Solid blackness with a silver border.
You would be surprised. You would think that a few nights prior would’ve been the darkest night, the longest night, but you’d have been wrong. It was a flash, a jumble, a blur - him grabbing you and what he did and then the talking, the talking being the longest part of it - talking someone out of killing you is no small feat. And then waiting at home, and the hospital, and the police.
But that is all a funhouse-mirror sort of thing, time dilation, time stretching or shrinking, expanding and contracting. The vulnerability of not having your glasses and the vulnerability of wrists bound with tube socks. The narrowing of time to one crystalline point - a gun and the rising of a terror you thought had already peaked, and -
You thought you wanted to die.
But if you’d really wanted to die, would you have stopped him?
In some clear still nanosecond, you realized that you did not want to die after all. Despite your best efforts.
Or maybe you just wanted to do it on your own terms.
Which leads to now. The longest night, the darkest night. Because it is all happening in realtime, without external violence.
This is the night you spend in the bathtub, with the favorite gun of the man who calls you his little sister.
The guys were in an uproar before, making wild plans about what to do to the rapist, your rapist, and that seems so peculiar. You have a rapist? Can you put him back? Exchange him for something else? No, he is your rapist forever. It was easy to slip away. Easy to rifle through the piles of clothes in the corner of the closet and find the gun, get the ammo from his jacket, dart into the bathroom.
Why the bathroom? Easy cleanup. It wasn’t their fault, her friends. So she should make this as tidy as possible.
And the difference between then and now if that it is you taking your clothes off and folding them. It is you holding the gun.
They pounded on the door, they yelled, once they figured out what you were doing. That seemed to last forever. You huddled in the tub, chilly, wanting them to please hush and let you go, please just let you go. I’m already dead. He killed me. You just don’t know it yet.
And then you heard your best friend’s guitar.
Right outside the door. Some improv, something spontaneous, swoops and angles of sound. No words. No voices, just a simple message: I’m here.
And you sit there, cold, hands full of gun, alone and not-alone. You close your eyes, and you try not to cry.
And he keeps playing.
He plays for hours. He plays all night. He pauses, maybe, when you set the gun down on the toilet tank, but he keeps playing, and you tangle your fingers together to keep your hands from shaking, and you keep breathing. You close your eyes, so you don’t see yourself all laid out like an almost-corpse in the tub for easy cleanup. You close your eyes.
And you follow the music.
You breathe with it, you let it arc and dive in your mind, and at first you think you’re full-body shivering, but when you open your eyes you see different.
It’s not that your feet are twitchy. It’s that they’re trying to dance.
If you had really wanted to die, you would not have spoken to the rapist. Would not have stopped him. Death spiral of drugs and psychological mutilation outside, some part of you said no, I want to live.
Some part of you says no, I want to dance.
Your best friend’s fingers crack and bleed on his strings, but he keeps playing, keeps you not-alone, keeps lighting the path for you with every note.
He looks up at her, and she untangles her fingers and digs through her bag. “I didn’t give up my life,” she said, her voice barely audible. “That was taken from me.”
“What did you give up to pass through this gate? To arrive here?”
She presses it into his outstretched hand - a hospital bracelet, cut off. “My death.”
“Are you ready?”
“For my last card?”
“For the last gate.”
She hugs herself again, bites her lower lip, stares resolutely at the ground, and he prompts her. “This isn’t a thing you get without asking. Without consenting. You tell me. Do you want the last card? The last gate?”
The card is black, but with a golden border; at the center, there is a smoldering ember, about to be flame. Potential.
He looks up at her, and his voice has that resonance again, the sound of something else from somewhere else. “It is time to choose.”
She spreads her hands - “Choose what? What token to leave? I don’t know what this is, I don’t see the story-”
His laugh is low and musical. “It hasn’t happened yet.”
“So how do I know?”
“You do not pay a toll at this gate. You have gone down to the underworld. You have surrendered all that you were, even unto your life and death. This gate leads back above. This is where you choose what to take back with you.”
Her hand hovers over the pile of cards and sacrifices. “What does that mean?”
“It means that when you have hit rock bottom - when you have lost everything - it is up to you to decide what you take back. What you take on. This is where you decide what parts of your previous life are worth keeping.
“This is where you decide who you intend to be.
“So you choose well.”
He sits back, head bowed. He does not watch her as she lingers over the things she has set down. But he smiles when she hesitantly picks up The Spark, and he nods.
She sets her bag down. She presses the card to her chest, to her heart, and is not entirely surprised when it seems to dissolve under her fingers, and when a new warmth suffuses her. “Thank you,” she whispers, voice heavy with all of the words she wants to say, but doesn’t need to.
He nods again, sly smile becoming outright grin. He sweeps the cards up with a practiced hand and shuffles, tap-taps them on the concrete. “I wish you good fortune,” he says, pitched just loud enough for her to hear him as she walks through the gate, silhouetted and limned by the dawn.
"The Longest Night" was the hardest to write, because it is true, and because I had never in those fifteen years ever written about it, and rarely spoke of it. It was my then-boyfriend, not my best friend, but that would've complicated "Fortune".
As you can see if you've read "The Angel of Fremont Street", this story is the flipside of that one. And they're both sideways views of my own life. Or a few big life-changing parts of it.
I'm at my goal. But I have a mighty, mighty team of twelve walking with me - some of whom are fellow survivors, some of whom are just nifty people who give a damn. Many of them have no sponsorships yet. None of them have over $100. Let's try to get them all there.
The Walk is this Sunday. I'll take pictures. :)