Yesterday afternoon, Steve came by. At first I thought he was going to treat me with kid gloves the way most of my other friends have, but that wasn't the case. He had an idea for some tough love to help me deal with the fact that I can't deal with stress the way I used to.
Which is ironic and pretty funny since Steve is easily the most compassionate and loving person I know. I mean, he's the least likely badass you could ever meet. I've mentioned more than once that with his soft voice, calm demeanor and almost comically nerdy personality, no one would expect him to be as dangerous as he is. Surprisingly tough, too. He lost an eye and just kept on going like it wasn't a thing.
Instead of sitting in my living room, commiserating on how hard the simplest tasks can be for me, he cut through the bullshit small-talk pretty quick. Steve brought a little bag with him, and he opened it up to show me what was inside: two handguns. I knew them at first glance very intimately, as both of them were my own weapons. It had been so long since I lent them out to Steve and Courtney, before their big trip across the country quite a while back, that I had almost forgotten about them.
The older of the two was my first gun, a Smith & Wesson .40 caliber. It was the gun I learned to shoot with, the one I had before The Fall came about. The other, a Glock 23, is also a .40 caliber. I've never been the kind of person to shy away from weapons, especially my own. I've fired thousands of rounds, killed many zombies (and, unfortunately, living things) and never felt the slightest bit of dread at seeing a gun, knife, sword, spear, or whatever.
But I recoiled just looking at those simple tools. I knew in my head that's what they were, just objects in space that needed a mind to give them purpose. Maybe it's precisely because I've used them so often over the last few years, but I couldn't look at my weapons without shuddering.
As you can guess, Steve wasn't going to take no for an answer. He zipped the bag up and made me come with him to the wall. We toured the sections ravaged by the zombie attacks yesterday, which are becoming overwhelming. He showed me the piles of undead being burned in the aftermath, and explained how hard-pressed our assault teams are. Fall is approaching, and winter after that. The undead are coming here not just from Louisville but from the south as well in increasing numbers. They can smell living people here from miles away, and they're hungry.
He took me by the clinic and made me look at the people injured in yesterday's attacks. I saw the bodies of the slain.
Then we went to the vacant lot hemmed in by heavy fencing near the clinic. It's a familiar place to me; I did some terrible experiments there. We sat outside the lot and talked, and I told Steve how sorry I was. I told him how I knew I was letting people down, and all the other awful things that come into the minds of people like me when bad things happen.
He slapped me on the back of the head. Hard.
Then he told me in no uncertain terms that it wasn't my fault and that only an ego the size of a school bus would cause me to think that. He didn't show me all the fallout and damage to make me feel guilty or responsible. He showed me because no one else thought I could handle the reality of the situation. He showed me because he knew I needed to be confronted with stress and fear if I'm ever to overcome it.
That's also why he handed me my Glock, pushed me through the gate and into the lot, and came in behind me. Three captive zombies were there, new breed. They huddled together in the corner, tearing at the ropes tied to their legs. My hand shook as I watched the fibers shred and disintegrate under their fingers. I tried to slow my breathing, get control.
Steve stood by me, because that's what friends do. He was steady and solid, a presence of comfort even though he had brought this panic on me.
And then the first of them got loose. Well. I don't need to tell you how it went, do I? I'm here writing this, after all.