The Deadman’s Gift (Part 1)

I’m standing atop the Empire State Building in New York City, on the other side of the guardrail. The clouds are all but pitch black and skull and crossbones form in the sky. The flashes of lightning and claps of thunder—the rain pouring relentlessly—present the perfect setting. In fact, I couldn’t ask for anything more fitting. I’m soaking wet. My cargo pants are dark brown, my hoodie a drenched and obsidian black, and my Levi boots are so dark they resemble shadows. A flash of lightning strikes near the building but I don’t flinch.

No use being fearful when looking death in the face.

Looking down, I see the lights of the city that never sleeps for miles—the cars and people look like ants from this height. White and red lights move back and forth and sometimes sit still. People go on with their lives, oblivious to the fact someone commits suicide every thirty seconds on average. I look at my watch and count the seconds.

When it hits the thirty second mark, I think of the person that just finished hanging themselves, the person that drank poison, the person that jumped off a building (as I’m about to); the person that shot themselves in the head to stop the tortuous internal chatter, the person that killed themselves because of a broken heart, and the person stricken by grief, sorrow, and loss.

            That last one, I think the last one resonates the most with me.

            Sort of.

Looking over the city, I see nothing but deep, blackish purple and pouring rain. I see the shadows of hell’s most damned souls coming into form to greet me. The air transforms into a sea of black flames with little puffs of skull and crossbones rising, as if out of a boiling pot. I look to the sky once more and the claps of thunder and flashes of lightning continue their light show in the darkest of nights, the moon is nowhere in sight.

I start wheezing, then coughing, then hacking. I look at my hand and see blood. My body is eating itself, my immune system is useless, and I feel weak. So very weak. The red blood clots on my hand look like enlarged liver spots at this point, consuming my hand in a deep, dark red turning purple. The color of rotting flesh after a person’s been bludgeoned to death.

What are you waiting for? Jump! My mind says, Jump now!

I inch my way closer to the edge of the building and look down for what will be the final time. My vision gets blurry and the world starts spinning, I almost fall over but catch myself just in time. No, not yet. The sea of black flames becomes an abyss. I see skull and crossbones form and disappear. My body tries to fight, to fuel me with the will to live and my reptilian brain backs up this will with the force of self-preservation.

The fact I can feel this at all astounds me, but it is futile. This disease eating my system has gained too much momentum and I’ve suffered too much, lost too many people I care about, people I loved, people I’ve had the best of times with, people that guided me when I was nothing but a stray orphan with no sense of purpose in this world. The pain, grief, and bouts of depression that surround my heart are out to kill me and I’ll be damned if I’m left on this earth alone.

What about Jasmine? The thought enters, will you leave her alone?

Jasmine will never be alone; sure, she’ll grieve for a time but then she’ll move on like everyone else. She’ll hold on to the poem I gave her and find the last poem I ever wrote but, in the end, she’ll move on as all people do.

I clench my fist when my eyes water and hot, stinging tears run down my cheeks, “WHY?!” I shout into the heavens. I try to shout again but all that comes out is a whisper, “Why?”

I grew up in an orphanage. My father died three months before I was born, and my mother died in childbirth. I was taken to Children of The World, a local orphanage in the Bronx. The place had been founded in 1844 and had a longstanding reputation within the community. The staff there were friendly, but the other kids wouldn’t play with me from what I remember. And any time one of them tried to mess with me or make my life a living hell, a staff member was there to straighten it out.

There was this one kid name Bradley who always locked me in the closet and called me a worthless nigger that should’ve died in the hospital with his mother. He whispered it so only I could hear him, and he said if I told anyone he would come to my room and stick a branch up my ass—I know, a swell guy, wasn’t he? Other than that, I was invisible.

I’d watch the other kids play at recess, chase each other around, play catch, and pick their noses and hold out boogers in each other’s faces. I didn’t feel like I fit in with this group. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I was always on the lookout for Bradley for fear he’d lock me in the closet and verbally abuse me. His words haunted me every night as I lay in bed looking up at the plain, white ceiling. The internal chatter in my brain would go into overdrive and not let up even a bit, and the only sleep I did get was thin and broken by bad dreams and the echoes of Bradley’s insults.

