I was watching the flowers sway, staring at the sky through a screen of yellow petals. Clouds float by and birds soundlessly peck seeds from the round center of the flower faces. Butterflies alight on my hands. I don’t feel them but their wings are luminous. There is no time here. The jingle of keys breaks the silence.
It was well after working hours on a Friday afternoon at Cortez Elementary School. Most everyone else had already gone home to settle in for their three day weekend but I had wanted to get caught up on the sizable stack of work on my desk so I was still there, working uninterrupted for the past two and a half hours, and only took a break when I did because of the hunger pain gnawing at my stomach. I realized that my husband, Greg, was probably getting worried because I hadn’t called and, after digging around in my purse and desk, I also realized that I left my phone in my car. Suddenly feeling very guilty for losing track of time and being off the grid, I felt that I urgently needed to call home so I jumped up and charged out the door, turning the bottom lock from the inside to make sure no one could get in while I was gone. You know, sometimes I think I’d lose my head if it weren’t attached. I looked everywhere in my car and couldn’t find my phone. “Shit”, I thought, “I must’ve left it on the kitchen table this morning.” At that point I decided I better just pack it in and go home so I head back to my classroom to get my purse but, as I’m walking up the ramp to the door, it hits me that the only keys in my hand are my car keys. Of course I locked the door behind me on the way out and I can see through the little window that my classroom keys are sitting on my desk. “Aww, fuck me” I mutter to myself. I usually wouldn’t talk like that but at this point I’m tired and hungry, plus I’m alone anyway, so who cares? I march back towards the main building desperately hoping to find a custodian still on duty.
Martin unlocks my office door, much to my relief, and I thank him profusely. He seems pleased with himself for having done me a favor but then he follows me inside, closing the door behind him. We are standing facing each other at either end of my teacher length desk. He stares at me with his typical lack of expression. Fear hits my veins in the same instant he lunges for me. He tries to grab my wrists but I am able to pull away and run towards the door. Unfortunately, the steel door is heavy and in the time it takes me to pull it open, he lands on my back, driving my forehead into the sharp corner. My vision goes black momentarily and he throws me across the room onto the floor. On the way down my right foot catches, causing my knee to turn out of socket, and I come down hard on my shoulder. I hear him lock the door from the inside and, as my vision returns, I scramble backwards towards the fire extinguisher on the south wall of the room; it’s the only weapon I could think of. Martin stands in front of the locked door, hands in his pockets, watching me pull the fire extinguisher from it’s holster. I realize I’ve probably dislocated my shoulder as well. I’m sure he can clearly see the bloody goose egg growing on my head coupled with my lurching movements. He knows I’m injured and evidentially is not concerned as his face hasn’t changed nor has he moved from his position by the door. Only now does it occur to me to say something so I say, “get out of my classroom”. Martin doesn’t react. I hadn’t had time to consider what was happening but now I realize that the two of us are quite likely the only two people on campus and I’ve got no means to escape or call for help. Why doesn’t his face have any expression on it? He doesn’t look angry, he looks… vacant. “Martin”, I say in the most rational tone I can muster, “what do you want?” He still doesn’t answer me but now he takes a step in my direction and I can see he’s gripping something that’s in his pocket. It’s obviously not a gun but other than that I can’t tell what it is. My heart is beating thunderously loud and I really start to panic now. He means to kill me, I’m sure of it. I start to scream ” get the fuck out!!!” and he quickens his pace. I know there’s probably no one that can hear me but I scream for help anyway. I also know that the school district hasn’t had this fire extinguisher serviced in at least 10 years and that it won’t work. I’m standing on my left leg because my right foot is rotated painfully to the outside and I can’t turn it back. The pain in my right shoulder is intense too so I’m on my left foot with a broken fire extinguisher in my left hand while the man of a thousand expressions is almost to me. He pulls whatever it is from his pocket. I still don’t see it because I’m swinging the fire extinguisher at his head. Unfortunately, I miss and hit him in the shoulder. It must of hurt more than he expected because he reeled backwards momentarily and I heard him say “stupid bitch”. I saw then what I can only describe as madness in his face. Martin was always quiet and reasonably polite however I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was friendly. To be quite honest I always figured him to be a little slow. Now though, it seemed like someone else was looking out through his eyes. His face still bore no real expression except his eyes which were shiny black and focused. He came at me again, faster this time, and I swung the fire extinguisher as hard as I could, so hard in fact that it flew out of my hand and put a hole in the wall, missing Martin altogether. Martin’s forearm landed across my collar bones and he pinned me to the wall. I was able to get my hand up and on his face. His arm was crushing my windpipe and I could see a screw driver in his right hand. I couldn’t breathe and the world was starting to go black again. With the last of my strength I drove my thumb into his eye. Again he retreated, hands clutched to his face. I hoped I had blinded him, there was a little blood on my thumb and I tried to run (lurch) for the door again. I was about three steps away when he tackled me from behind, throwing me to the floor with unbelievable force. All the air shot from my lungs leaving me mute and unable to breathe. There was blood on the floor under my face, it was dripping from where I hit my head the first time. He was straddling me, sitting with all his weight on my back. Even if I hadn’t just had the wind knocked out of me, I couldn’t have inhaled. I felt him grab a handful of my hair. He pulled my head up and bounced my forehead off the floor.
