Authors: Kim Desalvo
by Kim DeSalvo
All rights reserved.
For Brian, who may never know how much he inspires me…
Tia Hastings stared blankly at the sea of faces that swam in and out of focus before her. The vast majority were familiar, but the expressions they wore twisted and contorted their faces into alien landscapes that made her want to turn away and avoid all contact. They wanted to comfort her, she knew, but there was nothing they could possibly do or say that would bring her the slightest bit of relief from the hell into which she’d been thrust.
On her right stood her parents, doing their best to hold everyone together and keep the parade of people moving. They forced tight smiles for each mourner, and responded to their condolences when it was all Tia could do to nod her head in acknowledgement. Her mom reassured her every few minutes with a slight touch, a soft pat on the back, or a supportive hand under her elbow. At her left, Paddy and Siobhan, whom she’d called Mom and Dad for the past five years, tried bravely to maintain a stoic dignity. Directly in front of her, on the couch that sagged sadly from the constant weight of despair, sat Lexi Summers. She’d been Tia’s constant best friend since their awkward teen years, and had been the glue for Tia this past week—it was Lexi who’d stayed at her house and gotten her out of bed each morning, forcing coffee and cereal into her and making her get dressed as if she were a normal person. It was Lexi who’d run Tia a bath this morning, and who’d brushed out her tangled mass of dark hair while she sat unknowing, uncaring. Tia would have been more than willing to pull the shades on the world and never leave her bed, but Lexi forced her to go through the motions. She now sat with a box of tissues, dabbing often at her own eyes, but also making sure that the five of them had a constant fresh supply. She forced bottles of water on them as well, and made sure they were at least choking down enough food to sustain them.
But as much as Tia didn’t want to confront the looks of pity and well-intentioned but empty words of sympathy, she couldn’t turn around. Behind her, her future lay crushed—literally and figuratively—in a mahogany box. And as bad as it was to stand there and hear the same monotonous whispers of “I’m so sorry” from person after person, she knew that the coming weeks and months would be even worse. Everyone here would go back to their lives; this day a momentary sad distraction for most; and she would be expected to go on as well. However, seeing that her life would be under six feet of earth and concrete by this time tomorrow, she didn’t see a way that she could. All of her plans for the future involved Nick, and never once, in the past five years, did she even entertain the idea of a life without him. Now, either fate or coincidence had taken that from her. She couldn’t even begin to imagine getting out of bed tomorrow, much less moving forward with a life that no longer had meaning.
As had happened several times already, the finality of it all—the
of it all—pushed down on her like a physical entity. Tia’s knees buckled and she felt herself begin to sink. Her mom and Siobhan were beside her instantly, and Lexi leaped up to guide her out of the room and into a quiet alcove where they sank into an oversized sofa as Lexi wrapped her arms tightly around Tia.
“I can’t do it Lex, I just can’t,” Tia croaked as a fresh river of tears cascaded down her face. “I don’t know how I can go on without him.”
? You’re kidding, right? That’s where you decided to go? There have to be at least a dozen places you could go in this city—why in God’s name would you pick that dump?”
“Why not? It’s as good a place as any,” Tia answered, trying her best to sound casual and confident. Going out for a couple beers on a Friday night wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but for Tia, on this night, it was big. It was huge. And although she’d already committed her mind, her body was having second thoughts—a flock of butterflies had settled in the pit of her stomach, and their numbers seemed to be growing exponentially as the clock ticked away the minutes. She flopped onto the couch and plucked a cracker from her plate, added a hunk of cheese, and took a bite. There was no way she could force a meal into the fluttering mass that was her stomach, but she knew that she had to eat something. “Besides,” she continued, “I can be anonymous there. I don’t think there’s any chance of running into anyone I know.”
“Oh Tia,” Lexi moaned. “You really shouldn’t be alone tonight. I should just come with you.” She paused for a heartbeat before her voice came back strong. “I’m coming with you. I’m still at work, but give me an hour and I’ll…”
“That’s sweet, Lex, really,” Tia interrupted, “but you have that fancy lawyer dinner tonight…”
“I could cancel,” she interjected. “You might need me more than Ryan does tonight.”
“I appreciate that, but tonight’s way too important to Ryan. If he wants to make partner, he has to go to these functions—you’ve said that at least a hundred times. And if you’re going to be the supportive wife, you need to go too. Plus, it’s about time the two of you get to be a couple without me hanging around.”
“We love having you around, hon, you know that.” Lexi’s voice softened. “You know I love you, Tia, and I’d cancel in a second if you needed me. Believe me, there’ll be plenty more of these dinners in my future—Ryan would understand if I missed one. I just don’t want to think about you being all alone, especially in that place…oh, it gives me goose bumps!” Her voice dropped to a near whisper. “Why don’t you just go to the memorial instead? At least if you were going to
I’d know you were with other people who loved you. You know I’m going to worry about you all night if you’re going to insist on going to the armpit of the city.”
