Tuesday, March 23, 2010

61.) Black Hole Heart

Sometimes, apparently, I think it's worse than what it is. But then sometimes, I think I strike gold.

Soundtrack Song - Metric, Help I'm Alive

“Come in with me?” she asked quietly, casting a quick glance in my direction like she was afraid that I would say no.

“Sure,” I replied, shutting off the engine and walking with her as she hobbled to the front door.

Her hand was shaking as she fumbled with her keys and unlocked the front door. She reached to her right and flicked on the lights. “Home sweet home,” her voice wobbled. As she stepped into the house and looked around, it looked like Jo expected the walls to cave in and collapse on her, trapping and burying her here.

It was clear that she didn’t want to be here. I was just supposed to help her gather some of her things so we could go back to my place, because she said she didn’t have anything she’d need to spend another night there. It was understood that Jo would be spending the night indefinitely without having to give me a flat-out answer. The words she used were “staying with me” rather than “moving in.” That bothered me a little, and yet it didn’t; I was happy that she’d be sleeping in my bed nightly even if it wasn’t an official move-in. After all, she’d basically told me that she wanted to say yes, but something was holding her back from that. I didn’t know what it was, but I didn’t think she knew it either.

“Um, can you grab Ice Road Truckers for me? It’s still in the DVD player. I’m gonna go grab some clothes.”

I nodded at her and headed into the living room as she took the stairs. Just from looking around the place, I could tell that no one had been here in days. There was a thin layer of dust on everything. The place just had a feeling of coldness and emptiness. It looked lived in, with the pictures in frames on the shelves and the afghan thrown over the back of the couch, but it didn’t have that feel anymore.

When I didn’t hear footsteps or movement on the floor above me, I followed Jo. I headed for her bedroom, which was the last door down the hall on the left, but a door on the right is what caught my attention. I had never really noticed it before, because it was always closed. But now it was slightly ajar. Pushing the door open even more, I was surprised by the stale air.

The walls were painted blue, with a Grand Theft Auto poster, pictures of Lindsey Lohan, and Penguins paraphernalia splayed over them. It was old Penguins stuff from the ’06-’07 season, which I began on the NHL roster. I was in that one picture. Weird. There were some tarnished trophies on the dresser, as well as a TV and an outdated video game system. Hockey sticks in the corner, empty CD cases strewn about the floor, and even a few back issues of Maxim by the bed. The place was the epitome of a teenage boy’s room—complete with bottle of lotion on the night stand.

It’s kind of funny, because I never thought about his room. I knew Jo had grown up here, and obviously James had too, but I never wondered about what it would be like. I think that what a person does with a room of a dead loved one says a lot about how they deal with the pain. You can either close the door and lock it up, never touching it again and pretending like it’s not there or nothing’s changed; or you can tear down the walls and convert it into a game room, using the fun atmosphere as a pretense of acceptance. The fact that this room looked exactly the same as I’m sure it always had been was revealing.

Jo was stretched out on the bed, her feet by the pillows and her head hanging off the foot of the bed, looking toward the dresser. I didn’t want to step in here and interrupt her thoughts, but I didn’t have to. She spoke up before I could retreat, “Can you believe this is the first time I’ve been in here, since...?”

I didn’t say anything. This wasn’t something I had thought of. It was best if I just let her talk.

She continued, “He’d kill me if he knew I was in here, without him. We were really close, but he hated anyone being in his room without his permission. He called it his ‘man cave.’”

I chuckled, leaning against the doorframe and pushing my hands into my pockets. I still didn’t want to step beyond the threshold. This was a sacred place, and I was an intruder. But I threw in my two cents, “Yeah, I was the same way.”

“I just wanted to obey his wishes, you know, by staying out.” Her lips trembled and her jaw ticked. “And as I was walking by to get to my room just now, I was thinking that, if I leave, I wouldn’t be able to come in here. Which is stupid because when I was living here, I didn’t come in here. Fucking hell, I’m so confused.” She looked over at me. “And did you see the place? My dad wasn’t here, he hasn’t been here the whole time. I mean, he probably left after I did and never came back. If I’m not here, this place is going to be empty.”

“So?”

