Beach Roses

Last summer the beach roses grew wild the way they did that summer we couldn’t walk two feet down the beach without running into thicket after thicket of them. Last night I slept with the window cracked barely open and though the roses should be dried up and long blown out to sea by now, somehow my room filled with their scent, mingled with the brine of the ocean. I dreamed of you again, and I woke so filled with longing that I could hardly catch my breath. It seems stupid to miss you. Though it’s been longer since your death than you were even alive, you’re as much a part of me now as you ever were. I ran so hard from your memory that it seems all I did was embrace it harder. Times went by when I swore to myself that I was moving on, I was forgetting you, I was getting over and around and past your memory. There were sometimes days when I hardly thought of you, followed by days when you were all I could think of. I’m back, after spending more than half my life trying to get the hell away. So many times I settled in the middle of the country, the wastelands, thousands of miles from this goddamned state and that goddamned ocean, running with all my heart, until I had to give up. I’m back here, not two hundred yards from the beach where we spent the happiest days of my life. And how pathetic is it that I’m forty-two and the happiest days of my life happened when I was seventeen? I almost married a man because he smelled like you. He smelled like you, and he was as damaged as me and when we looked at each other there was a jolt of recognition because we saw the damage in each other, and somehow we thought we could build a life together. The smartest, bravest thing I ever did was to leave that man. We would have done nothing but destroy each other.

I don’t know how to stop missing you. You’d think after so long I’d be an expert at dealing with the loss, and for the most part I deal with it pretty well. But every now and again when I’m least expecting it, I’m struck anew, the pain as fresh as it was the moment I found out you were gone, and I spend days flailing to the surface of my sorrow. I would think the passage of time would dull the grief, but instead it seems sharper every time it returns. The last time I spoke to my mother, she told me that the grief only had such power over me because I allowed it. I thought then that she was speaking the truth – don’t we always believe that the dying possess some kind of wisdom we undying don’t? – because what she said made me so incredibly furious. The truth invariably pisses me off. I’ve been to counselors and grief groups and psychics and I’ve begged them to help me move on, and not one of them helped worth a good goddamn. Because to move on and let you go, the first step would be to want to let you go, and I can’t make myself want that. I don’t know how to want to let you go. It would feel like such a betrayal. It’s a hard grief etched on my soul, as much a part of me as my hair or name. I wonder sometimes if I welcome it, need it, use it to define myself. If I do, I’m not aware of it – there are a lot of things about myself that mystify me. Sometimes I think I know myself no better than any stranger on the street. I have to believe in some sort of afterlife, because the idea that you might no longer exist in any way, that I might never touch you again somehow, breaks my heart. A TV hack might tell me that my grief is self-involvement to the extreme, more about me than you, my way of wallowing and refusing to do something with my life. He might be right, or a thousand miles from right; I don’t know. What hurts the most – well, no. I can’t really make a neat list of everything that hurts, in order of intensity. Everything hurts in its own way, and what breaks my heart the most one day is at the bottom of the list the next. What hurts the most at this moment is that neither of us was allowed to become who we were meant to be. We were babies with our lives ahead of us, and a world of possibilities. We had so many plans, never allowed to come to fruition. You weren’t supposed to die before you could turn into the man you promised to be. I wasn’t supposed to be a broken shell, drifting across the country with no direction and no purpose except to forever mourn her childhood love.
