Why Don't You Die?
by Benjamin Welton
Hell, a very personal type of hell, began in an innocuous way. I noticed a new picture pinned to my roommate’s corkboard above his bed. The picture showed my roommate tanned and smiling. He was wearing that bright blue shirt that I hated so much because my pasty body could never pull off such a deep V-neck.
Seated next to my roommate was a beautiful girl. Her smile exposed a set of healthy, perfectly white teeth. Her chestnut brown hair reached down to her shoulders. Her eyes looked almond-shaped. They were dark too, suggesting an ancestry that was a mixture of exotic and ordinary.
She wore a white sun dress. The white cotton featured a print made up of bright yellow daffodils. The neckline was low enough that I could see where the tanned portion of her breasts gave way to the paler area around her nipples. A flush of excitement ran from my eyes down to the bottom of my feet.
“Who’s that?” I asked my roommate.
“Oh, her? I met her at some night club in Bilbao. I’m so hammered in that picture.”
“She’s Spanish?” I could not hide the disappointment in my voice.
“Not at all. She goes to our school. That’s why I took the pic. It was so odd to see another Cougar halfway across the world.”
“Get her name?”
“Why? You want to date her? I think she has a boyfriend. Her name’s Rochelle.”
Rochelle. The name sounded perfect to me. A meeting between the familiar and slightly off. I loved it.
My roommate kept talking, but I stopped listening. I knew that he was leaving to spend the rest of the summer with his parents at their New England beach house. Normally I would stop listening to his blather because I resented him so much. He was good-looking, wealthy, and, worst of all, friendly to me and everyone else. There was no hint of elitism or snobbery. He was perfect and his perfection made me want to kill him at times.
On this particular occasion, I wanted him to shut up and go away. I wanted him packed and out the door. I wanted him already stinking of salt water, straw-colored beer, and suntan lotion. I wanted him out of the house because I had come up with a plan.
School had only been over for two weeks at that point and I already wanted to kill myself. My job had told me two days before that I had a choice: I could either agree to work less hours or I could find another job. A company-wide cutback was needed, and they sincerely hoped that I was a “team player.” I needed the money, so it wasn’t a choice at all. I leaned on an acquaintance in order to land a part-time job at the public library. He said he’d try but could not make any promises.
Yes, as per usual, I looked to be bound for endless summer boredom. I hate the summers. I hate them because they make me sweat and take multiple showers a day. I hate them because I live in a college town, and college towns empty out in the summer. Only lost cats and drunks remain behind.
Most of all I hate summers because they remind me of my all-consuming loneliness. No friends meant no parties out on the lake or at backyard barbecues. No girlfriend meant no romantic walks under the stars or spending lazy Sunday afternoons in each other arms. My family wasn’t even a comfort, as it had been reduced over the years just to my grandparents. Mom had left years ago, while Dad was feeding maggots and worms in the cold ground. My grandparents weren’t long for the grave either. I loved them, but you can only visit people in their eighties so much before you start to feel your blood turn to dust.
Long working hours could fill the dead summer time, but that was no longer an option. I was thinking seriously about investing in rope and razor blades when I found out about Rochelle.
My original plan was as simple as it was stupid. I planned on reaching out to Rochelle while using one of my roommate’s social media profiles. I knew the password that he used for every website. He had once asked me to log onto his Twitter one day. He was about to take a shower, but a funny thought had come to him. He asked me to write it down, add a few hashtags, and then shoot it out to the world. I did as he asked, plus I saved the password. I later learned that the password also worked for Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I had the power to ruin his life, but I had no inclination to do so. Rather I thought about how my roommate’s charm could help me.
The plan was this: I would reach out to Rochelle while posing as my roommate. In our conversations I would talk myself up, telling Rochelle all about my cool, fun, and sexy roommate. In all likelihood the plan would not work, but it offered a better chance of success than me talking directly to Rochelle as myself. A girl as pretty as her wouldn’t spit on a loser like me. I knew that to be true without a single shred of objective evidence. It was just true.
That first night alone was miserable, and yet I couldn’t work up the courage to reach out to Rochelle. Every time I went online I would pull up the websites, but watched videos on YouTube instead. Mindless, pointless videos. I had a few beers, started watching a murder movie, and fell asleep somewhere around one AM. When I woke up, I closed the laptop in disgust.
I spent the day at work doing what everyone in every office anywhere does—I surfed between different websites and only pretended to work when some authority figure walked by my cubicle. The only task I kept at with any diligence was watching the small clock at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. When it read five o’clock, I logged off and went out to my car—a sedan from the early 2000s that had barely passed the required annual state inspection.
