I remembered the strangest things, then. Things that I hadn't thought about for years.
I remember our wedding. Well, I remember watching the recording of it once a week at least – after. Jenna always found a way to laugh about it in a way that I never could. Honestly, it just pissed me off when her mother, Jesse, stood up in the middle of the ceremony, but now I can recite it from memory.
"God objects to this marriage. This is the ultimate turning your back on him. This is a place of sin--with your tattoos and immoral sexual practices and, and--” her face had turned purple by that point, but even in a group of fifteen people she just kept talking. “And if you'd obeyed your parents, you could have been spared this tragedy. The second you say, ‘I do,’ you'll have turned your back on your family and God and... and it’s not even well-decorated.”
I don’t know why that pissed me off more than the rest of it. Maybe because that proved she was as selfish as I was, but maybe not.
“Jenna Fontaine,” I asked her, grinning, though I hadn’t known then, “will you join me in tragedy?”
Jenna had always laughed when she reached that part of the story. I never could. Everything was supposed to be perfect, and this one person was always there to ruin things.
I remember going to the state fair with her three years ago. The whole thing was cancelled about halfway through due to the rain, but we'd driven two and a half hours to go see some hogs and cows at
Jenna’s insistence. We didn't even have rainboots, and the mud rose halfway up her calves. Jenna was so set on this, for a reason I can't even remember, that we ended up fighting both the cold wet slog that smelled absolutely disgusting and the crowds of people who were much more prepared for this than we were. It was like one of those stories a parent tells a kid--an uphill both ways in the snow kind of story.
She’d asked me what else there was to do at that point. Then she’d laughed when I suggested we turn around--I miss hearing her laugh. She used to laugh a lot. When was the last time I heard her laugh? A real laugh. I wish I could remember that. Was it when it all went wrong? Which time?
It wasn’t after the accident. Wasn’t after the car had spun into a tree. No, she’d laughed then. “Oh my god, we fucking lived,” she’d exclaimed with a loud cackle. And I don’t know why I remembered that since I was busy staring at the cars on the highway, and then staring at the car grills speeding by with my hands still on the steering wheel and my foot still on the gas with the engine audibly spluttering to death. “Are you okay?” she’d asked and then almost immediately thrown open the door. First coughing, and then retching. Blood spilling into the grass with that day’s breakfast.
They tell you to take pictures and call the cops when you’re in an accident. At the time though, I didn’t know if that meant the local number or the emergency line. In the moment, I’d forgotten about the pictures—the things one forgets when they’re climbing out of a half-crumpled car through the passenger door.
The other person involved called 911. I think that’s what it said on the report anyway. They’d run over in hysterics--across the busy highway, of course--shouting, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
Fat lot of good ‘I’m sorry’ does when someone is hacking up blood with a ruptured intestine when it’s your fault.
I can’t say I remember what they looked like. I don’t even remember their name, but I know I hate them with everything I am. I wish I could say I was able to afford the legal fees to take everything from them and then some. I wish I could make them suffer.
Although I say that, I know that if I’d hit the brakes a little harder, swerved a little sharper, driven a little slower, none of this would have happened.
All horrible things to say, I know, but I’ve gone down this path too many times, and it’s never led to anything but lost nights and bitter days.
She didn’t stop laughing after the surgery. I know it wasn’t then because I remember her laughing at the cut flowers her mother had sent. There’d been a card she’d torn apart, but I don’t remember what it said. It just wasn’t important at the time.
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard her upset, but it was the first time I heard her cry that hard. “Throw it away. Burn it. Anything, I don’t care. Just don’t let those tame things stay.”
I remember the nurses seemed upset at that, but not upset enough to do anything except strongly suggest--multiple times in fact--that flowers might help brighten the room. “Oh, that’s a shame--flowers really do keep people happier.” She’d had the most condescending look on her face.
Maybe it was when I had to go back to work. The hospital had wanted to keep her there for a few extra days--a week at first, I think. There had been complications and they’d been concerned about sepsis or some other infection.
“Just go,” she’d said, “I’ll be okay.”
God, she’d been so stubborn about it, too. “If you don’t leave, I’m calling the nurses to kick you out.” Again, she’d laughed, but I remember that serious look in her eye.
