I stood for what must have been an hour looking at the chiseled letters that spelled out her name, “Daisy Elizabeth Gayle". Even in death it was the most exciting name I had ever heard. Not for the beauty of the name itself or the woman who had embodied the name, but for the vivid memories the name brought to my mind. Her quick smile, caring touch, and the long forgotten scent of her skin masked lightly with a hint of lilacs all bubbled forth in my thoughts. The dreadful permanence of my fleeting moments with Daisy that one night came into stark and barren contrast with my present reason to visit with her.
In the age of the Internet it hadn't take me long to find her. Within 24 hours I had made my way here to be with her. I was trying to make sense of her suicide in the context of what I knew of her. Long buried, my obsessive emotions for her still felt palpable and real. I wondered at the widening chasm I found in my heart.
What I knew was amazingly limited beyond my one encounter. I first met Daisy at La Partie à La Maison Française back in college. La Partie was when the building’s resident assistant blew the house’s full student activities budget for the year on a single party. Catered food, wine and other assorted consumables would be available for free. Conversation and eligible singles would also be plentiful. No one really knew how the RA got around serving wine to students, but it happened every year.
As the evening waned, I reached my fill of jokes en français. Jokes I didn’t understand. Jokes I felt were often at my expense. I was ready to head back to my room when I was hit by a pulse. The beam radiated from the woman sitting on my coat. At the sight of her, my breath caught and I became instantly light headed. I had never seen anyone like her. It was coup de foudre. She glowed with life. The attraction of her smile made me claustrophobic. Terrified I would have to speak with her to get my coat back, I braced myself against the nearest wall. I decided to flee. I failed.
Transfixed, I was transported into a world where this woman was in control. Daisy was a 21-year-old Theoretical Physics Ph.D. , she was a recently published grad student who had gotten a lot of press. She had discovered something that had gotten her on a popular TV show that featured a mix of entertainers, authors and scientists. Everyone on campus knew who she was. She dominated the room with her mere presence. To the average guy on campus, she was sexuality, allure and temptation wrapped in intellectual charisma. She was too smart to be tricked, romanced or flirted into bed. If she was with you, you were there because she wanted you.
My struggle to escape her hold on me had not gone unnoticed. People began to ask me “Est-ce que vous vous sentez bien?” I really was not.
It was only then she and I made eye contact. Never blinking or averting her eyes, I lived a lifetime in that moment. That moment stretched out like light trapped in the pull of a black hole. I hung precariously in that moment. As I began to black out, she swept in and steadied me. She lowered me to the floor and I felt myself die in her embrace.
Easing me back from the abyss, a comforting voice told me to hold on. I would be okay. The voice asked my name.
“Howard,” I said.
“Bonjour Howard, I’m Daisy. You are going to be okay now. It’s all going to be okay now…”
Daisy had put my jacket under my feet and covered me with a blanket. They had called an ambulance. When I tried to move, I found I could not. I shook, either in fear or from a chill. In the minutes that passed Daisy asked me a million questions while we waited for the EMTs. Six minutes in which she extracted my deepest secrets. Much to my surprise my secrets weren’t all that deep or secret. I was finally whisked away, empty of sin and regret.
In the weeks that followed La Partie, I would relive that night where Daisy rescued me a million times in my head. By the end of the second semester I had worked myself into quite a state. In my mind, I had died in her arms and she had saved me. My unsatisfied urge to belong to her brought me to the hallway just outside her office on campus. In the end I managed to meekly leave from her door fearing that I would loose the little of myself that remained. I never crossed paths with her again at school.
Daisy’s obituary had indicated that her life had exceeded anyone's dreams for her. She had made predictions that would be tested by others and likely be proven correct at every turn. She had been generous in spirit, was beloved by all and had been celebrated for her many accomplishments. Everyone had been flabbergasted by her chosen method of death. Suicide for her was unthinkable.
The cemetery where she was buried was built into the side of a hill. The graves were oriented so that you were looking up at an angle toward the heavens or into trees teeming with life. When you turned to leave you were instantly confronted with the valley below. It juxtaposed your grim surroundings with the broad sweep of the green below. This time of year the valley was lush and vibrant with grass, trees and the hum of wildlife. The promise of life stood just beyond this patch of death.
