Through All the Dust
Chapter Ten: Like Two Slant Trees
We’d spent the night on Marge and Tom’s couch—they’d offered us up the spare room, neglecting the fact that we did have a hotel reservation. But Brian and I were far too drunk to drive anywhere, and apparently were too drunk to make the journey upstairs to the guest bed.
My neck felt like I’d slept at a right angle all night. It cracked loudly as I straightened it—the groan that escaped from my throat was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Brian startled awake at the disruption.
“Was that you?” he grumbled confusedly, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
I laughed awkwardly, “I think I just broke my neck.”
The house was quiet, the sun had hardly crept into the sky outside the window. Brian rubbed at my back quickly before falling back into a light sleep. I decided he looked comfortable and that I was awake, so I left him on the couch.
Pulling Tom’s oversized jacket across my shoulders and grabbing my pack of cigarettes from the table, I stepped out into the freezing cold January air. It stung my lungs as I adjusted to the temperature. I dusted the top stair off as best I could—I’d always hated snow, and tucked the back of the jacket under my butt as I sat.
I sat that way for a while, pushing myself to imagine I was still sixteen and Tyler was inside making coffee. That had been our routine almost every weekend growing up—we’d get rip-roaring drunk, retreat back to his family’s home, and pass out in random (and sometimes inappropriate) places. I once slept, sitting up, in their shower. That one took some explaining to Marge when she found me.
It felt like a lifetime ago—it felt almost like someone else’s life…
A breeze trickled by me, pulling the smoke from my cigarette away. The trees lining the back of their yard danced in the cold. My eyes were fixated on the branches, like they were performing just for me.
I’d climbed one of those trees when I was nine or ten…Tyler had stood at the bottom, shouting to me that I’d climbed too high.
“It’s going to hurt when you fall,” he’d told me with a playful little grin.
I scoffed, “I’m not going to fall—”
And I fell.
I’d chosen a weak branch to put my faith into and it had let me down. I tumbled all the way down, catching my skin on each twig as I fell. It ripped my leg apart and fractured my arm. Tyler was panicked as he went to scoop me up. I was a little afraid I’d snapped my spine, so I screamed at him not to touch me.
Even as a kid, I was pretty dramatic.
“Get your mom!” I yelled at him.
They sat with me in the hospital while the nurse put a plastic cast over my swollen arm and stitched my leg back together. My aunt didn’t bother to come—so Marge lied and said she was my mother. No one questioned her about it, which (even then) made me wonder if it was because no one cared or if it was that they could see the love she held for me…It was easily mistaken, even thirteen years later, as a mother’s love. Maybe mistaken isn’t the right word.
It was easily recognized as a mother’s love.
I couldn’t remember my actual mother, or any semblance of the love she held for me.
As I sat in the cold, smoking my fifth cigarette, I could almost hear Tyler’s hurried feet rush passed me and crashing into the house—determined to find his mother quickly to see to it that I didn’t die. While I may have been dramatic, Tyler was nothing short of theatric. The day I fell from the tree, he was sure I was hemorrhaging from the brain.
I smiled a little at the memory.
Like a phantom pain, I could almost feel his hand on my shoulder—regaling in the memories of our life together. I closed my eyes, pushing myself to imagine it harder. Imagine it into existence.
“I miss you,” I whispered quietly, to Tyler but I guess actually to myself.
When no response came, it ripped away the fuzziness. My whole life felt like it revolved around chasing ghosts—trying my hardest to regain the things I’d lost. I wondered if other people had that sense of eternal longing…or if they were just grateful for what they had.
A tapping on the glass broke my distraction. I whipped around just in time to see Marge creeping through the door.
“What’re you doing out here?” she asked quietly. “It’s freezing out here.”
She pulled her jacket tightly around her chest as she positioned herself next to me, looking out into the yard in an attempt to understand what I’d been looking at.
“Do you remember when I fell out of that tree?” I asked her absently.
She smirked, “I do. You scared me half to death—Ty came in shouting about your neck being broken.”
I smiled, “He always had a flair for the dramatic.”
She sunk down, resting her weary body onto the deck boards, “Until the very end.”
“I really miss him,” I sighed sadly. “After all this time…It still feels like the first day.”
“I know,” she breathed.
I looked at her pleadingly, “Do you think it ever goes away?”
She looked confused.
“The sadness,” I lamented. “The wishing for things to be different…That feeling of panic when you wake up in the morning and realize it’s real, and that as time moves on…You’re further away from a time when you had them…It’s been years since I’ve seen him. It’s been years since I’ve heard his laugh…It feels like yesterday—not even yesterday, it feels like it happened this morning. Like he’s just on the other side of that door…”
Marge looked devastated. Her eyes were glazed and heartbroken.
I felt immediately terrible—I hadn’t meant to upset her.
“Sorry,” I sighed. “It’s just been really hard lately…”
She nodded, “I’m really sorry about your friend, Blair…When I heard, I knew it would bring up some demons for you…It’s too much loss for one person…It isn’t fair.”
“Any loss is too much loss,” I said seriously. “Brian is struggling. I’m struggling…It’s definitely familiar. I honestly thought I’d never have to go through it again—I thought Tyler was my quota.”
