The picture frame hanging on the wall of my room is cracked.
Itís funny, the things you notice when your world has been turned upside down. Not that it was hard for me to notice that, because Iíve been sitting here staring at that picture for what feels like hours. A picture of me and my best friend Jean, when we were just kids. It was someoneís birthday, and we were happy.
I wish I could make those faces in the picture stop smiling.
Thereís no sound but the raindrops against the window. I should make the clouds go away, but I just donít want to. I donít want to see sunshine, I donít want to hear birds singingóand most of all, I donít want to see flowers blooming.
Let all the irises and lilies in my garden just wash away, like watercolors in the rain. I canít bear to look at them. Right now, flowers remind me of funerals. Of the funeral we canít have for Jean, because we couldnít even bring home her body.
I could have done something. I could have brought a wind to hold back the water, or maybe even to pick up the jet. Why didnít she let me try? What was it she wanted to prove?
What could she have become that she was so afraid of?
I know itís a lie, but it feels good in the worst way to let myself think, for just a little while, that Jean was a coward. Running away from herself, from the choice between two men who loved her, from the purpose we devoted our lives to. Not caring about the hurt she left behind. That Scottís heart was torn out, that Logan would weep for the first time.
That Iíd start to hate my garden for being so full of life when my friend is dead.
Iím too tired even to cry, because now Iím doing three times the work. Not just Jeanís classes, but Scottís too, because heís in no condition to let the kids see him. Iím exhausted. I bet Jean wouldnít care about that, either.
The only moments I feel something close to alright are when Kurt is near me. He makes me envy telepaths, because I wish I could feel into those wonderful still waters of his mind. Even though I canít, he has a way of making me feel itóand he doesnít even have to say a word. He just sits beside me, watching me, slowly turning those rosary beads of his between his fingers. Sometimes he closes his eyes for a moment, and I know heís praying; praying for me, and even if I donít share his faith, it makes me feel better just to know heís thinking of me.
Because it sure doesnít seem like anyone else is.
Jean should have known. She would have known. And Iím angry at her, because she didnít care.
I donít mean to, but the anger slips out then. A slender thread of lightning bursts toward the picture frame on the wall, to meet the streamer of electricity leaping from the nail on which it hangs. They come together with a snap and a muffled thunderclap, and the picture drops from the wall, the already spider-webbed glass shattering on impact with the floor.
After staring at the mess for a long time, I slowly get up, and kneel on the floor to pick up the broken pieces of glass.
Picking up the pieces is all I do anymore.
When Jean was with me, was close to me, I could see through her eyes. I could see colors.
Now sheís gone, and the world is only red.
One day, one hour, one minute at a timeóthatís the only way I can make it through this. Feeling my way through life without her, like a blind man.
The mansion is quiet now. I wish it werenít. When I canít see through this darkness inside, the silence only makes it deeper and blacker. I want to hear noise: the TV blasting, the kids playing games, the Professor giving lectures.
I want to hear Jeanís laughter.
Some leader I am, locked up in my room, laying on the bed with my face buried in one of Jeanís sweaters. I canít see the color, but I know itís red. Not the kind of red I see, but real red.
I have to stop this, I have to get up, I have to breathe. Work is no escape, because it reminds me of Jean, because we worked together. But the work has to be done. Iíve neglected it too long, never thinking, never caring how few of us there really are to shoulder it. Iím supposed to be the responsible one. The one who everyone else looks toóand now they look away when I walk into the room.
That heís hurting too makes me feel better, in a nasty way. He loved her. I canít get around it anymore. He did love heróenough to have the guts to tell me she chose me. Because he knew sheíd want me to know. Knew it would make things better between us, and she would have wanted that.
Thatís why heís been different, since. Or I have. Or we both have. Knowing neither one of us ever listened to her until she was gone.
Youíd think Logan would be the one to sneak beer onto the groundsóbut youíd be wrong. Itís my doing. Some nights we sit in my room, or his room, and get a little drunk. He holds it better than I do, just like he does with his feelings. So we talk, or we donít talk, and either way, we understand each other. I respect him for what heís worth, which isnít much, and he feels the same way about me.
