by Annscher Fouche
I cannot tell you how guilty I am. My punishment is that I am alive. No amount of consolation can keep my mind from spiralling into the circle of self-hatred. I hate myself for what happened. I resent the fact that I turned 18 and did not finish my day with laughter. I hate that three of us went out and only two of us came home. It has been a whole five years since the accident.
Today was supposed to be a day like all the others. Added that today is the fifth anniversary of my friend’s death.
Andrew, Joe and I all grew up together. Therefore, what happened was never in our wildest expectations. Just like meeting Andrew at Joe’s grave today is not in mine. Being at Joe’s grave and meeting Andrew gave an awkward feeling. No one wants to touch scars that run as deep as the ones that the two of us bear.
“You look great!” Andrew said with a smile. He did not change much in appearance. His personality still seems to be cheery just like before the accident. Unlike him, I have turned into quite the loner type. What is it with his ‘you look great’ greeting? Is he even looking at me? After the accident, Andrew disappeared. As is expected, after all, I refused to speak to anyone. Especially Andrew…
“Andrew…you…what are you doing here?” I asked bewildered. I should be happy to see him; after all, we were inseparable friends. I am scared of seeing him, since I do not want him to confirm what I fear most. I did not think I would see him again. It is my fault. I am the cause for the scars we received that day. No one should forgive me. Not even… Not even Joe’s mother.
“You sound so cold.” He said in that irritating cheery kind of tone he always uses. Cold? Well this is my little world and you are stepping into a zone no one has ever entered. I wonder how often he thinks about the accident. Is there someone he blames? Of course there is! I am the blame.
…Not good…my mind is growing seriously dark.
“I came to pay my respects. It’s time to wrap it up and move on. I believe this way I can honour Joe’s memory,” He is serious. Move on? Can we move on from something like this? “You know David, there was something I wanted to tell you before I left town, but did not have the opportunity to.” He paused for a second. He looked me straight in the eye. It’s the same serious face he had when he told us about his plans for after university. Resolute…no place for doubt…sincere… He really has not changed.
“David, the accident was not your fault.” Each word he said seemed carefully chosen. I looked at Joe’s grave. I am afraid Andrew will see straight through me. I do not want to believe his words. I do not want to hope. Yet at the same time, I do.
“I think that is where you are wrong.” I said in a calm voice. My emotions did not reflect my tone. I am an expert in doing this. Under the mask of a calm me, there is a storm brewing. I want to run. I really did not want him to see the pathetic me.
He said nothing. The silence grated at me. Was he waiting for something more? I snapped.
“If…if…if it wasn’t my birthday! If I never asked to go! If we never left campus that day because of me! Because of me…it’s my fault… He is there… it should’ve been me!” How mortifying! I felt exposed. I never voiced these feelings to anyone. No one knows the burden I carry. Why did I tell him? He pointed that I take a seat. So we both sat down in front of Joe’s grave.
Bet you are having a great laugh! Right Joe?
“Is this what you’ve been telling yourself all this time?” I picked at the fallen leaves on the ground near the grave. I replied in a shaky voice close to tears, “Yeah…”
How do I explain this? Every night when I go to sleep I dream about the accident. We missed the red light, another car coming from the right. Horns blaring…a light so blinding behind Joe, for a moment his face looked serene, and at peace. At some point along the way, the face he had at that moment changed in my dreams. It changed from a look of acceptance to one of complete rejection and resentment of me. Some nights the dream will change to where he stands next to the devil. He tells the devil exactly how to punish me… and no matter how much I apologise and beg…he keeps going. I know I am to blame. I would feel the same way if I were in Joe’s shoes.
Andrew and I sat in silence. I did not dare to look at Andrew. I did not want to see him agree with me.
“Tell me David, if you were to trade places with Joe, would you want him to blame himself?” I shook my head, no.
“Never… I would never want him to do that.”
“Do you think he wants you to keep blaming yourself?” I stopped. Is that so? It is not easy accepting words like this, however coming from Andrew, someone who has been there and been part of it, maybe I can. I just think there is too much to hope for in his words. Something too close to forgiving… I don’t expect it from anyone. I never been back to see his mother, or our friends. I have cut them all out.
“David,” Andrew took both my shoulders and made me look him in the eye. “The three of us grew up in the same town, went to the same schools, and university. We know a lot about each other. We have been with each other through rough times, through good times and we even had plans for our futures.”
“David, everyone has been worried about you. The accident wasn’t your fault. It was ours. We were the older ones and were supposed to be the responsible ones in our group. We were the ones who should’ve taken precautions. We didn’t. David, you were only a kid. And that night we took you out because we thought you needed it. We wanted to spoil you. We never planned on you giving up your dreams, or put your life on hold as a result of you placing all of the blame on yourself.”
He stopped for a moment. It looked like he is on the verge of crying himself. It’s not like I am better off, I’m at my limit of holding back tears too. He takes a deep breath then continued.
“David listen, I am glad you finished your degree. Despite that, I want to see you put it to good use. I want to see you living. I don’t like how the light in your eyes are gone. I don’t like how your smile doesn’t show. I don’t like this David I see. You look meek and almost like you will be blown away at any moment. Joe himself wouldn’t have like this David.” Tears started to fall. Honestly, I know this. I know all of this. Isn’t that what I saw on Joe’s face on the night of the accident?
“Then what do you guys want from me?” I asked at a loss. All this time… all this time I did what I could so no one will know. No one will see what I hid underneath.
“Live… live for both yourself and for Joe. Take him with you to the places you want to go. Show him your dreams. After all he will always be with us.” Andrew pointed to the scar on his arm, then to the one on my shoulder. “These are the scars that remind us of that night, they are also the scars that will push us forward.”
I touched the scar on my shoulder. An unconscious habit I picked up. I never thought of it like that. “Can you do that David?” I nodded, yes. I want to do something that Joe will be proud of. Maybe then instead of punishing me in hell, we could all be in heaven laughing once more like we use to in the days of school and university. I really want to believe.
“Oh that’s right! David, happy birthday… we can celebrate it as part of the decision we made.” Andrew stood up and held out a hand. “What do you say?”
“Yes!” I took his hand.