Tia grabbed another cracker. Regardless of how she was feeling about tonight, she was determined to put up a strong front for her best friend. “Aren’t you being a little overdramatic?” she asked through a mouthful of crumbs. “The armpit?”
“Yuh huh,” Lexi continued. “Have you ever even been by the place? All the guys there have dirt under their fingernails and probably ninety percent of them have shotguns in the back windows of their pickup trucks.” Her voice leveled, got serious. “Listen, Tia. The guys there—the
there—are on a different rung of the social ladder than you and me. They’re also on a different rung of the class ladder, the educational ladder, the
“That’s hardly the point, Lex…
on a different rung of your economic ladder too, remember? That doesn’t mean anything to me and you know it. Actually, that’s what makes it an easier place to go—I don’t have to pretend to be anything or anyone—I can just sit back and observe. Plus, seeing as I’m not planning on holding any hands or getting into any pickup trucks, I think I’ll be pretty safe. It’s a public place.”
Lexi grunted. “Public place doesn’t necessarily mean safe place, Tia,” she said. “That kind of joint can get pretty rough sometimes. It’s a whole other world, sister, and some of the guys that hang out at places like that can be shady characters. When I think about you going there alone—let’s just say that scenes from bad horror movies keep flashing through my head, and I can’t get them out. Plus, you’ve been off the market for a long time now,” she added. “It’s been a long time since you’ve had any…male attention. It might be hard to...” her voice trailed off.
Tia sighed. “Give me a little credit, Lex. It’s not like I’m going to throw myself at the first piece of meat I see just because I’ve been lacking in the sex department.”
“It’s not about giving you credit—I know you have impeccable taste in men and good sense. It’s just that the libido is a carnal instinct, not a case of mind over matter. Your depression turned off your natural instincts, and now that you’ve decided to start living again, it’s going to start rearing its head, maybe at the most unlikely times.” Tia tried to interrupt, but she continued. “I’m not saying you’re going to jump in bed with the first guy you see—of course not. I’m just saying that you might not have as much control over it as you think you do.”
“Oh God, that’s the last thing on my mind, believe me. I’ll say it again—I’m not looking to meet someone—quite the opposite, actually. I’m not even planning on talking to anyone. I’ll probably be in and out. An hour or two, a beer or two, a little people watching, then I can call it a successful night and head home.” She drew in a deep breath and let out another long sigh. “And to answer your other question…no. I really don’t think I can do the memorial. As much as I love Paddy and Siobhan, and Sean and the rest of them—I just don’t know if I can do it. This past year has been a long, hard road, and I’m finally at the point where I think I can get on my own two feet again. Being there—I don’t know,” she whined, trying to put her feelings into words. “I’m just afraid that it’s going to bring a littthe old sad memories rushing back and that I’m going to lose the positivity I’ve worked so hard for. I have to move forward.”
“Positivity? Is that even a word?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said defensively. “That’s hardly the point.”
“Then what is the point, Tia? I’m still not sure I really get why you feel like you have to ‘put yourself out there.’ You have lots of friends who love and support you, who will help you ‘find yourself’ again if you need them to—and for the record—I don’t think you’re as lost as you think you are. You’re just too damned stubborn and analytical to believe that things’ll just work themselves out in time. I know it’s been a year, but there isn’t a magical formula for grief, you know. There isn’t a timetable that you can follow—you just have to take it day by day.”
“I do know that Lex, but three hundred sixty five days have already passed me by, and I’ve neglected most of my friends the entire time. Shit, if it wasn’t for you and Mom, I probably wouldn’t have even left the house except to go to work. And if I’ve learned anything during my year of seclusion, it’s that life is short and I’ve wasted too much of it already. I can almost hear Nick screaming at me to suck it up and get over myself, you know?”
Lexi’s voice went soft around the edges. “Yeah, honey, I know. But that doesn’t mean that you have to go out to strange places all alone to do it. Besides, we’re going to the concert tomorrow—there’ll be thousands of strangers there. Can’t you wait one more night and find yourself then?”
Despite her strong emotions, Tia laughed. “An InHap concert is completely different than what I’m doing tonight. Tomorrow is going to have its own set of difficulties and I just can’t do it twice.”
“Well, obviously the music is going to bring back a lot of memories, and I won’t be able to stop thinking about Nick. That’s part of the reason I’m skipping the memorial. I can’t imagine two nights in a row of being bombarded with reminders of everything I’ve lost.”
Lexi sounded worried. “I’m telling you right now, you are NOT bailing on me for that concert, young lady, even if I have to drag you bodily—and don’t test me, ‘cause you know I will.”
“I don’t doubt that for a second,” Tia smiled, “and you know I wouldn’t want you any other way. It’ll be a great show, as always, and I’m determined to enjoy every minute of it—I
enjoy every minute of it. But for tonight I need noise, and people, and anonymity.”
Lexi groaned into the phone. “There’ll be noise and people at
. People who know you and love you, Tia, not like in a smoky barroom full of strangers.”