Ross Mayo Jr is writer and novelist based out of Maryland. He is focused on flash fiction, short stories, novellas, and novels primarily dealing with inspirational issues and the human experience.
Just One Choice
Using both of her hands, Jo barges into the church. Her stone washed blue jeans, ragged red and white sneakers, and wrinkled black hoodie comes as a surprise to everyone seated as they snap their heads back towards her amidst audible gasps. Only her mother and father, both seated in the front, continue to stoically face forward with their heads slightly shaking, have full knowledge of who it is who dares enter this sacred ceremony. As the doors to the church close, her twin sister’s husband immediately pauses his wife’s eulogy as Jo stumbles to an empty seat in the back. She can barely see anything with her bloodshot and watery eyes. After Jo’s abrupt interruption, her brother-in-law continues with his difficult eulogy of Katy.
“The most difficult thing I can think of when I think of the future is a life without Katy. I say those words speaking for every member of her family, at least for most of them. When we first started our life together as a married couple, like all newlyweds, we had grand ideas of growing old together, taking care of each other, being there for each other, and loving each other for the rest of our lives. In this day and age, of course there are things like divorce, but divorce was a concept that didn’t cross the minds of young couples in love like us. Instead, it was death that separated Katy and me. It was death that separated Katy from everyone who loved her, and it was death that separated Katy from those who she loved back. In my mind, Katy will always be alive. In the minds of our two daughters, Katy will always be alive. As our family moves forward in life, I can tell you we will take her along with us. As her family moves forward
in life, they will also take her along with them. Her kind heart, loving spirit, and strong determination will guide all of us through life just like the stars once guided those who sailed the seas in search of new frontiers. She was the very best of us all, and everyone will remember her that way.”
After her brother-in-law finished his eulogy, Jo could only notice that there was never a time he tried to make eye contact with her, as he did with her mother, father, and two nieces, all of whom were seated in the front. In her mind, that was okay. If she had sat any closer, it would have forced him to make a choice as to whether or not to recognize her presence at her sister’s funeral. She may never know if her brother-in-law would have made eye contact or not as he gave his eulogy, only that by sitting in the back, Jo could use it as an excuse for him not to look that far back in the church. It not only let her brother-in-law off the hook, but it was also a defense mechanism to protect herself from the embarrassment of having him gloss over her. Yet there was a part of her that thought that her feeble frame and out of place wardrobe would have been enough to at least granted her a glance no matter where she was seated given the fact that she was Katy’s sister. Regardless, her state of mind not only prevented her from appreciating the celebration of her sister’s life, it also caused her to perceive the precious moments of time that this occasion represented as coming to an end much sooner than it actually did. When it did end, on her way out, Jo overhears her mother and father talking behind the doors unaware of her presence.
“How dare she show her face here. She has wasted her life getting high on drugs. That’s all she cares about. She’s a parasite. The wrong daughter died. Jo may be Katy’s twin sister, but she’s only her twin by name only. Jo will only ever be a small shadow of Katy,” Jo hears her weeping mother say to her father who does not respond back. She can only assume he agrees with her mother’s assessment.
When Jo arrives back at her apartment at eight o’clock in the evening, she is unfazed by the smell of unwashed dirty dishes added to the soiled clothes cluttered about. It is a smell only known to those who are foreign to her living quarters, but all too familiar to herself to generate any reaction. She places her keys on the table as she enters, and then stops for a moment. There is not a sound to be heard. There is not any movement of any kind to witness. She is alone in this place, and she knows that this is by no means any haven. She has no idea of what to do next, but ultimately, she succumbs to something more primal.
“I’m so tired,” she says out loud to no audience. There are no tears for her sister. There are no feelings whatsoever for someone whom she has not seen for five years. There are no feelings for a sister fallen after 27 years of life. She feels the disgrace of her lack of emotion. She feels nothing but emptiness. She tells herself that the only silver lining is that she acknowledges that she should feel something despite the fact that she doesn’t.
“Why can’t I cry for you, Katy? Why can’t I feel sadness? Why can’t I grieve?” she asks herself.
