Friday, April 9, 2010

67.) The Useless Burden of Guilt

Soundtrack Song - Yellowcard, One Year Six Months

I took a deep breath and asked out loud, “All set?” The question was directed toward Jo, but I think it was for me, too. I wasn’t sure I was ready for this, but it was time to head out and meet up with the group.

Jo and I were still tired from last night but also wound up from the nerves and expectations of what the day would hold. Last night, I’d told her that I owed her for how Mom had interrupted her Valentine’s Day, but then I’d remembered that I had to call her to let her know that we got there safely. Which led to a fifteen-minute phone conversation. I had tried to be polite and get off the phone, wanting to continue what I had started with Jo, but my understanding girlfriend let my mother talk, showering and unpacking until I could say goodbye and get back to business and get Jo back into to bed.

“Yuppers,” she answered me, finishing up tying her boot. She tried to sound as confident as possible, but I could tell that she was nervous about this, too. I chalked it up to meeting more new people, all who were important to me. And we all know how well the meeting with Mom went.

I knew she was anxious about this, but she was trying to mask her insecurity and be strong for my sake. I would have reassured her, if she had asked for it like last night, but she didn’t and I was thankful for that. It was nice to not have to worry about her emotions and focus on my own, which felt disoriented and a little out of whack. This was Luc’s birthday; it wasn’t supposed to feel this sad. I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to be as happy as I would have liked, last year hadn’t felt like this.

“Okay, then, let’s go. Or else we’ll be late.” She stood up and headed for the closet instead of the door. “Exit’s this way,” I teased, opening the door and waiting for her to follow me.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” she insisted, grabbing her jacket from where it was hanging in the tiny closet and pulling it around her. “You have the room key, right?”

“Yeah,” I told her, patting my pocket and double checking.

“’Kay. And I’ve got my purse, so I’m good to go,” she mumbled, looking around the room again to make sure that she wasn’t forgetting anything. I rolled my eyes, knowing that this is why Jo was always late: she had to check and recheck everything before she’d leave. Getting ready to go somewhere was one of those things we had to get used to about each other when she had moved in. My preference to be early and her tendency to be late were cancelling each other out, and we always seemed to arrive on time anymore, no matter where we were going or what we were doing.

Jo shrugged on her jacket and followed me out into the hallway, making sure that the door was locked behind her. Then she reached out for my right hand with her left one, lacing her fingers between mine and squeezing it firmly. I squeezed back as we walked out to Henrí’s truck.

I unlocked the passenger side door for her and held it open as she stepped in carefully and slid onto the bench seat. She leaned over and unlocked my door as I made my way around the hood. Taking my place behind the wheel, I started the engine and let it warm up for a few minutes.

She reached over and cupped my knee. “You all right?”

Looking over at Jo, I thought about her question. I nodded, feeling okay now even if I was a little out of it. But I knew that could be likely to change once we got to the cemetery and I saw everyone there, on this day. Maybe if I were alone, or just with Jo, it would be different. But seeing everyone else there... I wasn’t sure how that would go, especially since they had done this before and I hadn’t.

It shouldn’t have felt any different. The only thing that had changed was the date of my visit here, and that shouldn’t have mattered. But it did. It felt like this visit had a greater significance, like it was heavier. Sadder. A lot harder to get through than I had anticipated.

Jo gave me a quick nod in response. She sat close to me on the bench seat without getting close enough to hinder my ability to drive. Safety first, of course. But it was like she just wanted to be nearby, just in case I needed something from her. It was nice to have that support; I couldn’t imagine being here today without her, alone. At one of the stop signs, I reached out for her hand. We drove like that for the rest of the way, our clasped hands resting in my lap. I loved the way her small hand fit into mine. It made me feel strong and powerful, even though I found myself in a powerless situation.

The cemetery wasn’t far, and it only took a few minutes to get there. I took another deep breath as I turned the truck off, mentally preparing myself for the morning.

Everyone else was already there. We were five minutes early, but Suzanne, Charlene, Burrows, and Nancy were already there. Jo was the first one out of the truck; she stepped out and adjusted her jacket as she waited for me to join her, knowing that the four of them were looking at us and waiting for us to join them. It was gonna be just us until lunch, then a lot more people would be around: grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and the other side of Luc’s family, too. But for now, it was just us few.