When I got home, I built up my courage by chanting nonsense to myself and taking sips from a can of Coors. I finished the can and picked up another. I took me two and half cans to finally write the message and hit “Send.”
What’s up? Getting into anything tonight?
That was all I could muster. I found it neither creepy nor aggressive. It was also plain Jane and boring. By beer four I was convinced that Rochelle, lovely Rochelle, wouldn’t bother to answer.
I drank some more beer and played a baseball video game. I played the game like an automaton because my pea-sized brain was focused on not looking at my phone. The urge to pull up my roommate’s profile was so strong that I bit my hand like a rabid dog in order to occupy my mind. The savagery of that action scared me a little. I turned off the game and went to bed.
I finally worked up the courage to look at three o’clock the next day. I felt like a deflated balloon because she hadn’t answered.
“Of course she didn’t answer. What girl responds to something like that on a Thursday night?” I asked myself.
I mentally threw aside my idea and consigned myself to my fate. I went on with work, went home, and drank all the beer that was left in the fridge. I was pleasantly and warmly drunk by the time Rochelle answered the original message.
Hey! What’s up? Sorry for not answering lol. I’m good. Going out with a friend tonight. What about you?
Nothing. Just chilling.
The predictable response rolled easily from my fingers. I kicked myself for forgetting the whole purpose of talking to her.
Actually I might head out later with my roommate Miles.
Oh cool. Where are you guys going?
Don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll see you downtown tonight?
For the first time in a while I felt good. I felt like my existence mattered because somebody else recognized it and did not see it as a pale shadow experiencing, but not living life. The euphoria made me forget that Rochelle was being nice to my roommate’s avatar, not me.
I stayed home that Friday night. I woke up Saturday a little before noon and sent out an apology to Rochelle. I said that I was sorry for not meeting her downtown.
That’s ok. I drink coffee too, you know.
Her words took me aback.
I love coffee.
I remember, silly :)
Are you inviting me to coffee lol?
Won’t your boyfriend care?
I snarled and grimaced after writing those words. If I could have literally put my foot in my mouth I would have. It was good while it lasted, I thought.
Nope. I’m a free bird.
My eyes bugged. I was panting.
Awesome. Ever been to the Blue Bird? It’s a hipster hangout, but the coffee’s good.
Ok! Want to meet at 3?
Definitely. You have my number?
Nope! Mine’s 304-555-6786
I wrote down my cell phone number, not my roommate’s. She sent her first text to me seconds later. It was a thumbs up emoji. I sent her a smiley face one back.
I did a quick jig around the apartment. I jumped up and slapped my hand on one of the walls. I thrust my pelvis out a few times and pumped. Then reality hit me: how was I going to get out of this? If I just showed up at the café, Rochelle would freak out. I visualized the scene.
Who the hell are you?
How did you get my number?
I’m calling the police, you stalker!
I pressed the palms of my hands to the sides of my head. I thought and thought about how to pull out of the date without angering Rochelle to the point that she stopped talking to my roommate (aka me) altogether.
At 2:50 I arrived at the Blue Bird. I took a seat in a far corner and sat down with my mug of coffee. I saw Rochelle seated by the café’s large window. She had a big smile on her face. My heart about fell out my chest when I realized that she was one of those rare breeds that actually looks better in person than in a photograph.
At ten minutes after three, I sent Rochelle a message.
Sorry to do this, but I got to cancel. Something came up. Have to run some errands.
I watched as the proverbial cloud fell over Rochelle’s face. She smacked her lips together and made a noise somewhere between a sigh and a grunt.
Darnit. I’m already here :)
The playful tone of her message was a put-on. I could see that Rochelle was upset. She finished her coffee in a few swallows before walking out of the Blue Bird. I took my time finishing my cup. I needed the time to think about my next move. It came to me quicker than I expected.
At ten o’clock that night I texted Rochelle again.
Hey sexy! You downtown? I’m getting wasted at The Crocodile Rock.
I wanted the text to be as blunt as a hammer. Why? Because I wanted Rochelle to think that I was drunk. I wanted her to think that I was drunk texting her. No, I needed her to think that. It was pivotal.
Rochelle sent a bunch of emojis back. She asked me why I had called her “sexy.”
Because I have eyes.
The next few texts that we exchanged back and worth were flirty, but grade school stuff. I asked her if she wanted to meet up at one of the bars.
I’m feeling old tonight. Going to stay in. You take care of yourself, k?
You know I think about you when I jerk off.
I dropped the hammer on her. Out of left field I revealed my roommate to be sex-obsessed. I poured it on too, sending her several text messages with the same theme. I made it clear to her that my roommate had carnal intentions.