She shrugged awkwardly in her supine position. “I don’t know how I feel about that.” Jo paused, trying to let me in on what was going on in her head, but her stream of consciousness was full of twists and turns. To her, it undoubtedly made sense, but I had to hold onto the lap bar as I rode this roller coaster, just to make sure I kept up with her. “If I leave, what happens to this place? I’m not the guardian of it, I mean I shouldn’t be, but it’s like I am. It shouldn’t even be any of my concern, but... leaving here would mean goodbye.”

In my head, I thought, goodbye to what? Goodbye to a home that was already empty? Goodbye to a father that had abandoned her? She didn’t—and never would—say goodbye to James.

“And it’s not just me saying goodbye. It’s bigger than that. I’m the last one who cares, the last one who even knows the significance of this place and gives two shits about it. If no one’s here, this entire place will be forgotten, and everything it used to be and what it still means to me. When I close the door of this home, it’s closing the door on that whole entire part of my life. It’s leaving that all behind. And I know that it’s always been that way, but this is just so... final. God, I’m scared, because what happens if I let it all go, and you leave me, too?”

Her insecurity meant she was holding onto the past, a past full of pain. All because she was worried that she’d be opening herself up to a new hurt. “Jo—”

“Please don’t say anything,” she weakly demanded. “I know what you’re going to say, and you’re going to say all the right things, Kris, but you can’t predict the future. I trust that you mean every word, but I don’t trust this fickle world. Haven’t we been through this before, that bad things happen even if we kick and scream and beg and barter and plead and try to make sure that they won’t? You’ve been through it, and so have I, and we both know that it sucks and you can’t stop what happens no matter how hard you try. So, what if I move in with you, and then we break up and I end up right back here, after I say my goodbyes to it and leave it behind? What if... what you say makes you happy now won’t make you happy in a few months?”

I opened my mouth and waited for a profound statement to come out. But it didn’t, so I tried to think of something. “I guess you’re right. Neither of us knows what’s going to happen. But isn’t that the point of enjoying the good stuff now, while it lasts? Isn’t that what you’ve said to me?” When I said that, my own words surprised me. It sounded a little cynical, but I meant it to be hopeful.

“Yeah, it is,” she sighed, her head flopping backward so she could stare at the dresser again. “Since when did you start believing it?”

“Since you stopped.” I moved into the room, standing over her so she had to look at me instead of James’s old trophies. “Can I tell you what I think is going on here?” She nodded, so I offered my explanation. “I think you’re finally mourning the loss of your brother because you’re trying to move on without really dealing with it, and that’s why you’re so worked up about everything,” I told her, hinting that maybe she was overthinking her decision about whether or not she wanted to leave this place behind and start over. Because this was her childhood home, and maybe subconsciously she hadn’t yet realized that she wasn’t ready to let go, move out, and move on. It wasn’t that she didn’t love me or that she didn’t want to live with me; not at all. This was something else entirely.

The pain she still felt regarding James and how her world had been rocked was like a black hole in her heart: it sucked up all the good emotions that she felt and that people shared with her, still leaving her with an empty, sinking sensation. I knew that well, because I had been there, desperately trying to fill a hole that can’t be filled. And I knew what it was like to be surrounded by people who don’t understand it either, people who think you’re just being greedy because you take and take and demand so much from them when you’re just trying to fill that hole. How even your own love for someone else can’t escape past the event horizon—it just gets sucked back up inside your black hole heart. It wasn’t her fault; she couldn’t help it.

She felt like she had been taking advantage of me and of Tubby, but that wasn’t her purposeful intention. No one ever realizes how death can affect you, beyond just the initial loss and depression. It changes everything.

“Sorry, Kris, but that’s fucking bullshit. I’ve been mourning him since I got the news.”

“Let me finish?” I knelt and cradled her face in my hands, looking down into her eyes. She stayed quiet, letting me go on with my speech. “I don’t mean being sad. You’ve been sad for two years. I mean, mourn. Grieve. Dealing with it and trying to move on. I think that after it happened, things kinda fell apart and you did what you had to in order to survive in the present moment. That’s why you lived moment to moment, day by day, never letting yourself think about the future. But now you’re trying to go forward, and you think it means letting go of the past—when really it just means letting go of the pain associated with it. There's a difference between the two, because eventually you’ll be able to remember James and the way your family was and the good times and not feel quite so devastated by the loss of it.

