Quiet time, alone time, is not all it's cracked up to be. I thought that the only thing I needed was solitude, rest, silence. I was wrong. In the silence, in the hours lying in your dark room in your too-warm bed, wishing for death or sleep, the ghosts in your head are too loud to hear the silence. When I try to sleep, I wake up exhausted. I toss and turn and rise and fall all night when I try to sleep, there is no rest for me. When I lie awake, still, resting my body, I hear a scream and a gunshot, over and over. I hear my mother's voice, I see Nora's emaciated body. There's nothing but death in my head, and it's enough to drive me mad.I spent six days in and out of hazy consciousness. Denise came in the first day to see me, and found me asleep. I slept, fitfully, for the first thirty-six hours. She came in after I woke and asked if I could see Sylvan. I said no. So he started visiting every evening around dinner time to check on me. We didn't really talk. The second day, I spent feeling comatose, like a walking corpse. I sometimes fantasized that I had died, that all the trouble and stress and nightmares were done, and I could just wander and decompose and be done with it already. No such luck has found me yet.
The third day I found the energy to get up and explore my small apartment, beyond the bedroom and connected bathroom. The decor was simple whites and blues, just like the center we entered through. The furniture was sparse, gleaming white, and all with rounded corners. That day, I paced and tried to forget.
The fourth day, I cried. I couldn't break the cycle, mom, brother, Belle, Nora, mom, brother, Bell, Nora, over and over with grandparents, aunts, and uncles mixed in. I cried for the life that I almost had before the whole world started to die. I cried for the world that died, and I cried for the sad, broken, decaying one that replaced it. I cried until I threw up, and then I cried again. I couldn't control it, I felt scared and frustrated and angry, and so very very lonely.
The fifth day, I slept. I dreamed about my mother and my brother. I don't remember this one, so I don't know if it was a memory or just a dream. We were sitting at the table at our home. Drake was playing a handheld game, and the sound was turned on. The music was this tinny, high pitched, repetitive melody that reminded me of a fragmented, pixelated image. It was upbeat, though, and not really that loud. Mom was behind me in the kitchen doing something. I couldn't turn to look at her, but she was just moving things around and humming this really down song.
The two sounds competed and contrasted enough to be annoying, but I was coloring, and I was happy to be with the two of them and to be having some peace. I was happy. I was at peace. Happy.
All of a sudden, Mom's running toward us, and this growl roar kind of weird shriek comes from her, and before I know what's happening, she's thrown Drake's game at the wall, shattering the screen, and causing the song to skip and loop and make the sounds that cause migraines. I stand, involuntarily, and I watch her hold him by his hair and scream in his face about 'that god damn noise, Drake! MAKE IT STOP! It's KILLING ME!" and she just keeps screaming and shaking and crying, and Drake's got his hands over his face, trying to defend himself from her balled up fist. She's got it raised, but she never does hit him, she just screams and screams about the monsters Drake's called up with that noise. That's when I wake up.
On the sixth day, when I woke up I put on clothes and shoes and I stepped outside. Even though the artificial light outside was identical to the artificial light inside my apartment, the feeling of open space, even open space within a manmade cave, gave me vertigo. It's a really weird feeling, coming out of a small space after that long. I've had the feeling before, but you never really get used to it. It's like your body gets used to calling that confined space 'the world' and when you expand that all of a sudden, you get a shock.
When I got my bearings, I walked out to Sylvan's building. The cluster of lights serving as a surrogate sun were low in the "sky", so I figured it must be early morning or late evening. I assumed early morning, since I had just woken up.
Sylvan was alone in his office when I arrived, so I just walked in and sat down in front of him. The look on his face was a mixture of relief and excitement.
"Am I glad to see you up and about! Do you feel any better now?" His voice was uncomfortably chipper, as it had been all week. Outside of my safe little bed, his voice felt bigger somehow, like something I needed to hide from. I took a deep breath and pushed the need to hide deep down.
"I am feeling better than I have been. I'm not great, but I don't think I will be," I responded as clinically as I could. Don't think about Belle. Don't think about death. I kept chanting in my head. I tried to focus. I tried to push the memories out.
Sylvan's brow furrowed with concern, "Well, that's not what I was hoping to hear. After all this time resting, I had figured you'd be raring to go. What's troubling you, Dahlia?"
I glanced away, tried to lie, but the truth came out instead, "Belle's dead. My baby girl, Belle, my little sis, she's gone and she's dead, and she's never going to come back to me. I'm alone, and she's gone." I could hear my voice tapering off. I didn't cry, there were no more tears, no more liquid in my body to cry with. I had been dry, thirsty even, for days now. So my voice just shrank away, my body refusing to be part of this concept for one moment longer.
"Belle was the girl you adopted several years ago, isn't that right?" I nodded, studying the curve of my right shoe on the ground. "I'm so, so very sorry. Did you see it happen?"
I nodded again, this time closing my eyes. There she was, as she always was when I closed my eyes lately. All my regrets. My mistakes. They all culminated in her being gone now. If I had just done things differently... "It's all my fault, Sylvan."
"Now, I really, really doubt that. Did you kill her yourself?" He asked matter-of-factly. He thought he knew the answer to that question.
"I didn't pull the trigger, if that's what you're asking," where did that vitriol come from? "But my actions led to her death. Directly. I led her to it, because of my pride, and my fear. I didn't pull the trigger, but I may as well have loaded the gun."
"Tell me, then. Tell me what you did to aid in Belle's demise," he requested as he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back to watch me.
"I learned something and I was told I couldn't share it, so I got angry and fought back. That was pride. I was threatened, I still don't understand why, but I was afraid, and so I ran, and I took Belle with me. We ran to my grandmother's home, and fate stole her away from me. My grandmother dropped her gun and it misfired. If I had left Belle at home, I would have been the one to die. If we had both stayed home, neither of us would have died. But I didn't choose either of the more right choices. I chose to let her slip out of my life." Who knew it? There were tears left in me after all.
"I see. Well, this may seem insensitive, but may I ask what information you ran for?" I couldn't read his motive.
"You can ask, but I'm not saying. I don't know why I'm not supposed to talk about it, but I'd rather not give anybody any reason to think I'm doing something wrong. What I will be happy to do, is to continue my research in that direction, without assistance unless absolutely necessary."
"And what would make me think you're ready for that? You've spent the last three weeks locked in your apartment. I wouldn't want you doing anything silly and causing an outbreak here in this safe place. I'm sure you understand that," he offered.
"I need to do something to get my mind off these things," I told him, suddenly able to be sharp and clinical once more.
"We'll find you a civilian job for now. Come back tomorrow and talk with Denise and she'll have an assignment for you. I promise it will be something relatively fulfilling so you can get your mind off things." He stood and stepped away from his desk.
I stood as well and turned toward the door, while offering, "Fine. I'll do that for a little bit, but you brought me here to work, don't forget that."
"Of course, I won't. I really want you to work again, too, I just have a responsibility to protect these people from anything I see as a potential risk. Until I know you're stable, I'm sorry but you qualify as a risk."
"Yeah, I know," and I headed for the door.
Outside, the light seemed brighter than it had in Sylvan's building, even though I knew for a fact it wasn't. All the lights were the same, my eyes were just playing tricks on me. I went home and ate the food that had been left on my table for me, then waited for the next day to bring me something to do.