Epilogue

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Jenna

John and I marked the stages of our relationship through funerals.

We first started dating at my father's. We liked to pretend that having a possible life partner at a different college was easy. But it wasn't. Trust was the most important and hardest thing to have.

But then four years later, he proposed to me right before his own dad's funeral--the father he didn't even know.

We were so close to calling it all off at my brother Jairus's. He committed suicide--the ultimate act of selfishness, as some say. I don't know where I stood on it. All I knew is that it made me free of an unfair bond that I stumbled through adolescence with, an Atlas with the world on my shoulders. Winning that lawsuit gave me no satisfaction. The only things I remember are screaming and accusations and John calling me weak. I guess that I was.

But the most devastating of them all was Josephine's. She had an unheroic battle with a terminal disease that no novel or fancy metaphors could make romantic. But nonetheless, I was married the next week without a maid of honor, missing my sister and best friend.

Our next funeral was shocking and out of the blue. At three in the morning, John went into work at the asylum. He found Aspen with a washcloth shoved in the sink drain, just enough water in the basin to cover her nose. At eighteen, she took her own life before it even started. I found out that I was carrying our first child right when another family lost their own.

Our marriage hit an all time low at the ceremony of our first baby. Stillborn. I thought that it was some sort of warped payback for how I handled myself in high school. When I was twenty-six, my own daughter--Josephine--joined the same plot that her aunt is still in now. All I could hope was that my dear Josephines took care of each other.

After our first, I managed to carry two children to full term--both of them with the awful J- names as well; I did manage to have our eldest son named John. It was a larger struggle than necessary. It didn't take long after that to decide that we needed to adopt. Partially because Josephine would never have children, but also because we were both saved by strangers who opened their home to us.

But somewhere along that path, my John died to me--on the inside. I can remember every single detail about that date--how I skipped a child's cross country meet to be home when he returned from work. The distinct smell of death and disinfectant brushed across his scrubs. His arms embraced me, but his eyes were dead, his mind somewhere else. His skin, still flawless and unmarked after years of being silent, showing the chiseled effects of too many years working at an insane asylum--the place that he never escaped. He thought that I didn't hear him sobbing in the bathroom each night, horrified with what he was forced to see each day.

But he was in my veins and there was no way to give up on him. Somewhere along the way, I asked for my implants to be removed and watched as my words once again crept to private areas, places that only he saw. We were quite a sight--two blank people with their marked children, the ghosts of too many lost trailing behind us.

You'll never know devastation until the only information you get about your teenage daughter's life comes from trying to sneak a peek at her arms. But John and I became partners in a beauty that went so far beyond skin deep.

Being blank was always a huge part of what made up John and me. We were given the luxury of presenting what we wanted about ourselves, but it also put us on trial. It made us require the need to prove that there's worth that lies below the skin; to prove that words uttered or signed in secret mean every bit as much as much as the ones bellowed or yelled to be branded. I just hope we succeeded.   

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