I closed my eyes and tried to breath. A world without Daisy in it was incomprehensible. I had forced her out of my world due to an irrational apprehension, but now her forever absence made everything feel smaller, squeezed and impassible. My mind raced to find any sense in it. It found none.
I stood for a long while after the world folded in on me. I tuned out the light sprinkles of rain that washed over me as I looked out. The world got smaller still. I was crying for her loss and didn't even know it.
Tipping my head skyward I tried to shut off the part of my brain that recognized light by once again squeezing my eyes closed. I sought solace in the company of darkness. Even in the pitch black of my all-consuming grief I could see her lighting my way. Calling me back. Defeated, I opened my eyes before the shrinking world shut me away for good. In a last act of total will, I turned and walked away from Daisy's last resting place. I strode forth knowing that if I turned back I would be lost in a universe full of what ifs. I had to accept that she was gone and that I had been my own undoing in ever seeing her alive again. I would get no answers about that night.
As I walked back to my car I suddenly felt the darkness lift. Distance between Daisy’s grave and myself was liberating. I was transported to a world filled with possibility by the time I reached my car. Exiting the cemetery, my hands glided over the wheel turning left. Tapping shuffle, I glanced at the radio’s display to see that it had selected “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel on my mp3 player. When my eyes reconnected with the road, I immediately gasped, I had turned my car into oncoming traffic. The scraping sound of metal preceded the rain of safety glass and powder from the airbag by a microsecond.
As I lost consciousness this time, I saw her approach. I should have been screaming in pain from broken and bruised flesh. Terror flashed in my eyes as I recognized the driver of the other car. She was covering me with a blanket and putting my jacket under my feet. She was comforting me and telling me it would be all right. As darkness consumed me, I looked into the eyes of Dr. Daisy Gayle. She was 20 years older, but somehow even lovelier than in college and completely alive.
Waking in the hospital after the car crash I was filled with a mix of confusion and relief. I had expected to be dead and seemed disappointed to have not died. I read, watched TV and did my therapies, physical and psychological. I eventually got better and transitioned to outpatient care at another facility. The summer passed and I got stronger. I focused outwardly on getting better. Everyone saw me improving. I was a mess inside, since covertly I believed the ghost of a woman everyone knew was dead had saved me. No one at the hospital could confirm who my rescuer had been. The Internet still listed her among the dead.
I did the day-by-day thing of going to my job at the school. Teaching got me out of bed in the morning. I was able to eek joy out of leading others in the quest for knowledge and found I could go on by stealing positive energy from my students, kids on the verge of becoming teens.
September came and went.
It was a midmorning in October when once again I stood at Daisy’s grave. It was reassuring to reestablish the truth. I could see it. I could know it. My accident had been that, an accident. There was nothing that couldn’t be quantified or qualified with the cold hard fact that Daisy was gone. She had not been there to save me, as much as I wanted it to have been her.
I took in my surroundings once again. The lush green of spring had been replaced with the warm and fading colors of autumn. The leaves were not yet falling, but would soon evacuate their trees and return to the earth. Time had passed and I was still the same. Lost and drifting through a world in which I hid. I took comfort from my daily routines.
Invisible, I walked down the hill and left the cemetery on foot. It felt good to walk, even if my stride whispered of a limp from my earlier injuries. I wasn’t sure if I was going to catch a taxi or the bus. I even entertained getting a motel room nearby and calling in sick tomorrow. No one would give me any grief; an extra day of healing would be good for me. I walked on, looking for a ride.
I paused at the scene of my accident. I found myself reflecting on two memories. One in which I plowed my midsized sedan into Daisy’s car. The other memory was one in which I distractedly turn my car into an SVU and other in which I wrapped my car around a utility pole. Both were real and right. Only the second made any sense. The second memory especially made sense to everyone else. To me only, Daisy saving me was the right and true answer, even if it wasn’t possible.
