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It had been years since my head had been occupied by anything but you.  From the time I saw you in that tiny little black dress at the opening of your play, I’d contemplated little else.  Everything I did, every move that I made was designed to bring me closer to you.  When you had been here, when we had been together, I loved the endless flow of memories of you.  Now, with you gone, thinking of you was worse than death.  After your funeral, I would sit for hours, lost in the memories of the moments you and I had shared.  I would think of the way your hair felt, or the curve of your hip as you slept soundlessly next to me.  There is not an inch of you, or a moment in our time together that I had no committed to memory.  After you left, what had once been a gift became the inevitable end of me.  No matter what I did, no matter where I’d go, or who I was with you were on my mind. 

            I could not stop the unending flow of scenarios that would play out as my mind would come to rest on you.  I kept thinking about all the plans that we had made, like somehow, if there was justice in this universe, things would be set right and you would be back, sleeping next to me in our bed and all of the things we’d said we were going to do would be done.  We were supposed to have more time together.  This was not the way things were supposed to go.  I loved you more than anything else on Earth has ever been loved, and we were supposed to be together until the end of our lives, not until the end of yours. 

            There was supposed to be a balance, some form of retribution that would make my loss right.  The inevitability of it was that the only retribution would be your existence, for you to be here with me going further.  We could have stayed together through anything.  Anything but this.  I would have stood by you.  I would have been there for you forever.  I would have held you up at any expense, even if it cost me myself.  I would have done anything, fought as hard as I could for you, had I only known.  My ignorance cost me so much and I seek penance and absolution everyday.  Such a simple mistake not knowing seems to be until it costs so much.  You grow up thinking that it’s not too late, that it will never be too late.  You think that for every accident, for every little cock up there is a band aid, a fix, a remedy.  You think that you can turn around, go back, apologize and everything will be put right.  There is no putting it right, there is no going back.  Some errors are forever.  Most things are not reversible.  I wish that learning this had not cost me your life.

            I wish that I had been paying attention, watching you, instead of being so caught up in the moments of our lives together and the feelings attached to them.  I wish that I had seen what you were doing for what it was instead of a slight against me.  I took your pain and saw it as an insult.  I took it as a slight.  You were moving away from the world, and I thought you were moving away from me.  I thought you were finished, like love had simply washed out of you, and I responded with the idiocy of ignorance because I just didn’t know.  I just didn’t know what was to be lost. 

            When Tom picked me up from our apartment, suddenly my mind was quiet.  All of the time I had spent constructing situations that would make me feel okay had been for not, yet as I climbed into the car with Tom everything stopped.  You were not there with me for the first time since I could remember.  To say that it felt good would be disrespectful, and it didn’t feel good.  You were the biggest part of my life, and to spend a moment without the tumultuousness of your memory felt like disloyalty, like I’d not fulfilled my responsibility to carry you in life, and now in death I was committing the same crime.  It did not feel good, but it did feel peaceful. 

            In the year that had passed since your departure I had no choice but to torture myself with could have and should have beens.  If I’d only been there.  If I’d only realized when she’d said “this”, and if I’d only had the clarity to respond with “that”.  If, then, if, then, but there was noway of knowing and none of it mattered now.  I was too late.  It never stopped though.  It didn’t matter what I poured myself into, what I busied my mind with.  Thoughts of you were constant and damning.  So when Tom reached for me I could not pull away.  I wanted for just one more moment of peace and that’s what being with him was, and had always been.

            We drove wordlessly to the home Tom shared with his family.  It was strange to be inside his home, to see wedding pictures where he posed with a buxom red head at his side, their arms entwined.  It was strange to see framed photographs of their son.  At one time this had all been part of the dream he and I had shared.  Instead, he had realized his wildest dreams with someone else, and I had invested all of my love and all of my life into you.  Our lives had become so separate, yet it was as if the history of Tom and I had no ending, like we were supposed to be there together in that house.  It all felt so natural, so familiar and comfortable.  When he touched me, I didn’t stop him.  I did not want to stop him.  I prayed that he would not stop himself. 

            He kissed me.  It was a kiss I had known, but never loved.  When Tom and I had been together I thought that was it.  Something wasn’t there, but his words had been so beautiful.  I thought that was the most I could hope for; to have someone feel that way about me.  I did not know that there was someone so beautiful to whom I could return the beautiful words and the honest conductivity.  I wish that I had never known.  I would be happy with Tom’s unrequited passion had I not known the realness of love first hand. 

            His hands played their way over my skin.  It was a familiar touch.  It was an exciting touch.  I could feel his emotions and his love, but it did nothing for me but awaken my sleeping sexuality, and that was what responded to him, that and the silence in my mind that drove me to keep going, to let his hands explore a body that had once belonged to him, and now belonged to the memory of his dead sister.  He pulled me close and I began undressing him the way I used to do, paying close attention to every part of his body I uncovered.  My tongue traced a line from his collar bone down the center of his body and around his belly button. 

            I stopped just above the waist of his pants as I fumbled with the buttons of his jeans.  His hands wrapped around my wrists and I looked up at him.  None of it seemed wrong because for the first time you weren’t there and I could feel something other than the self loathing and the emptiness of being left behind, of knowing that you were not enough for anyone to stay with.  Tom gave me that security.

            I remember what it had been like to be with you before I had left Tom.  I remember the long conversations we’d had about him and the eventuality of my departure from his life.

 

*          *            *

 

 

            “Do you love him?”  You asked me one night as I lay in your arms.  You had always been so bold.  What if I had said yes?  What if I had been in love with your brother?  You weren’t afraid though.  You always sought my truths even if they could hurt you.

