July 26th

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.

© 2003 Maria Santos

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