol. I couldn’t let her see me like this.
I tried to lift my arm to wipe away the tear, but I had a strange sensation shooting through my arm and my fingers were completely numb. I must have slept on my arm I thought. But this was different than your typical ‘pins and needles’ feeling. I looked down at my fingers as I tried to move them and they just laid still, not flinching or twitching at all.
I just need to let the blood flow for a few minutes.
I rolled over to use my other arm, but as soon as my body began to move I felt crunch in my ribcage and let out a small yelp. My ribs were shifting around inside of me as though each of them were loose at the joints. The pain wasn’t unbearable at first, until I reached my other side and there was a large pop in my chest and I felt bone scrape against bone. I started howling in pain while pressing my working hand against my ribcage. What was happening to me?
Before I could speculate any further I heard the doorbell ring a second time. My sister was still outside, becoming impatient waiting for me. Something was wrong with my body and I no longer worried about my sister seeing me in such a pathetic shape. I needed help.
Fighting through the pain in my chest I shifted my legs over the side of the bed and tried to stand up. Once my legs were planted on the floor and I began to stand up, I felt another sharp pop, this time coming from my right leg. I fell to the floor and landed with a loud thud, shaking the dresser next to me. My leg appeared fine when I looked down at it, but it didn’t feel right. I cried out again, not from the pain, but from fear. I hadn’t the faintest idea of why my bones were suddenly all breaking like twigs. The uncertainty of what would happen to me put me in a panic.
As I laid on the floor clutching my leg and my ribs, I heard the faint sound of footsteps in the hallway. My sister, I thought. She must have used a spare key. She can help me. The footsteps were approaching the bedroom slowly, the wood floors creaking underneath every step.
“I’m here! I need help!” I screamed into the hallway.
Just as I finished calling out, I heard the unsettling sound of the doorbell ringing for a third time.
I laid on the floor for a moment, confused. If my sister was still outside ringing the bell, who is walking in the hallway?
A part of me already knew what the source of the footsteps were; who was creating them. From my position on the floor I peered out the doorway into the hall, listening to the slow footsteps inch closer. I tried to stay quiet while the pain throbbed, fearing what she would do when she found me. Perhaps if I stayed silent she would go away.
I was wrong.
Her bare feet stepped into the doorway from around the corner and there she stood. Stephanie. She stood 15 feet away from me, staring menacingly down at my mangled body. Between remote splotches of blood and bruises I noticed her skin was pale and lifeless, like she was one of those corpses they find that have been underwater for years. I could see the anger in her eyes and it became clear to me what was happening.
She blamed me. Blamed me for not finding her in time. She held me responsible.
“Stephan…” I stopped when she suddenly jerked her head sideways, holding that enraged look on her face and not breaking eye contact with me. Just as she completed the motion, I felt my collar bone snap and cause a loud popping noise. I screamed as more pain shot traveled throughout my body. “I’m sorry!” I cried out. “I’m...sorry!” I closed my eyes and started crying. “Don’t torture me like this...I tried!” I buried my head in hand and cried some more.
I heard loud banging on the front door downstairs from my sister becoming increasingly worried about me. When I opened my eyes and looked back up, Stephanie was gone. Just as suddenly, the pain was swept away from me and a eerie calm filled my veins. My arm had full functionality, my ribs were all aligned, my collar bone was sturdy. It was as if nothing had ever happened.
I stood up and felt...fine. A little woozy, but mostly fine. What the hell was this supposed to be?
My sister banged on the door again and I rushed down the stairs to open the door. She took one look at me and saw the concern in her eyes.
“Jesus, you look like shit.”
I tried to talk, but I quickly felt an acidic taste in the back of my throat. I pushed my sister out of the way and leaned over the front porch to throw up. Between hacks I looked back at my sister. “I think something is wrong with me.”

She took me to the hospital right away. The doctors took x-rays but found no broken bones or any abnormalities. They gave me a complete physical and said I was perfectly healthy, aside from needing to lose 20 lbs. I was a perfectly healthy adult, and I felt like one.
