Saturday, December 19, 2009

11.) Tough Cookie

Soundtrack Song - Switchfoot, Dare You to Move

The car ride back to Jo's was awkward. We were both silent, and I sure as hell didn't know what to say. I knew that I had the best of intentions in trying to be an outlet for her, so she'd have someone to talk to. But I was no longer so sure that I could be of service. I didn't know what to do. And I felt bad that I was clueless. I hated wanting to help, but not knowing how to.

As I drove, Jo stared out the window. Tension radiated off of her, and I could tell that she was willing herself to not cry. Her teeth were clamped on her bottom lip, her eyes were blinking furiously, her fingernails were digging into her palm, and her entire body was rigid.

I was surprised at how easily she had opened up to me and how much she told me. Sure, it took a little bit of coaxing, but only a little bit; I had expected I would have to ask lots of questions. I thought it was going to be like pulling teeth. It hadn't gone like that at all.

Then again, she had been the one that had called and took that particular step toward opening up, so maybe I shouldn't have been entirely surprised that she did. Even tough cookies get soggy when you dip them in milk.

So I was scared to push my luck and try to keep her talking. She had let me in, to a certain extent, and had reached her breaking point. Jo needed a breather, a chance to calm down; which is why I agreed when she said she wanted to leave. That was a lot of progress, I thought; but there was still a long way to go before she would completely trust me and be willing to listen to any advice, but I had the time. And I was in over my head. I needed time to digest everything she had said.

When I pulled up in front of her house, she didn't even notice. Jo was off in her own world, completely unaware of what was going on around her. To be polite, I got out and moved around to her side of the vehicle to open the door for her. I wanted to make sure she was okay before I left her by herself. She probably felt all alone, and that's exactly the time when no one should be alone. I kept my eyes trained on her, watching her through the windshield, as I walked around the front of the car. I continued to watch as she jerked, as though suddenly aware of where she was, and grabbed for the door handle. And I continued to watch as she looked to her left, where I should have been sitting, and flung her door open quickly, smacking me right in the face.

“Oh, shit!” she exclaimed, panicking as I brought my hand up to my nose.

Tears stung my eyes, but I knew it wasn't broken. “I'm okay,” I assured her, pulling my hand down so she could see for herself.

“You're bleeding,” she informed me, and I looked down at my hand and found the tell-tale red drops on my hand. “I fucking made you bleed.”

I pressed my hand back up to my nose and checked again. I wasn’t bleeding badly—just enough to need tending to. “It was an accident. I’ll live,” I joked, pressing my hand against my nostrils and glancing back up at her. “Oh, Jo. Please don’t cry.”

“First you say to let it out, and then you tell me not to?” she joked back, trying to appear like she was unfazed. However, this was the catalyst that brought about the catharsis she had been trying so hard to avoid.

The tears started cascading down her cheeks as sure as the blood dripped down my face, but I was too concerned for Jo to note the humor of the situation. “I’ve suffered a lot worse than bloody noses. I just need to clean up,” I said, prompting her into action.

“Yeah. Come on,” she replied. Jo reached out for my free arm, tugging on the sleeve of my hoodie and pulling me behind her as she headed for her front door. It was a kind gesture, besides the fact that she had a hold of the fabric of my sweatshirt and wasn’t actually touching me. I followed closely behind, and she unlocked the door and let us in.

It felt so weird to be back here, in her house where this whole thing started. Jo walked into what I knew to be the kitchen, and she quickly came back with a damp paper towel. I reached out to take it from her, but she batted my hand away and dabbed at my face. “I can do it myself,” I told her.

“Please, let me. It’s all my fault.”

“It was an accident.”

She shook her head and continued to wipe, focusing completely on what she was doing. “I wasn’t paying attention. I’m sorry. I can’t believe I did this to you.”

I lowered my chin to look at her better, to see if she was still upset, but she put her free hand under my jaw and pushed upwardly. “Elevated.”

“This is so embarrassing,” I mumbled, rolling my eyes. “Seriously, Jo, not a big deal.”

“Hold this here while I get an ice bag.”

“Not necessary.”

She pouted. “Please let me fix this,” Jo pleaded quietly.

I sighed dramatically and took the paper towel from her hand, holding it in place. “Since you asked so nicely,” I replied, peering down at her. She still looked upset, but being proactive and finding a way to help was making her feel better. I couldn’t say no to that.

“Elevated,” she repeated. “Go sit down. I’ll be right in.”

Like a mindless drone, I obeyed, sitting on the couch in the living room. My eyes sought out the picture I knew on the bookshelf; the very same picture I’d seen two days ago. I wanted to tell Jo that I’ve taken hits into the boards—hell, I’ve been bitten—so while being smacked in the face with a car door sucked, it was hardly the production she was making it out to be. However, I also knew that this wasn’t what this was about. It was about wanting to take control of a controllable situation. Fixing what she could fix. Placing a Band-Aid over a boo-boo and making it all better.

Besides, telling Jo that I was a hockey player (and being fully capable of taking abuse) was not going to be at all reassuring to her. I was glad that she had told me enough about her brother so I wouldn’t misspeak.

