Despite this, it was a nice affair: the family was overjoyed to have Saul with us and it was the first time I had dined anywhere else besides my room, which pleased Adele to no end. It was wonderful…until I walked Saul to the front gate.
"Why?" I asked him as I watched his crutch kick up dust into the warm night air.
"Why do you get that look in your eye when you speak to Daniel? Has he offended you in some way?"
Saul bit his lip, but didn't respond.
"It isn't him, is it? It's Benjamin. You dislike him because of his brother. Why do you hate Benjamin? He has done nothing wrong!"
"Sara, don't you understand that he did this to you?" said Saul, his voice stretched. "I know he was a nice boy and that you loved him, but you've turned him into a saint in your min. You've canonized him, and you don't realize that if it weren't for him, none of this would have happened to you!"
"It is not his fault that he was persecuted for something so out of his control," I spat, sudden anger seizing me. "You don't understand him—he was good and kind and brave! He died for me, and I keep waiting to hear his voice, to talk with him and to see him come walking up the stairs again, because he promised to come home!"
"You're talking like you're mad!" said Saul. "I know you've suffered and I want to make it better, but you can't keep pretending like this."
"Perhaps I am mad," I said. "Perhaps I am mad for thinking you would understand anything. But I know that if I had lost you, Benjamin wouldn't look upon you with scorn or disgust—he wouldn't call me mad. He'd comfort me! But it's like you don't even care!"
Saul face was crumpling. "Well I'm not Benjamin! I'm not Benjamin because I'm me—your best friend, remember? Sara, I'm the one who watched your back for eleven goddamn years, who cared about you and supported you when nobody else would!"
"We're not children anymore, Saul!" I cried out. "We've grown up and we're never going to be the same! I'm damaged goods, all right? I'm broken!"
"So am I! People change! And yet here you are telling me that I don't care when I've always been the one who cared the most. You know I do!"
I curled my lip. "You don't know anything about me."
"I know everything there is to know about you, Sara," he replied, almost desperate. "I know that you hate the sound of squeaking shoes, that you're allergic to bees, that you panic when you're in a closed-up space. I know you chew the inside of your cheek when you're thinking, that you cry when you're frustrated and you hate that, and I know you get angry sometimes and you take it out on the road when you run. I know that the boy you liked called you ugly when you were seven and I found you crying behind the swings, and I told you that you weren't ugly, that I thought you could even be pretty, but you didn't listen—you never listened, so I stopped telling you. I know that you always put bullies in their place—you wouldn't let anyone else stand up for you because you were too fucking proud and blind to realize that if you stopped struggling for just one moment and let somebody watch out for you, you might see that you didn't have to wage a war against the world all the time!"
"I fight because I have to! I fought my hardest and look what happened," I shouted. "Your best friend is gone, Saul, she's dead. Now you just have me!"
"You're not dead, Sara! Wake up, because I want you back. You were brilliant and clever and stubborn and I loved you: maybe romantically, maybe not, but I still loved you!" He closed his eyes and bared his teeth, looking away. "But now you've forgotten and none of that even matters anymore. And I'm sorry that I can't be your knight and shining armour, I really am. But has it occurred to you that I need comfort too? Do you think that just because I made it home, everything's fine—that just because I'm still moving and functioning, I'm okay? Well I'm not okay! Because sometimes life kills you from the inside out. Sometimes you're dying and nobody even knows it except you. You're acting as if you're the only one who's been damaged, but you're not: we're both fucked up! Sara, Benjamin's dead, but you're not and neither am I!"
"Well I'm sorry that my pain has inconvenienced you! I'm sorry that being sent off to a camp and losing my parents and sister has kept me from sympathizing and coddling you. My innocence, my family, my life—it has been destroyed! Ripped apart! Annihilated! You can talk to me when they hurt you like they hurt me, I'll listen to you when they murder your family and beat you with whips and starve you—I'll listen when you watch the person you love wither away right in front of you while you stand powerless. I'll listen when they die in your arms for a sin that you committed!"
Shame twisted him suddenly and he stepped forward. "Sara-"
"Don't touch me, you insufferable bastard—I thought you would be different than this, but I was wrong: you're just like the rest of them!" I yelled before turning and sprinting back inside to my room. I kicked off my clothes, squirmed into Benjamin's sweater and retreated to my hiding place beneath the bed frame. That was the longest attack I've ever had in all these years: it lasted for three days, hours and hours spent tucked away with the dust and forgotten socks and trinkets. I retreated further into myself than I ever had before, losing track of time passing, thinking only of the piles and piles of bodies, the barbed wire, their cold, dead faces. Adele and Jo and Daniel tried to coax me out, begged me, but I refused to eat, to do anything except curl into myself under that wretched bed and try to keep myself from breaking, try to plug up the fractures before my spirit leaked away all that remained of myself.