“In A Better Place”

Even in this moment, with things being what they are, people still like to spout hollow, self-comforting platitudes like, “He’s in a better place now.” This “location” referring, obviously, to death. That sweet release everyone knows—without even having to experience it yet—is even sweeter than orgasm. Why do you think the French call orgasms “the little death” anyway? Because the French, in all their nihilistic wisdom, are well-aware that there is no “better place.” For the so-called “better place” is the simple fact of no longer being present on this Earth, no longer being cognizant of anything at all. Not of one’s race, not of one’s class—just the beautiful blankness of non-existence. Thus, whenever Dawn (who hated her cheerful name, by the way) would hear someone offer a cliché as trite and bathetic as, “Well, I’m just glad he’s in a better place now,” it was enough to make her want to scream. Particularly since she had been hearing it so often of late. What with all the people in her life seeming to belong to a generation that was due for a mass dying out. She herself was still in her late twenties (and always would be, as far as she was concerned), and had been forced to move back home when her father, Abe Reston, had fallen ill with pancreatic cancer. 

The news hit her like an edible (minus the part where there were any pleasant effects): at first, she was totally numb to it, still “herself,” and then—an emotional wreck. A puddle on the floor of her kitchen while she was in the midst of peeling potatoes to go with a filet mignon she had bought for her dinner. She wished that she had been cutting up onions to at least give herself an excuse for the reason behind why she should burst into tears so suddenly. That she wasn’t letting the assured imminent death of her patriarch get to her. Because she despised admitting to having any form of attachment. As for her mother, Adina, the one who informed her of the news in the first place, she could barely get through telling her daughter about the diagnosis amid her sobs. It was then that Dawn knew she had to go home. She didn’t need to be asked. It was simply something that had to happen. 

Months later, after she had taken a leave of absence from her job to be with him, Abe died. And yet, Dawn decided to linger. Not just because Adina shouldn’t have to suffer through her grief alone, but because Dawn herself couldn’t imagine going “back to normal”—another stock phrase she loathed. There was no “going back” anyway; she would never be the same again. The death of a parent, it can be said, creates another kind of birth for their child. A rebirth that allows them to, in many senses, at last fully be themselves without any worry of judgment or approval-seeking (the innate, knee-jerk reaction that can still exist in so many adult children). Dawn didn’t realize it, but she had been waiting her entire life for that feeling of not being judged. Of not telling her father something about her life and knowing that he thought it was “silly” or, worse still, a mistake. Although Adina was slightly more “open” in mentality, she tended to mirror the thoughts and opinions of Abe when it came right down to it. With Abe gone, Dawn reasoned, maybe her mother would finally start to form some thoughts and feelings that were truly all her own. But no, it seemed that in the aftermath of Abe’s death, Adina took it upon herself to embody his spirit completely, becoming patently more verbally abusive in the weeks that followed the funeral. 

Even though Dawn was going out of her way to “do the right thing” by being there for her mother, she was starting to wonder if “the right thing” is ever really right if it feels so wrong for one’s mental health. This was a question that kept cropping up over and over again as Adina proceeded to berate Dawn for everything from the cuisine she so generously prepared every day to the way she stored her toiletries in the bathroom. It was as though Abe’s death had catalyzed his belief—now funneled through Adina—that Dawn could do nothing right. She was inept, untalented and unspecial. These were the words that started to spew from her mother’s mouth without any filter whatsoever the longer she chose to stay. And yet, on the night she vowed to leave at last and return to what was left of her old life, Adina wailed and pleaded that she shouldn’t go. Not yet. Dawn couldn’t understand it, let alone believe it. All those days her mother spent telling her what a piece of shit she was, why should she want her to stay then? Perhaps because, without Dawn around, there would be no one else to call or accuse of being a piece of shit. And that can greatly detract from a sense of energy transference. It was as though Adina was thusly getting her entire life force from Dawn, whose own had been siphoned gradually during her tenure staying at the house in the town where she grew up. At the bare minimum, Dawn consoled herself that it wasn’t her childhood home. That could have made things even more traumatic and depressing.

Unable to walk away from Adina in the face of her begging, Dawn again cancelled her arrangements and extended the trip. But she was aware that her grace period at work was long over, and that she might return to find that she wasn’t as irreplaceable as she previously thought. For, in the end, even a middle management position couldn’t remain untouchable forever. And it really was starting to feel like forever since she had arrived back in Black Falls. A town that seemed to want to live up to its name in terms of blackening Dawn’s soul. Well, maybe it was time to offer up another soul to “Jesus” (or whoever) instead. An idea that was germinal in Dawn’s mind until her mother finally pushed her over the edge one evening while they were watching a rerun of The Golden Girls and Adina hissed, “Why don’t you get off your ass for once and bring me a glass of pomegranate juice?” It was so sudden, so out of nowhere that Dawn could scarcely respond, giving Adina time to add, “Are you catatonic? Did you hear what I said?” Dawn nodded slowly and got up as though she was under the hypnotic trance of this command, one that, she supposed, did make some sense when taking into account the health jag Adina had been on ever since Abe died. When she returned with a glass filled to the brim, some of its contents spilled onto Adina’s lap, prompting her to seethe, “You really can’t do anything without fucking it up, can you?” 

And that was the last straw. The one that broke Dawn’s back. She would no longer suffer through this form of mental torture. The space had become too inhospitable to bear as a result of Adina’s negative energy infecting every fiber of Dawn’s being. It only took a few more days for Dawn to pull the trigger on her plan. One that involved no guns even if it did involve a death. Specifically, Adina’s. She was lucky she wouldn’t have to rely on any obvious poisons like hemlock or some such, but instead, could turn to a classic case of “allergy gone wrong” by opting to pump Adina full of nut traces in the crispy fried beef pho she would “order” a.k.a. specially prepare. Because the flavor of this dish was so strong unto itself, the excessive nut traces she would dump into it would go more easily undetected by Adina for longer before it dawned on her that she was consuming something she was highly allergic to. And by that point, it would be perfectly acceptable for Dawn to phone 911, knowing full well they were too late already. Because Dawn would, “tragically,” not “be able” to locate the EpiPen, the one that Adina was gesturing frantically toward by trying to indicate it was in her purse. Dawn was unmoved, watching Adina’s last breaths as though she were a riveting season—or rather, series—finale. Yes mother, it’s the best orgasm you’ve ever had, Dawn thought as she lit herself a cigarette to enjoy this form of expiration vicariously. 

She exhaled a plume of smoke as she heard sirens blaring in the distance. She laughed aloud, expressing the full extent of her glee, and said to Adina’s corpse, “That’s right, join Daddy ‘in a better place’ now. You goddamn bitch.”

***

At Adina’s funeral, Dawn gave a heart-rending eulogy that left nary a dry eye in the church. Because her speech assuaged everyone with the old chestnut, “It’s okay. She’s in a better place now.” But the truth of the matter was: Dawn was in a better place now. One in which neither of her parents could tell her a goddamn thing ever again. It was thus, in her newly-inherited car on the way back to the house for Adina’s wake, that Dawn revised her previous stance on death: maybe it wasn’t consciousness that was so horrible, it was your parents’ consciousness that was.

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