Friday, May 2, 2008

Architecture of a Skeleton

My boyfriend has died. I am just barely nineteen, he was in the middle of being eighteen, we were deeply in love, I thought he was the one... and all of a sudden, he just vanished. His body is still here, decomposing under the cold, dark Earth... but his soul and his livelihood are lost to the winds.

In the weeks after, I spent many lonely nights huddled in our garage that has always been decked out in living-room fashion (big-screen TV, couches... you name it, we've got it) smoking tear-stained cigarettes and pouring my guts out to my dear mother.

"You'll get through this, honey."
"We're all here for you, darling."
"I love you, try to keep your head up, dear."
"I know this is the worst thing that could have happened, but life will eventually get better, sweetheart."

You know, all the requisite things you have to be told when you've experienced loss. Nobody really knows what to say, and you don't really know what to say back to them either, so mostly everyone resorts to the standard clich├ęs that promote hope and strength. But that's mostly everyone - and it's certainly not your own mother. While she did say to me, at one point or another, all the variants of the above statements, on one particularly grueling night she opened herself up to me in a way that she never had before. She wore her heart square on her sleeve, and for a few minutes of our time, I watched that beautiful heart I hadn't yet seen furiously pumping blood, sad in its own timed little way, but truly and purely alive.

"I just can't believe this, Mom. He was the one, he was supposed to be my future, I had the highest hopes for us, and now it's all gone. It's fucked. He's gone, it's all gone, it's just fucked."

"You can't think like that right now. I know he was your boyfriend and you loved him, but you can't predict that he would have definitively been your future. I had this boyfriend once..."

"Mom, I really don't think I want to hear about this boyfriend of yours right about now."

"No, I need to tell you about this. I thought my future was right in front of me, too, and it turns out that it wasn't."

"Look, Mom. I know you guys broke up because he left you for another woman. This is different. A break-up is one thing, a death is another."

"No. Listen. If you listen to me for one time in your life, let this be it."

"Okay, fine. Go on."

"There's more to this story than I've ever told anyone else, including your father. My parents know, but nobody else in the world does. He did leave me for another woman, yes. That was upsetting enough. But at the time, I was pregnant. We were supposed to get married, and I was pregnant. The situation sort of forced me into an abortion. I did not want to raise a child on my own. I did not want my child to grow up without his father. But I have to believe everything happens for a reason, and I did meet your father, and we had you and your brother, and I couldn't be happier with what I have been given."

I was shocked. Throughout the years I've become somewhat desensitized to drama, as I believe most of us have (in large part due to the scandal-obsessed media), but never had there been any real drama present in my family. Skeletons in the closet? I thought for sure we were bone-free. And yet there I sat, soaked in a year's worth of salty tears, listening to my mother tell me her deepest secret. It was unbelievable, but I knew it was true. My broken heart felt for her, and for the child she had to give up, and all the regret she must have felt, surely still feels, and as she kept talking, my heart kept breaking.

A few weeks later, in an effort to prove to her my willingness to be open with one another, I pressed her for more details. I sat in a chair on the balcony, smoking a cigarette, and she joined me, smoking her own cigarette. As we sat there together, she told me more about this man who gave her and their unborn child up in order to be with some woman that has probably since left him.

"I don't even remember how we met. Well, no. Now I remember. It was New Year's Eve, and we were at a party, and somebody introduced us. He was sitting on a chair, and I sat down on the floor next to him. You know how I sit now, next to Dad? Just like that. I think he hugged me; that's how it all started. We dated for 4 years, but your grandma never liked him; he was so... well, for example, I would have to call five times in order to get him to spend time with me, it was like pulling teeth.

We were dating for about two years when his mom developed brain cancer. One day, he called me and told me his mom wanted to see me. She started hallucinating, she thought her son had killed me and thrown me in the river, so she wanted to make sure I was still alive. That was probably the hardest day of my life, it was winter and I had to take a bus, and my legs were so heavy I could barely even make it to the bus stop. I finally made it to the house, and she saw me, and she was okay. Soon after, she died. She left behind my boyfriend, his brother, and their father. Now, since the only woman in the family had died, his father thought it would be good for us to get married. He was in college, and he didn't want to get married before he finished college. His excuse was that he wanted to be able to give me something in life. That was a bunch of bullshit.

We both worked at the same bus station his father managed. One day, this girl came in, she was hired for the summer. She was a very pretty, Marilyn Monroe type: blonde, big boobs. He started spending time with her while we were still together... I had suspicions that he was cheating, but I didn't want to believe it. By this time, I was pregnant. I was throwing up constantly. I lost so much weight. I wasn't eating because of the relationship stress, and I was throwing up because I was pregnant. One day, I went to his house and his dad was there. My boyfriend had gone out, without telling anybody where he was going. He actually just went down to the store, but I thought he was going to go and hook up with that girl, so I left his house and I walked to the bus station where we worked to see if he was there with her. He wasn't, so I went home. That night, he called me and told me everything he had done... it was obvious, he never had wanted to marry me.

The last day that I ever saw him, I went to his house and his dad was there again. His dad started talking to him about us and he just put a pillow over his ears because he didn't want to listen that badly. At that point, I knew it was really over for good. His father offered me the money for an abortion. When I left the house, his dad came with me to the bus stop, and he told me, 'You know what? There is better luck waiting for you somewhere else. That's why you guys aren't getting married and why you're not in our family.' They all knew me, and they all loved me, and there I was, standing at the bus stop on that lonely summer night, waiting for the last time.

I have not seen him since. I often wonder how he looks now, or if he has children with someone else. One of my relatives told me he had a nervous breakdown. I don't know if she was lying to me to make me feel better or if that really happened. For a month, about a month and a half, I used to go out to all the places we frequented, hoping to see him. I wrote him many unsent letters. Then I met your father, three weeks later we got married, and that was it.”

My mother: the most lovely, kind, and patient woman I have ever met, with all this pain and heartbreak in her past of a magnitude that I could not have imagined. I always knew there was something hiding back there in the depths of the closet, a little skeleton she chose to keep to herself. Never could I have imagined that her lonely little skeleton would turn out to be child-sized.


Delia said...

So vivid-you create a visual and take the reader through the emotions. This is beautiful and so human.

Jayne said...

I remember learning stories like this from my "perfect on the outside" mother about her life pre-dad and pre-4 kids... it's comforting and disturbing at the same time, learning that nobody is perfect and learning that heartache is waiting for all of us, most likely many times over.

and you? have you come to realize that your ex wasn't the only one for you?

Girl With Curious Hair said...

The things it takes for parents to open up some times...

I'm sorry for your loss.

Alex the Odd said...

This is a beautiful story. I can't imagine finding anything like that out about either of my parents - all their secrets have always been out in the open.

I hope you're getting through ok.

Jumping Fences said...

jayne - it's still a little soon for me to have come to any conclusions about life and the future and all of that, but i'm at the point where i can acknowledge the comfort and honesty in eventually coming to realize he wasn't the only one for me.

Jumping Fences said...

everyone else - thank you for the kind words.

alex - i am as okay as i could possibly be, i think. (who could've guessed the things we're able to get through? every time i imagined someone close to me dying, i always imagined myself dying right along with them. real life's a hell of a lot different!)