Topic: Step on a crack
Trigger warning: Discussion of major violence
Close my eyes and make a wish and I can see her, head thrown back, laughing. She's healthy and whole, with glowing skin and long black hair that catches the light. I can see her leaning back, pulling her hair away from the nape of her neck, letting it fall against her shoulder blades. I see her in a chair with a little desk attached, because that's where I knew her best in life. I see her at age 24, because she never lived to 25. I try to picture her at 32, my age now, but it's hard.
I believe that somewhere, she is 32. Somewhere she is alive –- many somewheres, actually. There are lives she's living, maybe scores of them. It's a belief I cling to, and I've never clung harder than I do when I think of Imette. I can't accept the idea that all that beauty, all that vibrancy, all that laughter had one shot at life, and a black hole of a human being ripped it apart and threw it away. It feels impossible, and I won't let myself believe it.
For most of my life, I've believed in a multitude of overlapping dimensions, splitting off and stretching on in their own directions. I picture this in various ways, but one of the images I return to most commonly is the image of cracks in reality; you are living your life and you step on a crack and then slip through, never realizing it, believing that the life you're now living is the only one there is. I'm told that there's some scientific debate around a similar concept in string theory, and while I don't understand the first thing about string theory I grab greedily at the news that this may not simply be my own delusion. It's just a feeling I have, an instinct, really: I walk through my days and I get hit with déjà vu, and then for just a flash of a second I have an image of what will come next. And sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't, but I feel in my marrow that it's real. Who knows. Maybe I'm crazy. I believe it anyway.
I believe it about Imette.
Imette St. Guillen was a high school classmate of mine, and a friend. Not a close friend; I do not want to appropriate her story or appropriate the grief of those closest to her. We traveled in the same circles for awhile, but I don't think I ever hung out with her outside of school. But she was, quite simply, a lovely person, someone who made you feel special when you were around her, someone who made you happy when she smiled. And the news of her death left me wrecked, in a state of perpetual breakdown for days. Imette was tortured, raped and murdered eight years ago by a bouncer at a bar. Eight years, and yet it still feels fresh to me, because I've never run across anything worse than what happened to her. Cops working the case said they had never seen a more horrifying murder. I'm not going to write the details, because they polluted my mind and tormented me at night for weeks – still do, sometimes. It was all over the news, anyway. People has a good summary of the case. You should know before you click that link that it is intensely disturbing.
Her killer was caught and imprisoned and I don't particularly care, except insofar as it means he can't hurt anyone else like he hurt Imette. That I care about. But the rest of it, the sense of grim satisfaction you’re supposed to feel when a murderer is brought to justice –- I don't get it. It doesn't bring her back. It doesn't erase the horror of her last hours. So the guy's in a cell. I don't think he deserves to be living on the outside, but I can't figure out what his imprisonment does for Imette.
I need something else. I need her alive.
So I turn to the lives she might be living now, somewhere else.
In the first, the easiest, she never went through any of this at all. She left the bar with Claire, her friend and mine, instead of fighting with her and refusing to leave. They split a cab or maybe walked some straight, gridlike New York blocks home, both drunk and a little unsteady on their feet, tripping over high heels, feeling the world spin. They got home and went to bed and got up in the morning and went on with their lives, whatever those might be.
Imette slips into another crack, and I see her at her graduation from John Jay, capped and gowned, huge smile.
More cracks. I see her as a forensic scientist or maybe a psychologist, hyper-focused on her job, hair cut short by a salon stylist instead of a psychotic murderer, attractive but professional. Crack again, and I see her as a scientist having trouble with her job because she's drinking too much. I see her in AA, fingering a one-month medallion, a one-year medallion, a five-year medallion; I see her telling her story at a podium, finishing and flashing that smile that could make you flush with happiness to match her own. Or – who knows? Maybe she never needed AA. Maybe the binge-drinking she did that night, the vague general impressions I'd collected too, mean nothing. Maybe she's just enjoying a few drinks with Claire every now and again, flirting with guys who drool over her.
Crack, and she's met a decent guy who worships her, not hard to do given who she was. A bigger apartment for the two of them. Sleeping in on weekends, warm limbs tangled together in the bed. A church, a white dress, Claire and her sister the bridesmaids. Or –- crack –- a single life dedicated to work, a life of casual or occasionally serious dating to go with the job, who knows? But a life of people. A life aboveground.
Maybe there are cracks that showed up somewhere between the torture and the murder. She rolled over, trussed and bloody, and slipped through. Maybe he couldn't go through with it; maybe she escaped somehow; maybe he left her for dead when she wasn't; maybe someone walked in on them. Maybe anything, anything that would get her out of there alive, and then she's lying in a hospital bed. I have trouble picturing her eyes, what they would look like. Catatonic-dead, maybe; maybe wide with terror that keeps them from closing without major sedatives. For awhile she seems broken, but the people who love her gather her to them and help her put the pieces together, and years later she's standing tall again, shadows in the back of her gaze that weren't there before, but mostly put back together, mostly whole. Maybe she speaks at rape crisis centers, recounting her story. Maybe she only speaks of it to a therapist, or to those closest to her. Maybe she never speaks of it at all. Maybe – crack – she finds a guy she can learn to trust, somehow, and she talks to him. Or maybe – crack – she doesn't. In every crack I can think of, though, she is surrounded by people who love her. That means the world.
So many stories, so many realities. I can trace them in my mind, and I'm making them up, I know, but maybe, just maybe... maybe some of them are real. Part of me jeers that it's impossible, part of me tries to believe, and part of me really does believe. But all of me pleads, to God or whoever, for it to be true. Let her be alive somewhere. Let her be.
In the traditional narrative she's floating on a bed of clouds up in the sky somewhere, dressed in white, wings sprouting from her back. Carrying a harp, the whole nine yards. I find that harder to believe in than the cracks, but honestly, I don't even like the idea all that much, because there's time for that later. Let her live to be 30, 40, 55, 70. Let her have that, and then she can have the wings.
Maybe when I have wings too I'll meet her again. We'll play harps together, talk about seventh-grade music class and our ridiculous tenth-grade history teacher and laugh. But I'm not counting on it.
I just want her to have the cracks.