I shoved my hands in my pockets, and Jo hooked her arm though mine as she walked beside me toward the group of people. She was quiet but steady, walking with her head high. Slowly but surely, we approached the huddle.

Jo knew exactly what to do; she let go and hung back just a little bit as I embraced Suzanne and Charlene next, and then I shook hands with Alex and his girlfriend. I didn’t know Nancy that well, but I knew that she and Alex had been good “couple” friends with Luc and Charlene out in Vancouver, and the pair of them had really helped Charlene out. That was enough to make me like her.

As soon as I had said my hellos, I immediately reached back for Jo, wanting her beside me again; I just liked having her there with me. I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and pulled her flush against my side. “Everyone, this is my girlfriend, Joanna Anderson,” I told them quietly. “Jo, this is Luc’s teammate Alex Burrows, his girlfriend Nancy Roy, Luc’s mother Suzanne Boucher, and you kind of know Charlene.”

She smiled sadly at them, leaning against me as I held her in place. “Thank you for letting me be here with Kris today.”

Charlene softly grinned back, and Suzanne said, “Don’t worry about it, hun. Luc always did like making new friends.”

Before I knew what happened, Jo pulled away from underneath my arm and walked away from me to hug Suzanne tightly. It wasn’t something I had expected to see happen, especially not like this. I think Suzanne was a little surprised, too, but she wasn’t put off by it. Jo said something quietly as she embraced Suzanne, and when they let go of each other, Suzanne brushed away the tear that slid down her own cheek.

I wasn’t sure what Jo had said to her, but I could tell it had been a good thing. If you didn’t factor in that the two of them had lost two different people, Jo and Suzanne had a lot in common. Mrs. Boucher lost her son, and Jo had lost her brother; they were like a family brought together under the worst of circumstances. But Jo had said something to her that a mother would have liked to hear, and if Jo would give Suzanne the chance, then I was pretty sure that Jo’d learn something about her own family that was rocked by grief.

“Okay, let’s go,” Suzanne said with a loud exhale. She and Charlene wrapped their arms around each other and leaned on each other, leading the way into the cemetery toward our destination. When Luc had first passed, I was the one they leaned on. For the first month, I had stayed in Shippagan with Suzanne, too devastated to be able to play in the Finals but strong enough to be someone they could depend on. Hockey was important, but not as important as family and comfort.

But then life had taken back over. I went home to Montréal and spent the rest of the summer there with Mom as I dealt with my grief, which I had cast aside in order to help Suzanne and Charlene with theirs. And then the next season began, and my schedule didn’t allow for me to visit like I would have liked. They had learned to deal and cope without me.

Bur and Nancy held hands and followed them, like a mini-parade. Jo looked at me and waited for me to make the move to bring up the rear. The corner of her mouth twitched as she watched me, like she didn’t know whether to smile or frown.

God, it felt good to have her here. There was no mutual consoling going on, like Alex and Nancy who had to comfort each other, and I didn’t have to worry about how she was doing. She was here, just for me. Her concern was evident, but she didn’t crowd me or pressure me to say anything. Jo was a constant, a rock, an anchor—I was a kite, and she was the string that was keeping me from flying away. Usually, it seemed we were just the opposite; but it was nice to be able to feed off her energy and absorb it, to rely on her to guide me through the day so it was one less thing that I had to worry about.

I slung my arm around her waist and kissed her cheek. “I am really glad you came, Jo. I hope you know that.” She nodded silently as we began to walk after the others, and I brought myself back into the present moment. “By the way, what did you say to Suzanne?”

Jo shrugged, resting her head against my shoulder as we walked. “I just let her know that her son lives on through the people who love him.”

“That was a nice thing to say to her.”

“I didn’t say it because it was nice,” Jo commented truthfully, making sure to stay far enough behind so we wouldn’t be overheard. “I wasn’t trying to be clichéd. It was an honest observation, because even though I didn’t know Luc—and I would never presume to because I know how disrespectful that is to the people who did—just to be here, surrounded by everyone who knew him... it’s almost like I can feel he’s here. You can just tell. Does that sound stupid?”

“I don’t think so,” I told her. “I feel him with me all the time.”

She didn’t miss a beat. “Hopefully not all the time,” she quipped back quietly with a nudge of her shoulder, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I buried my face in her soft hair, muffling my rolling chuckles without the others having to hear.

