(flashy light warning)
14 years old
Lying on my bed again, staring up at the ceiling, waiting to hear the phone ring.
Waiting to learn what had happened. To understand why he couldn’t talk to me about it. Couldn’t talk to me about anything anymore. He hadn’t acted like a guy who had found someone else. He hadn’t acted like a guy who had simply lost interest. I have this horrible feeling that something has happened--not to us. To him.
So I keep waiting.
I don’t know how the Fates determine what to snip and what to keep. I don’t know how the timing of everything is determined, but I pass Jonathan's mom in the foodcourt at the mall. I’m not a mall-rat. I’m lucky to make it to that place once a season, but there she is. Classy and beautiful. As classy and beautiful as her son. Her expression melts when she sees me, and she crosses straight to me with her hands outstretched.
I place mine in hers and we squeeze. “Hi,” I say, one airy, tremulous syllable to sum up every question I need to ask her. More like bombard. But I hold my tongue.
“Hello, dear,” she returns with a wistful smile. Closed-lipped. After one more squeeze, she releases me. She is the first to ask, “How are you?”
One of my shoulders lifts and I try to sniff out a laugh. I’m supposed to say, “Fine.”
I’m not. “I’m—”
It all breaks.
The tears, one helpless sob, the look that begs her to tell me anything, no matter what it is. When she doesn't say a word, I flinch back, wrap my arms around myself, and duck my head. “Sorry.”
With a long sigh, she reaches out to touch the sleeve of my jacket.
“How is he?” I choke out.
“He’s fine, dear. He’s just fine.”
“Truly?” I beg her with my eyes to swear to that. If he really is fine, if he's okay and he just didn’t want me but couldn’t bear to tell me, then I can be fine. Eventually. But the wistfulness in her eyes deepens, and it’s no longer for me.
Even so, she nods. Tight-lipped.
She asks me a few chit-chat questions. I answer. I ask her a few. She answers. The uncomfortable silence descends. Inevitable. Her gaze shifts toward Banana Republic.
Mine lowers in dejection. I know what that means.
I don't want to let her go. The moment she walks away, that might be it. The last thread. Snip. Forever. So I can't keep silent.
When I look up at her again, it’s only with my eyes. My lips are compressed as tightly as hers, but in a suppression of my mounting frustration--anger even, over being kept in the dark about this unparalleled soul who has affected me so profoundly. Through my teeth, I ask, “Will you please just tell me one thing? Please. I have to know.”
Her eyes are the only things that move toward me as well. They’re large. Hedgy. She stares at me from the corners of them with her body angled away as if she longs to escape into that den of khaki and animal prints.
My head lifts. I take in one steadying breath before I ask as gently and as solemnly as I can, “Did something happen to him in Greece?”
She suppresses her flinch really well. Her gaze wanders off amongst the chair legs at the nearest table. She glances back at me, glances away. “Yes,” she murmurs, barely audible.
The vacuum created by the air exiting my lungs should crumple my ribcage, except that it’s been replaced by a black hole. Round and empty and bloated. Too large for the space it’s meant to occupy.
When she finally turns back to me, she dons that lip-pressed smile again but it’s mostly sorrow. Sorrow at having to answer me? Sorrow for her son? For herself? Has she lost him as surely as I have, yet has to keep on staring every day at a too-familiar face? She nods. “Yes. Something did happen, but I can’t speak with you about it.”
I echo her nod. I can understand that. Respect it. And her.
My head bows. My eyes close. “Thank you.”
I think she hugged me goodbye, but I don’t fully remember. I never saw or spoke to any of them again, and the look in her face had confirmed my greatest fears. Jonathan Marshall would not be calling me someday in the future. Someday when he could talk about it. Someday when he would want to reconnect with me. “No, he’ll come to his senses,” my consoling friends swore. “You just wait. You’ll see. I saw the way he looked at you, the way he was with you. He’ll call.”
They didn’t know.
To this day I wonder what it was. By the sound of his voice and the look in her eyes, it must have been catastrophic.
To this day I still mourn for him. For whatever wounded him so deeply. For his family. For us. What we could have been. For me.
If it had just been a sudden and shocking end of a blossoming romance that had shown beautiful potential…if it had only been the first time I was dumped…if it had only been the lack of closure and the depth of my worry for him, my inability to do one damn thing to help him…if it had only been losing my first taste of true connection with a spirit so kindred…
I could have gotten over it.
It could have irritated for a time and then been encased in something smooth and shiny, creating a pearl in the treasure chest of my memories. It has that opportunity now, and I know it will be a large, rare, pink one.
But when it happened, I was just coming into the loneliest years of my own catastrophic loss. My mother was right there in the house, and yet she wasn’t. The loss of Jonathan was the final straw. It exasperated that wound and all the others, imploding everything into that all-devouring hole I tried to fill with anything I could.
As I mentioned before, I went through some therapy that showed I have a similar makeup to girls whose mothers have died in their late childhood to early teens. Living here in Arkansas while her Chrons is in remission has been one of the greatest and most healing blessings of my life.
That doesn’t change the double-whammy of losing her and Jonathan in the same year. Almost in the same season.
It doesn’t change the back-to-back contrast of the way he had handled me versus the traumatic, invasive, abusive way I had been handled by…well, a great many people. But particularly by the boy who had introduced me to intimate touch just a few months earlier. To then taste the first fruits of sexual awakening from the hands of someone so skillfully tender, so intimately passionate, only to have it ripped away and replaced by a festering wound that will never have closure, except that which I can artificially construct alone…
I had no resources to begin doing that.
The final blow came only a few weeks after I saw Jonathan’s mother, and was a direct consequence of the way I desperately reached out to fill that hole in the center of me. Like several other pivot-points, that incident would set off a chain reaction that changed the course of my life.
Good? Bad? Depends on your perspective, I suppose.
Ultimately I like where it landed me. But in eighth grade, I wanted to be anybody but me.
Trying to smile.
At my mom’s piano that summer.
Amidst everything that came down that spring, I had to miniaturize my loss of Jonathan and all the hopes he represented. I crammed it all into a Tupperware box, burying it in the farthest corner of my back yard. I buried it so deeply that even my own calamitous impacts weren’t enough to unearth it. The damage to my frontal lobe in 2000 upended almost every other container I had buried, hidden in walls, and shoved into the back of the freezer. It spilled their festering contents across my world in a way that forced me to deal with them.
But not this one. I had buried that sucker more deeply than most.
Only now does it come gently and resolutely to the surface like a sprout wending its way through what was once the blasted wreckage of a forest fire. It whispers to me, insisting that I take it out and draw it into my lap. Sit with it for the first time in my life. Examine it. Fully. It urges me to hug it close to my chest so it can seep back in there where it belongs. It is still an overfull black hole, because it is still bloated with that old loss, grief, agony, and the vital questions that will never be answered.
But at least now it can be mourned and then rejoin its counterpart--the part I’ve never lost. There has always been a special place in my heart for Jonathan. He has always ranked amongst the most gallant of protagonists in the chronicles of my life, a shining example of what is good for me. The example that keeps me refusing to settle.
Oh, sure. I might for a time. I have a history of staying for too long, trying to salvage toxic situations. But eventually, those exemplary models rise up together and poke me in the forehead, saying, “Seriously? This is what you’re still pouring your energy and your heart into? You deserve so much more, so stop settling.”
On those days, Jonathan Marshall is always at the forefront.
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