It's January. 2004. I am still in love with a tall, handsome, and slightly depressed server. His inherent lack of self-confidence is apparent in his posture, like he's propped up by a deflated balloon. That's how we can feel the same size, even as I'm 5'2", and he's 6'4".
I've gone away to school, after Christmas and a letter I wrote him. We speak often on the phone, but never about how we feel. So when in his message he sounds positively inflated with emotion, and there's a crackling urgency in his voice, I'm certain he has chosen now as the time to tell me how he feels.
I wait until after my first printmaking class to call him. It's an evening class, one where I will later do uncharacteristic things; like show up late to critiques without any work, and sit in the back silent and staring out the window at the lights reflecting off the snow.
I called him back after I had begun to drive out of the parking lot. It's snowing, lightly, my headlights coming back to me in bright starry moments, one after another after another as if this is how it's going to be now. I wait through a few rings. He picks up. I have a lump of hope in my throat. It sinks to my belly immediately when he answers: it's clear in his voice that he's not about to tell me he loves me. Instead, he says; 'Maureen's been killed.' I pull over. To this day I don't know where. It's as if the spot I picked to pull over in had existed only for this news. And then vanished.
At first, it seemed Maureen was chosen at random, as if it could have been any of our names in my ear. It was pure nonsense that it was her life that was taken. 'Killed?' I immediately thought of a car crash. Either she or someone else had to have been drinking. No. No? Ex-boyfriend. My heart stopped.
We always worked brunch together in neighboring sections. The thing about this shift is the tidy completeness. By 9:30 everyone is in, coffee is poured, the buffet table is stocked. By 1:30, it's over. Empty glasses, dried brown stains on tables and napkins. All the food is cold, the buffet: ravaged. We're cleaning up one day. A very particular Sunday in July. I wore a brace on my wrist all shift. I didn't want to. But I wasn't supposed to be at work again so soon, so the brace was a compromise. Unlike the stitches under my hair, it couldn't be hidden. So I was explaining my way through the day in short, dazed declaratives. Some male friends would start off as if they knew exactly where he was and were going to take care of him themselves. I had to remind them, of course, he had been arrested.
At the end of the shift, Maureen and I were cleaning our neighboring sections. She was inquisitive about my attack, unabashedly so. I was relieved, and told her more details than I felt I could trust the others with. We crumbed and re-set our tables as I told her everything. She was kind, and compassionate. I was thankful for being able to tell her my story. With our sections cleared, we left.
Summer became fall. Looking back, there were things she couldn't hide. Things that we all overlooked. I remembered seeing a yellow bruise, under her left eye. I asked her about it. She brushed my question off her like crumbs off a seat. She was always thin, since I knew her anyway, and she had begun to gain weight. Quickly. We assumed she was off her diet. Fall became winter, and I left the town, and thought nothing of those moments. Until that phone call.
I sat in the car, becoming colder each minute, as I listened to details spoken in too bright fragments. Fragments I was utterly incapable of piecing together in a way that made sense. I had questions I have really never answered since. Was she in the bath already or driven to it? Was it filled with water? Had he been waiting or did he follow her in? Was there a key he should have given back? Was it a knife from her kitchen drawer, or did he being his own? Why didn't he stop? Did anyone hear her scream? Did she have clothes on or was she undressed? Was she afraid, or was it neatly edited for her; appearing once removed in slow broken frames? Did he bring the knife with him, wet on the passenger side of his truck, as he drove to turn himself in?
In that moment, in my car, clutching a cheap cell phone, I was bound to her. Bound by all the spaces I felt only someone like me could even attempt to fill in. I never asked why, I didn't wish it away, I knew better. I knew how to be blindsided. I knew that for some Love is a disguise. A thin, gaudy one. It was all disgustingly simple. And no matter what details were changed in the alternate 'if only' scenarios, the cold fact remained; it happened. He didn't stop, no one responded to her screams, the door stayed locked, her stuggling was overpowered. It's done. She didn't make it. I did. It would never be fair.
I don't remember starting my car and driving back to my room. Perhaps I vanished with that spot. Dissolved into the lit snowflakes.