Jo walked back in, having shed her jacket, and she perched herself on her knees on the cushion beside me. She hovered over me, inspecting my face for damage, I guess. “Does it still hurt?”

“No,” I lied, wincing as she placed the bag of ice on my face.

“Men,” she sighed, humor in her red-rimmed eyes. “Always need to be macho.”

I couldn’t resist. “Not like you ever put up a front or anything.” I watched as she pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at me. She let go of the ice bag so the full weight of the ice hit the sore spot on my nose, and I groaned.

“Sorry,” she apologized, not really sounding penitent at all.

Reaching up to adjust the bag and decrease the pressure, I cast another look in her direction. Jo was still really close to me, even though her head was turned away. I took in the full of sight of her, including her puffy eyes, tear-streaked cheeks, chapped lips, and even the black bra she was wearing under her white shirt. When she turned back to face me, I quickly closed my eyes and rested my head against the back of the couch.

I felt as she shifted her weight beside me, rocking back until she was sitting on her feet. The awkwardness returned as we didn’t know what to do with each other. I knew that her timidity was stemming from her vulnerability. She’d told me a lot about herself; she told me everything she’d tried to keep hidden safely below the surface. But I didn’t think she had anything to worry about. I’d wanted her to open up. That had been the whole point.

“Do you want anything? Something to eat or drink?” she offered, desperately trying to fill the uncomfortable silence with something, anything.

“I just ate,” I chuckled, opening one eye to look at her again.

“Oh yeah,” she mumbled, staring down at her hands and picking at her cuticles. We passed a few more moments in that quiet fashion: Jo, nervously fidgeting, and me, watching her squirm agitatedly. She opened her mouth to speak but then abruptly shut it again.

“What?”

“Huh?”

“You were going to say something.”

“No I wasn’t,” she replied. I raised an eyebrow questioningly, knowing that she wasn’t being honest. Jo sighed. “I keep thinking about what you said.”

When she stopped after that statement, I coaxed her into continuing. “I said a lot of things. I’m afraid you’re going to have to be a little more specific.”

She smirked a little and shook her head. “Are you always like this?”

I laughed. “I guess you’ll have to hang out with me more to find out.” Jo just continued to shake her head, her mind somewhere else. “Seriously. What were you going to say?”

Jo went back to picking at her nails. I was starting to notice all her nervous habits—namely, keeping her hands busy. Her voice was so low when she finally confessed. “You said.... You said that maybe, he was saving me from having to see it. But I thought about it, the whole ride over here. That can’t be. It would be nice to be able to think of it that way, but that would mean he knew it was going to happen. And if he knew, he wouldn't have let it happen.”

“So you’d rather blame it on coincidence?”

“No. I told you, it would be nice to think it happened that way for a reason—”

“Then why not believe it?”

“Because why did it have to happen at all?”

Isn’t that the question that we all ask when someone we love passes on? Why? I know I asked that question—and still ask it—repeatedly and often. “I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “I don’t know why things like that happen. But I can only hope that they happen for a reason, even if I can’t possibly understand that reason or fathom why.”

Jo scratched her temple, ran her hand through her hair, and then placed that hand below her chin as she stared out into space. “I hate when people say that. That it happened for a reason. Or that God has His plans, and we shouldn’t question it or Him. Well, I’m fucking questioning it. We’re not given anything we can’t handle. Or what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I hate those damned canned responses.”

“That’s the purpose of trust,” I explained. “Of faith.”

“Faith in what? Trust in whom? I can’t believe in anything—or anyone—who believes something good came out of James dying.”

“So you want to think it happened for no good reason? That it was meaningless?”

“If I can’t find any positive meaning in it, does that make it meaningless?”

“Yeah, I think it does.”

“Then yes. I think it was meaningless. I don’t want to assign meaning or rationale to something so devastating. Because then I’d be saying that it was okay that he died. And it wasn’t—it isn’t—okay.”

I didn’t think Jo realized what she just said, but that seemed to be the root of her philosophy. If she, for whatever reason, found a way to deal with his death in a positive manner... if she found a way to learn from it and move on as a better person after living through that experience... then it would mean she was somehow justifying his death. And his senseless death had no justification. “Taking something from his death doesn’t mean it’s okay.”

“Is that how you dealt with losing Luc?” she asked, point blankly.

An answer to that question did not automatically come to me. Yes, that was essentially how I had dealt with it; I learned from his accident. I decided against buying the motorcycle. There was no way I could possibly ever get on one after that. That wasn’t just a conscious choice—it was a no-brainer for me. I had developed an instant aversion to the idea of ever purchasing, let alone riding, a bike.

But more than that, I had changed my perspective. When something unfortunate happened to someone else, I did my best to prevent that from ever happening to me. We as humans must constantly learn to adapt in order to survive. Luc’s death taught me that. So I suppose I did assign a meaning to it; whether I did that because I needed to was another story. But I couldn’t tell that to her, because I didn’t think she’d want to hear it.

When I didn’t answer, Jo continued. “Maybe you don’t have everything figured out. It’s easy to tell someone else what’s right and what’s wrong, but it’s more difficult when it’s your own life.”