This went on for five years.

Bradley was finally transferred to a foster home in October 1995 and I never saw him again, I was ten. He didn’t forget to leave me a little going away present, though. When I went to my room, an hour before Bradley left, it was ransacked and looked like a hurricane hit it.

All my writing trophies and certificates I’d won in the monthly contests we’d have at the orphanage were torn into pieces, my trophy from when my poem about a tornado survivor won first place was broken in two and stomped until nothing remained but broken shards. My mattress was flipped over, and my sheets were torn.

The words worthless nigger and you should’ve stayed in your mother’s cunt were written on the walls. I walked in and stood at the center, asking myself why he hated me so much. Why would he do this? How could he do this? A staff member came in and screamed in shock, not at the mess but at what was written on the walls. She looked at me and then at the walls and realized I wasn’t the one that messed up the room. She came up to me, squatted down to my level, and placed two gentle hands on my shoulders.

“Who did this, Rudy?” she asked me, “Do you know?”

I did know. It was Bradley, no doubt. Even so, those words from five years before still haunted me as when he first said them. If you tell anyone what I said, I’m gonna come to your room and stick a branch up your ass, ya hear?!

I shook my head.

The staff member pulled me into her arms and hugged me fiercely. She smelled like lavender and her bosom was pillow-soft. I wanted to cry but the tears wouldn’t come out as if they were dammed up. She released me, stood up with her hand in mine, and took me to the foster care specialist’s office.

I remained in that orphanage for three more years.

I ran away in November 1998. I snuck out the orphanage at midnight, ran up Fordham road to the nearest train station, slipped through the security door, and hopped on the first train that came. I got off at Forty-Second Street, Grand Central. Navigating through that maze was something else—thinking back, it reminded me of Hogwarts.

The corridors seemed to lead to an infinite number of places, hundreds of people walking back and forth with luggage, some in suits, some in casual clothes. Families of all races, colors, and creeds meshed together in a chaotically organized fashion which not only astounded but bewildered me.

I didn’t know where I was going but I knew I was going somewhere.

I walked around aimlessly for what felt like hours. I’d already found the way out and seen just about every platform the trains arrived and departed on, the only thing on my mind then was where to go. As far as I knew, my parents were the only family I had, and both were dead. I supposed I could try the yellow books but trying to find another person with the last name Sarabelli was apt to take a million years.

It was then I met a woman named Stella Casey. She was a tall, gorgeous, blonde hair woman with deep-set blue eyes, a coke bottle body, and pale, smooth skin. She asked me if I was lost and I told her I was. She figured out quickly that I was an orphan and invited me to stay with her. I accepted.

She lived in a cabin in Upstate New York, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was a quiet and peaceful place with a large front yard and a backyard next to a pond. The inside of the cabin was warm, cozy, and beautiful. A brown, suede sofa and two love seats with a coffee table on top of a dark brown rug sat in front of the fireplace with a T.V. hanging on the wall just above it.

There were portraits of artwork I’ve never seen, one was of a sunrise over a grassy cliffside with the sun’s light reflecting off the blue ocean. There were no animal heads mounted on the walls like there usually were in cabins—which was fine with me—and a small, wooden dining room set in the kitchen. There was one room on either side, the room to the right led to her study and the one on the left led to two separate bedrooms and bathrooms.

“You can put your stuff down in the first room to your left.” She said as I made my way cautiously to the room.

This one room was larger than two rooms in the orphanage combined. There was a large dresser to my right and a queen-size bed to my left sitting between two nightstands. A large window looked out to the pond and the tire swing that moved back and forth like a pendulum. The bed was made up with a dark brown comforter, white sheets, and brown throw-pillows.

I’d never seen a room so nice.

Tell me what you think in the comments! I read and reply to all of them and welcome feedback for improving my stories, poetry, and insights. Thanks for reading!

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