            I didn’t respond at first.  I rolled over to face you and I kissed you.  I slid my hand between your legs and we laid there like that looking into each others eyes as you waited for the answer. 

            “He makes me feel safe.  I’ve never felt safe before.  I didn’t know I could feel like that.  I didn’t know anyone could ever love me like Tom has loved me.  I didn’t know anyone could be so taken with me.  I love that feeling, of being safe.  It’s so enchanting to be loved the way that Tom loves me.”

            You didn’t look away from me.  “Do you love me?”

            I smiled but didn’t hesitate.  “Yes”.  That was a feeling I had not known either.  I had not known what it was like to return love.  It was scary and frustrating, and uncharted.  I wanted to explore and dissect every moment of what it mean to love someone.  It was not safe, it was uncertain and shaky.  Part of me wanted to hide from it, to run to the safety from which I had come.  The other part of me wanted to stay and feel it, to feel all of it. 

            “Did you know that I love you too?”

            What could I say?  I didn’t feel worthy of your love.  It was dizzying.  You had woken part of me that I’d not known existed before you.  My life had been lived under the self-imposed guise of being different, of somehow being defective.  I had built myself these walls made out of the belief that I had been built in such a way that I could never feel love, that I could never be loved.  In that moment, laying with you there you were breaking them down.  You were taking all the strength in me and melting it into an actual living breathing person capable of things I didn’t know I had in me.  I didn’t know loving someone was something I’d ever feel.  I had been so grateful for Tom’s acceptance, the love that we shared was overwhelming.

            “What are you going to do?”  That same boldness was in your eyes. 

            You knew what I was going to do even before I did.  Laying there with you, I was scared.  I pulled my hand away from you and rolled onto my back.  “I’m going home,” I said with every ounce of strength I had left in me.  “I’m going to go home and make Tom dinner.”

            You didn’t flinch but I knew I had hurt you.  I wish I could go back to that moment and share it with you all over again.  I wish I could do it properly, to explain to you the uncertainty and the newness of what I was feeling and the emotions swirling about inside of me.  Instead I left.  I went home to the man who I didn’t love, and left you lying naked in your bed alone because the way I felt for you was so different than anything I was used to.  Part of me craved the sameness of Tom and that is why I hurt you.  That is why I left you there.  I would give anything to have those moments back, to have thought it through and to have been prepared for my own neuroses. 

 

*          *            *

 

            Laying on the sofa with Tom after we were both completely spent felt the same as it always had.  I felt his warmth and admiration of me and I loved the feeling of being the object of his affection, yet I could not  return those complicated feelings.  Still, it was all so peaceful. 

            “Oh Em, I love you.”  I didn’t love him, and all at once I was overcome. 

            “Oh God Tom.  I can’t.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m so sorry.”  I tried to stand but my knees buckled beneath me.  I fell to the ground, my head hitting the corner of the coffee table as I went down.  I lay there, my eyes open staring straight ahead as the world buzzed around me.

            Everything I had done, every step I had taken to get me to where I was came rushing back to me.  I saw my parents and my sister.  They had turned their backs on me after they found out about you.  I’d received an envelope in the mail one day, the return address was one that I did not recognize.  Inside was a newspaper clipping about a car accident that had killed a woman and her teen-aged daughter.  My mother and my younger sister had died and my father was so ashamed of his eldest daughter he couldn’t even bring himself to pick up the phone.  You held me the night I got that envelope.  You had held me, and compared to the feeling of being blanketed by your love, Tom’s love made me feel like a whore.

            “What have I done?”  I sobbed as I continued to lay there naked on the floor.

            “Em?”  Tom placed his hand on me. 

            “Don’t touch me!”  I screamed as my body jerked from his grasp.  “Don’t touch me!  I don’t love you!  Don’t touch me!”  I don’t know how many times I screamed it at him.  He was in tears now too, a blanket wrapped around his waist.

            “Where is she!  God damn it Tom!  Where is she!”

            You should have been there.  Do you know how much I needed you to be there?  I felt so out of control.  I was laying naked on the floor of the home your brother shared with a wife and a son screaming about my dead girlfriend, I’d never needed anything as much as I needed your comfort in that moment.  You weren’t there.  It was the first time since you’d left that I resented you, that I saw you as less than the paradigm of perfection I had always held you to be.  How could you have left me?  You said you loved me.  You said you wanted to spend your life with me.  This was not the way it was supposed to be.  You were supposed to be with me forever and ever.  We were supposed to live happily ever after, you me and Jake.  What happened to you?  When had everything changed for you?  What drove you to the place that you had been at the moment you decided you wanted out? 

            I had no answers.  I would never have the peace of knowing the why are the when of your ceasing to exist.  I would never know where things went wrong, or what, if anything could have been done.  You ripped yourself away from me and in so doing ripped me to bits with no hope of ever being whole again.  I was nothing now, nothing but the mess you had left behind in your wake.  I was nothing but a broken little girl bleeding and naked on your brother’s living room floor, and I was angry at you.

            I hated myself for being angry at you and I cried louder.  Do you know what it’s like to be in a place that you cannot escape, to truly be trapped?  Nothing is more confining than the endless captivity of one’s own mind.  I am trapped inside mine.  You let me locked inside myself, confined by the walls of questions and fear.

           

*          *            *

 

            “Emily please!  You’re bleeding!” 

            “Don’t touch me!”

            “Tommy?”  Her voice was so quiet and gentle.  Jennifer stood in the doorway of the living room holding Tom’s bathrobe up with one finger.  She was beautiful and I was jealous of her ability to love.  I was jealous of her because the thing she had chosen to give her all too was here and not dead. 

            “Oh God.”  The last thing I remember was seeing Tom’s shocked face as he stood over me staring at your sister-in-law.  Everything went black.

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