One day, I phoned my grandparents’ house just to have a talk. My grandmother picked up the phone and told me that my grandfather was taking a nap upstairs. Soon enough, we were talking as relaxed as ever. At some point in conversation, she said, “Honey, I have never told anyone else about this, not even your grandfather. When I was your age, I was in love. James was the man I loved before your grandfather. Me and that boy used to go to parties together and we weren’t goodie-two-shoes or nothing, but when all of our friends started to drink, me and him used to say, ‘Hey, wanna go for a walk?’ See, honey, I think you know this, but my father was an alcoholic and James’ was too, so we just said ‘Ya know what, we don’t need it to have fun.’”
I remained still in my chair but internally I was scrambling around the house in a panic.
“James was also very religious, and I am too. And so, he had this great relationship with one of the priests at our school. But, hunny, this priest was a bad priest.
“One night, he called me at my house. He started asking things that are not appropriate for a priest to be asking a young girl. He would ask things like ‘What clothes are you wearing, Mar’?’ I didn’t know how to respond. But James adored the priest, and I knew he wouldn’t hear what I had to tell him. That man eventually convinced James to join the seminary after high school. I could not have been more heartbroken.”
I would never divulge it to my grandmother, but I was silently sobbing as she spoke.
“When we were twenty-three, James left the seminary. He had contacted me as soon as he had gotten out, but honey, I was already engaged to your grandfather. I didn’t know what to do. I still loved James, but I loved your grandfather too. What I am trying to say is that you might never not love Amy, and that’s okay, because there is always the future.”
When I was eighteen, I was in love. She and I both had our respective parental and childhood traumas. I knew Amy’s mother died when she was nine, and it drew me closer to her in a way, since mine had died when I was seven years old. I also knew that Amy strongly disliked her father, not why.
One May afternoon we sat intertwined on her front porch in conversation and each other.
“Personally, I see two possible outcomes for me,” I postulated. “Plan A, work at a pizzeria writing the poems and music I want to make for a small community that’s affected by my work. Plan B, if all else fails, work on one of those ‘Deadliest Catch’ ships off the Alaskan coast, make some money to buy a cabin in the Catskills. I’ll have a typewriter with me and boom, happy.” She burst into laughter but did not break eye contact since she knew I was not entirely joking.
“You’ve got it more figured out than I do, even if you are screwing around . . . I have no idea what I’ll end up doing.”
“Isn’t living already hard enough? I think we’ll be lucky to make it through and gain some experience.”
“That takes a lot of pressure off.”
“I do know one thing for sure, though. We’ll be doing a lot of healing. Maybe I can install a jacuzzi at my cabin.”
“’Bout what?” I responded.
“Healing . . . I mean do you know how hard it is to love yourself, let alone like yourself.”
“It’s hard alright. Especially when you’ve got a bulbous dome like mine.”
“I used to call myself an idiot constantly,”
“Since I was in grade school, I would call myself worthless over small mistakes.”
“It’s a process, trust me,” she said.
It was as if she knew all the pain I endured without the details. Like we had known each other for years as opposed to months or weeks. I saw an image in my head that I had talked with my therapist about. A little boy. Battered. Unloved. Unforgiven. But I realized something. I was blameless. I am blameless.
“I don’t think I ever told you this, but my Mom was in a crash on Giralda Ave., right by the ShopRite. That’s why I have my license but don’t drive.” After offering some consolation, Amy moved further, deeper inward.
“My father . . . I was doing the lights for my sophomore year musical at the high school when he called me and told me I was moving out and that I would be living with the Palmers (her best friend’s family) from now on.”
I buried her head into my shoulder. I only had one other instance in my life that was close to being relatable to her pain. We had both already unzipped our fleshy-exteriors to reveal our guts to each other, so I told her:
“Amy, I haven’t let anyone in on this besides a mental-health professional, but . . . when I was five to six years old, I was sexually abused. And I want you to know that I’m safe now and—” She started kissing me all over my face and my torso. She was not speaking. I could not hold it in any longer. We sobbed as one person, in synchronicity. Whatever damaged our souls had also driven us together at this very moment.
At summer’s end, I saw my grandmother at my belated graduation party. I told most of those who asked about Amy that we had broken up, except for her. I could not bring myself to do it, I did not want to disappoint her. Before the breakup, I was feeling as in love as I ever had been. I told my grandmother over the phone that I could see myself with Amy forever. I did not call myself a moron, though. Amy made sure of that. I was too wound up to tell my grandma about my contradiction. Like all good families, the information made its way to her ear indirectly through my aunt not long after the party. This is what prompted her story of vulnerability a week later.
“Babe,” my grandmother whispered into her telephone, “you are my sunshine.” When love becomes the reason for your living, you know that you have experienced it truly. Whether it is a passion for God that kept my grandparents together for over fifty years or human necessity, they love each other.
I will never forget when I was eighteen and I fell in love. I could have died the day she left me, but the experience enlivened my spirit as time went on. Maybe she and I will cross paths again, and if not, that’s okay, too. At least I was eighteen with her once.