My wife lost her battle with bone cancer a year ago. I have no one.
I’ve worked from home for the last six months. My employer has been sympathetic and accommodating after everything that happened. Too many workplaces neglect and end up getting rid of disabled employees. I guess I should feel valued.
Breakfast was mac and cheese left over from the night before. I hadn’t made enough for the meal to be even remotely satisfying. Stock prices and quantitative analytics spilled from my computer monitors as I tried to concentrate on work. My eyes kept drifting over to the picture of me and Brynn on our wedding day. I have no attention span when I’m hungry.
I groaned as I lifted myself into a standing position. My knees were shot. I made my way over to the kitchen pantry and got a bag of chips and a bottle of soda. Coughing as I trundled across the office over to my desk, I’d already opened the chips and was pushing them into my mouth. As I walked by and saw my reflection in the glossy murk of my hibernating television, I could swear I saw Brynn standing by my side. When I blinked, she was gone. Just like a year ago.
By lunchtime I was just finishing the chips and the bottle of soda. I was ravenous. My concentration improved somewhat as I ate, and I made a few good trades that got my company some cash and me a nice commission or two. But it was noon. The market volume was drying up as everyone went to lunch. I’d start working again around two and go hard until closing bell. Until then, I had to eat something. Anything.
The pizza delivery guy always brings me extra stuff because I’m a generous tipper. At this point in my career, I earn more money than I know what to do with, so why not spread it around? I ordered two large Sicilian pizzas, some mozzarella sticks, garlic knots, and chicken alfredo. The delivery guy brought me a pint of ice cream and a cannoli. He got a $100 tip. I think my interaction with him is the only person-to-person contact I have nowadays.
I sat in front of the TV as I ate. I didn’t bother to turn it on. When I looked up after finishing my first pizza, Brynn’s reflection was watching me. Her body was distorted by the curved surface of the television. She was shorter. Heavier looking. Compressed. She moved her arms as if to embrace me. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to regain my composure. I had to be hallucinating.
The lids of my eyes lifted to the sight of her face inches from mine. My scream reverberated throughout my cavernous office space. Before I’d finished my yell, she’d wrapped her arms around me and nestled her head against my shoulder. Everything went white.
All I can remember from that moment was blissful warmth and closeness. I can only describe it as reliving the minute I knew I was in love with her, along with all the associated tactile sensations of the most intimate embrace I’d ever felt. The experience couldn’t have lasted more than two seconds.
When it was over, it was as if every organ had been ripped from my body and I’d been left to exsanguinate on the floor. A feeling of overwhelming emptiness swept over me. My mourning period following Brynn’s death was nothing compared to this. I was a bottomless pit of despair and loneliness.
The expanse of my lunch was still spread in front of me. Mindlessly, I began eating. Every swallow felt like an eyedropper of water attempting to refill an evaporated oceanscape. But it was progress. I ate until nothing was left. My stomach ached, protesting the amount of food it had been forced to accommodate in such a short period of time. But the hunger remained. The emptiness remained. And it taunted me.
I tried to get on with my day. Work was out of the question. There wasn’t much food in my house, so I’d started drinking soda. I definitely had enough of that. One of my closets had countless three-liter bottles of the generic brand I preferred over the popular ones. I’d gone through two of them before I started feeling lightheaded. I couldn’t begin to imagine what this was doing to my already-unhealthy blood sugar. That was the least of my concerns.
Around 8pm, I walked out of my house for the first time in almost a month. Everything had been delivered to me over that period of time. Hoping there was still gas in my X5, I clambered up into the driver’s seat. I was shocked by how much bigger I’d gotten since I last drove and felt my only moment of relief all day when I discovered the seat could go back another few inches. The car started with no effort and I headed to the store. I was in no condition to drive. My vision kept blurring and despite the tremendous pain of emptiness I felt, I desperately wanted to go to sleep. I managed to keep my composure, however, and made it to my destination.
Even with the handicap tags on my truck, the short walk from it to the store felt like torture. I was wheezing by the time I’d taken my cart and started pushing it around the front of the store. There was no way I’d use one of the motorized scooters they provide. I don’t have much pride left, but I still have enough to keep walking until I simply can’t anymore.
I bought whatever was closest to the doors and the cash registers. I didn’t care what. I had a bagboy help me load up my car with the three carriages-worth of food I’d purchased. The gratitude I felt for him and his colleague as they pushed and emptied the carts was immeasurable and I emptied my wallet of cash to thank them. I went home.
My entire trip was spent eating. When I got back, I turned off the car and sat in the dark, illuminated only by the dim light of my garage. I frantically worked to tear away wrapping and packaging. Sleeves of crackers disappeared down my throat. Partially-frozen TV dinners of meatloaf and mashed potatoes followed. I sobbed as I pushed it all into my mouth, hacking and coughing crumbs onto my steering wheel and dashboard. Only when my stomach pain was nearly unbearable did my feeling of emptiness dip to a level where I had the strength to get out of the garage.
