I am a ghost, I think. I can’t feel anything. I float through the crowd of thousands—literally thousands of people—crammed into the gym of our seventies dinner theater-esque Catholic church. All brick and terrible wood paneling. As I drift down from the bleachers into the 2500 funeral attendees, they swarm me. Suddenly, I am Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar, surrounded by lepers, grabbing me, seizing me, touching the hem of my robe. They are grabbing me and hugging me, shaking me, tears streaming.
But I can’t hear anything they’re saying. I just keep nodding and saying thank you over and over and over and over and over. Their faces fuzz and come in and out of focus. A teacher whom I despise with every fiber of my being wraps me into a lecherous hug, and I’m too numb to scream at him or push him away. I just numbly say thank you over and over but he’s not disappearing, until someone literally elbows him aside and wraps all four limbs around me.
I can’t breathe. I make eye contact with Rachel and Briana. They push church ladies with little birds’ nests atop their heads aside and yank me out of the mass of bodies. They quarantine me to a corner of the gym and form a barrier. Someone hands me food. Rachel is on the floor with me.
“What do we do?”
“Don’t let anyone hug me. I can’t hug one more fucking person. I can’t.”
“Okay. This sounds like a Briana job.”
Briana is on it. “EVERYBODY BACK THE FUCK UP! SHE IS GRATEFUL FOR YOUR SYMPATHY BUT KINDLY MOVE IT THE FUCK ALONG, PEOPLE!”
Every hug drains me. Their touch is not meant to purely comfort—they are touching me because it comforts them to lay hands on me. To know that they did something—anything—in the midst of such helplessness. They are using me as an anchor, something to hold onto, something in the center to ground them. But I have nothing left to give them. I have not been in my body in a week.
I left my body at the police station. Jim’s girlfriend’s head tucked into my lap, dribbling sobs and hiccupping breaths as I brushed her hair. Her hair. This is a nightmare. This is a nightmare. Wake up, Sarah. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
But I say, “it’s going to be okay, Emily. Breathe, Emily.”
The Bubenhoffers arrive and bring me chicken. All I can think is that my mom used to say that Bubenhoffer sounds like the name of a well-endowed German rabbit, and I can’t possibly think about eating fucking chicken because I can’t feel anything—definitely not hunger. But I do eat the chicken. I’m even thankful for the chicken.
This is a nightmare. This is a nightmare. Wake up. Wake up.
My phone buzzes. “Sarah, I’m so sorry.” From Sarah Davis. Fucking Sarah Davis knows? I don’t even know yet, and Sarah Davis is already sorry?
My boyfriend touches my arm and I leap out of my seat with enough force to launch Emily’s head into space. “You should call your people.”
I shuffle outside. It is that terrible freezing December rain that can’t quite commit to being snow or sleet or something wintery. It’s an out of place, surreal dribble that crackles and fizzes in air that steals my breath. And I dial.
“Sarah? Sarah’s what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“Um, no. No, I don’t think so.”
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know how to say it. I don’t, um—”
“SARAH SAY SOMETHING!”
“Somebody broke into my house and they shot mom and Jim in the head.”
“Are they okay?”
I did not prepare for that response, but I would soon learn that shot in the head doesn’t mean dead to most people. Like one too many Michael Myers Halloween movies has convinced us that dead ain’t dead until it’s buried.
“No. They’re dead.”
Rachel says so many ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygods in one minute that I freeze. And I sob. Heaving sobs. Thank god, I think, I can feel something. Thank God I have Rachel to feel it for me, to remind me how to feel this.
I call Briana.
“You would not BELIEVE the day I’m having. Unfuckingbelievable. I’m on this stupid fucking Bolt Bus to Baltimore and we’re just broken down on the side of the highway waiting for a rescue. I mean can you fucking believe that? Does it get any worse than this?”
“I mean, we have been sitting here for three hours. This is the worst! THE WORST, I’m telling you! Anyway, how are you?”
“Briana somebody broke into my house and they shot Mom and Jim in the face.”
Long silence. Ah, yes, I forgot. The addendum.
“They are dead.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“No. No, they are very dead.”
“Who the fuck DOES THAT?”
“I really wish I had more answers for you, but—"
“I mean, you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. Are you—SIR. SIR SOMEBODY GET ME OFF THIS BUS RIGHT NOW! Okay, alright, we are going to get through this because I am going to bring you food, and you’re just, you’re just going to move in with me when we get back to school, and I will be there as soon as, GET OUT OF THE WAY AND LET ME OFF THE FUCKING BUS!”
“Briana, do not get off the bus! Briana! Stay where you are.”
“What do you need? What do I do? What do I do?”
“Come see me tomorrow, okay? Okay, I’m sorry I called, I just didn’t…I don’t know what to do.”
The overly polite woman from the front desk pops her head outside to tell me not to go anywhere, as I will be interrogated in fifteen minutes. I hang up the phone. And I double my head over a trash can and laugh. Splitting laughter until tears roll down. Because I would give anything to be stuck on a bus with first world problems and a tote bag of hairspray, Laduca’s, and an audition binder.
The buzz of my phone jerks me back to the trash can at the police station. Calls won’t stop coming in. I am somehow getting worse at telling people what has happened. My skin goes hot, quakes, and then slithers off my body. It splits, tears, and sheds everything I knew until I am raw and exposed, until everything hurts.
My grandparents, aunts, and uncles must have rented a bus for the occasion, because some how they all manage to show up at the same time like a clown car of tragedy. There is a jealous emptiness as I watch them all howl, tear sackcloth, pound walls, and rock. They feel everything. They envelop me in hugs I cannot feel. I just keep shaking and shaking, staring wide eyed, comforting everyone, telling them it was going to be okay. It was going to be okay. It had to be okay.
The priest from our parrish eyes me suspisciously. “Why are you so calm?”
I look around at the writhing and wailing. “Because I have to be.”
And it only then occurs to me that he thinks I did this. That I killed them. And it also occurs to me that I do not feel the red hot flashes of rage that should accompany that accusation. It floats in front of me, just out of reach.
When they call me back to the police interrogation room, I sit in front of the two way mirror for an eternity. White hot fuzzy silence. Just me, alone with myself and my body for the first time since the world split apart. I have never been alone in my life, I think. There was always Jim, glommed onto my side. And so, though I know the detectives can hear me, are watching me, maybe wondering if I did this, I cannot feel shame.
So I whisper, “Jim, where are you?”
“Jim. Jim, where are you?”
I cannot bring myself to ask about Mom. Mom, who would run her curled, brittle nails along my scalp and iron the wrinkle out of my brow with three curves of her finger. Mom, who would wrap me up and squeeze me until I felt the shape of me again the negative space her body left around me.
No, I cannot ask where Mom is.
How can I? I can’t even breathe. I can’t feel anything. I can’t. I can’t.