I put my phone face down on the coffee table in the living room. I went upstairs to my room. I set my alarm clock to ring two hours later. I picked up a book and began to read. When the alarm bell rang, I raced downstairs and picked up the phone.
Oh my God! I’m so sorry that he said those things. This is Miles btw.
Miles, his roommate. He’s so drunk right now. I’m trying to clean up his messes tonight. There are so many!
It’s ok. You didn’t do anything, Miles.
Still, I’m so sorry that you had to see that stuff.
I put the phone back down and went to bed. I had a great dream that night. It was the kind of dream that made me feel warm all over, from the top of my head down to my fingertips. In a weird way, I felt loved.
I wrote Rochelle an email the next day. I wrote as myself, not my roommate. I wrote in the email that I had gotten her email address from my roommate. I asked to meet her so I could buy her a sandwich or some donuts in order to make up from my roommate’s rude comments.
I watched my email like a maniac all day. The hours crawled by as I waited for Rochelle’s response. I skipped lunch and forgot all about dinner. I drank coffee, then switched to water, and then finished with some beer. Rochelle’s email found me jittery and more than a little light-headed.
That’s really nice of you, Miles. You don’t have to do that, but I never say no to coffee or donuts.
Her email ended with a date, a time, and a place. I agreed.
I went to bed early that night, and after waking up the next morning, I took a long, hot shower. I liked that shower, so I took another one. I took a bath with Epsom salt two hours before the date. I brushed my teeth three times, and I flossed for the first time in years. I ironed my jeans and I ironed my best polo shirt. I even polished my old dress shoes until they shined like diamonds. I looked at myself in the mirror and gave myself a kiss. It was an unusually sensual one.
Despite my lengthy preparation, I still arrived at the restaurant twenty minutes early. I ordered a large coffee and tried to settle my nerves by controlling my breathing.
Rochelle walked in two minutes late.
“Hey, sorry about that. I’m Rochelle.” She gave me her hand.
“Hi, I’m Miles. It’s nice to meet you.”
What followed was painful. Long periods of silence were interrupted by tepid, mundane comments about the weather, the college football team, and the latest pop songs. A duality of shame and determination battled inside of me, as I alternatively wanted to run away and stay until she surrendered to my (lack of) charm.
The only drama, the only spark was in my guts. Rochelle had a cup of coffee and left after a few minutes. She said thank you, but insisted on paying her share. I smiled and said something like “Thanks” or “Have a nice day.” My eyes scanned every inch of her as she walked out of the door.
The only word that occupied my brain for the rest of the day was “Stupid.” I could not believe that I was so stupid and so weak as to let that golden opportunity fall right through my hands. I saw the noose and the slit up wrists again. I saw the orange plastic bottle of white pills spilled all over my nightstand. I saw the revolver’s barrel emitting thin strands of smoke. I saw blood, blood, blood.
I lost all perspective. I forgot that, at the end of the day, Rochelle was just a girl. Just a bundle of nerves and sinews. She had her own problems and her own life. The last thing she needed in her young life was a budding stalker, I thought.
The stronger, more vicious part of me said “Fuck her.” Her good looks meant that she had lived a trouble-free life, I told myself. Her whole bearing smelled of money that she hadn’t earned. Her way of texting—so girlish, so carefree—probably hid a rotten soul. I had not failed, I said, and she was cold-hearted bitch like all of the rest of them. I had to make her suffer somehow.
The next several days were a repetitive loop of looking through all of Rochelle’s social media accounts. I wrote down and memorized every little fact about her. During my lunch breaks I would send her emails about how pretty she was. I asked her what her ideal male body type was: did she prefer a swimmer’s body or a hockey player’s? I asked her about her ex. I asked her about her sex life. I was so focused on Rochelle that I forgot to respond to my friend’s chipper email about how got me a new part-time job at the public library.
Rochelle only sent me one reply back.
Please stop contacting me or I will get the police involved.
My first reaction was to blame my roommate. I said he had hacked my email account. She saw right through it, and even came to the conclusion that I had written the earlier text messages.
She had found me out. I had to do something else.
From her Facebook account, which was so minimalist and untended to that her latest post was a year old, I learned that Rochelle worked for the university during the summer. The job’s location was not far from a cluster of student apartments, so I figured that Rochelle lived somewhere in the area. After two days of reconnaissance, which saw me pretend to be sick from work so I could eat fast food and sit in my parked car all day, I was proven right.