I guess one can grow sick of even the people they love, right? If you’re the reason that person is in the hospital, I suppose they wouldn’t want you there, either. Not that I blame myself for it. I don’t--I’m just a bit of a buzzkill to keep around. And she wasn’t wrong--we needed the money, and my sick leave was running thin, but I couldn’t very well leave her there alone. What if something went wrong? What if no one called me? What if her family showed up?
“We’re two months behind on the rent already.”
“We’ll figure something out then.”
“That something is you going back to work!”
“I’m not leaving you alone!”
“Then don’t! I have friends, you know. I can get someone to be here with me if I want them to be here. I’m an adult. I can make my own decisions.”
“And if Jesse shows up, what then?”
“If my mother decides to show up, I’ll ask her to leave--and then ask the nurses to help her leave.”
I swear we could be heard at least four rooms down.
After some compromise we finally called Rodney--well, texted; Rodney doesn’t do phone calls. Maybe he still doesn’t. I haven’t spoken with him in a couple of years.
Rodney stayed in the hospital for a few days when I couldn’t be there. He’d always been a strange man, dancing as he moved down the hallway like Toby McGuire in that Spiderman movie with his thick headphones on while carrying potted plants in both arms. It was funny to watch. That man was, I think, one of her closer friends.
The last thing I heard before I left was Jenna laughing at the sheer number of potted flowers being placed on the windowsill and Rodney typing quickly into an iPad.
Of course, the worst happened while I was gone; her family showed up. Well, her mother anyway.
Her mother always hated me. With that said, Jenna's mother hated her own daughter, so I can’t say I much cared for her either. If I’m honest though, I feel sorry for her--Jenna wasn’t a little Jesse, so Jesse hated her. Sounds like a shitty way to live. If you would have done it my way, this wouldn’t have happened. If you hadn’t been dating a woman like her, this wouldn’t have happened. If you weren’t friends with this person…You know, doctors don’t always know what’s best. I bet you could get up and leave right now, and you’re just choosing not to! And on and on and on--at least, that’s what I was told she was like. My experience in conversing with her in the past wasn’t much different.
From what I understand, she’d done that thing that people like her tend to do. They walk in with the guise of wanting to make up, and then go directly back to their insults and backhanded compliments.
For how often she would express her disgust with me, she was quick to call me, in alligator tears, crying, “They’re trying to kick me out! You can’t let this happen, I’m her mother.”
I still remember that conversation, trying my damnedest to be polite when all I really wanted to tell her was that she could go fuck herself.
“Well, that’s good--I really appreciate the nurses doing an extra job on top of the ones they already need to do.”
“But I’m her mother.” She’d emphasized the words, even though in the background I could hear the nurses already escorting her out. Based on how loud she was, she probably didn’t cover the mic when she spoke to the people trying to escort her out. “Excuse me! I’m on the phone getting this sorted out. Give me a minute!”
“She doesn’t want you there. End of story.”
“She doesn’t want me there because you turned her against me, you selfish bitch…sending someone to type at me? That’s so fucking impolite! I can’t believe my daughter would ever date someone like you, let alone marry them without asking me first. She wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t told her to!” I don’t remember the entire slurry of insults she’d screeched at me through the phone, but I swear, if saliva could travel through the speaker, I would have been covered in it.
“Have a good day, Jesse.”
See you in hell, Jesse. You’re the reason I hope there’s a God, Jesse. There are many things I wish I could have said to her in that moment. I’ve since learned to leave nothing left unsaid.
From the story I’d been told later, she’d been asked to leave. A couple of times in fact. Once from Rodney and Jenna and once from the new roommate and his family. Rodney had finally gone out to the nurses’ desk and asked the nurses to make her leave.
“Ya mom’s a bit of a bitch, ain’t she?” The man in the other hospital bed had laughed when we’d been discussing the situation.
Jenna just shrugged at that.
It was a Thursday when it happened. A day before she was supposed to go home.
Her lower intestine had been stitched up, but because the intestinal tract tends to move, it had torn an already-weakened area, and that had resulted in a slow leak outside of her intestinal tract. Her body filled up with toxins and acid from the inside, and her body just caved because of it. At least that’s how the doctor explained it to me.
At first the doctor said they were hopeful. They’d said it was so slow of a leak that it was possible it wasn’t “that bad.” That maybe they could fix it with antibiotics before it spread to her brain and help her kidneys with dialysis until they recovered.
Well, the antibiotics didn’t stop the infection from spreading. And in the end her kidneys shut down anyway.
