The parlor décor was a pleasant, nonthreatening space, in neutral hues of beige and muted tawny gold, just as the pamphlet had suggested. The couch, a simple arrangement of tasseled, soft throw pillows on a gray five-piece sectional, did not convey the slightest hint of aggression. The coffee table, a rich chocolate brown with a flat finish, was laden with foods to satisfy any palette; meat and cheese trays, vegetables and dip, hummus and gluton-free rice crackers, coffee cake with an appeasing, humble glaze of sugar. The drinks, too, were simply water or tea, although he had had his fill of pre-game booze to steady the nerves, ease the tremors, open the throat.
They had arrived, one by one, quiet, suspicious, and observant. They knew him (he had, in fact, expressly invited them a month ago with eggshell white invitations on a grainy card stock), but they did not know each other. One of them was dead. They sat, pensive, and nibbled on bits of cheese, except for the dead one, who could only watch with thinly veiled jealousy.
“That hummus is chipotle.” He’d say with a tone of nostalgia, “I always loved chipotle.” The other two guests cast him uneasy glances, but he understood. Being dead is a reminder to the living; one day you will be like me. He did not look grotesque, rotted, or even as he did when they buried him, dolled up in layers of mortician’s wax and his Sunday best. He was simply there but not there, in the peripherals, casting long shadows, being opaque. “And sun tea. With lemon, and a sugar cube. Cold tea on a hot summer day. I miss the sun.” He added.
The woman coughed, uneasy. She was in her late thirties, and still beautiful, after all those years. He couldn’t help but catch himself staring from moment to moment. He hadn’t seen her since high school; she had aged, as they all had, but with grace. She was a mother now, three children, and this somehow intensified the glow she had always had, given her a fullness in her hips that conveyed health and life. He remembered the day he met her, clearly; a small boy walking into a strange classroom in a new school, nervous, shy, and scared. And there she sat, far left row, two seats back, right in front of the empty desk that was to be his home until the following summer break. She had golden hair, this is what had caught his eye. When he sat, she smelled of strawberries and bubble gum. And with that, he was in love for the next seven years of his life.
The third guest, also a woman, knew him well, and glared at him. Every few moments she would check her watch, tap her foot, and clear her throat. She, too, looked just as she had when he had met her a decade ago, but with less joy or the euphoria of something new. She was still attractive, as he had found her before, but not as resilient, somehow used. He knew her, too. He could read her thoughts like words typed on paper, just beneath her skin. Not just her thoughts, but the story of who she was, her moods, her secrets, her pain, her anger. She had the same gun metal blue eyes as his daughter, deep set and piercing.
All three of them, here, in this room, with him, was suddenly uncomfortable. Suffocating. This was indeed happening. He had been rehearsing his monologue for weeks, in his head, in the shower, in the car. And now, as he sat there, staring at them staring at him, three distinct chapters of his life, he was deathly afraid that he would open his mouth, lose his nerve, and all that would pass his lips would be a dry, cracked croak. The booze, a brilliant idea an hour ago, was suddenly working against him; he wanted clear thought. All the bravery in the world is useless if what you say is utter gibberish. His fingers fiddled with themselves or objects on the table – toothpicks decorated in festively colored bits of string, his tall glass of tea, making the ice sing against the glass as he swirled it thoughtfully.
He had been preparing this for weeks, this intervention. He had read literature and pamphlets. He took advice from his therapist. He had watched several reality television shows full of people willing to lay their dirty laundry bare for the cameras and the world to reach closure. And now he was here.
He took a full, deep breath.
“I invited you all here to talk,” he began, his words staggered with caution and thought, “I feel sad and unresolved that I was unable to tell you what I felt, what you needed to hear, when we were together.” Effective, unaccusing “I Statements” were, of course, crucial to a successful intervention, according to leading professionals, addiction counselors, and Dr. Drew. “I feel that there are words you did not give to me, that I needed to hear. It all feels like one big, frayed knot. I need closure.
“You-“, he began, rethought, continued, “I feel rejected by you. All of you. At some crucial point in my life, I was rejected by you, and it left a psychic dent.
“Father, you left when I was barely a toddler. Parents divorce, I know. But you, you vanished. Fathers are not supposed to do that. I was developing. I needed security, safety, love, and something is missing, and I’ve felt it for decades, a hollow in me, somewhere, undefined. For the life of me, I can’t understand how someone would look at, hold their newborn babe, so utterly defenseless, and part of you, and simply walk away. Your blood is in my veins. I haven’t seen you in almost forty years, but I know my face, and I would not mistake you for anybody else. I can’t help but think my life would have been different if you stuck around. You were the first to break me.” It was flowing now, a violent river that had been dammed up for way too long, and he no longer cared about unaccusing statements or playing nice. “You broke me.” He repeated, word for word, slow and emphasized and molten.
His father watched with dead eyes, listened with dead ears, and offered no consolation.