I stood in the ditch by the pole and watched traffic. After a while, in the soft breezy October afternoon, I dug within my jacket and produced a bottle of purified water. I sipped at it lazily and enjoyed the cool, bland wetness of the water. It was standing there in the midst of a day going on without me, that it all began to make sense. It didn’t matter which memory I believed was true. I knew by instinct alone that both were true.
I stood and sipped. After I finished the water, I slipped the bottle back into my coat pocket. From my coat I next withdrew my smart phone and began searching for the number of a cab company. As I waited for the poor cellular reception to return the desired number, I saw in my peripheral vision an approaching vehicle. It was a small, sporty red Mercedes and it was moving fast. It zipped by me.
At first I imagined I could guess who the driver was, my insane lust for Daisy controlling the thought. Blink. My eyes refocusing, I saw it was Daisy. She was very much alive. She seemed distressed.
As I tried to process what this could mean, another car roared passed me. My head spun to the right as she passed. The second car, a blur of smoky metal and glass, contained a lone man. His incredible speed seemed purposeful and deadly.
For the moment, all I could do was watch.
The two cars rounded the corner at the end of the street and proceeded up the hill. They were circling the graveyard. I could see him match her turns one for one. The chase car was catching up. I heard tires squeal and engines rev. They turned and would pass me again having completed the circuit around the silent and empty graveyard.
The man’s car continued to close in. She passed me without slowing, swirling the breezy scent of dying leaves and mold into my nose. I don’t remember when I chose to step in front of the dark car. I felt my body fold and I saw the windshield of the black sedan rising to meet my face. As my body and face exploded with a bloom of pain, the driver marked my intrusion by swerving the car to a halt. Once finally at a full stop, the man jumped out and began to swear at my limp body. I faded into death like a forgotten memory. The man’s attention turned back to Daisy. The taillights of Daisy’s car mockingly starred back at him across the widening gap I had created for her.
There is a terrible comfort that can be found in pillows. They hold you fixed to a specific spot. You want to stay, cradled in their false protection. They sooth you and tell you are safe. They have no way of knowing. They have no real power in our world. They tell a story of sanctuary and they offer you reprieve from the larger universe. For all the promises of pillows, they hold no real sway over reality.
In the darkness of shuteye, in the half conscious world of pre-dawn waking I could pretend the world was perfect. The mistakes and faults of days gone by were washed away by the blessings of sleep and the forgetfulness that came with it. The inconsistencies of the things I couldn’t explain were smoothed over and filled in by the healing power of sleep. In this moment, the life and death of Daisy were a far off memory hidden in a book tucked away behind the fog provided by the cottony embrace of my down filled dream guardians. In bed, I was whole and perfect. As morning eclipsed I was increasingly aware that this was an illusion.
Sunlight bled at the edges of the room’s blackout curtains. The room filled with hints of daytime and reminders of things yet to come. The world slowly filled with the agony of my injuries. I wasn’t at home, but instead in a hospital. I could hear voices carry from down the hall and various pieces of equipment maintaining their vigil over the sick and lame. It was only when the pain had thoroughly taken hold behind the medications that I realized I was not alone in the room.
She sat quietly as I lay in my misery. She remained motionless as I attempted to focus my eyes. She was studying me, her green eyes locked on me in a thoughtful gaze.
Through dry, cracked lips I pushed out a single, nearly inaudible word.
Seeming surprised I was conscious, she jerked with suppressed alarm. Had she been hoping I would remain unconscious? She then gathered her composure. Licking the inner edge of her lower lip and inhaling slightly, she spoke words that echoed in my sole. Words I hadn’t the right to understand. Words I understood vague at a cosmic level.
“You kept coming back,” she whispered as I drifted helplessly back into the seductive world of sleep.
I awoke an hour later alone and unsure that any of it had happened.
You never question the things you know you have to do. You almost see yourself doing them before you set yourself in motion. Conclusions forgone, consequences are damned. Predefined moments where no other choices can be made. Not fate, not destiny, but unfiltered choice. You grasp the one definitive action you must take without hesitation or worry, a clear-cut deed that is irrevocably your own free will.
Wobbly legs carried me once again to her graveside. The sun was already passing the horizon into darkness. My pupils dilated widely as I stared at the engraved headstone, waiting for whatever was next to happen. As dusk enveloped me, I could feel a cleansing breeze on my neck.
