His expression changed. He stopped breathing. Like his eyes fixed on a movie screen, a scene played in his mind and whatever he could see or remember and verbalize, I would still not let him fall. I repositioned and tightened my grip on his arm. He likewise tightened his fingers around my wrist, but I doubt he noticed either of us did it.
“I heard gunfire. I went inside because I heard gunfire.”
“Did they kill her?”
“No,” the tears emptied from his eyes, spilling down, weaving through his facial hair. He knew what happened, even if he didn’t want to remember until now.
I again tightened my grip on his arm. “I won’t let you fall. I’ve got you.”
Adjusting to the bouts of silence challenged me, but he needed to take time, so I stayed in his face. Eventually the words tumbled out, as if calving from a glacier.
“No one secured the weapon. I didn’t secure the suspect’s weapon before I left the house. After they took turns with her, she got the weapon and began shooting them. They laid down their weapons to attack her. Their fucking digis weren’t even pulled all the way up. That’s what I saw when I ran back in.”
“She shot them?”
“She killed them. And when she saw me in the doorway, before she could turn all the way towards me with his gun, I killed her. She watched her husband die, three assholes raped her, and then I killed her.” He spoke the word, and a lot of other horrible ones in a rush of sudden recollection.
He sounded like he could barely breathe, as if the truth was squeezed out of his lungs.
“She might have killed you, though.”
“She tried. I fired first.” I expected he might want to throw up as the intense panic and fear escaped. It worked for me.
I gently wiped his streaks of tears, cleansing the visible lines of pain on his face.
“If only I had secured the weapon. If only I had stopped them. If I had done anything – everything – differently, they all would be alive. I killed all of them by doing nothing. I raped her by doing nothing.” His revelation didn’t make him a hero, or a rapist, or a bystander, or a murderer. It made him human and scared. Hindsight and second guessing pummeled him, and like me, he accepted the beatings, too afraid to escape.
“No, you didn’t. You didn’t rape her. But I’m guessing you still see her in your mind constantly. Every day.”
“And almost every night. How did you know that?”
“I see Amelia’s heart beating on the ultrasound every night – that tiny half of a heart. It was the last time I saw her. If only we could delete the images we don’t want to keep.”
“I shot her, but I swear I didn’t want to hurt her. She’d been violated so horribly. That’s why I thought that what I did to you…”
“You did not. Nothing you did hurt me.” I made a point to speak clearly and distinctly. He looked down at my arm.
“But it feels like I did.” Not to me it didn’t. It felt passionate and wonderful.
“You didn’t. Come here.” I pressed his shoulder so he leaned into me and I could feel those same strong muscles that delighted me last night surrender themselves today, trembling weakly, in the cab of his truck. I continued to cling to his wrist.
“I promise you, you’ll never, ever fall as long as I’m holding on. Your words are not lost on me. I will protect them. And I will always hold onto them.” Unwilling to relinquish it to him before, he now owned my trust unconditionally, just as he offered me his.