He left to take his luggage downstairs. By the time he’d returned to where I was standing in the same spot in my room, a car horn beeped outside.
“Shit. Hang on,” he said, running back out of the room.
I looked out the window and eventually saw Elec putting his suitcases into the back. When the trunk slammed shut, I could have sworn I felt it in my heart.
Elec said something to the driver and came back upstairs. I was still looking out the window blankly when his footsteps crept up behind me.
“I told him to wait. I’m not leaving until you look at me.”
I turned around. He must have seen the despair written all over my face.
His eyes looked watery. “Fuck. I don’t want to leave you like this.”
“It’s okay. It’s not gonna get any easier in the next minute. You’ll miss your flight. Go.”
Ignoring my earlier request not to be touched, he took hold of my face and looked deeply into my eyes. “I know this is hard for you to understand. I haven’t opened up to you about my relationship with Randy. Without your knowing everything and without your understanding what my mother is really like, it’s not going to make sense. Just know that if I could stay with you, I would.” He gave me a chaste kiss on the lips and continued, “I know that despite my warning, you gave me a piece of your heart anyway last night. And even though I tried to stop it, I gave you a piece of mine. I know you could feel that happening this morning. I want you to keep it with you tucked away. And when you decide to give the rest of yours to another guy someday, please make sure it’s someone who deserves you.”
Elec gave me one last desperate kiss. My eyes were stinging. When he pushed back, I gripped his jacket, tempted to never to let go. He waited until my hands left him to turn around and walk away.
Just like that, he’d exited my life as fast as he’d entered it.
I stood at the window and wished I hadn’t when he looked up at me one last time before entering the cab with the piece of my heart he knew he’d taken with him. As for the rest of my heart left behind, it was shattered.
Later that night, my phone chimed. It was a text from Elec with a link.
On the plane, I figured out if you scramble the letters of Greta, you get GREAT. Greta=Great. You’re amazing, actually. Don’t ever forget that. This song will always remind me of you.
It took me a few hours before I had the courage to click on the link. The name of the song was All I Wanted by Paramore. It was about wanting someone you couldn’t have and wanting to relive the short time spent together from the beginning.
I replayed the song over and over again in a torturous cycle that included inhaling his scent that lingered on his shirt that I was still wearing and on my bed sheets.
Elec would only contact me one other time over the next seven years.
On a random night almost one year after he’d left Boston, I was out with Victoria. I had just been thinking about him when a text came in and shook me to my core.
I still dream about your neck. I still think about you every day. For some reason, I just needed you to know that tonight. Please don’t write back.
Despite the tears that fell so easily upon reading it, I didn’t. He hadn’t contacted me in so long, and I figured maybe he was just drunk. Even if he weren’t, it wouldn’t have changed anything. I understood that now. Actually, I’d become an expert at burying all of my feelings for Elec. His being so far away made that possible. The couple of times I disappointed myself by giving in to curiosity and checking online, he wasn’t even on social media.
Randy had also stopped going out to California now that Elec was an adult.
Even after several years, my heart still ached whenever I’d allow myself to think about our one night together. So, I did my best not to go there—out of sight, out of mind, right? That motto is just a temporary fix—until you’re forced to come face to face with what you’ve been running from. That’s when the mental walls you’ve built to hide behind come crashing down in one hard blow.
At first, it seemed like it could have been a dream. It was the middle of the night, and I’d had too much to drink while out with friends in Greenwich Village the evening before. When the phone rang at 3 A.M., my heart began to pound in dread, and to hear those words right off the bat had nearly stopped it altogether.
She choked through sobs. “Randy’s dead, Greta. He had a heart attack. I’m at Mass General. They couldn’t save him.”
“Mom, breathe. Please.”
My mother was crying uncontrollably, causing me to feel helpless because there was nothing I could do about it from my apartment in New York.
She and Randy’s marriage had remained intact over the years, although in recent months, they’d been having a rocky time. Randy had never displayed toward my mother the same disrespect he’d shown Elec, but he’d always had an unpredictable temper with highs and lows and was difficult to live with.
The truth was, my mother had lost her soul mate when my father died all those years ago. Her marriage to Randy had always been one of convenience and stability. Even with his modest income as a car salesman, he provided for us well. Mom never worked and wasn’t the type who could handle being alone. Randy had been the first person to come along in the years after Dad passed away. I’d always gotten the impression that Randy was far more enamored with her than she was with him. Still, losing him was going to turn her life upside down. With my living far away, he’d been her whole world, not to mention, this was the second husband she’d now lost prematurely. I didn’t know how she was going to handle it.
I started to shake. “Oh my God.” I took a deep breath in an attempt to compose myself. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, Mom.”
“He was dead before we even got to the hospital.”
I got up and immediately rolled my small suitcase from the closet. “Listen, I’m going to see where I can rent a car at this hour. I’ll try to be there by morning. Keep in touch by phone and let me know when you get home. Is someone with you?”
She sniffled. “Greg and Clara.”
That had made me feel better. Greg was one of Randy’s oldest friends who happened to relocate with his wife to the suburbs of Boston a few years back after a job transfer.
When I was able to find a rental car place that was open, I hit the highway about five in the morning.
On the four-hour drive to Boston, my mind became littered with thoughts about what Randy’s death would mean. Would I need to quit my job in the city and move back to Boston for Mom? She’d have to work for the first time in her life to support herself. How much time would I need to take off from work? And then, it hit me.
Oh my God. Elec.
Did he know about Randy? Would he come to Boston for the service?
