By: Megan Inbody
Artist: Clay Aiken
Album: Measure of a Man
(Image from worldofstock.com)
I snap awake when I hear Dylan’s breathing. From the sound, he’s asleep – deep, even breaths that are almost-snores. I stifle a hysterical sob, and the sharp pain that comes from the abrupt clenching of neck and chest muscles feels like a vise. A tear trickles down the side of my nose, and I can’t even wipe it away, because I’m clenching my blankets too tightly.
My mind whirls as I have the mental debate that occurs every night at 3am when the sound of my dead boyfriend’s breathing wakes me up: Do I quietly slip out of bed so that I don’t disturb the sound of inhale-exhale that fills the darkness? Or is it better to switch the lamp on and deal with the horror of the snoring abruptly arrested the moment I twist the lamp’s switch?
It should be comforting, Dylan coming to me each night. It seems like every song, every movie, has some poor bastard saying something like, “I’ll love you forever. Even death can’t part us.”
I don’t watch television anymore. I don’t listen to music, either.
I opt for the light tonight. Dylan’s breathing halts mid-exhale, and my hand shakes slightly as I lean over to pick up the Marlboro Lights and Bic next to the lamp. The flame dances a little before the cigarette, but I’m able to get it lit, and my shaking subsides as the cigarette works its magic.
It wasn’t always like this. After Dylan was killed in a car crash, I was alone. And a non-smoker. Silence was a palpable mass that would hang in the air. I hated it. Dylan’s parents came and packed up all of his stuff, except for the t-shirt that he was wearing the day before he died. Sitting around a semi-bare apartment was awful – my possessions were just reminders of what I had lost – so I took advantage of all the pity I got. I spent as much time as I could at friends’ houses and (when I had exhausted all of my friends with furniture) at my mother’s condo. I was a nuisance, but people are willing to give you a certain amount of latitude when you’re grieving.
After a couple months, my friend Julie, in what proved to be a well-meaning but disastrous gesture, suggested that I have a dinner party at my apartment. Invite everyone, she said. We’ll bring wine and the food. You just have to shower and put on clean clothes. It seemed a reasonable request, so Julie came over with wine, food, friends … and a Ouija board.
In retrospect, I should’ve made her bring the board out to the car. But nothing really seemed to have consequences anymore – it felt like Dylan’s death had used up all the consequences in the world. So after we had all stuffed ourselves with take-out from my favorite Chinese place and copious amounts of wine, Julie suggested contacting Dylan through the Ouija board, and the combination of booze and grief made it seem like a great idea. Probably nothing would happen – Ouija boards were for kids’ sleepover parties and the gullible, after all – but maybe I’d be able to talk to Dylan again. We set up the board and put our fingers on the planchette. Julie had to ask the questions, because I couldn’t get any words past the lump in my throat.
It started getting creepy on the third question. Julie did the standard “Is there a spirit here who wishes to communicate?” (which got a “yes,” and then we all spent five minutes arguing whether someone had moved the planchette or if it’d moved by itself) and “What is your name?” (which got the answer “Dylan”). She then asked, “Where are you, Dylan?” which got the answer, “Bed.” We all kind of laughed nervously and shot some surreptitious glances at each other. A few off-color jokes were made, but Julie wasn’t to be sidetracked. “Would you like to say anything to Sarah, Dylan?” she asked. The planchette swiftly moved to YES, then spelled out “forver.”
Spelling was never Dylan’s strong suit, and I imagine that trying to communicate through the veil doesn’t make that any easier. Some thought he was trying to spell “favor,” and a small but vocal minority thought that “fervor” was the desired word, but most thought that it was “forever.” With that vague but sweet sentiment, I stood up and said I didn’t want to do it anymore. Everyone was overly nice, hugging me and giving me little pats on the arm or back, saying that they’d clean up and leave me alone.
After they left, I puttered around the apartment. Since they’d cleaned up, I didn’t really have anything to do, so I tried watching TV but couldn’t focus on anything. I gave up and went to bed, but, predictably, I couldn’t sleep. It was too quiet. I padded over to the radio and snuggled back under the covers. Pretty soon I drifted off.
I don’t know how much time went by, but it was still pitch black out. I was turning over and was sort of half-awake when I first heard Dylan’s breathing. It had been such a natural nighttime sound that it didn’t register at first. Then horrified realization washed over me and I bolted upright, knocking the lamp over in my attempt to turn it on. By the time I’d righted the lamp the breathing had stopped, but I wouldn’t have been able to hear it over my terrified weeping. I turned on every light in the apartment and called Julie, who performed a minor miracle in coaxing a semi-coherent story out of my panic.
She came right over and we investigated. It was a waste of time, of course. There was nothing, not even an indentation in Dylan’s pillow. We managed to concoct any number of reasonable explanations – I’d had too much to drink, I’d had a nightmare, it was the wind – that all went out the window when it happened again the next night. And the next.
No matter where I sleep, or when I sleep, or who I sleep with (though there’s been admittedly little of that since this started), Dylan’s there. He’s with me all the time, in spite of prayers, incense, and smudge sticks. He doesn’t ever say anything, he just breathes. In. Out. There’s the occasional hitch, and I hold my own breath, thinking that maybe it’s over, he’s gone … and then it resumes. It’s a dreadful, implacable intimacy. Like being stuck in The Tell-Tale Heart, but not having the pleasure of release – there’s no confession, so there can be no absolution.
So I’ve become invisible, just like Dylan. I can’t fully exist in this world, tethered as I am to a twilight world where terror is as mundane as an alarm clock and silence has become the substance of things hoped for. But I don’t want to die, either. For now I live invisibly, with Dylan. Always together, never apart.
Megan Inbody has dedicated her life to the study and teaching of English, especially pre-Romantic era literature, a field you just know is always in demand. When she’s not editing the work of others, she can whip up a romance novel like nobody’s business. She’s out there, you just have to know where to look.