We could see which of the stones was the marker for Luc’s grave before we were close enough to read the name; there were lots of flowers and pictures and pucks and all sorts of things to commemorate his birthday. We all smiled when we saw that. It didn’t really surprise us—we all knew how well loved Luc was and how well remembered he is.

“Look, someone brought a guitar,” Suzanne commented, shock in her voice. It was a birthday gift, complete with big red bow attached. There was blank tablature, too, and a pen. I couldn’t believe the lengths someone went through to do this. Who knows what Luc would have come up with if he were alive. A lot of people got caught up in Luc the hockey player and forgot that he had other facets of his personality, too. He loved playing, and he was pretty good.

“Musta been someone who didn’t know him,” Burrows snorted lightheartedly. “The guitar, yeah, but tab? Worst songwriter ever.”

“No,” Charlene scolded, her favorite song in mind—the one Luc wrote for her. “He was the best. Maybe not the greatest singer in the world, but a great lyricist.”

“I remember the time he ripped the strings of Steve Downie’s guitar, in world juniors,” I laughed, picturing that day clearly in my mind’s eye. “Now he was a horrible musician.”

We spend the next half hour like that, Jo listening intently and silently as the rest of us shared our memories and favorite stories, even—and especially—the ones we all had heard probably hundreds of times before. Regardless of how often we’d told them, we all listened like it was the first time we’d heard them. I know I’d relayed the story a million times, about how Luc bought a car for five hundred bucks while we were in junior, and we drove around when there was nothing better to do. Or more like he’d do all the driving, because I didn’t have my license yet.

The group of us completely lost track of time, and it wasn’t until close to eleven thirty when Suzanne’s phone beeped with a call that we realized we had to get going. She was expecting people and had to set everything out for the get-together, a little party for Luc’s birthday. Just because he wasn’t here on Earth and able to celebrate himself didn’t mean that we didn’t want to mark the occasion that such a good person was bestowed to us.

“Okay, well, I guess we’ll all just meet up at the house?” she asked, checking the time on her watch. “Everyone’s supposed to start showing up at noon.”

They all moved to leave but me. Charlene cast back a look and asked, “Coming, Kris?”

“I’m just gonna stay for a few minutes more,” I told them.

Suzanne nodded. “Just don’t stay out here in the cold too much longer. We don’t want you getting sick in the middle of the season.”

I smiled back at her, the consummate mother, now without a son. “For sure. We’ll be over shortly.”

Once they were gone, Jo spoke up for the first time since we stood here. “Do you want to be alone?”

“No.” I pulled her against my front, wrapping my arms around her shoulders. She responded my hugging my middle and resting her head against my chest. I sat my chin above her forehead. “I just wanted some quiet time, to think and remember. Pray.”

Jo gave me that silence to mull over my thoughts. After a few minutes, I said, “You know, this isn’t how I imagined today going.”

“Really? What were you expecting?” she asked quietly, not judging me but genuinely wanting to know.

“I guess I don’t know. But it feels... different. I don’t know how to describe it.”

She paused for a moment. “Well, is it a good different or a bad different?”

“I don’t know,” I repeated, feeling a little frustrated that I couldn’t express what I was feeling. “I just wish he was here. He’d understand.” I felt Jo tense, and I immediately retraced my metal steps. “Not that you don’t, that’s not what I meant—”

“It’s okay. Luc was your best friend, so of course he’d know what you’re going through. And if he were here, you wouldn’t be needing to go through it at all.”

I pondered that conundrum. “Yeah. I just miss him so much, and it’s like I miss him more when I’m here, because the only reason I’m ever in Shippagan is for Luc, you know? When he was alive, I’d travel here and visit him and we’d train or goof off or whatever. And now I’m visiting his grave and his family only on these important dates or when I can over the summer. I don’t come here for any other reason.”

“Maybe you should come here for no reason, then. Then it’s not like you know you make this journey here just to be sad.”

“Maybe,” I sighed, seeing her logic. “But with the season and stuff, it’s hard. Hockey dictates your life, like, you go where you’re told when you’re told. You spend so much time with your team and no one else. Your teammates are your friends because of your proximity to them. It’s this huge commitment, and it’s because of that that I don’t get to come here often. It’s so hard to find this balance between your job and your life, because your job is your life.”

I couldn’t stop myself from rambling. “I’ve gotten so much through hockey. I love it. I love the game, and I love that I get to play it for a living. I met Luc because of hockey, when we met at a camp in Vermont and then played for the same team. I met you because of hockey,” I continued, giving her an extra squeeze. “But it’s because of hockey that I lost Luc, too—”

“What do you mean, you lost him because of hockey?” Jo pulled back and looked up at me.

