Be prepared for Major (capital “M”) angst and have tissues at the ready for this story.
The words slid around Ian’s brain trying to find a foothold, trying to find a grasp somewhere, but they wouldn’t take. Ian stared at the hole in front of him, its ragged edges trying to describe what should be going on in his own chest, but he couldn’t seem to make the picture stick any more than the two words.
It continued to hunt for a place, but like the picture in front of his eyes, it couldn’t seem to mesh with anything in his knowledge. He tried to make the words and the picture work together, but they refused. Sort of like trying to force two magnets together with the wrong sides facing each other. There was something about this image, something about this picture in front of him, this hole that he was supposed to understand, something that was supposed to make sense to him, but it didn’t.
The words finally found a handhold on an exposed brick in the empty dusty corner of the cob-web filled basement of his mind. No, his mind answered. Not a year. Eleven months. Three weeks. And four days. They never made it to a year.
As the time frame crystallized in his head, the image of the hole made more sense. It, too, became defined for him. Hayden’s grave. His mind shut down again. The two words were enough to lock him up. He needed the numbness, wanted that back. He wasn’t ready to face the rest of it. After all, it was only a few days, right? Just four. Four days. No, no, he couldn’t think like that, couldn’t think about that. Because then that would make it real. And he wasn’t ready for it to be real.
Eleven months. Eleven months, three weeks and four days. He could very clearly see Hayden standing in front of him. He could feel those soft lips kissing his. The hand in his hair, brushing the bangs out of his eye. The stubborn bangs that refused to stay put. They were there now, and they would stay there. But he shied away from even that determination. Even that little idea couldn’t stick in his mind.
It reeked too much of understanding. It reeked too much of acceptance. And he wasn’t there yet, no. He couldn’t do acceptance yet. Numbness was better. Numbness meant he didn’t have to feel anything. He could ignore the acceptance, he could ignore pain and if he did then the ragged hole in front of him that they were lowering his lover’s casket into didn’t have to mirror itself in his chest.
He felt a hand on his back, another on his shoulder and one more on the back of his head. He vaguely recognized these as if he was watching the scene from the outside his body. The one on his back belonged to Kane. The one on his shoulder, Kenji. The hand on the back of his head? Oh, that was Mrs. Green. Right. Hayden’s mother.
They were touching him. They were touching him to offer… offer something. He wasn’t quite sure what it was they were supposed to be offering, because he didn’t feel anything. If he felt it, if he recognized it, he would have to accept it. And he wasn’t ready to do that yet. No, no. No acceptance. No feeling. No ragged hole in his chest like the one he was still staring at.
He vaguely registered that there were people surrounding the grave, some of them moving away, some of them hugging each other. The two hands that were still on him—the one on his back and the one on his shoulder—they didn’t move, they stayed there.
Something else niggled at the back of his brain, poked at the corner of his mind that said he should turn to them, the two standing next to him. He should say something to them, off some sort of… comfort? No, no. Comfort was a feeling.
Should he offer words? But words without feelings were pretty empty. That much he could admit to, that much he could… say.
So instead he just stood there. Somebody was tossing flowers down the hole now. He registered that there was something in his hand and glanced down to his right hand, noticing there was a red rose clasped between his fingers. He was supposed to do something with it, but he couldn’t remember what it was. He simply stared dumbly at it for a while then let it fall to his side again.
He shifted his eyes from his hand back to the gaping hole that was now filled with black wood, flowers and dirt. But when he finally stopped being numb—not that that was going to happen anytime soon—but when he stopped feeling numb, those flowers wouldn’t fill his hole. They wouldn’t fill the chest that would be gaping and open.
That would stay that way for a long time. He could be aware of that much. Anything more he, yet again, shied away from.
