Monday was the wake. The place was packed with dazed and crushed 21-year-olds who had never faced mortality so close to them before. HH's little sister was loved by so many people from so many walks of life. Memorials to her young life paved the walkway–photographs, a video montage, her baptismal gown. At the head of receiving line was Mom, who burst into a new dose of painful tears when each person representing a different part of her life or the daughter's walked by.
When I came in with my oldest brother, who grew up with HH, HH gave me a huge hug and whispered how much it meant to him that I came. Later, in a text, he asked if I saw him smile when he saw me come in. He thanked me for making his insides light up.
The next day, Winnie and I went to the funeral together, as planned. We met up with two other childhood friends and sat together through the touching ceremony. The congregation was overcome with a chorus of sobbing when HH's middle sister, S, got up to give her tribute to her little sister. She talked about their close bond, tearfully spoke of how her sister will never be an aunt to her kids, how she will never get to see her little sister get married, etc. She shared funny memories as well. I've never seen a crowd so overwhelmed with emotion before.
The burial was somber and mercifully brief. Afterward, HH came over, surprised to see me and nearly picked me up with a huge hug. He asked how I was, and I shook my head. "No, how are you?" He commented on how I was burning up in the heat of the sun, dressed all in black, giving veiled compliments about my looks. S came over to us, her friends, and we spoke about how it was a perfect day. How the birds were singing, the sun was shining despite the threat of clouds later in the day. Little sister was buried next to a plot carrying a Yankee flag, her favorite baseball team. HH and his sister said the family had been seeing signs of little sister everywhere.
We went back to the church for the reception. Winnie, M (one of the dear friends of my childhood), and I sat at a table by ourselves. We spoke in hushed tones about the accident, our worries about how the family was holding up, noting how neither HH or S were eating, how S looked like a frail bird.
M asked if HH was going to move up here. I said I sincerely doubted it. Somehow we began discussing my brief relationship with HH, how it went from absolutely amazing to heartbreaking. M commented that S was exactly the same way. She only let people get so close before she pushed them away. That brought me some kind of comfort and closure, even. M said how our job was to stay in touch with S, to make sure she remained connected with her friends, and that my job was to convince HH to move back to the state to be back with his family.
Suddenly HH, S and her husband swooped upon us. HH sat next to me, pulling me to his side. He kept hugging me, squeezing me to his side, and finally he tightly grasped my hand in his hand. "It means the world to me that you are here." We closed out the reception, bringing smiles and laughter to S's face. When Winnie and I got into the car, she said, 'I would certainly say the HH was very glad to see you!"
Yesterday, I texted Harlequin Hero, asking if he wanted to get out and do something outdoors while the weather was nice, also allowing him to get away from the sadness and drama that surely overtook life at home this week. I wasn't too surprised when later, HH replied, "What are you doing tomorrow? Is the weather supposed to be nice again?"
Today, he wound up being caught up in family stuff all day. I was about to write it off as a raincheck or even a blow off, when he texted, "I'll pick u up in a few."
It was after 7 p.m. when he arrived in his new truck. "Did you have any thoughts for where you want to go?" he asked. "I just needed to get out of the house." I mentioned we could try to find a park or something that wouldn't kick us out after sunset. As we drove by the tavern where we met and where we went to many a karaoke night, he noted all the vehicles parked out front and I said teasingly that it was Thursday: karaoke night. "Really?" he replied. "Maybe we'll drop by there afterward."
First, we just drove. We talked about my illness and my plans for the near future. We talked about his sister. We talked about spirits and signs from loved ones when we needed them after they'd passed. He painfully spoke of her last attempt to reach out to him before she passed and his missed opportunity to reply. He shared more extended family drama.
We navigated the familiar streets of our hometown. We went through the automatic carwash to wash his truck. Then we headed for this pond that we thought was still accessible. It wasn't. We wracked our brains for other teen haunts, and tried another place. We saw a fence and a "No trespassing sign." Next to that, though, we saw fresh tire tracks through the grass. HH followed it until we got to the beach in front of a lake.
It was a beautiful night. The sky was clear, and we could see stars everywhere. We could hear frogs and crickets and smell the water as the breeze wafted its aroma in our direction. We found a park bench to sit on. He pulled me toward him. "You are so warm," he said. "I'm freezing." Our bodies remembered history, as he pulled me onto his lap and pulled my face to his.
After a time, the breeze was no longer refreshing; it was just cold. We retreated to the truck. We continued where we left off. We enjoyed each other a little bit more, we laughed. Reaching for him, I accidentally grabbed the Gatorade bottle in the beverage console in front of us and started cracking up.
"Have your boobs gotten bigger?" he asked later.
"Why, do they seem like it?" I replied. "Yeah, I've gained a little weight," I said proudly.
He nodded appreciatively. "I thought they had an extra bounce to them; I can really cup them good now," he said, gesturing with his big hands.
We started talking about everything. He is looking at houses in town, including some in my neighborhood. The taxes scared him, so I told him to look one town over. He mentioned he'd need a roommate. I asked how serious he was about getting a house here. He said something about how he was almost 40, and it was time to settle down.
"What, with wife and kids?" I asked. He said he was too old to have kids. I said, you're an athlete, that's no excuse. "Marry a 23-year-old," I joked. He said that was too much for him to handle. "Okay, marry a 30-year-old." He said, yeah, someone closer to his age would be more realistic. But then he ducked his head and said something about how all that's not so important to him right now.
Then he told me how until last week, he had gotten back together with his ex-fiance. The one who had completely shattered his heart and forced him into a shell from which it took him months and months to emerge. I was the one who first drew him out of it over a year ago. His sister had sincerely thanked me for bringing some happiness to him again. Anyway, a little over a month ago, the ex drew him back again. He was ready to move her up with him, he'd bought a truck just to handle the horse trailer she'd need to bring her animals up. He planned on surprising her with the truck last week, but she couldn't/wouldn't find the time for him. Then, his sister died.
The gf's response was terribly lacking. Then, instead of comforting him on his long, agonizing drive home, even for just a few minutes on the phone, she couldn't find time for him, instead more concerned with her friend who broke her ankle. Boyfriend's sister dying vs. a broken ankle. The former kind of seems like it should rank as a higher priority in terms of being there for someone, IMHO. HH agreed. He couldn't believe that all he got were a couple of empty texts. Any time he called, she never answered. He wrote her off then and there. Deleted every text conversation, her phone number, etc.
He said, what am I going to do, go back down to my place down South and be a hermit or be up here with all these people who love and support me? Exhausted from an incredibly long day, he took a power nap in my arms. Wide awake, I thought about everything that had happened this week, the sorrow, the surprises left and right. I thought about the other person in my life who suddenly seemed very far away, and yet more concrete and complete, filling my cracks and never leaving me wanting except for his physical presence.
After HH dropped me off, I talked to one of my best friends who saw me through and after my relationship with HH, and she surprised me by saying he sounded like he was starting to realize how much I meant to him. I said he's probably just reacting in grief and will disappear. She said it was more likely that if this is what I wanted, I would have to be very, very patient but this might possibly lead to a happy ending.
At the beginning of this week, I was thinking about being ready to start a future with someone else. At the end of this week, a part of me is left pondering the past again. I feel like this is the story of my life, to always have the past drawing me back in, forcing me to make difficult choices or wonder if I'm really able to let go. Honestly, I don't even know if there even really is a choice to make, but if there is, I don't know if just how easy it would be for me to say no this time.