I didn’t tell them about Stephanie. Seriously, who would believe that the ghost of my dead wife was coming back to me and breaking my bones? I’d look like a complete nut job. I told them I had too much to drink, tripped down the stairs and thought I felt something snap in my leg. They gave me a number of a psychiatrist; the one who recommended I write this. My sister was alarmed and vowed to stay with me over the next few days to make sure I didn’t “do anything stupid.”
I never like asking or accepting help from someone. But, I needed it. Sometimes it’s better to rely on someone.
Day 4
The wake. After my trip to the hospital the day prior, my family took control of the arrangements, only including me in some decisions if it was absolutely necessary. Wakes are such an awkward setting for me. I never know exactly what to say to the person who has lost a loved one. I’m always afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing. All people take death very differently and it’s impossible to determine the right thing to say. Some people want to surround themselves with a group of people for emotional support.
I’ve never been in this position before, but I can say with certainty that on this day, I just wanted to be left alone. I didn’t want to listen to anyone’s pity.
Of course it would be impolite for me ignore everyone at the wake, and for some reason I’m required to make rounds and thank everyone for coming and for their support. My wife is dead, but I am delegated with the task of ensuring that everyone feels appreciated for their presence and they’re not offended when I really just want to be left with my own thoughts. People are fucking babies.
If my wife were alive, we’d be whispering back and forth to each at events like these about how weird it is and have a laugh about it. That’s what made us perfect for each other. We shared the same values. We can laugh at other people while there was a dead body in the room.
My mother in law was oddly absent when the wake started. Granted, her and I haven’t exactly gotten along the last week or so, or ever really. Regardless of my opinions of the woman, I could never denounce her as a bad person. She was incredibly loving and nurturing to both of her daughters and always provided for them. I guess that was always the problem between me and her. In her eyes, no man could ever be good enough for her Stephanie, and she was never shy about making me aware of that. For her not to be present at her daughter's wake seemed...strange, even if she didn’t like me and thought I locked her in my basement.
The funeral home provided spouses with a special cushioned chair in the front row to sit in which I didn’t quite understand. ‘Hey, your wife is dead, but here’s a comfy chair just for you to make you feel better.’’ There’s so many things I just don’t understand about these events. But I played my part and sat in the chair while family and friends all walked towards the closed casket to pay their respects, then turn to me and express their pity while I tried to keep myself from an emotional breakdown.
About halfway through the service, everyone took was asked to take their seats and I gave a speech to the room of about 200 people. My eulogy for my wife.
“Thank you everyone for being here today,” I lied. “It’s nice to see that there are so many of you here as a direct result of the impact Stephanie had on your lives. When I first met Stephanie, the world didn’t seem to make much sense to me. But Stephanie changed that. From the moment she first smiled at me and introduced herself, the world was suddenly coherent. Everything fell into its rightful place and I knew then that Stephanie was the woman I’d end up marrying. She was my best friend. I’m incredibly lucky that it’s now so challenging for me to say goodbye to my best friend. My wife. Stephanie Briar.” My voice started breaking on that last sentence and I felt that tingling feeling in the back of my eyes as tears formed. “I’m sorry...this is...difficult.”
I paused for a moment and looked at the crowd of eyes staring back at me. Something came over me. There were hundreds of eyes fixed on my position standing in front of them all. But there was something else watching me. I couldn’t see her. I could feel her. Stephanie.
“The greatest moment in my life came on a night when Stephanie and I had exhausted ourselves working on our house. We laid on the back porch looking up at the sky at night, talking about our lives. I never felt so connected to another person as I did that night. Her and I were two separate people, but it felt like we were one; her being the perfect balance to my personality.”
I stopped when I remembered what I said to her that night. I repeated the words in my head a few times, and it all made sense. Everything. Stephanie appearing to me, my cracked bones. All of it. I understood.