As Jo breaks her stoic stance, she slowly makes her way to her couch and lands upon the space she makes for herself after tossing the array of clothes that cover it on the floor. Giving in to her fatigue, her heavy eyes close making way for what she believes to be undeserved sleep. After some passage of time, she is compelled to open her eyes.
“It’s midnight. Why am I awake? I need to get back to sleep,” she tells herself after she sees the clock.
“Don’t get back to sleep just yet, sis,” Jo hears coming from behind her. After she gets up and turns around, she sees Katy standing before her.
“You’re here with me, Katy. Am I dreaming? I don’t feel tired, but I know I should. I don’t feel wasted, but I know I should. My body doesn’t feel any bit off at all for some reason.”
“Joanne. Jo. You can call this a dream if you want to. It won’t change the fact that I’m here, with you, right now.”
“Then I’m dead?”
“No, Jo. I’m the one that’s dead. You’re the one that’s very much alive.”
“Then I like this dream, Katy. It’s the only way I can see you again. It’s been so long. The only reason why I can remember your face is because we share it. The only reason I can remember your voice is because it’s the same as mine.”
“It has been five years, Jo.”
“It should have been me who died, Katy.”
“We both know Mom didn’t mean what she said.”
“She may not have meant it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. You’re the one with the husband. You’re the one with the children. You’re the one who’s clean. You’re the one who didn’t make the mistakes I did. You’re the one with the life.”
“Our lives are built upon the choices we make, and it’s not too late for the choices you make from now on to change the course of your life.”
“Look at me Katy. I’m nothing. What choices can I make to change that? What makes you think that I care?”
“Why did you go to my funeral if you didn’t care, Jo? You made a choice to care. You made the choice to go to my funeral even though you knew that there would be people there that didn’t want you in that church. So, you see, no matter where you are in your life, you have the power to make as many choices as you want. The only thing you have to decide is if those choices will be in your best interest and the best interest of those that you love the most.”
“It’s too late for me.”
“It’s never too late. We’re twin sisters. We grew up together. You weren’t always like this. Do you remember the times when we went to the skating rink as children?”
“Yes, I do.”
“It was you who caught on first, and you weren’t the one that was always falling down, Jo, it was me. You weren’t the older sister, but you were the one that helped me get up when I fell, and I fell a lot. You didn’t stop helping me until I was just as good as you were, and that wasn’t the only time that you lifted me up when I fell down.”
“That’s right, Jo. It was that way when we were in high school as well. We took the same courses. We competed in all the same sports together. When I started to fall behind in any of them, you helped me. You helped me rise whenever I fell, and all you have to do is ask yourself is why you did all those things for me?”
“I did those things for you because I loved you, Katy. I did those things because you are my sister and I still love you.”
“You showed your love unconditionally, Jo. That’s all that matters, and there’s still time for you to show and give that love to others as well.”
“Five years is a long time to stay away from me, Katy?”
“Jo, you’re the one that stayed away. You stayed away from me, from Mom, from our Father, from our entire family. You can make the choice to change that.”
“It’s too late for me, though. I have nobody, and you’re no longer here to do for me now what I did for you when we were growing up, Katy.”
“I’ll always be here for you.”
“Why come to me? Why not your husband? Mother? Father? Your children for God’s sake?”
“I come to you now because you’re the one that needs me the most. The one gift I couldn’t give you in life, I’m giving you in death. For all those years we were growing up together, it was you who was teaching me. You taught me the importance of making the right choices and helping me when I couldn’t help myself. Now you just have to listen to your own self. You have to listen to your inner voice. You have to make a choice to follow what is in your heart and what is in your soul. It was a lesson that you taught to me when we were growing up, and I made the choice to follow it. It was you who made the choice not to follow your own heart and soul. Our deaths are unavoidable, but our lives aren’t. I embraced my life because of you. You made the choice to abandon yours. I’m here to make sure you choose to reclaim it.”
“It’s not much of a life, Katy.”
“Life is what you make it. Only you have the power to shape and mold your life and the world around you. Open your mind to the possibilities that exist in the world and you will see the world will respond to you with open arms for the choices you make and bring those possibilities into reality. It will not be easy or fast. In fact, it will be hard and long, but I’m opening my heart to you so you can take the first steps. All you have to do is embrace it. Will you do that for me? Will you do that for yourself?”
