“On My Own”

Part 10 by Jen

He was gone.  She had lost him.

She had expected him to be upset, even angry, but she hadn’t expected the violence of his reaction.  She had badly miscalculated.  It was the worst possible time to tell him, he was worn raw from telling her about the baby and had no defenses left.  It was too much to think she’d perhaps sat over coffee with the very men who raped Marija, who killed his children.  All he could do was lash out.  Somewhere deep inside herself she believed he didn’t mean the things he said, but his words tortured her at night and sometimes in the darkness she lost that tiny certainty.  Was he just lashing out or did he really believe that?  She was a whore, she’d prostitute herself like that for an interview?  And to butchers?  And with pleasure?  And after what had happened to her, he’d say that to her? Is that what he really thought she had done? Did the truth even matter anyway?  She’d never see him again.  She lay awake at night staring at the ceiling, playing the radio low.  She was always playing the radio or the TV now.  When it was quiet all she heard was, You’re so eager…they wouldn’t have to rape *you*, Anna would they?  She wished he had hit her instead, anything but this.  He doesn’t really believe that, she told herself.  Does he?  She tossed and turned and sat up and lay down again until she thought she was going to scream. 

One week turned to two and Anna finally started sleeping a bit, more out of exhaustion than because she had gained any peace of mind.  She hadn’t.  She hadn’t answered any of her questions, she just couldn’t stand asking them anymore. She slept fitfully and woke covered in a film of sweat, the muscles in her legs aching dully and she knew she’d spent the night clenching them together against the dream attacker whom, mercifully, she never remembered in the morning.  Only the sweat and aching muscles betrayed her dreams to her.  She thought of the first few vivid dream-filled weeks after she had been raped, dreams that went on and on after she woke.  Thank God for small favors, Anna, and take your blessings where you find them, she told herself.  Two weeks turned to three, and Anna started putting in ever-longer days.  She worked at home, or at the office at the university she shared with two other graduate students.  Anna got it two mornings and one afternoon a week.  On her mornings she showed up before 6:00.  On her afternoon she stayed until 8:00 or 9:00.  At first her mind would wander, back to Luka, back to the afternoon in Grant Park, back to the day they met.  She would close her eyes and remember his soft face looking down at her, the warmth of his body blanketing hers, remember all the time she spent waiting, waiting for him to trust himself to make love to her again, waiting for him to figure out that a gentleman can in fact take a lady to bed, waiting to feel that again and now she never would. 

She wished she had pushed him that last night.  She could have, she could have tempted him past the point of even his vaunted self-control and he would have given in in the end.  She wished she had pushed him that last night.  At the very least she would have a more vivid memory of making love to him, the scent of his skin, his beautiful face bathed in pleasure, his whispering voice in her ear.  At best, the whole next day might never have happened.  He would have whispered to her in the night about the baby, and she never, never would have told him about those interviews in his bed.  She would have waited, and he would have been okay.  She wished she had pushed him that last night.

She was making herself crazy.  She wore a rubber band around her wrist, and every time she thought of Luka during work hours she snapped it hard against the soft skin on the inside of her wrist.  She almost made herself bleed before she learned to keep thoughts of him at bay. At least during the daylight. At night she heard his voice.  My Anna, he had called her.  She had loved the sound of her name in his mouth.  My Anna, it was like a caress.  But then, They wouldn’t have to rape you, Anna, and he had made it sound like a curse.  She threw herself at her dissertation day after day. Thoughts of Luka faded, and her dissertation grew.  She was glad she had finished the Yugoslavian case long ago, she didn’t think she could even write about Croatia and Serbia without thinking of Luka.  She knew she couldn’t.  She hoped her committee wouldn’t have more revisions to that chapter for her.  She couldn’t face it if they did.  She’d never be able to read those interview transcripts again. 

 She stopped going to her coffeehouse.  The association with Luka was too much.  There was a Starbucks not much further away, and when she just had to do the coffeehouse thing she did it there.  It was more crowded and less comfortable and she hated trading in her locally owned business for a chain, but she couldn’t sit in The Java Hut anymore without remembering his first awkward and endearing attempts at conversation, his surprise reappearance there to find her again and start them down this road.  She tried once and wound up crying in the bathroom.

 One night about a month after he had left her in the park Anna woke up in a sweat, clinging to the vestiges of a dream in which she was running through a burning building looking for Luka’s baby.  She had to run from room to room because she couldn’t call out the name she didn’t know.  Every room had bed in it, and a Serb soldier sitting on it, but they all looked like Luka.  Come here and I’ll tell you where the baby is, they all said rising from the bed with a leer.  She woke with a cry strangled in her throat, drenched in sweat, one pillow on the floor the other on the other side of the room. She showered and dressed and walked aimlessly around her neighborhood.  She caught herself singing “On my Own” to herself under her breath and gave in fully to the luxury of self-pity.

