Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Bereavement Group

“I didn’t say ‘I love you’, anymore. I hung on to it, like an old miser,” She said. “He said actions speak louder than words.” She shook her ash blonde curls, like a dog coming out of a lake. “He was right about that.”

I just listened, staring at her long slender fingers. She twirled her wrist, causing a silver charm bracelet to spin, glimmer, and tinkle like a hundred tiny bells.
“That was your mother’s bracelet, right?”

“Annoying, isn’t it?” She fingered a tiny bicycle. “It snags on everything.”
I glanced at the man seated at the table next to us. It was so close, he might as well join us.

“Most of the charms didn’t have any bearing on the person she was.” She laughed. “We bought her charms for birthdays, Christmas. They were anything we could afford. Look, like this one. My mother didn’t even know which was the business end of a golf club.”

“Why do you wear it, then?”

“To remind me to mourn her. It’s hard to remember. She died so soon after Gary.”

I glanced over, lowered my voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I know what you mean. Actions do speak louder than words. Kevin’s Internet actions certainly did.”

Stephanie stopped, put her braceletted, manicured hand upon mine. The contrast of her soft hand against my clay roughened one was sharp. My cuticles were ragged, with remnants of pottery clay buried deep beneath the surface.

“Gary used to say, about saying ‘I love you’, ‘too often said, it loses impact. Not said enough, it causes pain. Said to the wrong person, it's meaningless. Said to the right person at the wrong time, it damages.’”

She sipped her chai tea. I felt compelled to fill the silence between us, to sidetrack her before it was too late, before we were both blubbering in public, again. Our grief fed off the grief of the other.

“Come on, we’ll be late for the bereavement support group.”

She stared at a spot over my head. “And death wipes it all out to a zero balance sheet.”

I looked around at the other bookstore coffee shop occupants. No one seemed to be paying attention to us, but the guy at the next table could be, and we’d never know. It had been some time since he’d turned the page in the book he held like a barricade, a shield concealing all but the furrows of his brow beneath a shock of black, onyx black hair.

“Let’s not go.”

“You say that every week. Every week you admit it helps, but only after.”

“It’s just.” Her voice trailed off.

“What, Stephanie, it’s just what?”

“It’s just, it’s like one-upsmanship on misery. They all act like, since theirs were all police or firemen, heroes, that somehow their pain has more value.”

“I know. Like because they were heroes, somehow their, none of them were ever unfaithful or had gambling debts, or liked porn. The divorce rate among police is astronomical. If you could look into the future, I wonder how many of them would have been divorced, had it not been for nine-eleven?” I looked into my empty cup. When had I started drinking chai tea? Oh, when Kevin died. One more way to not be reminded, to stop drinking Mocha Java. “I suppose they don’t consider a gunshot from a husband of a client to be the same as ‘in the line of duty.’”

“Let’s not go. I can’t stand looking at those tall girls who worship Buddha another night.”

“What do you want to do, instead?”

“Let’s pack. Go south. Get on I-95, head down the New Jersey Turnpike and find some sun.”

The man at the next table looked up, grey eyes, eyes like Galapagos Tortoises, “They’ve all gone to look for America?”

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