It took nearly an hour to unload my car of the colossal amount of food I’d purchased. I crashed onto my couch, gasping for air as stars twirled before my eyes. A few minutes later, after I’d regained some semblance of wherewithal, I felt an acute pain in my right shoulder. When I reached around with my left hand to investigate, I yelped as I sliced into my index finger. Some asshole left a juice glass on the arm of the couch and it had fallen off onto the cushion. That same asshole recently fell onto that couch without looking and shattered the glass with his shoulder.
I went into the bathroom. A familiar, morbidly-obese man greeted me in my full-length mirror. I turned to look at the damage to my shoulder. Chunks of glass were embedded in my shirt and skin underneath. Despite my disgust with myself and the pain in my shoulder and stomach and finger, I felt slightly better – somehow not quite as empty. Sighing, I pulled off my shirt and felt shards of glass detach from my shoulder and plink onto the ground.
The feeling of raw hollowness reemerged like the head of a hydra. I began to cry. I stared into the mirror at my shirtless self, watching the blood trickle from my shoulder in thin rivulets which were stopped by the absorbent waistband of my sweatpants. I wrapped my arms around my body in desperation. The cheap facsimile of an embrace only served to make me sob harder. I released the hold and started plucking the remaining glass from my shoulder. My misery intensified as each shard got removed. The feeling became overwhelming when I pulled out the last piece. I stared at the shard through my tears with curiosity. Then, without a hint of critical thought, I pushed the shard back into my shoulder. A tiny fraction of my emptiness evaporated. A fraction comparable to an entire stomach-full of food.
As if on autopilot, I methodically broke the larger shards of glass I’d removed from my shoulder into hairpin-sized needles. I carefully plunged them into my skin. By the time I’d finished with the glass, there was a semicircle of crystalline splinters decorating my upper arm. Warmth radiated out from the shards and suffused through the surrounding skin. The pain was miniscule compared to the emptiness the glass helped to eliminate.
With more energy than I’d been able to muster since my experience with my wife’s apparition this afternoon, I hurried to my office to find my stapler. I assumed I was losing my mind. A healthy person doesn’t see his dead wife. A healthy person doesn’t ameliorate emptiness through food and glass. But what I felt was real to me. It was as real as the floor on which I stood and as real as the air filling my lungs as I gasped with the tiny pinpricks of relief I felt as each staple entered my arm. I drained the stapler into myself, refilled it four times, and was left looking for something new to use.
I went to the garage and over to Brynn’s work area. She would frame pictures and paintings for her friends and family and even set up an Etsy shop before her diagnosis. Everything was right where she’d left it.
An hour went by as I pushed tiny, sharp framing nails into my other arm. These hurt much more than the glass or the staples. I arranged them in a tight, sleeve-like grid. Pain radiated throughout the limb, but I persisted. A few times, when I blinked, I saw Brynn.
Right now, it’s the morning after the events I’ve described. I haven’t slept. My night was spent finding ways to fill that void inside me. Up to this point, I’ve been successful. Every part of me hurts, though. Everything, from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet, is covered; punctured and impaled in some way. Most of it is broken glass from the various glasses and plates in the kitchen. Some of it is from my wife’s old sewing box. Each of my fingertips have long pins originating right underneath the nail and terminating somewhere up toward the knuckles in my hands. It’s hard to type with straight fingers.
I’m standing at my computer desk because my back and buttocks are caked with broken glass and the pain is too intense when I sit down. Even though the bottoms of my feet are equally encrusted, I have less sensation in them because of my underlying medical conditions. When I walk, I can feel the thicker and longer chunks of glass carving at the bone.
The part I find most difficult to deal with are the series of thumbtacks in my soft palate. They are constantly causing me agonizing discomfort and they itch just as much as they hurt. I can’t help but to trace my tongue around them which just draws my attention to their presence even more.
The constant, caustic undulations of searing pain are only tempered by brief, infinitesimally-soft brushes of warmth. I know it’s my wife trying to touch me again. But the feeling of emptiness within me is still there, albeit far less intense than yesterday. Ignoring it just makes it worse. I have to keep going, but I don’t have any space left. I know what I’m going to do next, and probably finally, and that’s okay.
In a few minutes, I’ll be opening my belly and thighs and arms and stuffing them with the entire pantry’s-worth of our splintered wedding china. I can’t live with this feeling of emptiness. If doing this is what it takes to give me some relief and peace of mind and body, it’s what needs to happen. I have the knife honed and ready. As I write this, I know with 100% certainty I’m not in my right mind. I’ve long since stopped caring. And with that, I’m going to go now. Whether or not this plan works, at the end of it all, I might have the opportunity to be with Brynn again. That’s worth more than anything in this life.