“It’s bad,” she said. “It’s bad.” And she said it a hundred times again, the words running into each other, becoming a chant, and by the time she’d said it ten or twenty times, she didn’t have to say anything else, because I knew. “Itsbaditsbaditsbaditsbad.” There was the longest silence, one where I couldn’t hear anything or feel anything or say anything, then her voice rose in a wordless, keening wail, and my fingers – my entire body – went numb. I dropped the phone to the floor and my heart shattered. My world turned gray and stayed so for years. I remember every detail of the small table I looked at while I was on the phone with her, the way a crescent of dust my mother had missed peeked out from under the lamp. I can close my eyes and see it so clearly; sometimes I dream of that table, of just standing and staring down at it while my world fell apart. Every moment of that time stands out in sharp relief to me, from the moment she told me to the second I drove out of town. Stepping into the funeral parlor and seeing you there, seeing you sit up and smile at me in dream-sequence slow-motion. You winked at me and then I fainted. Laying in my bed for days, your shirt pressed to my face. Every minute was an eternity, my body throbbing with every heartbeat, wanting to believe they were wrong, that you were still alive, but knowing – feeling – you were truly gone. They call it heartbreak, but every cell in my body ached. The memories I have of before then seem to me to be saturated in light and color, and after then they’re mostly monochromatic, even though I know that there have been moments of joy and laughter and light in the years since. I fled this place so many times, only to find myself back here, again and again. Once, after you’d been gone several long years, I left Kentucky in a vanload of people – not friends, not really strangers, but people somewhere in between – headed for Arizona. I went with them since I had nothing to hold me in Kentucky. I’ve lived so many places in all these years, and none of them meant a goddamn thing to me. Maybe I was biding my time until I could get back here. We left Kentucky, headed for Arizona and I was snorting and smoking and shooting and drinking every goddamn thing I could get my hands on. The next thing I knew I was waking up on your sister’s front lawn. She was standing over me, and I looked up into her face, and I saw that the woman who’d once loved me as if I were her own blood hated me. She hated me so much, David. There was no love left for me in her eyes. “How many times am I going to find you here and wonder if you’re dead?” she said, her voice thick with loathing and tears. Grief had aged her twenty years in the space of five. “I can’t do this anymore, Della. I can’t watch you die. I can’t be your salvation. Either kill yourself or figure out how to live with the loss. But stop showing up face-down on my lawn.” Her face softened for an instant, then she turned and began to walk away. She paused and looked down at me again, her eyes glittering. “He’d be so ashamed at what you’ve done with your life.” Then she walked into her house, shutting the door firmly and gently behind her. I didn’t see her again until yesterday at Prevost’s Market. She flinched and looked at me as though I were a ghost, and then she walked away again without looking back. Too much water under the bridge, I guess. She’s all I had left of you, and she was never really mine. Sometimes at night when I can’t sleep, I remember that summer and her certainty that global warming was responsible for the way the beach roses were growing wild, and the crazy-eyed way she’d rant about how we were killing our planet, and how we’d have to bite our lips and sink down in the couch, carefully composing our faces in blank masks so as not to laugh in her face. The night we made love on the beach, surrounded by the roses, the scent so thick we could taste it, and you looked down at me and shrieked “Goddamn global warming! We’re going to be floating to hell on an iceberg, you mark my words!” in her voice, and I laughed so hard I cried. I’m afraid this is sounding too woe-is-me for words. I make it sound like I’ve spent all these years wallowing in grief, every instant of it. And though my gray days – months, years – the times when I feel like I’m walking through glue have maybe claimed the majority of my life, I’ve had moments of joy and laughter, I promise you that. If I hadn’t broken the gray with flashes of color, I don’t doubt that by now I would have gathered the courage – or maybe cowardice – to find out for myself whether there’s a life after this. I’ve come so close, so many times, but every time I step up to that precipice, something pulls me back. I don’t know if it’s that I am, underneath the pain and grief and longing for you, an optimist or that I believe there’s maybe something in this life I’m meant to do. All I know is that I’m here in Maine, in the house where there are so many memories of you – of us – and I’m here to stay until I figure it all out. I wish like hell you were here.
Previously 2006: Giggling like that is EXACTLY something Fred would do. 2005: Taking the day off. 2004: I don’t believe I mentioned that the Bean has tapeworms. 2003: No entry. 2002: No entry. 2001: And I yelled “Any fucking thing else?!”, addressing, I guess, God. 2000: Okay, so I don’t have much to say today.]]>