She laughed when it reached her brain, but it wasn’t her laugh. This laugh was a mad sound I still can’t get out of my head. It’s a noise I hear in my nightmares. A high-pitched cackling like a witch’s howl or a hyena.
Maybe I can’t even describe it like that. It was more like a screech that was interrupted by a fast-paced breathing and happened to be punctuated with an ‘h’ sound.
“Jenna, are you okay?” Of course, she wasn’t--it was a stupid thing to ask.
It wasn’t me that brought the nurses in. I didn’t ring the bell or anything. I just kind of stood there staring like a cow in the middle of train tracks. No clue what was happening until a bright light slammed into me face first--until a flurry of nurses ran in, one of them quite literally pulling me out of the room. I’d only just gotten out a single word of “What’s happening?” before the door was closed in my face.
The funeral sucked. Trying to make funeral plans sucked with Jesse getting involved and changing things without input. With the whole thing happening the next week--happening too quickly.
“But there has to be flowers. It’s not a funeral without flowers.”
I now realize that a funeral is a funeral if it has a gathering of people with the intention of burying an already dead body. Flowers have nothing to do with a damn thing, but at the time I couldn’t think of much other than, “Mums are in season, right?” Which was, first of all, wrong, and second of all, didn’t seem to help at all, as the only real response I’d gotten was a strange look from the funeral director.
“Like bouquets of roses and baby’s breath.” The funeral director nodded at that with a knowing smile on her face. “Usually we recommend things like roses, chrysanthemums, carnations, lilies--we have a great florist--”
“Jenna hated tame flowers.” My voice had no inflection in it, and any inflection that I could manage seemed forced. Maybe they would have taken me more seriously if I’d forced any inflection at all. Any emotion at all would have helped.
“This is about the family, and Jenna didn’t always know what was good for her.” She’d stated with this pointed look in my direction that I’m certain the funeral director couldn’t have possibly missed.
“Does she need to be here?” The answer was, unfortunately, yes. To this day I’m still paying off the hospital bills. I couldn’t very well afford the funeral, too.
The look of abject horror on her friends faces as they walked in is something I still remember.
What was I supposed to say to them? “I tried”? That would be a lie--if I’d tried harder then maybe the funeral wouldn’t have been everything Jenna hated in the world. Maybe it wouldn’t have been this mutilated, denatured thing. Maybe there wouldn’t be dying plants littering the place. Maybe they wouldn’t have been given a rose to place in the casket.
“I’m sorry”? What the hell would that do? What would that fix? What would that change?
As they walked past me, I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I looked down at the 70s wood paneling on the church floor. I looked at the columns. I looked anywhere but at the people I couldn’t face.
Rodney walked in at one point in a loose black dress shirt, took one look at Jesse and then at me.
“I can explain –”
But he’d already turned around and walked out.
If we’d left the apartment a few minutes earlier--even just a minute—maybe I wouldn’t have crashed the car. Maybe if I’d been paying attention when the other guy wasn’t, she’d still be here.
I couldn’t even get the fucking funeral right. The entire place littered with the carcasses of dead plants. A graveyard she didn’t want to be buried in--no, not even that. She didn’t want to be buried. I failed her. There’s no doubt in my mind that I failed her.
Somehow, I’d thought that Jesse couldn’t top our wedding objection speech.
“…But I still loved my daughter. Despite her poor choices, despite her not wanting to support the family that cared about her. She was a good kid when she was younger…”
Somehow, I was wrong.
At that point I just stood up and walked out. See, I say that… But actually, I walked by the casket and plucked out as many dead roses as I could before I left. Quickly pulling out one after the other, damn the thorns.
The thorns dug into my hands and arms, but I walked out with almost all of them. “She did support the family that cared about her. That family just wasn’t you. And if there’s a god and an afterlife, at the very least I’ll be happy to see you burn with me.” I took a lighter to the artificially living flowers almost as soon as I was out of the door. Burning the things took a while. It was windy--I think--and dead flowers still keep some moisture if you’re keeping them artificially alive, and the blood didn’t help, but by god I burned every last one of them.
What else could I have done? It’s not like I could let those tame things stay.
Alexandra Norris is an undergraduate studying Computer Science and minoring in Creative Writing. Both in tandem have left her with an odd sleep schedule and a poor sense of time. Nonetheless, she finds time for writing and other artistic endeavors between.