Three Words

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Three Words

by

Phoenix Hocking

The priest stood before the mound of dirt that covered my girlfriend’s body. “May God grant you rest,” he intoned as he made the sign of the cross in the air, “and may you find contentment in Heaven, as you never did on earth.”

He looked straight at me then, and I shivered.

I hadn’t meant to kill her. Truly. I only meant… I only… Oh hell, I don’t know what I meant. It doesn’t matter now anyway.

Oh, I didn’t actually kill her kill her, if you get my drift. I mean, I never held a gun to her head or a knife to her throat, but still, I feel as responsible as if I had. If only I hadn’t encouraged her in her madness, in her obsession, maybe she’d still be alive today. Maybe… well, maybe a lot of things might have turned out differently.

After the service I sat on a nearby bench, brooding. It was a beautiful day, the kind Madelyn loved. The sky held just enough wispy clouds to block the worst of the sun, and birds twittered in the trees next to her grave. Butterflies danced among the gravestones, filling the cemetery with flying bits of color.

I fell in love with Madelyn the first time I saw her. I was seven, she was six, and her family had moved next door to mine. She was thin, even then, with long, red, curly hair that cascaded down her back like a waterfall. She wore a green dress and black Mary Janes, that first day.

She’d stood in front of her mother, and Madelyn had one hand out and the other hand on her hip, saying, “I want more!” Her mother gave her another sweet, told her to go find someone to play with, then continued moving things into the house.

Who she found to play with was me. And I was soon to learn that those three words, “I want more!” would come to rule her life.

In all the years I knew her, Madelyn was never content with what she had. She always wanted more. She got A’s in school. I never once knew her get a ninety-nine percent on a test. She only got perfect scores. It was not enough that she was the best speller in class, in school; she had to go on to regional, state, and national championships, and win them all. She was brilliant, and she knew it.

In high school she was class president four years running, valedictorian at commencement, Prom Queen. In college, she was president of her sorority, and graduated in three years instead of four.

She never wanted to marry, or have children. I asked her to marry me once, and she just laughed. “Oh, Steve,” she said, “that would ruin everything!”

“What do you mean ruin everything?” I asked, crushed at her refusal.

“Marriage and children are just roadblocks when you’re on the fast track,” she replied.

And on the fast track she was. Straight out of college she took a position at a well-known company as a sales associate. By the end of the first year, she was top salesperson. At the end of three years, she was managing the branch. At five years she was president of the company. At seven, she was the owner.

She started out with a used Toyota, which soon became a three-hundred thousand dollar Ferrari. She started with a one-bedroom condo in a middle-class neighborhood, which became a multi-million dollar home on twelve acres.

And still, she was not content. She wanted more. She could not have just one dog from the pound. No, she had to have a thousand-dollar pure-bred, which eventually became a kennel full of pure-bred dogs. Her single horse became a stable of thoroughbreds. Her garage became home to six expensive vehicles, each larger than the last, or at least more costly.

And all this time, there I was, cheering her on, encouraging her to go farther, reach higher, do better than everyone else. I thought she was the most ambitious person I’d ever met. But under that ambition was madness, pure and simple. Utter and complete insanity.

But, in my own defense, isn’t that what we’re taught? That more is better? That a Cadillac is better than a Vespa, or a vacation to Europe beats a trip to Disneyland? That steak is better than hotdogs, and a bottle of Dom Perignon is better than Coors? No, we must have more. More money, more prestige, more power, more everything. More, always more.

In retrospect, I suppose it is strange that I still considered her my “girlfriend,” since we hadn’t really been an item for many years. Just as one of anything wasn’t enough for her, one boyfriend wasn’t either. We remained friends throughout the years, though, and I liked to think that I was the one person she could count on, could trust, could share her dreams with.

What a fool I was! I saw the person she wanted me to see – the same ambitious, successful, powerful, rich woman the rest of the world saw. I never saw the madness hidden beneath the facade. I don’t think any of us did.

One day, she and I were sitting on her veranda, looking out over her acreage, drinking a very fine port. The sun was just beginning to set behind the distant hills, and her land was bathed in golden light. She was unusually quiet, and I asked her, “Madelyn, are you all right?”

She looked out over the property she had bought, taking in the horses in the field, and the dogs romping nearby. “No,” she replied. “I want more.”

“More? Good Lord, Madelyn, what more is there?”

She waved a hand. “See this? It’s all stuff. I don’t want more stuff.”

“Then what do you want?” I asked.

She set her glass of very expensive port on the very expensive side table next to her and leaned forward, eyes focused on something only she could see. “I want God,” she said.

“God?!” I almost dropped my drink. “What do you mean? You’ve never been a religious person.”

“I know,” she answered. “But maybe that’s what’s missing in my life.”

“What are you talking about?” I snapped. “You have everything anybody could want. Why isn’t anything enough for you?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I wish I did. But all of this…” and she waved a hand over the scenery. “All of this is going to go. I’m going to join a convent.”

And then, I really did drop my drink.

For once, I tried to talk her out of something. Not that I tried to talk her out of God, no, not that. Of course not that. But out of her next move, her next crazy, foolhardy, insane move, that I tried to persuade her against.

She didn’t listen to me.

She joined the convent anyway. She sold everything she owned and gave the proceeds to the church, free and clear. Gone were the fancy cars, the stable full of thoroughbreds, the kennel full of pure-bred dogs. Gone were the beautiful dresses, the expensive jewelry, the company she owned.

I kept in touch after she joined the convent. We corresponded all throughout her years as a postulant, her years as a novice.

For once, though, she could not move forward any faster than anyone else, and I know it chafed at her. But once she made her final vows, she rose in the ranks, just as I knew she would. She became the youngest Mother Superior her Order had ever had.

And there she stopped, as there was nowhere else for her to go.

The tone of her letters during this time changed. She began to ramble on about the state of the world, expressing disappointment with God for allowing evil to continue. Abruptly, the letters changed again to hopeful optimism, and I hoped perhaps she had finally found her happiness, her contentment, her joy. But I was wrong.

She wanted more.

I felt someone sit on the bench next to me, and glanced over to find Father Richard at my side. He looked at the mound that covered the woman we both loved, though in different ways, and sighed.

“Do you think she’s happy now?” I asked, the words sticking in my throat.

“I think she’s in for a big surprise,” he answered sadly.

You see, he and I had received copies of her suicide note. “It’s not enough,” she had written. “All my life, I have wanted more, and I find myself thinking Is this all there is? I still want more, but I realize that I’m never going to find the More that I want in this life. I want God, but in order to find God, I have to go where He is, and once I get there, I’m going to take His job.”

There was more to the note, faint ramblings of a disturbed mind, disjointed accounts of how she would change the world to suit her. It was sad, and disturbing, and somehow her letter made me angry. Angry that I had never seen the pain beneath her striving, never seen the madness behind her obsession with more.

I smiled as a butterfly came and hovered briefly over Madelyn’s grave. “You may be right,” I said to the priest. “But I don’t envy God keeping Madelyn in check, even in Heaven.”

Father Richard chuckled and shook his head. Then he rose and held out a hand. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go have a glass of port in memory of an extraordinary woman, shall we?”

As we left the cemetery, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shaft of light filter out of the clouds and illuminate Madelyn’s grave, where a hundred butterflies were now flying in circles.

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