“Well, like, he wasn’t playing. He was done with the season, and I wasn’t.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“Well, what if the Canucks were in the Finals against us? If he were still playing, he wouldn’t have been home. He wouldn’t have been riding. Or, if the Pens hadn’t have made it, we would have been doing something together. But I was playing, and he wasn’t.”

Jo bit her lip, chewing it momentarily before she blatantly asked, “Do you feel guilty because you were playing on a successful team, and Luc wasn’t?”

I shrugged. “Dunno. It was our dream, to play for the Cup. And that summer, I was doing it, living the dream, playing in the Finals. He was the better player—it should have been him in the game, not me.”

“You’re talking like you didn’t deserve to play. And you did. You were a part of a good team that earned a spot to play. It’s not like you were riding on someone’s coattails. And it’s not like Luc wasn’t good enough, it’s just that his team didn’t make the cut. I mean, the Pens didn’t win the Cup the first year Lemieux or Crosby played. One player does not a team make, so it’s not like Luc failed and that’s why it happened. It just... happened, unfortunately.”

She kept going, desperate to find a way to ease my mind. “Plus, you guys were in opposite conferences, so it’s not like the Pens beat out the Canucks to play in the Finals and beating him meant winning yourself. You didn’t have to go through him. You’re not giving yourself the credit you deserve because you feel like your winning meant his losing, but that’s not it at all, Kris.”

“No kidding,” I sighed. “We didn’t win that year.”

“That’s not what I meant—”

“I know, Jo. I know what you’re saying. I shouldn’t feel guilty.”

“No, you shouldn’t,” she declared. Her expression softened then, and she reached up to brush her fingers against my cheek as she asked, “Have you always felt like this? Were you always loaded down with this burden, feeling like it’s your fault?”

I shrugged, not trusting my voice at first. I cleared my throat and eventually said, “There are a lot of things that I wish would have gone differently, that’s all.”

“I know, Kris. I know.” Jo pressed herself against me in another fierce hug, and she wouldn’t let go or even loosen her hold. Her face was buried in my chest, turning her head to the side only when she was ready to say, “We all wish we could go back and change things. But you can’t ruminate on the things that you have no control over. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you do that.”

“You and I both know that that’s easier said than done.”

“Yeah, you’re right. It’s not easy, and I don’t always abide by that. But I don’t want you to be so hard on yourself when it wasn’t your fault, and there was nothing that you could have done. Hindsight’s twenty-twenty, but just because you can look back and see the cause and effect doesn’t mean that you could have even done something differently to get a better outcome. Haven’t you ever seen The Butterfly Effect?”

“But you don’t know the other outcomes unless you see what could have happened. Maybe one little change would have made everything better, and it’s just a matter of a simple, small difference.”

“Would you risk it? Not knowing what else you might have to sacrifice if it meant Luc would still be alive?”

I opened my mouth to tell her that I would, but then I clamped my lips shut. It was a loaded question, with an infinite amount of possibilities that could potentially change everything I knew. And would it make a difference? If I prevented one tragedy, what other consequences would there be? Was it safe to assume that everything would have been better? “I guess it’s a good thing that’s not a real-life option, because I don’t know what I’d do if I had that opportunity.”

Jo released me and shook her head as she grabbed my hand. “You’re always so hard on yourself. You want to be perfect and always do the right thing. But sometimes, there’s no way of knowing what is right. Sometimes, the right thing feels wrong or vice versa. You accept blame that isn’t yours all because of your perfectionism. You try to make everyone else’s lives easier, and you in turn make your own harder for you to live and have fun. Tell me honestly, Kris,” she ordered, looking me straight in the eyes, “if Luc were here right now, what would he have to say about that? Would he have wanted his own death to affect you this way?”

There was no easy answer for that—some questions didn’t have correct answers. Luc wouldn’t have wanted me to miss the Finals because of his death, because I was living our collective dream, but he wouldn’t have wanted his mother to be alone, either. It wasn’t fair that I couldn’t have been right either way, because that meant that no matter what I did, it was wrong. It was complicated.

“I think we should head over to Suzanne’s,” I sighed, checking my watch and changing the subject to something a little less painful.

Jo squeezed my hand roughly, making me look at her. “Why won’t you talk to me?”