Would I have to face him?
My hand anxiously gripped the steering wheel tighter as my other hand switched the music on the radio over and over unable to find anything that could drown out the noise in my head.
Even after seven years and a failed engagement to another man, my one true heartbreak had remained at the hands of my stepbrother. Now, my heart broke for him again in a different way because not only had my mother lost her husband, but Elec had just lost his father.
Randy was too young to die. Granted, his relationship with Elec was horrible, but the fact that they’d never made amends saddened me. Nothing stirred up my emotions like thoughts of Elec did. Even moving away from Mom and Randy never really changed that for me.
Two years after graduating from community college in Boston, I transferred to a small college just outside of Manhattan where I graduated with a liberal arts degree. Right out of school, I took an administrative position in the city. I’ve lived in New York for the past three years, and it was there that I met Tim.
We were together for two years. Tim worked in software sales and traveled a lot. We lived together for the last year of our relationship until his job wanted to transfer him to a European sales position. He’d accepted it without discussing it with me, and when I refused to move with him, we ended up breaking up. The move had pushed me to make a decision I would have made eventually anyway. He was a good guy, but overall, the passion I’d longed for was missing. Even in the beginning of our relationship, there was never the adrenaline and butterflies that I’d experienced in my short time with Elec. When I accepted Tim’s proposal, I’d hoped things would change and that I’d grow to love him like he deserved. That never happened.
I’d had two other boyfriends before Tim, and it was the same situation. I’d compared my feelings for them to my crazy attraction to Elec. Even though I knew Elec was gone from my life, I couldn’t seem to help comparing everyone to him, both sexually and intellectually. Even though it may not have shown on the surface, Elec was deep. There were many layers to him, and his writing exhibited that. There was so much I never got to know or unravel. But I knew I wanted to find someone with those same qualities. One thing my time with Elec also taught me was that sexual desire and fulfillment were just as important to me as an emotional connection.
My other boyfriends were nice guys, but they were average Joes. And it was sad, but I preferred to be alone than to give myself to someone with whom there was no spark. I hoped that someday I would have real chemistry again with someone.
The Welcome to Massachusetts sign made me anxious. There was so much that was unknown about what the next few days would bring. I’d have to help my mother with funeral arrangements, and it would surely trigger flashbacks to the horrible time when we had to do the same thing for my father.
When I pulled into our driveway, Randy’s Nissan was parked on the left, and the sight of it made me shudder. I used my key to let myself in and found my mother staring blankly at a cup of tea in the kitchen with no lights on. She hadn’t even noticed me walking into the room.
My mother looked up at me, her eyes red and swollen. I ran to her and embraced her.
The dirty dishes from Mom and Randy’s dinner last night were still in the sink, bringing to light what a sudden and unexpected blow this was, how life could change in an instant.
“I’m here now. I’m here. You just let me know what you need me to do. It’ll be okay. I’ll help you through it. You’ll be okay.”
She spoke into her teacup. “He just woke up in the middle of the night complaining of pains and collapsed before the paramedics got here.”
I rubbed her back. “I’m so sorry.”
“Thank God you’re here, Greta.”
“Where is…you know…where is he now?”
“They took him to the funeral home. Clara is making all of the arrangements for me. She and Greg have been wonderful. I couldn’t bear to do it…not again.”
I hugged her tighter. “I know.”
That night, I slept next to my mother so that she didn’t have to be alone. It felt surreal sleeping where Randy had slept just last night, and now, he was gone.
The next day was a blur: people dropping off casseroles and flowers, my mother retreating to her room to cry, Victoria stopping in to pay her respects. We’d grown apart in the years since I moved, but we always made a point to see each other when I came home even if it was just for coffee.
So, when Mom took a nap late that afternoon, Victoria and I walked down to the Dunkin Donuts on the corner. It was a small piece of normal in an otherwise surreal time.
“How long can you take off work?” she asked.
“I just called them this morning. They gave me a day for bereavement then I took the rest of the week off as vacation. I may take Mom back to the city with me until she can figure things out.”
“Has anyone talked to Elec?”
Just the mention of his name had caused what felt like a knot in my stomach.
“Greg and Clara are handling contacting people. I’m sure they called him. He and Randy have been estranged according to my mother, and I’m not sure if he would even come.”
“What are you going to do if he does?”
I nervously bit into my vanilla crème donut. “What can I do?”
Victoria knew about my night with Elec. I’d told her bits and pieces but kept a lot of the specifics to myself. Some of it was too intimate to share, and I didn’t want to devalue what that experience had meant to me. Even though it was only one night, it had shaped me in many ways and set the bar for future expectations.
She sipped her iced coffee. “So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…”
“My mother is my priority. I can’t lose sleep over whether Elec is coming.”
It was all I could think about.
That night, Greg and Clara had me and my mother over for dinner. They insisted I get her out of the house since I’d told them she spent most of the day crying in her room while random people dropped off food.
During dinner, Mom was quiet and barely touched her chicken and dumplings. She drank copious amounts of Zinfandel wine instead.
The wake was scheduled for the day after tomorrow. The pit in my stomach was growing by the second.
I just needed to know.
I finally asked, “Have you contacted Elec?” I swallowed the lump in my throat in anticipation of Clara’s response.
“Yes. I spoke to him today. He was despondent when I told him, and it wasn’t clear whether he would be coming.”
Just knowing that she’d spoken to him had made my heart beat even faster. “Where is he?”
“He’s still living in California near Pilar.”