Photograph by Brooke Didonato
As a child I used to regularly visit my grandparent’s home. They had an old van parked outside and in all the years I went to visit, it never moved an inch. They had a tiny rosebush growing next to the rusting vehicle and slowly it had begun to lean on it. Its little leaves would unfurl and rest on the door, such a delicate thing resting so lightly on a metallic, broken object that one day it would have to be sent to the scrap yard.
It was a warm place with a life and history of its own and I only played a small part in the story. I would peek into the closets, hoping to find an old soldier’s uniform or lovely black and white photographs beautifully tucked together with string. I found crumpled letters and as I skimmed through them I could hardly make up the words. The cursive was so complicated that each swirling vowel was difficult to decipher. They were intelligible, musty, and utterly precious.
You must be wondering why my grandparent’s home figures in all of this, but you see, those letters were of past friendships that had been stored away, just as I hope you tuck this one away, neatly tied with a bow and string along with all the other letters I’ve sent you. I will practice my cursive even more now because in the future to come I don’t wish your children to find them because it hurts my chest having to write this.
I cannot reminisce about the past nor rummage through my closet looking for mementos of our friendship because the person you are now doesn’t live in the secret notes we exchanged in class or the little happy letters we sent to each other as children. This is not a condemnation, not at all, just a normal progression in life, of change. I do not begrudge you that.
I thought you were happy, at least you seemed like it. When you introduced me to him, you were nervous and giddy. You prepared tea for the three of us even though it was a warm summer evening. You were holding hands and you laughed and I was charmed by how you would rest your head on his shoulder and grin. I could feel the bubbles of your happiness and it warmed my chest. It was a happy moment but nostalgic as well.
We’d go out the three of us, and as time went by I began to see him as a friend. I didn’t know then that shadows began to cover your doorstep and before long your laughter and smiles disappeared replaced by pinched lips and puffy eyes.
When he called you an idiot for the first time in my presence I felt something freeze inside and I didn’t know what to do. I floundered and in that hesitancy I know I failed you as a friend. I should have spoken out. I should have told him to be quiet or demanded an explanation, or something, the possibilities seem endless now. I didn’t. I’m sorry. It was those tiny comments he’d make, making fun of your bright purple shoes or the book you’d read that deeply touched you. All those things that made you wonderful were being hacked into pieces. I stood watch and I whispered to you, “is everything ok?” You were resting by the kitchen counter and you shrugged and walked away.
That’s how it all started.
The bruises came next and all that bottled rage you held inside came roaring out when I decided to confront you. I was angry yes, but most of all I was scared, deeply, deeply scared. My chest seized up, and all I wanted to do was to tear you away from him. Those few times you allowed me near you and near him I injected as much poison into my voice as I could, and as I chugged down the tea you gave me, I felt it burn and it felt good because I wanted to burn that son of a bitch. I wanted to smash the mug in his face, I wanted to ram him against the wall, just as I imagined he did to you when you were alone. Every time I walked through the door I felt like a soldier entering a skirmish and I knew the battle had been lost when you stopped inviting me over.
You called me late one night.
You asked me to pick you up.
There was a speck of blood on your sleeve and your lip was bruised. The tips of your short hair were wet and I knew you’d been crying. You sat, huddled by the convenience store and a shopping bag lay by your feet. A change of clothes. We never spoke about it again and you know I won’t rehash what was said that night or the following weeks for that matter. What more can be said?
I moved to another city and the loud drumming of routine life drowned up the past. We continued to meet up, we continued to laugh over a drink and slowly the rough edges smoothed out. I wasn’t your fairy godmother or knight in shining armor, I was just a friend now and the poison leeched out. At least, I thought it did.
I saw a picture of you both, you were with a group of friends, his friends to be exact. For a moment I thought I was seeing things. You were resting your head on his shoulder just like when you started out. The bile rose and my hands shook as I called you. The smiles on your faces, the glossy flash making you look so pale. I called you, we shouted, we argued, you said things I’ll never forget, and I said things that still make me squirm. I cannot make up my mind as to why you did it. The sweet captions, the little winks and smiles you exchanged, and all I could see was the speck of blood on your sleeve and your hair pushed back, gnarled by the fall. All I could see were the bruises on your wrists. I was a soldier, a defeated one. I didn’t know what to do, you closed the door on my face. I pounded at the door, I shattered the mug you gave me.
I lost you.
And so, I write this because I know that one day, you’ll call me late at night and you’ll be sitting by that shop. You’ll be crying. I’ll be there. What more can be done? I don’t know.
You see, as I rustled through the pages of my grandparent’s letters and those of their friends, I saw how the edges would crumble and fall. Now that I think about it, I know that your grandchild will never see this because I don’t have it in me to send this to you. I don’t think I can.
Am I weak?
I just know that my door is open and that I will continue to write to you. The poison and resentment I will keep tucked away for when you need it. I will curl my fingers into a fist and relax my shoulders when you talk to me about him. I will be truthful. I will be honest. I cannot send you this letter because in many ways you don’t need it. I cannot understand how this all happened. I cannot see what the future holds, I cannot see if you’ll carry a bruise or a smile. All I know is that I’m here for you, for when you call.