He knows the hell of living with nightmares.
All that doesnít make him any less useless as a teacher for the kids. I donít know what weíre supposed to do with himÖ but I know heís here to stay.
So the Professor and Ororo are the only ones really holding down the fort. I donít know how they do it. I only know itís harder for Ororo; Jean was her best friend, and she hasnít had the Professorís years to learn how to cope. He just sits quietly and goes on with the everyday. Sometimes I think it must be that stillness in his mind, that he had to learn to keep the minds all around him from overwhelming him. Maybe if hearing other peopleís thoughts canít make you crack, nothing can.
Or maybe itís because it was his mind Jean touched, at the end. MaybeÖ maybe she left something with him, in her thoughts, that made it alright.
Why couldnít it have been me?
Itís time to work now. Time to take back my share of the burden from my friends, my family, who are hurting too. Itís what Jean would do. What Jean would want. For me to take care of the kids.
My heart died inside me when I lost Jean. All thatís left are pieces of it, and those belong to the students; theyíre the only ones who can keep me going.
The only ones who could ever push back the darkness, and let me see again.
They all think Iím so tough.
They didnít see me on the first night back. So far as I know, they havenít found the trail of devastation in the woods; the wreckage I left when I let go.
Even animals feel grief.
Work helps a littleóand thereís plenty of it here. Thereís another trail of devastation in the mansion. That oneís partly my fault, too; shattered windows, bullets in the wallsÖ and claw marks. Everywhere.
I just wish the smell of blood would go away. Makes me think too much about what I did.
Makes me wish I had someone to do it to again, right now.
Because letting go once wasnít enough to kill this pain. Not when it was just rocks and trees and things that wonít fight back. Somebody else should be hurting like this. Somebody who deserves itóand no way am I above saying nobody does. If thatís cynical of me, well, thatís just too bad.
For now, I just keep on working. I wonít stop to think. I canít. Because then Iíd have to think about what comes next, and Iím not ready for that. Iím not ready to let go of the nightmares; not ready to be what Iíve become.
Weíll be watching.
I wasnít thinking then, either. Not until later did I realize what Iíd said. We.
It came natural. It felt right. We. Just as if I really was part of something more than myselfóand thatís when I finally accepted that I am now.
The good guy sticks around.
Not fair, Jean. I came back; you saw me come back. And just when Iíve lost you, when I should want more than ever to turn tail and run, I know Iím not going to. You made me want something. Maybe even believe something. Something I thought was youÖ but maybe it was more than that. A lot more.
You didnít have to die to make me listen to you.
I canít even grieve with a clear head, because this hurt is all tangled up with everything else I went through in those few short days. Alkali Lake. Stryker. The memories. The Professor still knows more than heís told me, so why is it I just canít bring myself to care anymore?
Maybe itís because Iím afraid of the things Stryker saidóafraid I might find out they were true, and that I was never something better, only worse. Or maybe itís just because itís all so useless. Maybe I died in that place, all those years ago; maybe my life began the moment I woke up with nothing but the claws.
Or maybe it begins today.
Maybe Iím sweeping up the last pieces of my past with all this broken glass and plaster. Maybe what I was doesnít matter, and never will. Maybe I wasnít something betteróbut maybe I still can be.
Maybe Iím not alone anymore.
And maybe I can do a little more than just clean up the mess. Storm needs to rest. Summers needs to work. Our new stray Nightcrawler needs to settle in. And the kids need someone to let them know that nobody is ever gonna come for them in the night again.
Not while Iím around.
Iíll take care of them, Jean. I promise.
The needle and the ink are my penance.
A new tattoo, a mark of remembrance close to my heart; as close as the people who now surround me have become. In the pain of this art, I will surrender the guilt that I feelóyet I do not know if it is sin, to feel such hope and wonder in a place so full of sadness.
Doctor Grey was all of kindness. It was in her eyes, in her words, in her hands as they dressed the wound upon my arm. There is not a soul at this school that did not love her, and their pain is a darkness that lies over this place like rain clouds.