“But until you let go of the hurt, you won’t let yourself be happy. And I think you won’t because you think that you’re doing James a disservice if you do. Like if you’re not saddened by it anymore, it means you’re not missing him or you’ve forgotten him. But that’s not true. In fact, it’s a disservice if you let this stop you from living your life and achieving all your dreams. You can do it, Jo. You can miss him without being crippled by the pain.”

“But I thought you said it always hurts.”

“It does, Jo, but—”

“Then how can I ever think of James and not feel like half of me has died?” There was a twinge of attitude in her voice, but she asked with complete sincerity. “How did you do it?”

I shrugged and tilted my head to the side. “I had people around me who I could talk to and share things with, like Luc’s family, his girlfriend, my mom—even the guys who didn’t know Luc were understanding. At first, we couldn’t talk about him or our memories of him without feeling like the world was ending. But eventually, as we continued to talk about him and remember, it got easier. It’s because I had them there to go through that with. And who was there for you?”

“Tubby,” she said with a slight smile.

Nodding, I answered, “Yeah, and I’m glad that you had someone like Tubby. But he kept you in this bubble—”

“Please don’t bad-mouth him. He might not be perfect, but he was always around for me.”

“And I’m grateful for him for that, but you know, he sheltered you and kept you from going through all this back then, so you have to do it now. I’ve seen the way he acts around you, and every time something starts to upset you, he backs off and tries to smooth it over. That’s not how grief works... you have to go through it in order to move on.”

Jo opened her mouth, undoubtedly to defend him, and I spoke before she could interrupt. “And I understand why he feels that way and why he acted like that, because I don’t want you to hurt either, Jo. But I also know that bad things happen sometimes. That’s part of life, so you’ve gotta be equipped with the skills to handle this kind of stuff. That’s what I want for you, so I know that no matter what, you’re gonna be okay. So you’ll always be able to stand on your two feet if things go bad.”

The parallels between this moment, and another back at my apartment a while back, were not lost on us. This was very similar to the day after she was drugged. The topic of discussion had changed, but my purpose was essentially identical; I needed to know that Jo would be capable of taking care of herself, in case I wasn’t around to be her support. It wasn’t that I always needed her to be so strong, because that was an impossible standard to hold someone to, but that she wouldn’t fall apart and disintegrate all alone.

“I want to be strong for you, Kris, but I don’t know how.”

“You have to let it hurt so it can get better. A broken heart’s just like a broke bone. If you don’t let yourself feel the pain when it hurts, how do you ever know when the pain really goes away and the bone is healed? How will you ever know when you’re better and healthy again?”

“X-rays,” she chuckled, pointing to her leg. In true Jo fashion, she did her best to lighten the mood. But this time, she didn’t keep avoiding the issue. When her light laughter faded into the silence of the room, she took one of my hands in hers, rubbing the pad of her thumb over my calloused knuckles. Then she pressed our hands together, palm to palm, and measured the size of her hand against mine. I couldn’t help but think that she was comparing the two, like if only she were bigger, she’d be strong enough to weather the storm. “But how can I ask you to tolerate this from me? How can I possibly step into your home and bring all this baggage with me, and force you to make room for it in your tiny apartment? You’ve got enough on your plate, and I care about you too much to make you put yourself through that. I refuse to be the cause of your misery. Don’t you understand that I don’t want to do this to you?”

I entwined my fingers with hers and squeezed. “If you’ve got baggage, then I’ll buy a big ole house with lots of storage,” I responded, keeping with her metaphor before I spoke literally. “I’d be more miserable without you. Let me help you. That’s all I ever wanted to do. I know what it’s like, I’ve been there, and maybe I can take what I’ve learned and put it to use to help you, too. Besides, I think Luc would get a kick out of his ability to help people, even after death. Let us help.”

Her lips curled upward, and it fascinated me how her smile looked like a frown since she was upside-down. I could see puzzle pieces falling into place in her sad eyes, watching as something came to fruition in her head. “You already have.”

Her hands moved behind my neck awkwardly as she looked at me upside-down. She pulled me closer to her and pouted her lips. I kissed her as her fingers twirled the hair at the nape of my neck, and I put every ounce of myself into this kiss to lend a physicalness to my emotions. Jo responded favorably by rolling onto her stomach and pushing herself up, and I moved synchronously with her, so our mouths never broke apart in the process.