“As we laid there I told her, ‘Wherever you go, I go. Whatever you feel...I feel.’ That was the bond our relationship created. And that became the bond of our marriage.”
Even in death, the bond was still there.

I continued the speech after that feeling much more optimistic about the wake; about accepting sympathy from friends and family. Knowing that there was some sort of purpose to my experience the day before and Stephanie wasn’t blaming me for her death put everything into perspective for me. I needed to embrace it, not curse it.
After the service was over I stayed behind. I knew that the funeral would be the next day and I wouldn’t have another opportunity to be alone with Stephanie. The remains of her physical form, that is. Her ghost, spirit, whatever you want to call it, never physically appeared to me that night, but she also never left. Her aura was with me the entire night.
I stood alone in the room where my wife rested. A couple of years back, Stephanie had her wisdom teeth pulled. All four of them all at once. It was kind of funny to watch her wake up from being knocked out. It was just like those youtube videos you see online where people act like they’re drunk. I had to keep myself from laughing at her disorientation so she wouldn’t feel like a fool. I did the best I could, but she still caught me giggling and would adamantly tell me it wasn’t funny, which only made me laugh more. After I took her home she stayed in bed drifting in and out of sleep, all the while in tremendous pain from the procedure. I did everything I could to make her feel comfortable, but nothing seemed to work. She cried out in pain and I felt completely helpless. I just wanted to make her pain stop.
Eventually I went into the basement and took out my acoustic guitar, went back upstairs, sat next to the bed and sang a song to her. And that’s exactly what put her at ease. After that she fell asleep with a smile on her face.
And that’s exactly what I planned on doing with her now. I know it seems kind of stupid, but somehow I was convinced it would help her rest. She was still in pain, and she needed my help.
I played “In Memoria Di” by Dry Kill Logic. It was one of her favorite songs, and one of my own. The subject matter seemed appropriate. With every stroke of the strings I struggled to sing the words through tears running down my face, all the while I knew Stephanie was watching me the entire time.
When the song was over, a voice broke the silence of the room from behind me.
I turned and was surprised to see Faith standing thirty feet away in the entrance to the room. She hadn’t been present the entire night, only now making an appearance. She had every right to be there, but I wasn’t in any condition to deal with a person who at one point thought I killed her daughter; who claimed that I locked her in my basement. I put down the guitar, stood and turned to her. “I’ll get out of your way.” I said to her.
“ Shaun, that was beautiful.”
“...thanks, I guess...Forgive me for sounding rude here, but where the hell were you tonight?”
“It was your daughter's wake. What you and I have been through shouldn’t interfere with your participation in this. Stephanie would have wanted you here.”
“I know. I really don’t have an answer for you that you would understand.”
It seemed like a cheap excuse for avoiding seeing me. Faith stood still in the doorway looking back at me. She reached up to wipe a tear away from under her eye and I noticed her arm was wrapped in a splint. “Is that from your ‘fall down my basement stairs’?” I made little quotation marks with my fingers in the air as I said that to indicate how ridiculous it sounded.
“No.’s hard to explain. I just hurt myself. But I know now that you didn’t lock me in the basement.”
The look of uncertainty was familiar to me. It was the same look I had when I first felt my ribs shifting out of place the day before. I squinted at Faith and started walking towards her. “Be that from...Stephanie?”
Her eyes widened. “Shaun, that’s...not possible.”
“She got you too, didn’t she?”
“Wait, this happened to you?”
“Oh yeah. Woke up yesterday feeling all of my bones cracking.” She smiled slightly; a sign of relief that she wasn’t crazy. “And she was there. She stood over me. Your bone isn’t actually broken, is it?” I pointed at her arm.
“No, it’s not, but it feels better wearing the splint. Kind of like a safety blanket. Why is she doing this?”
“There’s purity in pain, Faith. That’s the bond you and I shared with her.”
For the first time, Faith and I embraced each other and hugged.