Those two hands on him were pulling at him. One of them lifted the hand with the rose in it, another pried the flower out of his grasp and tossed it into the hole for him. He looked to the side and saw that the hand that had taken the rose belonged to Kane. He nodded, though he had no idea what he was nodding to, and allowed himself to be steered away from the hole. The hole wasn’t his lover, his boyfriend, anyway.
No his lover was… no, no, his mind withdrew from that thought again and he nearly winced with the speed. He couldn’t hide from it forever, some rational part of his brain reminded him. But the irrational side said, “Tough! I will if want to! I don’t want to see this truth. I’m not going to and I don’t have to.”
He was in front of a car. He was supposed to do something, but the numbness had taken over again. Kane said something to him and he turned his face to his friend again. “Get in, Ian,” Kane said in a low voice.
Oh, right. He slid into the car, Kane on one side, Kenji on the other. His seatbelt was fastened for him. He was fairly certain he didn’t dress himself that morning, either. He vaguely recognized the suit that he was wearing. Something his mother had purchased? Did he get fitted for it? He couldn’t remember. Didn’t really care.
He wasn’t going to wear a suit for his anniversary. No. They were going to order pizza and watch Twister on video. Hayden had wanted to take him someplace really nice, like Eros Kitchen or one of those fancy restaurants, but Ian insisted he didn’t need anything like that. And that Twister and pizza meant more to him than anything else.
He’d rather remember the year before exactly as they had it. After chuckling, a hug and a long kiss, Hayden had agreed.
He did that… was that… two days ago? Ian shook his head. He didn’t remember, didn’t want to remember. He didn’t know how long ago it was because if he remembered that the movie and the pizza were two days ago, then he would remember that Hayden died… No. No, no. Can’t think that.
The blessed numbness came back and he stared, instead at the center console between the seats of the car. Grey plastic, molded to include a pit of some sort that was supposed to hold things: cassette tapes, cigarettes, lighters, money. There were a few of those items in there. He puzzled over them a moment, his brain grappling onto the items, registering and cataloging each one and throwing them out as unimportant.
Very little was important these days. But that’s okay. He didn’t need things to be important because important meant they would hurt when they went away. And he didn’t want hurt.
The car stopped, his seatbelt was unbuckled, and Kane tugged on his arm. OH. He was supposed to get out of the car. He nodded, not that anyone said anything, and followed Kane up the sidewalk and onto the porch, through the doorway and then he sat on the couch in the living room. “Ian, take your jacket off.”
He looked up curiously at Kane. Take his jacket off? Everything seemed to be penetrating his brain on a sort of delayed timer. He shook his head, not quite sure what he was denying, then leaned forward, shrugged the jacket off of his shoulders, laid it on the couch next to him and leaned back again. Then he turned and stared at the blank screen of the television across the room from him. Perhaps he should put in Twister again.
No. He didn’t really want to watch Twister. Well, he wasn’t thinking about wanting much of anything. “Wanting” was another emotion. Something unwelcome at the moment. Moment? He chuckled mirthlessly. Unwelcome at all. Someday maybe he’d start to feel again. He wondered at that, but decided it wasn’t worth the energy at the moment.
Kane was pulling on him again. “Come on, Ian, let’s get changed. Let’s take the suit off.” He followed docilely into their bedroom and stood while Kane unbuttoned his shirt, unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned his pants. “Ian, I can’t take your shoes off for you, you’ll have to do that.”
Ian looked down and saw his dress shoes. New! That’s right. His mom bought them. Bought them for… today. He shook his head again, pushing it away, bent over and untied his shoes and kicked them off. He let the pants fall, shrugged the shirt off and left them sit.
He crossed the room to the bunk bed—the bottom one, he never slept on the top anymore, crawled onto the mattress and curled up on his side. Sleep would be good. Sleep would allow him to not think. Would make sure that the thoughts that kept scrabbling around in his brain for a foothold—unwelcome thoughts, thoughts he wasn’t ready for—wouldn’t find one.
He closed his eyes and somewhere along the way, he finally fell asleep.