Jo pulled me down on the bed with her, rolling me over until she was on top and straddling me, leaning over my chest as she swirled her tongue in my mouth and her hands slipped under my shirt. There was an urgency to her movements, but there was no rush. I could tell that she, too, was trying to put her emotions into actions. It was another instance of how I could tell what she was feeling, even if she was still unable to say it.

I grabbed her shoulders and pushed her into a sitting position. “Not here,” I told her breathlessly, a smirk on my face. “I don’t think James would appreciate this.”

She smiled back, her face glowing, like I was in on her secret and she was happy to have shared it. I grabbed her hand and pushed off the bed, pulling her into the hallway so we could finish her packing and get her established in her new home.

I helped her throw some clothes into her bags. Jo may not have said it, but I knew that this was more than spending a few nights together; it would last for as long as it possibly could. Just the way she was talking was enough to clue me in to that, even if she couldn’t tell me. Hell, maybe she didn’t even know it herself. She’d asked me earlier, “What if I leave?” But in reality, she’d already left. Jo had left last week—except she hadn’t realized that yet.

Just like how she may not have said the L word yet, but I knew she loved me. Once her heart could escape the event horizon, she’d know it, too. I understood what she was going through, so I knew she had to get her own emotions sorted out before she could reciprocate. She did reciprocate; I could feel it as sure as I could feel her touch.

Jo packed more than clothes and essentials. She also brought her laptop, her jewelry box, her slippers, and the small stuffed dog that was perched next to her pillow. That was enough to clue me in that she wasn’t looking to come back here anytime soon. I helped carry her bags down the stairs, and we tossed them into the trunk of her car—which she’d be driving to my place to have, so she could commute to and from work. Just another sign that this was the permanent move, even if she wouldn’t say so.

Once everything was packed up, Jo insisted on doing a walk-through of the house, making sure that she wasn’t forgetting anything and that everything was shut off as a precaution. She was worried about something bad happening, like an electrical fire, which would cause the place to go up in smoke. But she didn’t let that fear stop her from pushing me out of the building as made sure the door was locked behind her.

Her hands were shaking and she was fumbling with her keys, but her eyes were dry and her voice was clear as she promised that she’d follow me in her car and meet me at my apartment.

10 comments:

  1. Things are coming together beautifully. Well done.

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  2. Agree with MelTing. I love seeing how things synchronized in this chapter as all of the puzzle pieces clicked into place. Great work!

    "When her light laughter faded into the silence of the room, she took one of my hands in hers, rubbing the pad of her thumb over my calloused knuckles. Then she pressed our hands together, palm to palm, and measured the size of her hand against mine. I couldn’t help but think that she was comparing the two, like if only she were bigger, she’d be strong enough to weather the storm."
    ^ I adore that quote. Such an innocent moment that says so much about both characters. I really, really love it.

    Great job!

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  3. Loved it until the last line... got a sneaky suspicion she might run... please check out my blog: http://springbreakmexico-india.blogspot.com/2010/03/morning-after.html

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  4. Gold is right.

    I swear to God I learn a little bit more about the human pyche everytime I read one of your posts. The thought patterns and rationalizations and everything are so damn real I swear you've disected their brains and just let them spill out on to the screen.

    Tillie quoted what I was going to quote but luckily for me there is a whole story of jems I can pull from so my second favorite part of this particluar post is...

    "She smiled back, her face glowing, like I was in on her secret and she was happy to have shared it."

    Brilliance, as usual. I know exactly the face you are talking about, and just the whole general idea of them sharing secrets she hadn't before. Sigh.

    Of course, I can't go a nice long rant without mentionning how wonderfully you tangle their growth as a couple throughout the story.

    I need to stop now or I will gush about this update all night. Striking gold is right ;)

    I'm excited for the ups and downs of living together!

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  5. This was just beautiful! I know a number of families who lose childern and never change the bedroom. Just close the door and pretend nothing happened. The description of James' room was perfect. I love how Jo and Kris are really trusting each other. I'm so glad to find out what was really holding Jo back.

    I love the quotes above, well the whole chapter really but one of my favs
    I grabbed her shoulders and pushed her into a sitting position. “Not here,” I told her breathlessly, a smirk on my face. “I don’t think James would appreciate this.”

    As always can hardly wait for more.

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  6. Oh I got so caught in telling you how amazing the story is, I forgot about the bottle of lotion on the night stand. I was laughing so hard and I couldn't stop. But that is one of those details that is SO Jay!