I was watching the flowers sway, laying on my back in the grass. Yellow sunflowers towered over me in every direction. I only observed; having no thoughts or feelings. The silence of eternity was here. I gave no consideration to how long I had been there or how long I would remain. No ideas surfaced in my mind. I just was; still in the present moment.
Pain wracked my entire body. I gasped for air and choked on my own salty blood. I tried to open my eyes but could only see out of one of them. I didn’t see Martin but I smelled cigarette smoke and heard his keys jingle behind me. I was facing the back of the class room and I guessed that Martin was leaning against my desk smoking a cigarette. I had no concept of how much time had passed. I could see a screw driver on the floor a few feet away from my face and it was completely coated in blood and what appeared to be some of my hair. Oh god, everywhere I looked there was blood, my blood. How am I still alive? I notice that I’m cold, my feet especially so and, to my growing horror, I realize that I’m naked from the waist down and my blouse is torn open. I don’t see my clothes anywhere. I can’t imagine why I should be awake right now only to discover that I’ve been beaten, broken and raped and am very close to dying of blood loss. A cruel cosmic joke of sorts. My assailant is still in the room, presumably watching me gurgle and choke on my own blood while he takes a smoke break. I have no illusions of fighting him off, escaping or of not bleeding to death but, in hopes of avoiding any further pain, I decide to play dead. I try to breathe as shallow as I can and it is all I can do to not choke on the blood pooling in my mouth. Please god, just don’t let him hurt me any more, stop my heart before he finishes that cigarette. From behind me I hear some rustling and clanking. He’s going through my desk. My dwindling brain power reminds me that there is a hammer in the bottom drawer. I hear metal clang on metal and the sound of a drawer closing. I should be scared, I guess, begging for mercy or something like that but ,when I heard his footsteps approaching, a strange kind of fearlessness came over me. I was furious for what had been taken from me in this room; everything, everyone I had ever loved, every memory, every experience and emotion I had ever known had been torn from my grasp and I couldn’t accept that all the moments of my life had led me here; dying at the hands of an expressionless janitor on the floor of my own classroom. When Martin’s footsteps stop behind my back, I listen for his pants to rustle knowing he would be squatting down. I felt his hand on my shoulder and, somehow, someway, a superhuman burst of adrenaline hit me and I reached out, grabbed the bloody screwdriver and plunged it into his arm. He howled with pain and brought the claw end of the hammer down on the top of my head.
There is always a few moments when you first wake up when your mind is still and the world is peaceful. You haven’t yet hit play on the nonstop recording of useless thoughts and worries that most of us call thinking. It is a brief moment. I was watching the flowers sway and I began to wonder where I was and how I would get home. I noticed the quality of the light start to change. The brilliant sunshine had been turned down a notch and there were no longer any birds or insects to be seen. A vague sense of unease came over me and I saw thunderously dark storm clouds rolling in from every direction. It was then that I noticed I seemed to be drifting up towards the flowers. This paradise had become something else, a deluge of thoughts returned to me and I was terrified to be cut loose from this world. I grabbed frantically at the flowers; tearing off leaves and petals, trying desperately to pull myself back towards the ground. The wind was picking up and huge rain drops started to splash off my face. I clung to the thick stems of the sunflowers, intent on preventing myself from being drawn out into the storm.
Martin saw a bloody hammer in his own hand and a dead woman on the floor. At first he didn’t understand what had happened. The last thing he could remember he was heading to the supply closet after cleaning the girl’s bathroom by the cafeteria. That’s when Mrs. Ringwald flagged him down saying that she had locked her keys in her classroom. Oh my god is that… He used his foot to roll the body over, it is! What the fuck?!?! He looked at his watch. 8:00, how in the world did it get to be 8:00?! The last he checked it was 5:00 and he was getting ready to leave. An all too familiar sick feeling came over him. This wasn’t the first time he had come to his senses in the middle of something ugly. Fearing the neighbors would take legal action, his parents had helped him dispose of the dead dog they found wrapped in a blanket in the shed behind their house. For weeks there were reward signs for the missing German Shepard. Jasper was a friendly dog that would frequently play in Martin’s yard and, sometimes when he thought no one was watching, Martin would go in the house and get a couple hot dogs to bribe Jasper into performing some tricks. His favorite was to place a little chunk of meat on the dog’s nose and then, on his command, Jasper would fling his nose up and catch the treat in his mouth. One sad afternoon Martin was playing with Jasper and “woke up” to find himself kneeling on the ground clutching a rock the size of a football and Jasper laying next to him, his skull was crushed. In a panic, not knowing what to do or even what actually happened, Martin drug the dog carcass into the shed and wrapped it up in a blanket. A few days later a mysterious foul odor was wafting into the house and his dad went out to investigate. There were other times too, other “incidents”, but nothing as fucked up as this. This was a woman, a human being! He had liked Mrs. Ringwald. She was so pretty and nice. He didn’t even remember coming into this room. I didn’t do this, it wasn’t me. Martin’s thoughts were racing. It couldn’t have been me, I wouldn’t do this! Oh god dammit…, god dammit why does this shit keep happening to me?!?! Martin sat on the floor beating his hands against his forehead. He recalled his father’s words as he listened through the wall while his parents argued one night, “Irene, that boy is sick. I’m telling you, he ain’t right and if we don’t do something, next time it may not be an animal that he kills.” Martin replayed this conversation in his head, hearing his mother not responding but only crying. He started to cry too but there was no time for that. He had to get himself and the body out of here before someone came looking for Mrs. Ringwald.
