bildungsroman

I was fifteen when I died.

She came to me, radiant gossamer beauty, and gave me a choice. And because I was afraid, I said no. She didn’t say anything, but Her disappointment killed me as I watched Her smile, and fade to nothingness, leaving me alone in the wood-brown living room of my parent’s house.

I didn’t know it then, but that’s when I died.

I soon saw the others on the news. Champions, they said. Righting wrongs, striving for good. I shit you not—one of them actually pulled a cat out of a gaddamn tree. And as the years went on, sixteen, seventeen, I admit, I became jealous. Jealous of the attention they received, the spotlight I walked away from.

I was nineteen. I didn’t know it then, but that’s when I met my wife, Virginia, blond pigtails and green plaid skirt bouncing to the pop stand. Of course, it’d be two years till we sat next to each other in the lecture hall at university that she’d even know I existed. It’d be a year after that, when I comforted her after that asshole Eric dumped her for Kathy Ferguson, that she’d start to have feelings for me. It’d be another year till after graduation, when we’d sit on the hood of my beat up ‘75 Camaro, when we’d consider a life together. All the while, feeling hollow and unfulfilled, useless. I learned how to fake a good enough smile, and—God bless her—Ginny never questioned why I’d leave the room when the Champions were on the 6 o’clock news.

In another year, when I was twenty-four, the Forty Year War would break out. The Champions were on the news again, but broken, bloodied. Beaten again and again as Malevolence spread. Month after month, Ginny’s belly grew under an advancing cloud of fear. Year after year, the Champions— those that remained—fought to keep our family safe. Year after year, fewer Champions, more Malevolence, and Ginny still never knew how close she had come to seeing me in the papers. Instead of fear, I felt regret. The Champions were losing, and y’know, you wonder, “Would I have made a difference? Just one more?” Regret turned to shame pretty quickly. Ginny would worry and ask, and blame herself, and I couldn’t even lift a finger to comfort her.

When the last Champion was shown this morning, limp body broken over the rubble in what was left of Rotterdam, searching for more blood to leak, and the world’s nations grew silent to hear the words of Malevolence, I was in the living room. That same damn living room I’d inherited from my parents, chambering a .38 round. I knew then, finally, at sixty-four, that I had indeed died when I was fifteen. I decided it was time to make that feeling a reality. I was so far gone I couldn’t even hear Ginny screaming for me to stop as I jammed the barrel deeper under my chin, finger slipping on the trigger as the tears fell hard and fast. I couldn’t hear her as I pulled the trigger.

I couldn’t hear the click. Or the bang, or the sound of bone fragments raining down on the polyester sofa. I couldn’t feel the bullet pierce my skull, or the recoil yank my arms down.

Come to think of it, I couldn’t feel the gun in my hand any more. I could only feel a warmth that I had only known some fifty-nine years before. She came back to me, standing exactly where She first stood. Poor Ginny must’ve been kickin’ her jaw it’dve dropped so far. Standing there, She gave me the same choice now. This arthritic, defeated, sixty-four year old shell, She gives the same choice. Become an instrument of good, of light. Become strong. Be what this world needs.

What the fuck do you think I said?