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  7. I so loved this chapter, and that she is finally gets that she needs to grieve. Beautiful writing, as always!

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  8. In my excitement of being back and having ID to read... I may have gone overboard.

    "The place just had a feeling of coldness and emptiness. It looked lived in, with the pictures in frames on the shelves and the afghan thrown over the back of the couch, but it didn’t have that feel anymore."
    ^^ Ugh, that gave me the creeps. You can just picture that setting, too easily. It made me feel really sad for Jo, and it also made me hate her father a million times more like... WTF is wrong with him?? Ugh!

    "It’s kind of funny, because I never thought about his room. I knew Jo had grown up here, and obviously James had too, but I never wondered about what it would be like. I think that what a person does with a room of a dead loved one says a lot about how they deal with the pain. You can either close the door and lock it up, never touching it again and pretending like it’s not there or nothing’s changed; or you can tear down the walls and convert it into a game room, using the fun atmosphere as a pretense of acceptance. The fact that this room looked exactly the same as I’m sure it always had been was revealing."
    ^^ Emotional. Just... ugh. The whole thing was amazing. I hate copying full paragraphs but this couldn't be broken up.
    Again, this makes my heart ache for James, like he was someone I knew personally. I felt, from your description, that I was in the room with them, looking through all his things and wondering - for the millionth time - why something like that had to happen.

    When Jo made the comment about losing James AND Kris... it broke my heart. Seriously though, what would she do?? She's put so much on Kris that I don't think she could stand again if anything ever happened.

    “Yeah, it is,” she sighed, her head flopping backward so she could stare at the dresser again. “Since when did you start believing it?”
    “Since you stopped.”
    ^^ EEK! This is just one of those perfect one-liners that Kris says, and it makes me love him even more. <3

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  9. "I knew that well, because I had been there, desperately trying to fill a hole that can’t be filled. And I knew what it was like to be surrounded by people who don’t understand it either, people who think you’re just being greedy because you take and take and demand so much from them when you’re just trying to fill that hole. How even your own love for someone else can’t escape past the event horizon—it just gets sucked back up inside your black hole heart. It wasn’t her fault; she couldn’t help it."
    ^^ Ok, I've never had anyone die that I was really close to, but I did 'lose' someone... and that's just it.
    This was breathtakingly beautiful. Every word was scripted in truth, it was so real... so perfect.

    “But until you let go of the hurt, you won’t let yourself be happy. And I think you won’t because you think that you’re doing James a disservice if you do. Like if you’re not saddened by it anymore, it means you’re not missing him or you’ve forgotten him. But that’s not true. In fact, it’s a disservice if you let this stop you from living your life and achieving all your dreams. You can do it, Jo. You can miss him without being crippled by the pain.”
    ^^ Again, you've used reality to make another fantastic point. You always feel like if you move on, you're not respecting the person you lost. You feel like it's become your responsibility to hang-on to the memories; that if you let go, then no one will remember what was.

    “You have to let it hurt so it can get better. A broken heart’s just like a broke bone. If you don’t let yourself feel the pain when it hurts, how do you ever know when the pain really goes away and the bone is healed? How will you ever know when you’re better and healthy again?”
    ^^ Wise words from Kris... and I love the retort from Jo, it brings the conversation from the deep, back into the ties of their relationship.

    "Besides, I think Luc would get a kick out of his ability to help people, even after death. Let us help.”
    ^^ Ok... when he said 'us', I literally got all emotional again. It's just another reason for Jo to see how you can still keep your loved ones with you, even if you've moved forward with your life.

    So good!! I want to write more but I can't... I have to go read the next one!!

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  10. OMG OMG OMG.
    This was such an amazing chapter.
    Even though I'M HALF ASLEEP, I made it through the read and loved every minute of it.

    Isn't it strange how must of us when one dies keeps the loved ones room the same? My brother's best friend passed away two summers ago, and his room is left the same, his sister goes in daily and sprays his cologne and lays in his bed. : ( ohh life, how cruel you are.

    I loved the part about not being able to go into her brothers room cause it was the man cave. I use to sit outside my brothers door and CRY to go in..

    It was an amazing chapter. I didn't think she was gonna move in with him, but I guess she made up her mind and it's time for her to move on.

    DON'T even doubt yourself with your writing. It is truly amazing!

    Slow and Steady I'm going to do all this late night reading and catch up ; )

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