Our bed always seems too big when I sleep alone, too small when I sleep
with Jak, tiny on nights when Jessi crawls in with us, dragging half the
covers down with her since the nights are hot and everything's been
kicked down to the end of the bed.
Today I'm alone, evening's
approaching, but the sun's still bold through the dirt-streaked windows.
Jak won't be home for another couple of hours and I've been reading in
bed, Mary Karr's pages of autobiographical prose conjuring images of the
black-and-white photos that littered the floor of my mother's apartment
the day we collected my grandmother's things from a storage space down
on Port Industrial. Men with hats and rifles and girls in cheap dresses.
A couple with a baby on a tractor and the sun at such a position that
the photographer's shadow was cast across the tall grass and on one tire
of the tractor. My grandparents in a canoe down by the Riverwalk in San
Antonio. My mother leaping over a jump rope, suspended in mid-air, all
the happiness of childhood ignorance on her face.
She told me the
stories behind the pictures, like the girls holding the rope for her,
they were sisters and when they grew up and apart, one would go with Mom
to the movies or to some lover's lane and the other stayed home to study
or go to some slumber party where the girls painted their toenails and
planned dates with guys they'd never talk to, the same guys that were
across town banging my mother and her friend. "To this day, they
don't know how lucky they are. They're whining to their therapists how
they never went for the things they wanted. And then there was me, out
to here with Pete." Her arms were a giant oval estimating the size
of her belly. As if Pete and the rest of us had been dropped on her, as
if pregnancy was just something that happened to her. Like she'd done
nothing to deserve the burden of children. I fall asleep on that giant
bed making the first conscious wish that my mother had loved me.
Jak startles me awake and I sit right up, irrationally afraid at first,
scooting my ass away from him. I get like that when men wake me up.
There's explanations, but my mind fuzzes away from them and I open my
dry mouth at Jak, "What?" He apologizes and I can hear a
couple of men laughing in the living room. He tells me Ross and Lewis
are here and they've got KFC on the table. His words are subtracted from
me, like I'm reading a story about Jak's friends in my living room. Jak
asks me to get dressed, gets a pair of jeans and a shirt out of a pile
in the corner. The joke about maids, how their own house is always a
mess. I say I'm dressed enough, but further inspection shows I'm just in
my panties and a tank top. I think Jak just wants to cover me up
sometimes, though you'll never see him nag about how short my shorts are
if the only place I'm wearing them is in the apartment. So I put on the
jeans and the big T-shirt with "Joe Knows Crabs" printed on
tie-dye patterns, put my hair up and follow Jak out of the room.
I wave a lazy hello to the guys and try to smile, but they're so far
away to me and all I can see is Jessica's clothes strewn over her bed
and a stain on the couch where her cat spilled a can of Coke. Right, the
cat. Jessi blames everything on that cat and I usually believe her.
She's with Lo today and I've been hopelessly useless without her. I get
out plates, set them in front of the guys who thank me the way they
would a waitress. "Thanks." Jak kisses me, tells me he'll
stand, we've only got three chairs. I say I'm not hungry and his reply
is a concerned look. "Are you okay, honey?" Jak's friends are
looking at me. I say I'm fine. I'm not though, I'm miserable. I can't
even say why.
"We're thinking about catching a movie. Do you wanna go?"
I shake my head. Better to lie around the apartment, go online, finish
Ron's laundry, maybe do my own. But Jak's looking at me like he's not
going to give up that easy.
"I'll stay here then."
"You don't have to do that." Ross and Lewis are talking now. I
hear the name of some doctor. Shop talk. I make Jak's friends nervous.
"I want to. You don't look good." Jak's hands rub my shoulders
and I feel fenced in, crowded. He whispers to me, "I'll make them
leave. Just let me take care of you."
Jak knows me too good. I tell him his friends can stay and eat and then
I'll talk to him. But it comes down on me, like a fist out of the dark.
Something rips out of me, the intensity of some emotion. I wrap my arms
around Jak's back, he's so tall and strong, this way he can unravel me
just by looking me in the eye and proving his love. My words are weak
here. There's nothing to compare this to. When your heart's broken and
someone starts to sweep up the pieces, this is what it feels like.
There's no way you can know unless it's happened to you. I think when
man thought up heaven and God and hell, he must have had this feeling
rolling through him. Compare this to train wrecks, sinking ocean liners,
burning planes, bombed buildings. That's the pain because everyone's
dying and no one deserves it. No one deserves it, but they all think
it's their fault. The opposite of mercy, the epitome of blame. Break a
heart and one of two things happens to it. It's rebuilt stronger or it's
swept away. Train wrecks and burning planes. Sinking ocean liners. You
sort through the pieces and you make sure it never happens again.
Ross and Lewis let themselves out after washing their own plates as Jak
lies beside me in bed. With him there, that bed is just the right size.
I tell him Greg's leaving soon and I tell him I'm talking to Dan again
and I tell him that you can only be in love with one person at a time
and the rest are just accidents and mistakes and lies, but it's not
their fault. I say I'm sick of putting other people through what I've
been through. He says, "So don't." But it's too late, choices
have been made and the rules, you don't break them, they break you.
Jak's never had his heart broken, so his way of sewing up the shredded
pieces of mine is a little clumsy. We make love. Jak falls asleep first.