I dropped to my knees and crawled into the lake. I splashed water onto my face. It was cold and I began to shiver. Finally, I lay on my back in the water and watched the sun behind the trees. I stopped weeping and started a long, rambling conversation with myself, discussing whether or not the Timberwolves had the depth to go the distance this season, if the Vikings had finally learned how to defend against the run, what it would take to bring peace to the Middle East, if I had a future with Nina Truhler. I talked to myself for a long time.
Eventually, the nausea and dizziness subsided—my mind cleared. I tried to stand. My knees creaked and my back demanded relief, which I attempted to provide with pressure from both hands. I walked only slightly upright to my SUV. The door was hanging open. It took what was left of my strength to climb in and pull the door shut. The bleeding had stopped long ago—I worried about stitches. Only instead of doing the smart thing and driving to a hospital, I went home. I would rather die in bed.
The light from the refrigerator stung my eyes. I had thought a glass of milk might help relieve the throbbing in my head and settle my queasy stomach. Yeah, right. It was so cold my brain froze—I damn near passed out on my tile floor. Eventually, I made my way upstairs, the house lights off, moving by touch and habit alone. I removed my jacket, shoes, and gun, but stripping off the rest of my wet clothes didn’t seem worth the effort.
Later that night I found myself wide awake, shuddering at the thunder and lightning and high wind that shook the trees outside the window. I was surprised but not fearful when a young woman with golden hair crept silently into my bedroom, her white gown shimmering with a light that seemed to come from within. She sat on the edge of my mattress and patted my hands that were holding the blankets tight to my throat. I couldn’t make out her face. She told me not to be afraid, that the storm wouldn’t harm me, that she wouldn’t allow it. She told me my trials would soon be over. She said she was proud of me. I asked her name. In reply she bent to kiss me. As our lips touched I awoke with a start to find that my room was empty and the night was still.
To this day, I don’t know if it was Jamie Bruder’s apparition that had appeared to me, or my mother’s.
The mid-morning sun was streaming through the bedroom windows as I stood naked in front of the full-length mirror, inspecting the damage inflicted by Devanter, furious that I had allowed him to toss me around like a lawn dart.
“It’s not the size of the dog in a fight that matters, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” I said out loud, which was still another of the lessons my father had attempted to teach me. Standing there, examining the bruises that spotted my body like an ugly connect-the-dots puzzle, I decided Dad was full of it. I also vowed that no one would ever beat on me like that again.
Everything hurt—my spine, my hip, both shoulders, neck, my head especially. The cut under my hairline wasn’t nearly as bad as I had originally thought, only an inch long and not very deep. I doubted it would leave a scar. I also was surprised that no black-and-blue splotches marred my face. Since the other bruises would be easily concealed under clothes, I was starting to think that, all things considered, I looked pretty good. Until my eyes wandered to the other places on my body where errors in judgment had left their mark—a scar on my thigh, another at the point of my shoulder, the nickel-size spot above my right ear where hair will never grow again. Maybe Kirsten was right. Maybe I should try to get a job with the Minnesota Opera Company.
I spent a long time in the bathroom cleaning myself up. I tried not to think. Thinking gave me a headache. So did tossing corn to the ducks. The mere act of wheeling my recyclables to the curb caused my entire body to tremble with pain, my back especially. I went for a walk. I was afraid if I sat down I wouldn’t have the strength to get up again.
I strolled through St. Anthony Park like I didn’t have a care in the world, like people weren’t trying to kill me. I made my way east, past Murray Junior High School, to the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota and south to a small park filled with children and young mothers who eschewed the just-put-your-kids-in-daycare work ethic currently popular in the land. I watched the mothers watching their children and thought of Jamie. No, don’t do that, I admonished myself. Don’t think.
To divert my attention, I turned north, found a tennis court, and stopped to watch a pair of college kids. But that only made me feel old as well as out of shape. I meandered to the corner. As the traffic light switched to yellow, I heard the hard acceleration of a vehicle. I glanced up and saw a black van shooting through the intersection just as the yellow went red. It wasn’t even a Chevy, yet I was on the ground just the same, hiding my head behind the light pole.
“This is going to stop,” I vowed.