Stop

By CarolROI

The pulsing neon light from the strip bar across the street flickers like a strange form of Morse code against my closed eyelids. I wonder if it's trying to send me a message, to impart the secrets of the universe to me. Or maybe it's just saying over and over, "Loser. Loser. Sandburg is a loser."

Punching the pillow into a slightly more comfortable shape, I roll over. After driving for about six hours, Owen took pity on me and decided I could use a good night's sleep in a real bed. My head was killing me, so I didn't argue. Now it's 1 am, and I've been tossing and turning for about four hours. Finally I get to my feet and pull on a pair of sweats and a T-shirt. Pocketing one of the room keys, I pick up my portable CD player and head out the hotel room door, careful not to wake my uncle.

Standing on the balcony outside the room, I look out over the railing into the night. The street lights are reflected like wavering stars in the puddles covering the parking lot. Mist continues to fall, and I reconsider my thought of going for a run. While the atmosphere certainly suits my mood, getting cold and wet is taking the idea of matching my physical condition to my mental one a little too far. Instead, I opt for a quick walk around the perimeter of the two-story, U-shaped motel, under cover of the overhangs, of course.

It's then I spot the weight room next to the laundry room. It requires a key to access it. I swipe my plastic card through the reader, and the light turns green. I tug the glass door open and enter. There's not much here, just a few free weights, an exercise bike that's seen better days, and a treadmill with a sign reading "Broken" on it-- the story of my life.

As I turn to leave, I spy the heavy bag hanging in the corner and it brings back memories of Roy Jones trying to teach me how to box. We were just kids then, hanging out at the local gym after school. Sweet Roy had talent. I didn't, but that didn't prevent me from learning to throw a punch, or how to take out the day's frustrations on a canvas bag full of padding.

Walking over to the bag, I take a poke at it. The impact stings across my bare knuckles, but it feels right somehow. I start to turn on my CD player, to give me a rhythm, when I spy the dusty boom box tucked along the wall, a bicycle chain through the handle and a lock attached to a steel eyelet in the wall keeping it from wandering off. I take my CD out of my player and stick it in the boom box cranking the volume as high as it will go, knowing the location of the room will keep other guests from being disturbed. Cueing up the track I want, I set it on repeat, then shadowbox for a few minutes to get warmed up. Finally I approach the bag, the growling guitars and thumping bass matching the pounding of my heart.

Yes it's true that I believe
I'm weaker than I used to be
I wear my heart out on my sleeve
and I forget the rest of me

Images of Roy flow freely across my mind's eye. It couldn't be the good times, of course, but that awful gut wrenching moment when Jim walked past me in the rain, mumbling " Oh, no. Oh, Chief...I'm sorry. "

Sorry about what? I had stupidly wondered, and then I saw Roy's beaten body hanging out of the culvert pipe. He was my friend! The punching bag takes a one-two combination to the gut.

Yes there's times I've been afraid
and there's no harm in that I pray
cuz I'm more frightened everyday
someone will take the hope I have away

Alex. I think I can honestly say she scared me the most. She was all the genetic advantages of a Sentinel, packaged in a soul that didn't know the difference between good and evil. I can still feel the gun pressed tight against my back as we crossed the lawn to the fountain, taste the sting of chlorine in my mouth, my nose, my eyes, the tight, burning ache in my lungs. I add a kick to my flurry of punches, and the chain holding the bag creaks loudly. I settle into a pattern, losing myself in the thundering music and the slap, slap, creak of my blows.

But you gotta give it up
to get off sometimes
you gotta give it up
to get off sometimes
you gotta give it up
to get off sometimes I know

This, I know. I am the master of giving it up. And in, and out. The peacemaker, the negotiator, the compromiser, that was me. And what do I get? The one time I refuse to give in, to compromise, to overlook a transgression, I get fired. People don't like it when the doormat objects to being trampled on. Punch, punch, kick, punch, kick, punch, punch.

I dance back, panting, shaking my head, drops of sweat flying.

All the times I've given in
you fit me like a second skin
and one by one I will begin
to wear you on the days I'm feeling thin

I don't know who I am anymore. I used to. I used to know what Blair Sandburg wanted out of life. Admittedly, some of those things were rather shallow, but at least I knew. But for the past several years my life revolved around Jim, around the sentinel thing. Everything else took a back seat to that, including my work, my health, and of course, the reason I hooked up with him in the first place, my dissertation. For all intents and purposes, I was an appendage of him. Parts of myself, of who I am, slid away, replaced by parts of him. I started checking my humanity at the door.

But you gotta give it up
to get off sometimes
you gotta give it up
to get off sometimes
you gotta give it up
to get off sometimes I know

My fists are flying now, my fingers numb and bleeding.

You'd better stop, stop, stop
using me up
you'd better stop
cuz I've had enough
and I'm ready to forget the reasons
that keep me here

I'm screaming the lyrics, then shoving out the door at a dead run, into the night, into the rain.

In the rain
Beware even if you know they're gonna change
Good God, need a little love, well
You'll find what you think you're gonna be, child

I don't recognize who I am now. But I'm sure as hell going to find out.

You'd better stop, stop, stop
using me up
you'd better stop
cuz I've had enough
and I'm ready to forget the reasons
that keep me here

~finis~


You Won't Be Mine
Mad Season Cycle
Email the Author