“Sally,” he turned to the blonde, “I had such a thing for you. For years. From the moment I walked into Mrs. Smith’s third grade class and sat right behind you, to high school and dances and awkward social development. I didn’t keep it secret, you knew that; I pinned my bloody heart to my sleeve and I got everything messy. And for several long years, you knew, but I was a ghost, I wasn’t on your radar, I wasn’t even enough to respectfully decline. This moment in life, where you start to become who you are, I became a ghost. I wonder how different things would have been if you simply said hello to me one day. A quiet, uncomplicated push in the right direction; this is how you interact with somebody. You speak, they speak back, repeat. It’s one thing to be rejected, it’s another to be ignored. And yes, just as before, you broke me, my confidence, my self image.
“And finally, Megs,” he sighed and turned to the harried woman with eyes the color of his daughter’s. “I tried. I tried to be what you needed. I tried to make you happy. I tried to be your court jester. I’m not saying I didn’t have my faults; I am human, and as such am lousy with fault. But I tried so goddamn hard. It was like attempting to fill a bottomless abyss with boulders and busses and small planets; it was exhausting. This time, we were becoming adults, we were starting a family, we were building a foundation, and despite my intensive attempts to make your life okay, it wasn’t enough and you walked away. Whatever confidence I had built was destroyed. I was a wreck. I still am a wreck, though less of a wreck than I was before. You broke that final straw, my heart, right in two.
“I tried so hard, “ he spoke to his audience, “to be who you needed me to be. To be who and what you wanted. Sometimes I lost myself, or at least misplaced me, and it’s taken many, many years to find my way back. I haven’t completely done it; I’m still in the woods, but the trees aren’t as claustrophobic, and I can hear the sounds of a city. I’m making it, I’m going to make it, I have to make it, because it’s not just me anymore. But you three, you all shattered me, one wallop at a time. And you need to hear it, you need to know.”
He fell silent. Sipped his tea. His breath was harsh from dropping these words from his lips at a ragged and unbalance rate. More of that booze would have been a blessing.
His father replied first, in dry, flat tones. “You carry too much anger, too much resentment.” He said. His words were hollow, wind across reeds, “You rot yourself from the inside out. Don’t do this. Don’t die with such anger in your heart. Death, she may come knocking at any time. I had plans the next day. I was going to go fishing. Sit on the lake with a cold beer, talk to my children about child things, feel the sun on my skin.” His skin bristled with the mention of siblings he knew nothing about. His father seemed not to notice. “I miss the sun.” he repeated.
“We were just kids,” Sally sighed, “we were stupid, mean, misguided kids. We were forced into packs, like to like, and instructed to ignore those different than us. Ignore and ridicule and, you know, if I had to choose between those two again, I would still choose to ignore you. I appreciated your notes, your tapes, your cute little gifts, you asking me to dance at every holiday dance. But between trying to politely ignore you or telling you to fuck off, I felt I was making the right decision. We were just kids,” she repeated a little more sadly, tenderly, “you didn’t, I didn’t, know what love was. We still don’t, for the most part. You were just so overtaken by what I imagine to be pure, unadulterated, unfiltered excitement, lust, what you might consider love but I call infatuation. I couldn’t support that, it would have been irresponsible of me to. So I ignored you, and I would do it again.”
“No,” Megs said, loudly, defiantly, “I cannot and will not be party to this. I tried to be who you needed me to be as well, who I thought you wanted me to be, and you’re right, it’s exhausting. I did nothing that I shouldn’t have done years ago; free us both. If two people need to pretend to be somebody else in order for a relationship to survive, that is not a relationship. That’s sick, dysfunctional, co-dependent, and diseased. It needed to die, and it needed to die sooner than it did.”
With that, she stood and walked briskly, unapologetically from the room.
“Such anger,” the ghost whispered, and turned to him for one last word, “How does it feel, to be broken? To be denied? I can’t feel it anymore, I can’t remember. I miss the pain; it let you know you were alive. It was such beautiful pain to be alive, to feel. I miss the sun.” he finished and drifted away, wisps of smoke on a wind.
He sat with the blonde for the remainder of the afternoon. With the formalities of the intervention dismissed, he broke out the much needed alcoholic drinks. They talked small and big; childhood, who dated who, what music when, their children, their hopes, their miseries, their marriages, their divorces. They drank, and talked, and drank some more, as people are wont to do when they reminisce. At one point he realized, with a flash of amusement, that she was actually flirting with him, quite blatantly; she brushed his shoulder, flipped her hair, bent forward, to speak to him in hushed, confidential tones next to his ear. Her breath brushed his skin. She still, after all these years, smelled of strawberries and bubble gum.
In the end, they shook hands which awkwardly turned into a floundering, gawky hug, and walked their separate ways. He could have taken her home, he realized, but he chose not to.
Turns out she wasn’t his type.