Touch: The Journal of Healing




    by Krisztina Fehervari

Life stopped on the night of the party. Her son’s life, yes, of course, but hers as well. It stayed frozen like a broken watch that marked the same hour and minute no matter how many years had passed. Whenever the obscure doors to her mind opened, the big hand of her brain’s clock always pointed to that night as if nothing else existed - no daughter who graduated with honors, no husband who brought her flowers every year on their wedding anniversary, no grandchildren running in her house and hugging her legs with muddy arms. All of that was a mirage of what her happy life should have been if her son had never gone to that party.

But he did. He went to the party. And never came back.

The images that her tortured mind conjured up every single day always ticked through the same sequence, like a tradition.  First the ear-splitting music invaded her insides, a teenage scream, the acrid smell of drug and alcohol and hormone-infused sweat. Then the amorphous group of silhouettes in a party room appeared in the darkness of her brain. Soon the crowd faded, melding into the shapeless surroundings, and in the middle of a hazy circle there was a body, a beautiful, young body, lying on the floor, one arm bent in an unnatural way above his head and the other thrown onto his flat stomach.  A burgundy stain crept out from underneath his shoulders in the shape of a sinister butterfly. Years later, the stain changed form and the image became a tame photograph that reminded her of the first time she had seen her baby, her first born, the only son she ever had, wrapped in bloody blankets in the doctor’s hands, lifted up in front of her so she could get a glimpse of the warm skin ruffled around the tiny face. This image of distorted happiness was a compliment of a merciful mind. The human mind.

Often, her brain stopped there, leaving her with painful longing. Other times the procession of images went on, the body of her boy still lying on the floor, his eyes like marbles staring into the void above him. Muffled silence filled the recesses of her brain and her mind lingered over that image for a long moment. And in that stillness she saw another boy, a classmate, a muscular, taller-than-her-son teenager bent over the motionless body, panting from the fight, a broken glass of whiskey covered with blood in his hands, with his eyes pressed shut, shaking his head, rocking himself.

Then, in a wooden-colored court room, the tall boy sat in silence with an emotionless veil over his face, listening to the endless statements from witnesses, the order-in-the-court of the judge, the verdict of the jury, and the final judgment for a drunken and irresponsible action that defined his life for the following twenty-two years.

Rage, vengeance, baleful desire of hurting the boy, of showing him what it really meant to suffer was all she felt the first few years. She stopped going to church, for there was no God to worship anymore - a God that would allow such gruesome a thing to happen couldn’t exist. Often she’d wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, clenching her pillow, fingers hurting from a grim yet satisfying nightmare of revenge.

But the pain inside never ceased. No matter how many ways of torture she had imagined for her son’s murderer, how many psychologists she’d seen or how many pills she’d tried, she could not get rid of the poisonous grief that had been injected under her skin on the night of the party.

Nothing and no one could help her. But time had its sarcastic power - the ability of erasing sharp edges and painful lines.

Exhaustion from dreamless nights took her strength and she was too tired to feel retaliation anymore. A pastel softness started inside her the day her first grandchild was born. The new life couldn’t erase the pain, but it dimmed the intensity of her sorrow and made space for the contour of a faint smile on her wrinkled face. She started to cook again, making pureed carrots and applesauce for the baby. The house smelled of cookie dough and baby powder on the weekends. And even though she prepared long family dinners and people started to compliment her hair again, she stayed wrapped in a dreamy cloud of distant memories. She lived in a downy world without letting the softness really touch her. She did what others expected from her.

Until the day the murderer was released from his twenty-two years of imprisonment.

It wasn’t an unexpected event. The media picked up the story and the whole town was talking about it once more. But it wasn’t through the newspapers how she knew about his release. It was the calendar in her system that reminded her, the slow crossing out of each day carved into her mind that worked like a calculator in the agonizing awareness of her existence. Without being confined to the limited space of a dirty cell, she was a prisoner herself, a captive of her emotions, counting the days to a long-desired release that she was certain would never come.

Then something strange occurred. She sat in front of the television, her legs folded under her, watching the newsreel footage about the release. A small crowd towered over the gates of the prison, a white van with the bright logo of Channel 5 parked in the back, and a skinny, short-haired woman held a fat microphone to her lips.

Nobody had asked her if she wanted to be there or watch the news on TV. Her family didn’t even mention the event, but she’d noticed the worry on her husband’s face the previous night. They all feared for her, feared that she would crumble and fall.

“And here he comes,” the skinny woman squealed into the screen and the camera zoomed onto the boy’s face.

There was a short moment of silence during which only the wind buzzed inside the microphone.

He wasn’t a boy. The teenager with the quick temper was gone. In his place, a man with broad shoulders and a head that hung low walked through the iron fence and into the street. He looked up to the sky and closed his eyes. People shouted, reporters bombarded him with questions, but he stood motionless, soaking up the sun, the air, the freedom he had been denied for so long. A freedom he might not know how to handle.

And that’s when it happened. The tickle of a new sensation fidgeted inside her. Freedom. For the first time in twenty-two years she could finally breathe. Because the man who appeared on the television screen was a man whose eyes were filled with sorrow, with painful repent. He was a man who had paid a fair price, now she knew, for an irreversible act of teenage foolishness. He was a man like any other in the street, an ordinary adult her son should have matured into if only he hadn’t gone to that party.

“What are your plans now that you’re free?” One of the reporters asked him.

“I don’t know.” His voice was deep and calm. “I want to have a normal life. I want to study. I want to teach. But most of all, I want forgiveness.”

At this moment she remembered the old shoebox under her bed where she had kept all the unread letters she had received from the prison.

She never saw her son graduate from high school or go to college. Nor did the mother of this boy who had died of ovarian cancer, the news had reported a few years after his imprisonment.

A warm feeling of protection formed a seed inside her damaged soul. It provided a slow awakening, a gradual blooming of something that felt wrong in the beginning, but had grown into a natural act of love and forgiveness over the next few months.  She read his letters and cried. In her eyes, he became the victim, not the criminal. The victim of a teenage accident. Of something that could have happened to anyone. Even to her son.

So she started to make plans. She would help him graduate. Find a job. Meet a girl and marry.

She didn’t talk to anybody about it. Not yet. She wasn’t sure they were ready. But she was. So when she sat down to finally write the letter, she felt the skin on her face stretch, the corners of her mouth curve and her eyes fill with tears. She was witnessing the rebirth of a mother, of a teenage boy inside the body of a grown man. She was witnessing her own release from prison, from darkness. She was  finally going to be free.

© 2012  Krisztina Fehervari

Krisztina Fehervari, a native of Hungary, has lived in the United States for more than a decade. A writer and photographer, she lives in Texas with her husband and three children. Some of her writings have appeared in publications.

Copyright © 2012

Touch: The Journal of Healing

All rights reserved.