FAITHLESS : 2003 : STEPHANIE.ZIOBRO
I opened the front door and tried to walk into the kitchen as I fought the dogs off.
"Hi, my babies Ė OUCH! Off! OFF! Shit Ė"
I dropped my dance bag on the floor in order to fully receive the love that I was being pummeled with. Brandon must have been asleep upstairs, because he usually came to my assistance during this type of commotion. Heíd hold the dogs back while I walked inside, waited until I found a position that allowed me to brace myself against the impending thrust of 200 pounds of affection, laugh as Iíd end up cowering on the floor while being covered with dog-slobbery kisses, then come to my rescue and pull the love-hounds off me while I caught my breath and found a safe place to sit.
"Kaz Ė SIT! Ow! Yes, I love you Ė SIT! Oh, Lucy I love you, too Ė okay, okay, OFF! DOWN! Shit! Whereís daddy? Is daddy upstairs? OW! OFF!" I religiously failed to discipline my dogs. Which was why I always feared Iíd be a bad mother. It wasnít that I didnít try Ė it was just when I tried to punish one of them, they looked so sad and hurt that Iíd go from, "NO! BAD DOG!" to "Oh, itís okay honey, I love you" and cover them with my own kisses in the matter of a split second.
When I was somewhat old news and they ran off to grab me a toy, I headed out of the kitchen to go upstairs, but stopped in the doorway of the living room. Brandon was sitting in the recliner watching wrestling, seemingly oblivious to the scuffle which was still in effect, yet ebbing slightly.
"Hi, sweetie." I walked over to him and leaned in to kiss him. He didnít take his eyes off the TV. I straightened up.
"Brandon, whatís wrong?"
Without saying a word, without even a glance in my direction, he got up out of the chair and walked upstairs. I heard his footsteps clomp across the bedroom and the creak of the bedsprings as he must have sat or laid down. I stood there. I felt my heart start pounding.
What did I do now?
My feet felt like they were glued to the floor. I knew the next step was for me to go upstairs, find out what I did, and fix it. But, as always, the seconds that were passing in my head felt like massive amounts of time due to the speed of the thoughts that were flying through it. My heart felt like lead as it filled with hopelessness and fear Ė hopelessness because I didnít know what I would be accused of and what I would have to defend myself against. Fear of the same exact thing.
I took a deep breath, and as I slowly began my ascent up the stairs, I felt it happen again Ė the little man in my brain, "Head of All Reaction and Emotion," who sat behind the Reality Desk, pushed the Automatic Pilot button, flipped over his Out to Lunch sign, and disappeared. Now I was Dead Man Walking. All I could focus on was the end. Nothing in front of me was registering. Even as I stepped over the busted picture frames and the broken lamp on the floor, I didnít realize I was stepping over anything.
Brandon was lying on the bed, hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling.
"Whatís the matter?" I asked. Funny how everything but your vocal chords work on automatic pilot. The one weapon of a non-violent person turn into goddamn pussies in the face of fear. But I really couldnít blame them Ė it isnít as if they had the appropriate training. If I was on a 747 and the pilot had a heart attack and for some strange reason everyone on the plane thought that I was the only one who could land it, Iíd run down the aisle at breakneck speed and lock myself in the lavatory Ė Iíd click that little knob so that everyone on the other side of the bathroom could see that it was "occupied."
Vocal chords in the lavatory.
I noticed that Brandon had a crumpled up piece of paper in his hand. And thatís when it dawned on meÖ The phone billÖ
As Iíd hung up the phone, Iíd felt not only my face smiling, but my whole body. I hadnít spoken to Andrew in three years, and hearing his voice again made me happier than Iíd felt in ages. And so the fact that Iíd just gone behind Brandonís back to call my best friend didnít matter in the least at that moment. Ever since Brandon had found the postcard that Andrew had sent me from Europe, the one that said, "When I get back, Iíll let you play with MY joystickÖ" he had forbidden me to speak to him. Heíd used the old, "if you really loved me, you would know how much this fucking bothers me and you would make a sacrifice for me here and thereÖ" And I did love him Ė at least I thought I did. All I wanted to do was make him happy, so I guess that meant I loved him. So I sacrificed. I stopped all contact with Andrew Ė Andrew who was my best friend, the person who knew me more than I knew myself, the person who could say the same exact thing that 200 other people could tell me over and over again, but for some reason, when Andrew said it, it made senseÖ "ÖIíll let you play with MY joystickÖ" That was Andrew. That was Normal. That was how we spoke. But Brandon didnít get it. Not that Iíd expected him to, but Iíd hoped that with some explaining and a little bit of understanding maybe heíd try to get it. It was merely a joke. But Brandon refused to get it. And he told me that if he ever found out that I spoke to him again, that the next time he saw him, he would kill him.