Real rain clouds, too, have come. StormóOroroóhas made them in her heart, until the sky sheds the tears she will not cry herself. She is strong. She takes the teaching duties of the others: the lost good Doktor, and the Doktorís lover who must grieve and heal. He is strong, too. Slowly, I see that he is waking from the long night of his loss. His strength is the same caring that has let him be so hurt, for he cares for the others, for the children. Soon he will be strong for them.
I do not know the strengths of the one called Logan, the Wolverine. He stands apart, and all the time, he is rubbing the knuckles of his hands. His eyes in motion always, as if seeking an enemy to destroy. I see him sometimes, framed in a doorway, framed in a moment of time, looking in upon the others from the outside; and I think that he wants to run, to fly from this place and the memory of Doctor Grey. Yet he does not. It is as if he has made a decision, made a great secret promise, and he would give his life to keep it. So now I think he will not go, and I am glad. He is angry, but his heart is good, and he will give more strength to the rest.
He only seeks his place, as I do. And I think we both will find it here.
They have given me the same kindness of Doctor Grey. This place will be my home, and their cause mine. It is a noble and beautiful cause: to teach understanding. I have learned this, even though I fear these days of mourning have shadowed their own vision with despair. Their silences speak of lost hopesóyet I have seen their vision at its most true, in Doctor Greyís compassion and sacrifice. I pray God they will not lose the hope for which she gave herselfÖ because I am made a believer, and I want to help.
Somehow, I think that Logan feels this too.
But it is in the students that I see it most; so resilient, the young ones. In their eyes, I see little pieces of the hope and faith that their guardians have lost. They will hold safe those precious things, until the eldersí hearts have healed enough to contain them again.
It is only a matter of time.
They are all my children.
Not the students only, but Ororo, Scott, even Logan, and now Kurt. They are under my protectionÖ yet I cannot protect them from what they suffer now.
I wish that I could. I wish that I could reach out to each one of them, and quietly excise the painóbut that is beyond my rights. The human heart must not be tampered with. Such an artificial healing could only do great damage to the soul.
It is my own soul I must look to insulate instead, closing my mind even more than is my custom against the ceaseless tide of thoughts and feelings within these walls. It pains me to shut away the undercurrents of life and youth which normally give me comfortóbut there is precious little comfort at this moment. All the quiet contentment and affection and good-natured frustration, the myriad subtle emotions of everyday life in this refuge, have given way to grief and anger, to wariness and fears of the dark. They are the feelings of violation, felt in as many ways as there are occupants of the mansion.
When I reflect upon my own side of the ordeal, I could easily give in to such emotions myself.
No one else can truly understand what I was made to do, and what effects have lingered. I alone can feel it. None of my children know, at least yet, of the latent mutations my powers triggered in my unknowing attack upon our kindócondemning some who might have lived out normal lives to join us in our isolation from the rest of humanity. Nor do they know of the normal humans who died, preexisting health conditions sending them into cardiac arrest or organ failure when my power was turned against them.
I alone must bear the guilt.
And that is what drives me, every now and then, to extend my mind beyond the walls of my office or my bedroom; to seek something that will give me strength, even in the midst of the sorrow and fear that now lurk in every shadow.
My search for hope continues.
I even find it, sometimes, in the most unlikely of places. In Kurt Wagner, who, although he suffered such misuse before we found him, is a passionate wellspring of that heartfelt brand of hope which he knows as faith. In Logan, who threw his past at the feet of his maker with his dogtags, and made a choice to seek the future. Those who once had the deepest of reasons for bitterness may now be our greatest strength.
And yet, I have still one more reason for hope.
I wish I could tell them. I wish I could tell them all what I know, what I feltÖ
A new chessboard now sits on the table by my window. Erikís plastic chessboard, one of the few artifacts to survive the destruction of his prison. The chess pieces which he and I once positioned with such care now serve as a reminder: it is sometimes wisest to bide oneís time.
The next move is not ours to make.
© 2003 Jordanna Morgan - send feedback