This is the first story in what I intend to be a series on the theme of “reclaiming”: some experiences in life change you, sometimes make you lose yourself in ways that are difficult to explain. Over the years you have to reclaim your sense of self. These stories will be about that. I don’t know if they will all end up here.
Some that I have already written, I know they don’t belong. This one is the result of a prompt. It felt ok to post.
In response to Felicity Johns’ Friday flash prompt Unspoken
They advised against her coming; but she had to come. They said it wouldn’t change anything, it would only hurt her. The shrink went as far as saying that it might create a setback. She ignored them. The only person whose support she needed gave it. A simple nod when she first said she wanted to be here. She didn’t have to explain. It was for herself, for the others.
Though in fairness, the previous night left her exhausted. She barely slept. She was drenched in sweat as behind her closed eyes, moments of the past replayed more vividly than ever. She was never rid of the images. They were always here, but last night, it was worse. Paralyzed, she had watched as her nightmare came to life again. She remembered. She swallowed hard and lay rigid, hands clenching and unclenching at her sides.
Eight years later, he still held that power over her. The only one he had left. Terrorize her in her sleep. They said she was lucky, and she was. She’d been his first victim, the first time he actually acted on his impulses. He let her live; damaged both physically and emotionally but alive. The others weren’t so lucky.
For them, she had to go. For Sarah who was 18 and died at the hospital, 10 knife wounds in her chest. They wondered how she survived so long. For Melanie, 21, whose body was so badly damaged they didn’t let her parents identify her. Lana, 19. Angela, 25. Penelope, 21. And for Abigail, 17.
Today was his first chance at parole: seven violent rapes, six murders and they were considering his request to get out. No, she would be there, ensure the board remembered that there were young women out there who could be victims of this man. Who knew? Their daughters, their sisters, unknown strangers whose lives were worth protecting from this monster. She would be the presence of the victims. She knew most of the families would come. But she was the only one alive. She had to go. For the girls, and also for herself.
She wanted him to know that he hadn’t destroyed her, that he hadn’t taken away her capacity to trust and to love. Sure, to this day it required work, and there were things that she didn’t do. One step at a time; that’s why the shrink was concerned she was take a few steps back. She wasn’t. It wasn’t like the first trial. She was stronger. And holding her husband’s hand, she knew she could do this.
Here in the room, waiting, she held Lionel’s hand. The parents of the victims, whom she hadn’t known until the trial revealed their intimacy, came to her, shook her hand or hugged her. They thanked her for coming. None of them ever made her feel guilty that she was alive when their daughters weren’t. In fact most of them invited her in their families in a way. That was how she met Lionel. He was a friend of Penelope’s. Or rather of her brother: Marc came for dinner at least once a month with his girlfriend. He was here today as well: he had come to say hi.
When the man entered the room, Lionel kissed her brow, the touch of his lips comforting and reassuring. He knew her well. He also understood what this meant for her, for them as a couple. Mr. Murderer took note of the dozen of people present. But when he saw her, he blanched, something like fear on his face. So he too could feel that. She could make him feel that. Good. His counsellor turned and his glance betrayed surprise.
When the board members entered, they all stood. She remained so after they were invited to sit. Not long, just enough that they saw she was here.
The proceedings started: first the facts and the horrors. What he did to her was nothing. Abigail went through the worst he could inflict and she wished she had taken a seat next to her mother who was sobbing silently. Lionel’s hold on her hand tightened.
The murderer’s counsellor explained that his client repented. The man wanted to express his deep remorse to the families. He had changed. To her, it sounded like a rehearsed performance for an audience who knew exactly what they were watching. And she found she didn’t really care.
Eventually they invited the victims’ families to speak. Most parents did. Broken hearts telling of lost lives. No parent should ever have to bury their children. She believed that. Angry brothers doubting the sincerity of the man, in stronger words than she could use. These women had their entire lives ahead, and he took it away. Let him spend the rest of his in a prison where he couldn’t hurt anyone else.
“We know Ms. Gabrielle Matthews is here.” The head of the board added. “Do you want to add something to what’s already been said?”
She stood and smiled shaking her head no. She realized, as she did so that she really didn’t. They were right: it wouldn’t change anything. And yet it changed everything. He wasn’t worth any more of her words. The judge nodded as if he knew what she meant.
What he did to her was a crucial moment in her life; denying it would be tantamount to sacrilege. But here, in this room, she understood that it didn’t define her anymore.
She was free of him, but he would never be free of her or the other women he had killed. Whether he felt remorse or not was irrelevant. Unchanged, he would know that every day spent in prison was because she identified him. Repentent, the faces of his victims would visit his dreams until the day he died.
In jail or not, he served a life sentence.