By the time the police arrived on Saturday morning Martin had long since fled the scene with the body, leaving an almost comical trail of bloody bread crumbs that led them straight to his front door. Like I said, I had always figured him to be a little, well, simple. They let themselves into my classroom and discovered a scene so gruesome that I was declared dead even though there was no body. Surveillance cameras, time clocks, bloody fingerprints and the trash bags of Martin’s blood stained clothes that he left in the dumpster gave police a pretty clear road map to follow.
I was watching the flowers sway, whipping violently back and forth and nearly bending to the ground from the force of the wind. Rain stung my eyes but I clung to the ground, refusing to let go.
I was watching Greg address the news cameras. He was pleading on my behalf, begging anyone who might know something of my whereabouts to come forward. “but I’m here” I tried to tell him. His sadness and desperation cloaked him like a black robe. I grabbed his arm with both hands and shouted “Greg!”. He only stared into the cameras and said “please help me bring my wife home”. My parents were standing behind him each lost in a world of misery. My mother’s eyes were blank and her face was horror stricken. When they went home after the press conference I saw her retching into kitchen sink before collapsing to the floor; hugging her knees to her chest and rocking back and forth. My father sat on the couch staring at the TV that wasn’t on. The house was silent. I didn’t want to be the cause of bringing this grief on my family. My heart broke for all of them as the pain of losing me ripped through them. I hurt more for their sadness than for my own lost life. I was especially sad for Greg. We had been married less than a year although we had been together for a total of five years. He was my soul mate, I really believed that and I could think of nothing worse than to helplessly watch him lie in bed crying night after night. I wanted to comfort him, to tell him that I was here and that what had happened didn’t really happen to me exactly, just the me he was used to seeing. I hovered around him, feeling helpless to make myself known. His darkness was so thick he couldn’t see or feel anything except his loss. When he would finally drift off to sleep I would try to reach him there and occasionally he would see me but he never recognized our interactions as anything more than dreams.
I didn’t know how much longer I could hold on. The wind blew so hard that the towering sunflowers were being ripped from the ground. I was so tired. If I let go I knew I would be swallowed up by the abyss of storm clouds. It would be no different than being dropped in the ocean. My fear of what was out there was intense but so was my fatigue. It seemed the more afraid I became, the harder the wind blew and the harder the wind blew the more afraid I became. Finally I couldn’t hold on anymore and let go saying “I give up”. Almost instantaneously, as if god had spoken, everything stopped and the sun came back out. The birds and insects returned and all was as it had been. Once again I was watching the flowers sway and I understood that it was only ever my own fears that were attacking me.
Two months. That’s how long it took the police to figure out where Martin left the body. He left it in a drainage ditch in Bernardo, partially clothed and wrapped in trash bags. A railroad worker found it. Being submerged in water all that time, there really wasn’t much left to find. Dental records were needed to confirm the identity.
I was watching the flowers sway and I decided to stop being afraid. Yes, you can decide stuff like that at any time regardless if you’re walking the earth or idling in sunflower limbo. Decisions can be made by any being at any point. The decision to let go of fear means you have to let go of a lot of excuses too. If you’re lucky enough to be alive, think how your life would be if you weren’t afraid to live it. As for me, I’ll catch y’all on the flip side and when I feel ready for another adventure, I’ll come back and start over.
Five years. That’s how long it took the justice system to convict Martin Sedillo of Carrie Thomas Ringwald’s murder. He’s going to die in prison. My family feels that it is “over” now but it doesn’t satisfy them to punish Martin. No amount of locking him up can undo what has already been done. Greg feels that it is ok for him to move on now. I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to tell him that for years but he felt he couldn’t start to look at anything else in his life until the trial was over. All I want is for my family to be happy again. I can’t bare being the reason for such sadness but, like them, I have to let go and move on.
I was watching the flowers sway.