“I hoped he would be,” she frowned.
“How do you fix someone?” I asked helplessly. “I can see that Brian is hurting. I can tell he’s struggling to carry on…He hides it—or he tries to—but I know.”
She just listened. There wasn’t much to say, really.
“I haven’t had time to really process it,” I continued. “Not like when Tyler…I’ve been trying to keep everyone else afloat, you know? I need Brian to be okay. I need him to survive it…that’s the only end goal here. I just need to get him through it, and then things will be okay.”
“Honey,” she sighed, taking my hand into hers. “I know it’s in your nature to take care of everybody…I know it’s a burden that my son bestowed upon you. And it’s a wonderful trait in some ways…but dangerous in others.”
“Dangerous?” I asked confusedly.
She nodded, “You are not the same girl I knew all those years ago—and the world is to thank for that. It isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t a good thing…it’s just life. But if you want to help Brian out of his pain, you need to work through yours. You can’t fix anyone without all the pieces.”
I nodded solemnly, “It’s too early for this conversation.”
She smiled, “It’s never too early. You know I’m here to listen whenever you need me.”
“I know,” I said, glancing over at her quickly.
“Come inside,” she insisted, pushing herself to her feet. “First step to healing is to drink all of the coffee.”
I followed her, leaving the tree and the memories outside. Eventually Brian woke up and my world started over again.
Just passed eleven, we decided to head out to check into our hotel. We made plans to meet for dinner, our treat, and said farewell until then.
Brian was still half-asleep, so I drove. He looked like he was going to fall asleep leaned up against the car window. It was always weird to drive along the roads I’d grew up on. It felt strange to be back as an adult, almost entirely detached from this place that had been my entire universe for so long.
I made an abrupt right turn, feeling suddenly impulsive. Brian startled a little as I pulled the car to a stop.
“Where are we?” he asked confusedly, looking out the window and then to me.
I took a deep breath, “Come on.”
He followed me without question out of the car and along a chain-linked fence. Eventually we came to a massive gate and I led him through it.
“What are we doing here?” Brian asked, taking note of the endless lines of gravestones.
I didn’t answer, I was too focused. I was trying my hardest to remember where to go—it had been so long…The guilt for my uncertainty was almost enough to bring me to my knees. But eventually I found what I was looking for.
I lingered for a second before speaking, “These are my parents.”
Brian looked saddened.
“I know that you’ll never get to meet them,” I frowned. “But…I just thought maybe if I brought you around…Maybe they’d know.”
He smiled sympathetically, pulling me in with one arm and planting a quick kiss on my temple, “They know.”
My parents were buried together, apparently that’s what they’d asked for in the event of their deaths. My aunt had been responsible for the funeral and all arrangements that went along with it. She’d chosen beautiful stones, I’d always thought so.
“Everyone I loved in my childhood,” I said without thinking, “is buried in this place.”
Brian just kind of stared at me.
I wouldn’t have known what to say to me either.
My eyes met his, “I’m having a really hard time.”
“I’ve lost a lot of people in my life,” I told him like he didn’t know. “And I think Jimmy just…I’m not really sure how to continue on.”
“I understand,” Brian frowned.
“Is this all life is?” I groaned. “Letting people go? Moving on from them like they were insignificant?”
Brian took a deep breath, “I’ve been trying to find a place in my mind lately…where I can tuck Jimmy away into—where I don’t really have to let him go.”
I looked to my beautiful man with urgent desperation. He’d hardly talked about Jimmy at all—he’d hardly talked about himself at all. It was aggression, or it was utter despair…it had never been honesty before.
“I’m not sure how to live without the people that I love,” he continued thoughtfully, studying my mother’s gravestone. “But I have you. And you’re worth carrying on for.”
I blinked away little bits of tears.
“I think that’s what it’s about,” he told me, finally meeting my gaze again. “Finding things that are worth holding onto…It doesn’t mean you move on from the ones you’ve lost…You just have to take them with you.”
We stood there for a little while longer, Brian eventually meandered back to the car as I went to pay a quick visit to my fallen friend. I brushed the snow from the top of his stone before pushing my fingers to my lips and placing my love firmly atop his epitaph.
“I love you,” I choked sadly, tearing myself away.
If I’d stayed any longer, I knew I’d fall apart. It was easier to move along when you could pretend it had never happened—if I pretended like Tyler never existed.
When I got back to the car, I had to take a second to just look. Brian was hunched over in the passenger seat, scribbling notes into my notebook. I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen Brian writing before. Even his guitar riffs, he’d mostly play from the heart—and he’d never written specific lyrics.
“What are you working on?” I asked curiously as I finally climbed back into the warmth of the car.
He smiled at me softly, “Something for Jimmy.”
It was that very second that I knew Brian was going to be okay.
And it was then that I knew it was okay to start grieving for myself—even if I still felt the need to hide it away.
I had to believe that life was like that tree I’d climbed—maybe you’d fall, maybe you’d break a bone or two…but the people that loved you would scoop you up. They’d stick with you until it healed. You’d always have the scars—but you’d also keep the memories from the view.
Maybe it was worth climbing again—paying better attention to the strength of each branch.
I pulled my roots from the dirt.