“I can’t do it alone.”
“Nobody said you will be. In fact, I think you already know in your heart that you won’t.”
“Baby steps first, Katy?”
“Baby steps first, Jo.”
“I’m going to miss you Katy, now more than ever. Even though we haven’t seen each other in five years, I always knew that you were alive and well someplace. Now you’re gone and I will never see you again.”
“No crying over me, Jo. No tears for me, Jo. Only love.”
Jo gives Katy a hug, and she is surprised that she can feel her warmth. Just as Jo starts to let her go, Katy whispers something into Jo’s ear.
“I will always be with you. Always remember that,” Katy tells her.
“Where do I start, Katy?”
“All you have to do is ask for forgiveness and it will be yours. From that point on, the road back towards self-discovery will pave the way to your new life. I promise.”
“With all of your heart?”
“With all of my heart.”
“How do you know? After all the things that I’ve done. After all the hurt that I’ve brought upon this family.”
“Have I ever steered you wrong?”
“No, you haven’t.”
“If that’s not enough to convince you then just remember that this is a family, and that’s what families do. Families forgive.”
“It’s never too late, is it Katy?”
“No Jo, it never is.”
“I feel different now.”
“How do you feel, sis?”
“Alive and awake.”
Jo suddenly awakens as her head jolts up. She can tell that it is morning as the sun shines through her windows. Her eyes are wide open, and her body is tingling incessantly. She asks herself if what she experienced last night was real or a dream. She cries out for Katy but hears no response. Unlike the previous time she woke up, this time she feels a bit wasted, not surprisingly because of the drugs. Then she sees the funeral flyer and realizes that her sister is truly gone. Right now, she cannot reconcile her mental and physical state. She feels physically off, but mentally, she is at ease, even in the face of her sister’s death. What happened to her last night may have something to do with it, she tells herself. Was it a dream? Was it real? Was it both at the same time? All she knows is Katy has gotten through to her. Can a person change after just one night? She does not take long to realize that the answer to that question is yes, a person can change overnight if they make the choice to do so.
Jo packs her backpack with all her drugs, paraphernalia, and booze. After cleaning up her apartment she opens the door to a bright sunny day. The sunshine blinds her weary eyes temporarily as she exits, but to her, it does not change the fact that it is the start of a new day. It is the start of a new era. It is a start of a new life. She walks outside and finds a garbage bin. Without hesitation, she throws her backpack into the bin and says goodbye to her old life and welcomes the beginning of her new one. At a nearby convenience store, she buys a burner phone with a number that is not blocked on any of her family’s phones. The first call she makes is the most important call she will ever make.
“Hi Mom, this is Jo, please don’t hang up. I don’t know how long I have on your voicemail, but I have something to tell you. It’s going to be a long hard journey for me, getting clean and making up for my mistakes, but something happened to me last night, something wonderful, and I now know that I’m not alone. I can’t explain it to you in words, but I want you there with me. Father too. Everyone, not only because we’re a family, but because I love all of you, and I think somewhere, despite all that I’ve done, I know you love me too. Before I run out of time, I have a few quick things I need to tell you. Most importantly, I want to tell you that I’m sorry. I also want to let you know that of all the things I’ve ever wanted in my life, I’ve never wanted this more, and that’s to get clean and stay that way. I just want a chance to start over. I am choosing to start over. The journey to get to the end of this dark tunnel and into the light will be long. It’s okay if you don’t want to go with me on that journey, but I’m making it regardless. If you’re there with me, then I’ll embrace all of you with all my heart. If not, then that’s still okay. I understand more than you know, and I hope you’ll be there after I make it to the other side.”
Jo ends the call with her mother by telling her the burner phone’s phone number. Afterwards, she walks down the street, and for the first time in a long time she notices the cool breeze of the wind flowing through her hair and the birds chirping in the sky. She puts her hands in her hoodie pockets, looks down, and watches her two feet take their turn taking one step at a time moving her forward along the sidewalk.
“Just think, in a few months, I’ll feel right as rain, if I don’t already, that is,” she says.
A few minutes later she receives a call on the phone she just bought.
“Hello?” she answers.
“Joanne, this is your Mother.”