“It’s different.”

“Is it?” she asked.

I removed the ice bag from my face and sat up. “I can’t live in chaos and think that things happen for no randomly and without excuse. That there’s no rhyme or reason to it. Whether it’s good or bad, I accept it for what it is and know that I can’t change it. And most of all, I learn from it. That’s how I deal with life.”

“Good for you. But I don’t let life happen to me, just so I can ‘learn from it,’ as you say. I can’t live in a bubble like you do. I’ve gotta grab life by the horns and live, and have fun while there’s fun to be had. Live life to the fullest, because we only get one chance to enjoy it.”

I wasn't sure that the way she was living constituted enjoying life to its fullest capacity. But I knew I was. “Are you saying that I don’t?”

Jo shrugged. “Maybe you do. I don’t know you well enough to make that kind of assumption. But I can tell you that living a cautious, safe life is not good enough for me. That’s the only thing I’ve learned from what happened to James. You gotta live like each moment’s your last. No regrets. But then again, that’s the lifestyle that’s right for me. If you don’t agree with it, I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong.”

I nodded, pressed the ice bag back to my face, and leaned against the couch again. “You don’t even believe in it enough to tout the benefits of living that way.” Then I shook my head. “If you really believe in it, you’d want to tell other people. You’d want to share that secret with others—it’s just the way people are. It’s how we work. When we think we’re right, we want to say so. We want to make everyone believe it. So that means to me that you don’t even honestly believe it yourself.”

“Well, I do,” she replied stubbornly. “I truly, truly do.”

I paused before speaking next. “It sounds to me like you’re scared.”

“Scared? Pfft. I’m not scared of anything. Why would you even say that?”

“Scared to give meaning to anything. Scared to live for a bigger reason other than to have fun.”

“Well, that’s just ridiculous. There’s no other reason to live than to be happy and have fun.”

“There’s more to it than the pursuit of happiness. It’s important, of course, but it’s not all.”

“Oh yeah? So then, what else? Please, Kris, enlighten me,” she spat sarcastically.

I ignored her tone and answered her question. “It’s about making other people happy.”

Jo snorted and rolled her eyes. “That’s it? That’s your big meaning to life? I’d rather not make anyone else my responsibility and just worry about myself.”

“That’s a little selfish, don’t you think?”

“Asking someone else to make you happy is selfish.” Jo looked down at her hands as she went back to picking at them. “It’s not fair to ask that of someone else.”

“Unless that someone else wants to do it,” I explained, turning to face her. “It’s okay to rely on other people for the things you need in life. For happiness. For help. Even for advice.”

“You just listed all the things that I don’t need from anyone else.” I shook my head. And here I thought we were making progress. I closed my eyes and thought to myself that while the pieces were beginning to fall into place, I was no closer to solving the puzzle that was Jo.

7 comments:

  1. Oh Jo... You're just the impossible conundrum Kris needs to keep him busy! You're never gonna get rid of him now!

    Haha. I did love that she hit him with the door. Priceless!

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  2. Poor Kris!
    His nose & he's going to have to be really Patient with her.
    Jo's hardly giving an inch!

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  3. As I go...

    "She probably felt all alone, and that's exactly the time when no one should be alone"
    ^^ Aww it's so true! I wish more guys understood that... but they don't... only perfect Kris =)


    “Then yes. I think it was meaningless. I don’t want to assign meaning or rationale to something so devastating. Because then I’d be saying that it was okay that he died. And it wasn’t—it isn’t—okay.”
    ^^ I feel like I just got punched in the face... I mean, I totally get this... I've never lost anyone close to me, not in the actual 'death' sense... but I can relate to what she's saying.
    I felt the same way - and still do feel the same way - you don't want to hear what people have to say about it... cause you don't to accept that it's happened, and that there was a reason for it.

    I also relate deeply to the 'insert random quote here' concept. If one more person tells me 'there's more fish in the ocean', heads *will* roll! lol

    Seriously, I love Jo! Even though she could be doing so much better, at least she knows in her heart that this isn't the 'perfect' way to live.
    Kris needs to learn that. He needs to understand that he hasn't moved on either, not really.

    I love this story so much... I wanna say more but I also want to go read it again lol.

    Love!

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  4. @Zigh - I love your comments as much as I love reading Jay's story!

    Really sweet interaction and awkwardness between the two of them after the whole "hitting the nose with the car door incident" - fabulous, as always, and the dialogue is wowza!

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  5. I have to first mention how intrigued I was by the slowly building attraction between them this whole chapter. It's both physical and mental attraction and I'm so excited to see where it goes for them and how long it takes them both to come around and start trusting each other.

    The car incident was so funny and adorable that it was probably my favorite part of this whole chapter. Just imagining him getting impaled by a car door was priceless :)

    Great chapter!

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  6. Alright, so the beginning where Jo slammed the car door into Kris' nose, was impossibly sweet. I loved how she wanted to take care of him.<3

    I also love how Kris knows exactly what he's getting himself into with Jo, but he's willing to stick it out. Now, that's a man ;)

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  7. Ahh!! How did I not know you were writing this?!!!! *Goes to read the beginning*

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