The Truth About Keeping Secrets(7)

It was those things that led me to videos of car crashes and the car crashes that led to the ToD.

The homepage was enough to warn anyone that they were somewhere they’d probably rather not be. It was a relic of the early internet: no layout, just a flashing button in the centre that scrolled like a theatre marquee, which read, ‘By entering you verify you’re over eighteen.’

I clicked. Hoped that no one would follow up that verification.

ToD stood for Time of Death and was essentially a lawless, mortality-based equivalent of YouTube. Mortality of all kinds. Building jumps and armed robberies and accidents and war footage. Car crashes. Mostly footage from security cameras that was almost definitely obtained illegally, some of it recorded on the phones of people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; the only rule was that someone in the video had to die.

It was addictive to say the least.

I avoided anything overtly gory, which wasn’t difficult since most of the videos only had about five pixels to work with. Couldn’t really watch anything with the sound on either.

Listen. It was sick. I knew it was sick.

But I was thinking about every horror I’d ever watched, and how the monster was always scarier when you didn’t know what it looked like. When you can’t see it, it could be anything. And anything is always scarier than something. Anything is incomprehensible, an infinite amount of horrors – and you can’t fight anything. But then the monster gets some gratuitous money shot, and it’s either a person in makeup or a puppet or bad CGI, and it becomes a tangible thing. An assailable thing. Abstract is scarier than physical. Unknown is scarier than known – not because of what it is, but because of all the things it could be.

So that’s what I was doing, I think. Making it known. Becoming acquainted with death. I pasted Dad’s face on to theirs, his face from the hospital room when he was still kicking, hooked up to God-knows-what levels of machinery, all pumping and pushing and beeping, but he got worse and worse and worse until the nurse said softly, ‘OK, I think he’s going now,’ and Mom held his hand and whispered in his ear because hearing is the last sense to go, and I left.

Didn’t watch. Didn’t want to watch. Didn’t want to know how his face would contort or how his lungs would beg for more breath or how Mom would wail when he flat-lined; hearing it muffled behind the door was enough for me, thanks!

So I had to see it now. I had to.

Saturday. Finally left my room, which was actually surprisingly clean. All my clothes, mostly consisting of Pleasant Hills-themed sweatshirts and skinny jeans, hung neatly in my wardrobe, since I hadn’t changed; the usual pile of empty plates from snacks that sat on my nightstand wasn’t there, since I hadn’t been eating; my bed was made, green checker-print duvet crisp and fluffy, since I hadn’t been sleeping. Though there was a decidedly human-shaped imprint in the beanbag that sat against the far wall (the walls being an almost neon fuchsia – a non-decision made by younger, stupider me), facing my TV and, by extension, my PlayStation. Leaving felt like exiting a bomb shelter into nuclear fallout.

Someone else stared back at me from the mirror. A puffy-eyed beast, face swollen beyond recognition. I – and I mean this in the most affectionate, self-loving way – didn’t think I had ever looked more disgusting than I did in that moment. Sadness isn’t some clean, porcelain thing; it’s raw, and ugly, but mainly, it smells. I hadn’t brushed my teeth in a week, let alone bathed, and I was even paler than normal, so sickly you could see the blue veins running down my neck, branching off like centipede legs. My own face unsettled me. Wasn’t me.

I splashed my eyes with icy water, ripped through the matted parts of my hair with a brush until my scalp burned, and shuffled downstairs.

Dad’s office was off the kitchen, and the door was shut, the way he’d left it. I turned the knob until it clicked, and tiptoed inside.

The office wasn’t even that old – it was built just after I was born – but due to his proclivity for buying things second-hand, but it smelled old, like mothballs and dusty mahogany and well-loved books. It was small, but felt cosy instead of claustrophobic; the ceiling lights were warm and golden and the walls a deep red, covered in giant photographs of nature scenes. Mostly Yosemite. Dad also seemed to be fond of mirrors – he had more than a few positioned at seemingly random intervals – and I liked to imagine him asking a patient to look into one and tell him what they saw.

My earliest memories were grainy. Crouching in the den, stubby fingers clutching the windowsill, hoisting myself high enough to get a peek at whatever unfamiliar car had pulled into the driveway. A woman in a blazer putting on five coats of lipstick before coming in. A couple who’d pull up, argue, then never actually come inside. The man with the wrinkles and kind eyes who’d wave at me through the window – until Dad noticed, and then I never saw him again.

But most of them were unmemorable in the best way possible. Normal people. Normal people with normal clothes and faces and jobs. Just with some buried things too.

I collapsed on the patient couch in a heap, positioned the slouchy cushions until they were comfortable under my back, and moved my attention to his desk. Still spotless. Meticulously organized. On top of it sat his computer, some white roses that had gone brown and crispy, and a picture of him and me that Mom had taken at Niagara Falls, on the ferry that travels underneath the spray of the waterfall. Both of us were wearing these ridiculous plastic ponchos. In it, his hair’s not grey, and I’m so small that I barely reach his waist.

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