Guilt

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For a year I've had more nightmares than sleep. I constantly replayed their deaths, piecing together what I did wrong. Sit with it long enough and the guilt becomes as familiar as breathing. At that point it's impossible to live without it. Edna, Simon, I'm sorry.

I was in the middle of the same nightmare when a noise woke me.

I opened my eyes to a blurry bedroom. Though sprawled under two blankets, I was still cold from the A/C. The alarm clock's LED-blue read 2:34 AM. Only two hours of "sleep". But what else was new?

I sat up waiting for the noise again. Patiently. Anxiously. My hands wrung the bedsheets and my heart pounded in my ears. Even if I stayed up till sunrise, I needed to make sure I heard what I heard.

It came again. It was the sound of clattering dishes. Someone had come into my house.

I reached under the bed and dragged out the M1911 pistol. It weighed in my hand like a corpse—heavy, cold, lifeless.

I snuck out into the hallway on the balls of my feet. The vertigo of adrenaline and darkness made it feel like I walked on walls. I tried to keep calm but it was hard. I felt that weakness, that pathetic weakness that got Edna and Simon killed. I told myself: Relax. Leave the panic for the cocksucker downstairs. Make him wish he never came. Let him cry, beg, and when he think you'll let him go... BAM!...scatter his brains all over the wall!

When I passed Sheila's door I couldn't even look at it. Our last argument was brutal. Of course it wasn't the time or place but I couldn't stop thinking about it: I had overheard her on the phone talking about her boyfriend inviting her to a party. When I told her she couldn't go, she threw every insult she could at me: Nazi, psycho, prison guard. Eventually we resolved it by shouting "Fuck you!" at each other. We weren't always like this.

Feelings aside, I was unsure if I needed to warn her and risk making too much noise. I was painfully aware that every second I waited was a second that I let myself and my family be put in danger.

I left her alone.

I crept downstairs, ready to shoot without hesitation.

Once I spotted the shadow in the kitchen, I aimed at his head. My eyes had a hard time adjusting to the dark.

I breathed in slow, held, then exhaled. When the breath ended, a calm overcame me. I squeezed the trigger. Little by little a rush of emotions swelled within me. Finally, retribution. But then, a hair of second before I fired, the intruder said something:

"Dad?"

The explosion rung my ears. Scared stiff, I watched the shadow fall to the floor. What this person said—I didn't want it to be what I thought I heard...but the more I replayed it, the more anxious I grew.

I turned on the stairwell light.

Oh...oh...no no no no no...Sheila. Sheila.

I dropped the gun and ran to her. A mangled wound replaced one of her green eyes, and trickled blood down my arm. Holding her head in my hands, fingers combing her brown curls...I rocked back and forth sobbing a lullaby, wanting so badly to soothe the hurt I caused.

"It'll be okay baby. It'll all be okay."

But she was gone. No longer would I see her smile, how she raised one corner of her lip higher than the other. Or hear the way she whined, "sorta-kinda" when she talked.

I screamed. I wanted my cry to cut into the ground. But my ears still rang, so I heard nothing. I forgot what noise was. I forgot who I was. Hurt became all I knew, and it filled me like water rising in a sealed container. No matter how loudly I cried, no one would hear me.

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