By Shawn Nocher
We’re all here because we have someone to save—so I thought—landing here on a wave of fear and despair, choking on our stories, careful not to suck in collateral pain.
Tonight, a damn burst of laughter has cut through my grief. I resent this invasion. I hold my pain dear to me. Two women in the front row. Front row people are too eager, that’s what I think.
I read the little booklet they gave me my first night. My new bible. There’s this whole God-thing going on. I can only say that this God has pretty much fucked us all.
The women in front are our elders. Two mothers losing their children (a daughter and a son) to this insanity and still claiming they continue to trust a higher power. Thinking they can just scoop up their grief in ready for these Tuesday evenings, unload, and walk out empty handed. But we have learned each other’s grief and it is too real and there is a weight to it beyond measure. I, for one, cannot afford to add their pain to my load. Abdication of responsibility, as far as I’m concerned.
I cannot see myself ever sitting in the front row.
Another, a father, takes his pen and pad from his shirt pocket. He will take copious notes again and I can’t help but wonder if he will later read them back to himself in the way one reads a To-Do list, checking off his absolution.
I have told this room my story, my son’s story, our story. I told them the first night after nearly an hour of listening to people talk about letting go, being joyful again, turning it over to God—all that shit. I told them. But it came out of me like a long shrill note, like a wail, like an animal dying a wretched death. I told them it’s 107 degrees out in Vegas right now, even though the air conditioning in this room must be set at 65 and I’m sprouting goose bumps while my son is trying to decide where to stash the nine dollars he just panhandled. There are holes in his shoes and there are sores on his face and his teeth are aching and the ankle is swollen again from the old motorcycle accident where the bones met the pavement and crackled like glass. And it’s such a long walk to the underpass where Jerzey sells his wares. And it’s 107 degrees but the weather app on my phone says it feels like 120.
I told them all he was beautiful and sweet and tender. Not like their children, but I didn’t tell them that because it’s mean and probably not true and I was only feeling selfish and sorry for myself anyway.
I told them I didn’t know how we got here, that I had worked it backward so many times that if I took one more step back I was going to fall off the edge of my own flat earth.
I told them there was no damn way I was letting go of my son, not now, not ever. I warned them—I had come here to save him—him, not me. Me, I would lie down and stone my own body to save him. Didn’t give a damn about me. I was fine, and what the hell was wrong with all of them anyway that they could just let go of their children like you toss out the first pancake? And if it really is a disease, you don’t just say sorry, you have a disease and best of luck to you, now do you?
They thanked me for sharing.
So tonight I will be a team player, impaling myself on the thorny notion that I did not cause this, cannot control this. Nodding in agreement in all the right places as if there is a sticky truth being told.
Let them think they can sever my daemon.
I dutifully take my seat in the back, cross and uncross my legs, my fingers, slide my hand into my purse. It’s there, a red-eye boarding pass for a flight into hell. I have an anger in my belly that has percolated to sludge. A leaking heart. A head full of bat-shit crazy ideas. Enough cash to top off his veins. More agency than their God. Just enough hope to prove me wrong.
Shawn Nocher lives with her husband and an assortment of sassy rescue animals in Baltimore, Maryland. She received her MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University. Recent works have appeared in Eunoia Review, Five-on-the-Fifth, Smokelong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, and Anti-heroin Chic, among others. Her debut novel is scheduled for release summer 2021 by Blackstone Publishing. @shawn_nocher www.Shawnnocher.com