A boy who never grew up told me he loved me. He held my hand in his, touched the back of my head to bring me into a deep hug and kissed my forehead whenever I felt sad. I didn’t get to know him, not in the way he was when he died, as it had been months since we last spoke but I’ll never forget how he tilted toward me when he said the words and I toward him, my hand on his knee, waiting for him to look into my eyes and see the truth. I told him I didn’t feel the same, when he said he loved me, and he understood. We were too young and I hadn’t learned what it meant to be loved yet or how to give it back.
He brought me flowers, this one time before the end, and I took them warily. I was honest, as much as a teen who knew nothing about the world could be, and I didn’t want him to think that I was changing my mind about my feelings but he shook his head at me, laughed and said I shouldn’t feel ashamed. That it’s ok to not love someone. It’s ok. It’s alright. It doesn’t mean we still can’t be friends.
I was in my room in the house where I had been adopted when I heard. Because I had outgrown the other foster kids, the new ones that came and went on a revolving door, I had been moved down to the den. The bed was large, it filled the small room almost completely, it’s sides nearly touching walls, touching the window, touching the dresser and stopping the drawers. It secluded me there, and it would hold my grief.
My adopted dad, always the one with the soft heart and a softer voice, knocked on the door just as soft. I told him to come in and I should’ve known from the way his eyes looked down and his mouth drooped at the corners and his cheeks were swiped sideways with wetness, dashed away tears recently spent. I sat up and crossed my legs with the flexibility of an athletic teen. He said my name three times and then was silent. I didn’t know who but I knew what.
He said the boy who loved me was dead. Murdered. They had found him chopped up and stuffed into a large garbage bag. The suspect had been pushing him in a grocery cart, blood seeping from the side, dripping down onto the ground, onto the street, where others could see and call to the cops ‘Someone is dead!’ I listened but I didn’t reply, didn’t react.
I sat there, my eyes on my father and his eyes on me. His wet eyes for a young boy who’d lost his life, treated like waste. Human waste thrown out with the soda cans and the banana peels and the plastic straws that will ruin the environment and the teeth bitten sunflower seed shells and the other things. Then my dad closed his eyes and I knew he wasn’t through. I knew he had more to say and that whatever it was it hurt him more than it hurt me. But he didn’t say it. So, I tilted my head back and let myself drop.
My head hit the soft comforter and the tears rolled sideways. They dropped into my ears and pooled there and I wished they would fill and fill. My chest shook and then my stomach and then I was rolling sideways. I drew up like a fetus and grabbed at my wrists, my biceps, my shoulders. It wrecked me, what he said, and I sucked in air as fast as I could. Then I coughed. I coughed and I squeezed until my arms hurt and then there he was. My dad. Wrapping his big arms around me, his protruding belly pushing into my back, his tears on my shoulder.
He spoke about god’s plan but I didn’t want to hear it. I knew he didn’t believe it either. He said a lot of things he didn’t believe, I knew.
Later the real pain came. The words he didn’t want to say were said by my adoptive mother. It was a week later, if I remember correctly but to be honest those days blended together and it could’ve been weeks or months or maybe a summer. She said that the person who had killed him was related to one of the foster girls who would come stay with us – and to one who already had. Their brother. She wanted to know if it was ok. She asked me if it was ok. If I would be ok with that. If I was ok.
No. I wasn’t ok and I was never ok with that. But I was alone. Everyone else said yes. The other foster kids. No one knew him like I did. They didn’t know that he loved me. That he told me it was ok that I didn’t love him in return. They didn’t know that I had taken it as an out because it meant I didn’t hurt him and he couldn’t hurt me. So, she came to stay.
And it was my fault, the way I treated her from that moment on. She had her problems, she was dangerous, she fought and scratched and attacked like the other foster kids who came and went and more. But a murderer shared her face and I couldn’t look at her without looking at him and it ate me inside. For the time she was with us it festered in me for the boy it was ok not to love. I couldn’t hate, as it wasn’t my way, but I tried. I wanted to hate her just as much as I wanted to love him.