“Ah, Mr. Hollenbeck” said a man behind me. I turned to face him.
“You never cease to arrive at the wrong moment, Mr. Hollenbeck. Can we never be rid of you?” he said raising a revolver to keep me where I stood.
“Which one are you this time, Mr. Hollenbeck? Protector, former lover, victim, fool? You are complex man. A complex man always burdened with a singular flaw. It’s the same flaw every iteration of you we come across. You are all hopelessly and unendingly drawn to my wife. And you never know why.“
“I came here to end this,” I said confidently.
Even in the growing darkness I could see the man’s face split with a sinister grin. His head shook arrogantly as he laughed at my determination. Finally he spoke again.
“Ah, the hero,” he said. “You can’t think that we three haven’t tried that, can you? No matter what we do, you always come back. You don’t even know why. You are a living ghost and you haunt us mercilessly. You are seeking answers, and you never accept that you are the fruit a failed experiment.”
Not comprehending, I waited in silence for him to continue. In the surrounding neighborhood we could hear the vague sounds of life continuing around us. Cars travelled places, dogs barked, mothers called their children in for the night. This stranger and I stood frozen in the gateway between life and death.
Phasing into existence out the shadows Daisy emerged into the night as a silhouette. In a blur of darkness, she solidified into existence. She struck the man down with what appeared to be a bar from a cast iron fence. She knocked the man to the ground and continued to hit him until he lay still. Grabbing my hand, we ran into the night.
The sign out front blazed in golden neon, “The Star-lite Oasis Motel”. It’s Yelp review referred to it as a “No Tell Motel with really good Wi-Fi”. True to it’s word, the peeling tacky red wallpaper and Champagne Flute shaped hot tub adorned room had Wi-Fi that clocked in at 200 MB/Second.
Daisy and I took turns freshening up in the room’s Spartan bathroom. Daisy went first. While I went, she had made coffee. When I finally emerged from washing off gunpoint induced flop sweat, I took one of the mugs off the bedside table.
“You are doing quite well for a dead man,” she finally said. I chewed on that for a moment.
“Thank you,” I replied awkwardly.
After that, the silence became a gulf filled with unrealized opportunities and unfulfilled hopes. Each of us hoping the other would say something next. She nervously flipped her ponytail from one shoulder to the other. Seeing her edgy seemed out of place. The width of our silence grew and then settled into a peaceful undeclared truce.
Most of what happened next moved under strange inertia. It started as I mulled over what I remembered of her from college. Sitting wordlessly with her now filled the room with echoes of those days long gone by. Finally she broke the tension.
“We’ve been here before Howard. Not here in this motel, but engaged in this conversation. This is the conversation where I tell you it will all be okay. I tell you I will fix all this. Each time you believe me. Sadly, I am beginning think I can’t. Can we skip all of this and just be here, together? I feel like we deserve that much after all these years.”
Even thought I didn’t know what she was talking about, I nodded agreement expecting her to continue. Again, we fell deeper into quietness. She moved forward in fluid, purposeful motion. She set the man’s gun on the bedside table and slid closer to me. She reached up and brushed my cheek with her warm, smooth fingers. She looked into my eyes and parted her lips, as if to speak. Instead we lingered in a tentative moment.
We orbited each other with an imperceptible kinesis. We began pulling closer within the field we now mutually generated. The curvature of our attraction warped the urgency of our tenderness towards the infinite. It was as if our emotions were quantifiable and thereby knowable through a shared omniscience.
As I spun in her gravity, I lived a million lifetimes. Some lives were times where she and I were strangers who passed by chance and shared simple pleasantries. In more than several worlds we existed in parallel, never meeting. Other existences spanned across space-time to fill the expanse with whispered heartfelt vows, stolen kisses, beloved children and tears of remembrance when at last our “partner” slipped back into the void. In still others epochs we inhabited world of inexplicable troubles and turmoil.
When finally we touched, her hands furtively found mine, drawing me nearer. Her yielding lips came up to embrace mine, leaving unspoken words to fall away. They would have been useless words. Words that too soon would have been forgotten.