On Friday afternoon, Rochelle walked out of a nondescript building and began walking east. I followed her. When she turned towards Wilson Avenue, a street that I knew well, I kept going straight, then hooked a right on Clarence. I essentially made a big loop and saw her again after cresting the hill at the top of Wilson.
Rochelle picked up her mail from a small gray box in front of a squat, single-story house. The house looked like every other one in any student ghetto in Anywhere, America. Usually, those kind of houses have slum landlords who never fix the locks and let basic security measures wither on the vine. I waited until dark to see if Rochelle’s place conformed to that stereotype.
It did. The backdoor, which led into a scummy kitchen made up of dirty linoleum, had only a single lock as part of the doorknob. Better yet, the door contained a long piece of cracked weatherstripping. I inserted a debit card and slid it down the old black rubber. The door opened without a problem.
When I entered the house, I could hear the shower running upstairs. I looked around the kitchen and found a large knife. I put the knife in my waistband, but made no move to go upstairs. My idea was not to recreate the shower scene in Psycho. Instead, I found the unpainted and wooden door that went down to the basement. I found a dark corner down there and turned on my cell phone’s data.
Why don’t you die?
Writing the first text message was the hardest part. The rest was easy. I unleashed all of my venom at her and blamed her for every little failure in my life. I called her a bunch of names, some that began with a W and some that began with an S. I texted and even called once. She did not pick up and I did not leave a message.
I listened to Rochelle’s footfalls as they landed all over the house. My words had thrown her into a panic. She would stomp through the kitchen, then, for no reason, she would run up the stairs and walk around in what I assumed to be her bedroom. At around nine o’clock, I heard her leave the house altogether.
I waited and waited until I was convinced that Rochelle was not coming back anytime soon. I left the basement and began touring the dark house. I used the bathroom upstairs. It was all white porcelain and mostly clean. After doing my business and washing up, I touched everything in the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. I learned that Rochelle used Colgate toothpaste, didn’t use floss or mouthwash, and had a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. What was Rochelle so worried about? I thought.
I spent the longest time in the bedroom. I made sure not to leave my body’s imprint on the feathery duvet, but I did dip my nose down into the fabric and inhaled. I pawed through Rochelle’s clothes, especially her underwear. I smelled everything, and I fingered all of her books. I wanted every inch of the room to smell like me, so I found a shoebox in her closet and forced myself to defecate in it. I left the box under her bed.
I stole some food from the refrigerator before going back down into the basement. I kept texting her, and I kept receiving silence in reply.
Even at this point I was uncertain of what my final objective was. I had grabbed the knife almost out of instinct. Call it the Horror Movie Instinct. But I was not convinced that I wanted to kill her. I wanted to do something dangerous, but not necessarily murderous. Wound her? Terrify her? Cut myself and leave blood around the house? Yes, yes to all of it.
I used the knife to make small incisions on my thumb and fingers. I painted little circles of blood throughout the house. I remade my text (Why don’t you die?) on her bathroom mirror and bedroom mirror. I checked the soiled shoebox for no reason, then put it back.
At one o’clock, I saw a pair of headlights arc across Rochelle’s bedroom window. The lights remained bright in the window. They denoted a car that had parked somewhere close to the house. It was either Rochelle or someone dropping Rochelle off. I had to hurry.
I raced back down the stairs and found the basement door again. I found my dark little corner again, sat down, and waited. I heard the front door open, and I heard Rochelle walk through the house. Her footfalls were confident and normal at first, but they slowed down and became soft and hesitant as soon as she entered the living room. That’s where I had left a big bit of my blood.
Rochelle called the police somewhere between the living room and her bedroom. I know this because I heard the scream that she let out when she found the words written in her bedroom. That was my cue. I took out the knife and prepared myself for the big slice.
That should have been the end of my Hell, but I failed once again. Failure. That’s all I’ll ever know. The doctor told me that I had failed to sever the artery because I had cut across instead of up. I did lose a lot of blood, though, and that’s why I have these itchy stitches on my wrists.
I can’t stop fingering these stitches and imagining what the scars will look like. The police were nice enough to put the handcuff slightly above my right wrist, but they proved to be cruel in another way. They hid the TV’s remote somewhere in my hospital room, so I was confined to the bed and forced to watch daytime soap operas all day and local news and sitcoms at night. I had to fight these distractions in order to write this all down, but I finished. Thank God I finished.
Do I regret it?
I don’t know what to feel. Maybe a pang of regret, not over Rochelle but over my failure to die.
is a freelance writer based in Boston. He has been published in The American Conservative, Taki's Mag, The Atlantic, Listverse, Terror House Magazine, and others. He is the author of Hands Dabbled in Blood, available now on Amazon.