“Because I don’t know how to answer your question,” I told her, not knowing what else I could possibly say.

She dropped my hand and crossed her arms over her chest, nodding. Without another word or question, Jo walked closely beside me, our arms only occasionally brushing as we headed to the truck in a deafening silence.

11 comments:

  1. I agree with India. I loved it

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  2. Oh Kris, why won't you just open up to Jo already? He was starting to! Then he clamped up and did the same thing he criticizes her for doing!

    Men.

    Great chapter!!!

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  3. I hate when your postings end.

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  4. Hmmm, I'm feeling sad and not just because they're in a cemetery. When Jo and Kris are talking about one little change, that is exactly what Kris was thinking about in Chapter One. So does that mean this post is part of a perfect circle where things are drawing to a close? I hope not, they don't seem to be in a final place yet.

    Kris relying on Jo a lot more now though, some give and take is good for their relationship,and I hope Jo realizes how needed she is.

    Plus the part about Canucks in the final, sad to say that is the most unlikely outcome of all. Sniff.

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  5. Poor Kris. I can't even begin to imagine what he's going through, but Jo's right. He needs to stop blaming himself so much. I know that he feels guilty but he can't possibly let himself think that there's anyway he could have avoided this. One little change may have completely altered all of their lives. And like Jo said, you'd drive yourself crazy thinking over the possible outcomes.

    So, so perfect.(:

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  6. First off... Wow has it ever been a long time since I've read this, or even just talked to you... I miss you sweets!

    Second... The music was PHENOMENAL!!! I'm downloading Yellowcard right now :P

    Third... It brought me to tears... I mean I felt like I was right there... sigh...

    Great job sweets!

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  7. Jay, I think that was your best chapter ever. Spiritual, emotional...

    Your writing keeps improving. It is so realistic, so vivid. No fairy tale, it's real life all the way. And I just love it!

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  8. Ah-ma-zing!:) seriously great job!

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  9. Wow! It was amazing as always! I wouldn't expect anything but from you:) you are a seriously wicked talented writer. I love all of your stories. And I'm just dying to see what you hav in store for Kris and Jo, and also Sid and Nelly:) I can't wait for the first post on something worth keeping:) keep up the AMAZING work:)

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  10. Ok I'm bawling my face off but... let me try and pick out some things I really liked (as if I didn't like every part of it but... here's the stuff I REALLY liked).

    "My preference to be early and her tendency to be late were cancelling each other out, and we always seemed to arrive on time anymore, no matter where we were going or what we were doing."
    ^^ Heart. I don't think I can really say anything else other than that. I love, love, love them. And even if Kris feels different, and even if Jo is worried... I'm so happy that she's with him at this moment in his life.
    They're so fantastic together, even if they don't get along all the time.

    "I loved the way her small hand fit into mine. It made me feel strong and powerful, even though I found myself in a powerless situation."
    ^^ Oh Kris. I seriously am so sad for him right now. My hearts breaking because I don't want him to hurt. I want him to be happy and feel nothing but love and happiness.

    Jo hugging Luc's mom made me lose it. Not even knowing at that point what she said, it just... ugh. It's amazing how the worse things can bring people together in the best ways. They've both lost family and that makes them be able to understand each other in a way some people just can't.

    "Hockey was important, but not as important as family and comfort."
    ^^ What a man, that Kris Letang. Seriously, fantastic Jay... everything about this section was so good. It just shows what an amazingly good person Kris is - to the core.

    "Jo was a constant, a rock, an anchor—I was a kite, and she was the string that was keeping me from flying away. Usually, it seemed we were just the opposite; but it was nice to be able to feed off her energy and absorb it, to rely on her to guide me through the day so it was one less thing that I had to worry about."
    ^^ Awww... I love that Jo is able to be all those things for him... he deserves to have someone there for him, and Jo deserves the opportunity to stand beside him unwaveringly, like we all knew she would.

    “I just let her know that her son lives on through the people who love him.”
    ^^ ANNNNNNNND that's where I lost it. I seriously stopped reading and cried for a while.
    I mean, that was just... amazing.
    Hollywood couldn't write something more amazing or more powerful than that.

    Your detail is always amazing, as are your intense stories and deeply developed characters... but sometimes it's these moments... these simple one lines that can do so much.

    This was beautiful. I can't think of a better word to describe it.

    Beautiful.

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