My skin buzzed with anticipation of the foreign familiarity of her body as she pressed passionately into me. My senses filled with the sweetness of lilacs and her warmth. I breathed her in, bringing her closer to me.
Gentle crashing into each other with expectation and unrealized desire; my shirt and her pants were piled quickly together in a corner of the room. As we kissed we experienced infinite realities, each resonated through the possibilities raised by our romantic divining.
Then what followed was the cool feel of warm bodies entangled in the loving caress of newly untidy bedding. Our togetherness built to rapture and then collapsed in on itself. We lay together enfolded in the moment. Daisy and I just were and that was enough. We fell into a serene and comforting sleep.
My dreams danced with fancies and consummation. In those dreams I imagined I could capture our rendezvous permanently like a planet going around the sun. My mind convinced me that I could hold onto these precious moments forever. I did for a while in the stillness of my sleep. I awoke several hours later alone and uncertain of the truth of my most vivid memories.
I flipped on the dim bedside lamp. Shamefully, I gathered up clothes and dressed. As a consenting adult I was not sure why I felt shame, nevertheless it dragged it me. I swept the room for my belongings one last time and then exited the room.
Not surprising, the man from the graveyard, beat up and dirty was leaning again my car waiting for me. I climbed in the car at the request of his gun and his charming but threatening smile.
Digging your own grave is time of panic and lament. The soil of my grave smelled like dry, molted compost. Each cut of the shovel’s blade unearthed a little more of the space I would soon occupy. My mind jumped to the home I always thought I would one day build, with its fresh paint and open floor plan. This dirt hole would be the only home I would ever build.
I kept digging trying to forget why I was here. As always, I had fail miserably. I didn’t bother to glance over my shoulder to see if the man was still watching me dig. I could feel the heartless slice of his predatory eyes on me. I dug on, working steadily, but not too quickly. I ran through the fatalistic events that had driven me into starting this project.
I closed my eyes and continued to dig. The swirling after images of reds, yellows and shadows spun in my fading vision as my eyelids consumed the last of the starlight. The swirls coalesced into the curves and angles of Daisy's face. I imagined her eyes glimmering with the desire to fix all this for me. I bought myself time to think with every turn of my shovel.
Pausing to wipe my brow, I licked my lips and tasted grimy flakes of earth and stone. Each scoopful of damnation put more particles of dirt into the air. Mother Earth offered as little mercy as my captor. I began to choke and cough until my lungs burned.
When my spasms subsided, my captor’s voice returned to taunt me.
“It has to be this way Mr. Hollenbeck. You go into that grave and stay there and I finally get to live my life without you. Your death has to be inescapable. Nothing can be left to chance. I shoot you and bury you so you can’t come back. Chance of survival is zero. I get to go on. I’ll finally be free of you. At that point, I am just a guy with secrets to keep.”
“She’ll know you’re a murder” I managed to bark out.
“She already knows that. For now, you can know that by finishing the hole that things will change for her too.”
I welled up with a primal anger. My body longed to channel that rage into killing this man with my shovel. A simple turn, a short charge and the confrontation would be over. He and I locked in one last grapple. My heroic gesture would be lost in the bark of his gun’s muzzle and the echo of fate’s last whisper. With my luck, I would survive him shooting me. That would probably only lead to having to do this all over again. I know this now. I am already defeated and dead, so I focus that anger into my digging.
The hole was already deep enough for a shallow grave. It would be easy to cover me and never look back. I would be a small hillock that hikers who strayed from the main path would crest and then proceed passed into the newly formed hummock without making note of the change to the terrain. I would be trod on in death as I was in life.
Measure after measure of dirt added to the pile as I slowly disappeared into the earth. Every quantity of this world heaped up put a tiny distance between my tormentor and myself and at the same time inched me closer to my execution. Minutes of digging grew into an hour. Each second extended into an eternity. I dug on never-endingly.
There were small blessings in the depths of my hole. With each passing second there were glimpses of faith leading me to believe my sacrifice might truly have been granting her life. I did not sense the terror in seeing my end coming. I slowly gave over to the inevitable conclusion of my life.