I wasnít about to test Brandon on his threat.
So I sacrificed.
But after three years, I missed my friend terribly. So one day while Brandon was at work, I called Andrew and I explained everything to him, and it was the most wonderful hour I had spent in a whileÖ
My one-hour phone call to Boston was on that phone bill. And, yeah, that piece of paper could have been anything, but when you live your life the way I had been living mine for the last two years, your intuition becomes amazingly sharp.
You just know.
"You donít give a shit about me, do you?"
At least he was speaking. Sometimes that part took hours.
"You donít care about anybody but yourself! And Andrew!"
"Thatís not true Ė"
"You know what Ė youíre right. Thatís not true."
He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, facing me. I fought every inch of my nerve endings to keep from stepping back: be strong be strong be strong you know if you move youíre guiltyÖ
"Because if you cared about him you wouldnít have called him because you would have remembered what I fucking said I would do if I ever saw him."
Donít move be still be strong donít back up whatever you do donít take a step backÖ
"You remember what I said?"
"What did I say?"
I swallowed before I answered.
"That youíd kill him." My voice sounded like it was made of dirt.
"What? I canít hear you."
"That youíd kill him," I said louder.
"You donít believe Iím gonna kill him?"
I shook my head.
"No? You donít believe me?"
"I do believe you."
"Then whyíd you just say no?"
"I said no because you said I didnít believe you. I said no because I do."
I was getting so confused.
"So whyíd you call him then?"
"I wanted to talk to him."
"So you just thought about yourself and what you wanted."
"No, I Ė"
"You just said you called him because YOU wanted to talk to him."
"Brandon, I Ė"
He threw the balled-up phone bill in my face. It bounced off my forehead and landed by my foot. I stared at it. It was the only thing that seemed Real at this point. The only thing that I would be able to feel if I reached out and touched it.
"I just wanted to talk to himÖ" I could barely hear myself.
"Yeah. YOU just wanted. Because you donít give a fuck about me. I ask you to do one fucking thing for me and you donít fucking listenÖ" blah blah blah Ė Iíd heard all of this before. How heíd left his son and his life halfway across the country to be with ME. How he does everything he can to make a good life for ME. How everything he does is for ME ME ME. And once the Brandon the Super Savior spiel is finished, now we go into the part about how I do whatever the fuck I want, about how I betrayed him, about how I only think about myself and no one else matters and about how Iím selfish and I never think about how he might feel and about what heís sacrificed for me because heís Brandon the Saint. Always being shit on because saints always are, right? And saints go from job to job to job because they either quit or are fired after a week. Saints sit around for a month without a job and mope and cry that no one will hire them. Saints complain about visiting my sister who was sick with cancer because sheís "an annoying bitch." Saints give me the silent treatment if I donít bring food home from one of my two waitressing jobs because I was busy up until the kitchen closed. Saints forge their names on a check for a $1500.00 child support payment, despite the fact I only have $200.00 in the bank. Saints give me the third degree if Iím on the phone with a friend theyíve never heard of. Saints get all bent out of shape when I tell my mother over dinner that "I might visit Winnie tomorrow" and I didnít tell them first. Saints scream at me for being irresponsible and immature when I have a glass of wine after work before coming home after a twelve-hour day, yet think itís perfectly normal to go through the motions of going to work every morning and come home after twenty minutes, saying they were sent home because they were sick, only for me to find out later they were never going to work in the first placeÖ
There must be a Bible Iím not familiar withÖ
I stood in my spot and let him scream at me. On queue I said, "Iím sorry." He finally stopped yelling and then just stared at me. I wished I could burst into flames, just to escape this hell without having to physically move. He got up and walked out of the room. I heard him sit down at the computer in the study. He would be there a while Ė all night probably, seeing as how he didnít have a job to go to the next morning. I crouched down to hug the dogs, which had been lying silently at my feet. Kaz licked my face. Lucy sat up and leaned against me. I closed my eyes and felt their little hearts beat and wished I could feel my own.
