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After The Fact
After you summon all your strength to pull yourself toward that small hole of light, then up out of that crib, after you refuse to succumb to the sickness, the cruelty, the absolute melancholy of the playground, after that snot Sarah Frytag trips you and blackens your front tooth, after that tooth falls out and grows back in white as birch bark, after the chicken pox and the cafeterias and the exams, after your beloved grandfather dies suddenly, after the hangovers, after the first, then second, then third and fourth bad boss, after the panic that you may have your mother’s legitimate, diagnosable mental illness passes, after you heal from the debilitating sunburn you got from falling asleep on a park bench, after the anger at the strangers who hadn’t bothered to wake you dissipates, and your skin flakes off in continent-sized patches returning you to your pale, dull, painless self, after you undress to the bone to show yourself as vulnerable, after the only true love of your life breaks up with you saying, “get some therapy,” after you meet the actual, real, true love of your life and she leaves you for cheating on her, after you stop removing the eviction notices from your door, move back in with your parents, after you’ve ceased praying to the patron saint of alcoholics, after your first and only marriage ends, after you’ve quit calling those 900 numbers, after you lie to your mother about selling your grandfather’s antique mandolin for cash, after you get rid of the bed bugs and get rid of the bed bugs and get rid of the bed bugs again, after you’ve worn through your stories and your jokes and your clever observations and opt for earnestness instead, after the fireflies are no longer magical, after you put down your favorite dog because of a bad hip, after you’ve stopped believing in the president and his ability to change anything, after the cicada plague, after your fierce mother surrenders to cancer, after you discover, late in life, a love of reading, after the ache begins in your joints, after the cataracts, after you started to forget why you’d come to the store in the first place, after friends your own age begin to die, after you decide to face the forever-empty inside you and you open the door to find yourself staring at it dead on, those cold, blind eyes, that voice that says, you can’t outrun it, son, and you slam that door and you reach for something, anything to keep you from thinking about the ending, after it’s way too late to realize that orgasms and whiskey and babies and yoga and TV only work to hold back the tide of unhappiness for a little while, after that, after the nurse is pulling that sheet up over your face, that’s when you’ll be free of it.
Theresa Coulter works as a freelance writer and illustrator in New York City. She has been a Ledig House International Fellow and a resident at Hedgebrook, MacDowell, UCROSS, VCCA, Millay and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. She is currently at work on a novel.