“And now I’m all alone again
nowhere to turn no one to go to
Without a home without a friend
without a face to say hello to
But now the night is near, and I can make
Believe he’s here.

Sometimes I walk alone at night when everybody
else is sleeping
I think of him and then I’m happy with
the company I’m keeping
The city goes to bed
And I can live inside my head”

She had banished the Les Mis CDs from her apartment after she caught herself playing the song over and over in weepy self-pity.  Thinking of Luka, missing him, playing out reunion scenes in her head.  He’ll forgive me, he has to.  He’ll come back to me.  Until she was like Eponine, living in her head.  That was the day she got the rubber band idea.  To literally snap herself out of it.  Tonight she let it go though.  She was tired and didn’t have the energy for self-control.  She headed up Belmont towards Boys’ Town humming under her breath.

“On my own
Pretending he’s beside me
All alone I walk with him till morning
Without him
I feel his arms around me
And when I lose my way I close my eyes
and he has found me.

 In the rain, the pavement shines like silver
All the lights are misty in the river
In the darkness the trees are full starlight
And all I see is him and me for ever and forever.”

She wandered past their middle-eastern restaurant and the bakery and the empty space next to her expanded until it filled up the whole night.

“And I know it’s only in my mind
That I’m talking to myself and not to him
And although I know that he is blind
Still I say there’s a way for us

I love him
but when the night is over
He is gone, the river’s just a river
Without him the world around me changes
The trees are bare and everywhere the streets
are full of strangers

I love him
but everyday I’m learning
All my life I’ve only been pretending…”

I’ve only been pretending.  Only pretending.  Only in my mind.  Get a grip, Anna.  Stop it, stop it, stop it.  He’s not coming back.  Face up to it, Anna, he’s not coming back.  You drove him away and he’s not coming back.  Get a hold of yourself.  She turned around and retraced her steps home.  When she returned to her apartment the sun was almost up.  Anna packed her bag and went to the university.  It wasn’t her day for the office, but she knew nobody would show up before 7:00 when the library opened.  She stayed at the library all day, working and reworking the Basque chapter.  At 9:00 she was satisfied and exhausted and hungry.  She bought cheap noodles from the hole in the wall on the corner that lived on students’ dollars and ate as she walked to the shuttle stop.  It was later than she had thought and some of the toughs were wandering over from the Woodlawn neighborhood.  They usually didn’t scare her much, hell she had interviewed ETA terrorists and Serbian paramilitary and lived through it, but she didn’t like borrowing trouble and she knew how quickly things could go wrong and her nerves were shot and things she thought she had learned not to be afraid of anymore scared her again.  She stood right under the street-light by the shuttle stop and was relieved when the shuttle arrived. 

“Hey, Eric” she said to the driver.

“Hey, Anna.  Late night for ya’.”

“Yep.”  Eric pretended not to see her noodles so that she could finish them before they got to the El station.  She had a vivid picture of herself sitting on Eric’s shuttle eating cheap noodles next year and the year after that.  It horrified her

She boarded the El and leaned her head against the window to watch the stops rattle by.  She half fell asleep and jumped off at Belmont just as the doors were closing.  She walked home and thought that if she looked hard enough she could actually see the rut she had worn into the sidewalk.  Campus, home, campus, home, campus, home.  She was like a train or a bus, driving back and forth across the same endless route, seeing and feeling no more than they did.  How colorless life had become.  Idly she thought it was time to go abroad again.  Anything but this.  Maybe she should take Mike up on that Chechnya offer after all.  Her research position was almost up and there would be nothing to keep her here, and it would make that chapter more interesting.  All the other cases have information gleaned from interviews and field research.  Maybe Chechnya should too.  At least get to Moscow.  She chewed it over as she walked home on autopilot and made a mental note to call Mike soon and maybe look into some grants.  She wouldn’t be able to tell them she was going to Chechnya, of course, she thought, her mind working the idea.  Nobody would fund that, nobody wanted a dead Fellow on their hands.  Moscow would be plausible.  Realistically, she thought, I could sell a proposal to interview the Moscow elite about the situation in Chechnya but my Russian sucks.  Well, U of C has to have a class.  Grants wouldn’t come through until the spring anyway.  It would be better to go to Georgia, because that was where Mike knew people who could get her to Grozny, but she didn’t think she could sell that for a grant.  But she could do it on the sly.  She just needed the grant money to get to Moscow and pay the rent on a flat.  Her mind was working furiously by the time she reached her door. 

When she got inside she dropped on the couch and Macka curled around and around her ankles protesting her long absence with needy love.  Anna took her into her lap and scratched her neck.

“Bored?  Lonely?  I’m sorry, sweetie.”  She sighed.  “We’re two of a kind, aren’t we?  I should get you a friend, eh?”  She sighed again.  Time to lose that particular verbal tic.


Song Lyrics: On My Own from Les Miserables Music by Claude Michel Schonberg, Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer

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