“You’re almost done. Just a little more digging there, Mr. Hollenbeck, and you can be done. Then you can rest forever,” he said.
His voice was a pleasant break in the rhythmic “thunk, thunk” of my shovel. The next sound I heard was the soft chunk of a bottle of water hitting the dirt next to me. Was I being offered a dying wish? A sip or two of thirst quenching elixir? Not questioning it further I grabbed the bottle and washed away a little of the pain and dirt. Another sip followed the first and then my ecstasy was at an end. The reprieve, however short, had been welcome.
The man then prompted me back to work with a wave of his pistol. I knew it would soon issue forth my doom. I had not yet thoroughly accepted this, but I am no longer trying to avoid it either. I sighed regretfully for the lives I should have lived.
The strike of my metal shovel on a buried rock or something else was jarring. The sudden stop of the cutting edge rattled through me and I felt my stomach turn. I dropped to my knees to see if I could use my hands to free the object, as I had done with several fist-sized rocks previously. A thundering shot rang out and I grunted and slumped with the anticipated impact of a bullet in my flesh. It never came. I lay still nonetheless.
From above me I heard a dragging sound, followed by a sudden hush. With an effort the man pushed something into the shallow grave with me. It hit me with a heavy thud, knocking me face first into the dirt. Carefully rolled out from under the object and then laid for a moment catching my breath.
When I didn’t speak, a single word rang out.
Time slowed down further as the yellow-green light of a glow stick thrown into the hole filled the tiny chamber with wall-to-wall illumination. The eerie light cascaded around me, broken only by my shadow. My shadow joined me, hunched as I was, in noiseless terror. In the dim luminosity I saw Daisy’s familiar face with her freshly inert eyes looking back at me.
We would finally be together forever. My task was now complete, my failure final. I slumped forward and began to cry in tearless desolation. As despair overwhelmed me, the hole began to refill from above.
I would lay with Daisy Gayle for eternity by choice. It felt right and good. I had suffered enough. All those year ago, I had just wanted to leave that party and go home to my dorm room. I never got to realize that decision. That had been taken from me. I remained still, absorbing the true nature of my choice. I would choose to die here with her. We had somehow become cosmically become entangled and it felt right to be here with her, in this time and place. She should be eternally with someone who loved her and I wouldn’t be alone. We would be together in this place, forever.
I exhaled through my nose blowing dirt microscopically away from my nostrils. As my air ran out, I felt the moment come and pass. Darkness swirled as the permanence of death in one world again freed me to live another. Nothingness consumed me.
I returned to consciousness spitting and retching. Dirt was everywhere on me. Lush, full lips giving resuscitation pulled back from mine giving me room to try breath.
“Thank god, I was worried you had aspirated dirt into your lungs. I was afraid I was too late to save you,” said a voice that was both familiar and alien at the same time.
I dry heaved again and again trying to empty an already empty stomach.
Soft hands grasp my shoulders and held me still. Finally my suffocating cough subsided and a fat rubbery straw was pressed to the edge of my edge mouth. I gingerly took pulls of sweet liquid from the containers contents.
When I had recovered enough have some sense I took in my surroundings. My murderer was no longer in sight. I slumped forward bringing myself slowly out of panic mode. Finally, I recovered enough to roll over onto my stomach and crawl up until I was actually standing, if shakily.
My struggle and panic had not gone unnoticed. She finally asked me “Are you okay?” I really was not. With concern and compassion she focused all of her attention on me. She slowly began to move, as if to help me. Never blinking or averting her eyes, I lived a lifetime in that moment. That moment stretched out like light trapped in the pull of a black hole. I hung precariously in that moment, as she arrived and steadied me with one hand. I collapsed. As I fell, she braced to steady me. I felt myself die in her embrace.
A comforting voice told me to hold on. I would be okay.
“Howard, you are going to be okay. It’s all going to be okay now…”.
When I tried to move, I found I could not. I shook, either in fear or from a chill. In the minutes that passed, Daisy answered a million questions while I rested. Daisy revealed the secrets of the multiverse to me. Much to my surprise those secrets weren’t all that deep or secret. When we departed together, I left empty of sin and regret.