His voice made me jump.
Like a robot, I went. Hoping and praying, in the "Life Like Movie" part of my brain that he would hold out his arms and hug me in apology. Knowing, in the "Donít Be Stupid" part of my brain that I was just a lobster headed for a nice warm bathÖ
"So this is how you treat your friends?"
I had no idea what he was talking about.
"What do you mean?"
"I just donít understand why you would get in contact with him after I told you I was going to kill him if I saw him."
"I donít know."
"Yeah you do."
"No I donít.í I really didnít. At this point, I couldnít even keep straight in my head what we were talking about.
"Because you donít give a fuck what happens to anyone but yourself."
"Thatís not true."
"Oh itís not, huh?" Brandon looked at me the way a parent would ask his child, "did you eat the last cookie?" knowing perfectly well the kid did because there are crumbs all over his face. "Then you didnít lie to me about talking to him?"
"I didnít lie."
"Oh you didnít? What did you say then?"
"UmÖ" I racked my brain. How had this all started? "I didnít say anythingÖ"
"So you went behind my back."
"I just wantedÖ" I stopped. I had no idea what I wanted.
"What did you want?"
It was pointless. So I said the words I had spoken more times than any other words Iíd said in my life:
"No youíre not."
I waited. But he seemed to be finished. I walked into the bedroom, closed the door, coaxed the dogs onto the bed, turned off the light, and closed my eyes. I was so tiredÖ
ÖThe door barged open and the room was filled with light. Disoriented, I adjusted my eyes to the brightness and tried to read the fuzzy numbers on the clock. 3:02am. I had to be up in an hour.
Brandon was standing over me.
"What?" I mumbled, the events of the few hours before temporarily forgotten.
"Do you want to be with Andrew?"
"What?" I was confused. Then I noticed the trashed bedroom and immediately wasnít.
"Do you want to be with Andrew?"
"Then what do you want?"
I couldnít believe it. I couldnít believe he woke me up to keep yelling at me.
"I just wanted to talk to him!"
"Because he was my best friend!"
I was getting pissed. Because Iíd been asleep, the man in my brain didnít get a chance to hit the automatic pilot button, and he couldnít hit it during take-off. It was too late.
"You let your best friends talk to you like that? ĎIíll let you play with my joystick?í" It had been years since that postcard. But it didnít surprise me that he still remembered the exact line.
"No, I donít!" I was starting to raise my voice. The dogs got up and sat closer to me. Strange how they knew I needed the support.
"Well you did!" he was yelling louder now.
"And I already told you why! And it hasnít happened since!" Louder.
"How do I know that when you do shit behind my back?" Louder.
"Because I donít have any friends!" Louder.
"Is that my fault?" Louder.
I couldnít believe I had just said what I said.
"Itís my fault?"
I could tell by the way he was standing that he was ready to explode. But if he did, hey, it was my fault. I just told the truth.
"Yes, Brandon, its your fault I donít have any friends, because you wont let me have friends. You wont let me have anything."
"I wonít let you have anything?"
That was the worst part Ė the way he repeated everything I said in such a way it made me automatically rethink whatever came out of my mouth and say it again in the form of "oh no, wait, Iím wrong, you were right the whole time."
I wonít let you have anythingÖ
It sent me over the edge.
Because, this time, I knew I was right.
I screamed and grabbed my hair and pulled until I thought I would rip off my own scalp, which made me scream louder.
It also pissed him off.
He grabbed my hands and made me stop. He put his face right up to mine.
"You think this is going to make me feel sorry for you?"
He had hold of both my wrists, and I did the worst thing I have ever done to anyone in my life.
I spit in his face.
And I know I will never do that to anyone ever again.
The expression it left on him was one I will forever have etched in my memory Ė one I wish I could just shake away like an etch-a-sketch, but canít. His eyes winced shut in reflex, and then stayed shut as what I had just done registered in his brain. Then, he opened them and stared right at me. No expression, yet full of something indescribable.
And he hit me.
And I said the words I had spoken more times than any other words Iíd said in my life:
Reflexes are funny, arenít they?