When I am thirteen a boy writes his number in my year book in small, blocky letters and asks me to call him sometime.
I am 36 before I finally do. It is the year after my husband dies. We have sons the same age and are both adjusting to new kinds of lives, and out of this a friendship of a sort begins. But at the end of it, when he hands me more loss on top of the loss I’m already shouldering, I think he breaks me in some important way that I haven’t yet the word for, and for the first time since my husband died, I give up.
I just give up. For two months, every time I come to the page, that place where I am my truest self, this is all I write. I give up.
Outwardly, I do all the right things. I continuing seeing my therapist. I eat better and lose 9 pounds. My son and I spend time each night talking about the things for which we are grateful. I try meditation. I continue yoga. I spend more time with books and art and the outdoors, less time online.
But inside? Inside there is something broken that I can’t fully name until one Sunday morning when I watch a sudden summer storm. It is all heavy rain, lightning, hail in the garden, skies a peculiar shade of almost green.
It is lovely, and dangerous, and not everything survives. The patio floods with dirt; some fledgling sprouts, complete with roots, spill out of their planters onto the concrete, suddenly wilted things. In a matter of minutes, much of the hard work I have done is undone, turned into something chaotic and messy, and because I am tired of starting over, with people, with planters, with my life, I leave the cleaning up project halfway through, the red and black broom leaning against the siding, only the front step swept free, the welcome mat, still covered in dirt, removed, askew and elsewhere, where I hope other rain will do my work for me. A storm doesn’t see what it leaves in its wake; it is just quickly there and quickly gone.
Our last conversation isn’t one. It’s just me leaving a voice recording to which there is never any response, and in this, there are shades too of my last conversation with my husband. That also wasn’t a conversation, just me, speaking from the window of a car while he walked away from me without a word and never looked back. Perhaps this is part of how my friend wounds me as he does. It is as if he has taken all that I told him about the ways my husband hurt me and given it back. My husband’s body was found a week and a half after that moment at the car window; my friend still lives and is presumably happy somewhere. I can wish this for him even if both men gave me no closure, even if I must figure out a way to make it for myself. I understand him too well to be angry, though I wish I could be. I think it would be easier than to name the thing I think he’s broken.
In the yearbook, thirteen-year-old me had drawn an arrow leading to his number and there she had written a word, and that word had been no.
Part of me wishes I had listened to her. What else was he, after all, but a kind of storm?
Not everything survived.