Day 5
Stephanie’s funeral went much better than I expected. I was miserable the day prior going into the wake, but now I felt somewhat vindicated. Of course I was still sad, but I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I wanted the warmth of my family all around me. Afterwards I had everyone come to our house and we all shared stories of Stephanie over some food I ordered. Faith even came and told me about Stephanie’s childhood, laughing over how she used to wrack up large phone bills by calling those Psychic Hotlines when she was a teenager. Every time Faith opened the bill she had a fit. But now, it’s easy to laugh at those things.
As the evening progressed, people started leaving. Soon enough it was just my immediate family there; my parents and my sister, along with Stephanie’s mother and sister. They asked me if Stephanie kept the stuffed bear she had a child.
“Not only did she keep it, she still slept with it sometimes!” I told them. Everyone laughed. “That thing was so old and torn apart. It stunk! But she would never wash it because she thought it would ruin the stitching. You gotta see this thing, it’s upstairs, I’ll go get it.”
I ascended the staircase, rushing to our bedroom to retrieve the stuffed bear. I burst through the bedroom door and jumped back as soon as the room came into focus. Just ahead of me was a suspended, mangled frame of a body suspended upside down in mid-air. It was Stephanie. She was here, in the bedroom, waiting for me. Her hair dangled from her head, nearly touching the floor below. Her eyes were wide and locked on me, never moving.
This time...she spoke.
“Are you ready?” Her voice echoed off the walls as if it was traveling through dimensions to reach me. Her mouth never moved, but there was no mistaking that voice. I loved her voice. Hearing it now sent chills through my body.
“Ready...for what?”
“ together...again.”
Another voice echoed through the room, whirling in circles around me. “Wherever you go, I go. Whatever you feel, I feel.” Although the sound was somewhat distorted, I could tell very easily...that was my voice. It was the words I said to her that night on the porch.
“What does this mean?” I asked. “You’re...taking me with you?”
“Are you...ready?” The voice became more defiant.
I breathed heavily, not knowing what to say or do. “Stephanie, I can’t go where you are.”
Her face turned angry. “You...promised.” My own voice spoke again. “Wherever you go, I go.”
“I feel what you feel. But I cannot go where you go anymore. I need to stay here.”
Suddenly the walls around me started vibrating and Stephanie slowly started floating towards me. I stepped backwards, frightened, until the door behind me slammed shut and prevented me going any further. I fell to the floor with my back against the door, the room violently shaking as I watched Stephanie come closer and closer, until her face was inches from mine. “You...PROMISED!”
Her body disintegrated in front of me and suddenly I felt a pain in my chest. Not broken bones, like before. But my heart. It stopped beating. The room continued shaking as I sat on the floor grasping my chest, struggling to breath. Gradually everything started to go dark...until there was no more.

I woke up in the hospital with my family around me. My sister came up to the bedroom to find out what was taking me so long to retrieve a stuffed bear and found me on the floor passed out. She called 9-11 and had me rushed to the hospital. The doctors said I had a heart attack, but I knew that wasn’t what it was. What are the odds a young man like me would actually have a heart attack? Nope, that’s not what happened. Stephanie took me. And then, she let me go. I had to convince her, but she agreed and sent me back to reality.
After I blacked out on the floor I sprang to life in another world. It was dark grey and the ground was like mud. It seemed like a vast, endless world of nothing, just darkness and grey mud.
Out of the darkness, Stephanie came running full speed into my arms, knocking me over onto the muddy ground.
“You made it! You’re here!” Her voice was normal now, no echoing or anything. Just that sweet, lovely voice of hers.
I ran my fingers through her hair and kissed the top of her forehead. I squeezed her tightly, knowing that this would be the last time I’d ever get to hold her in my arms. I wanted to cherish every part of her for the last time. “I’m here. But, I can’t stay. I can’t be with you. Not yet.”
“But I need you here...with me.”
“One day. One day I’ll be here with you. I’ll always go wherever you go, it just might take me a little longer to get there.”

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The Fourth Domain - Finale

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