One Long Day
Saturday, 10 am
Jen wakes up abruptly. She desperately grabs her pristine, white sheets, pulling them over her head. March mornings in New England do not suit her. She falls back to sleep, earnestly; not yet registering the brand new day outside, not yet registering the events of the day prior.
Jen slowly opens her eyes, wiping away crust around the delicate edges, acclimating her vision to the outline of her bedroom. She’s vaguely attune to the faint chirping outside her window.
She lets out a soft, yet piercing, groan. She shuts her eyes once more, willing herself to dream, to forget what happened the day before. When Jen and Drew deemed it all over.
Drew is out cold. He fell asleep around 5 am. As soon as he came home he smoked for a pure body high; he knew he’d need the sleep aid. Remnants of their conversation weaved a web through his mind as he lit up.
Why can’t we enjoy our nights together anymore? Jen said as she stared out at the atlantic, defeated. Before she spoke again, he peered out at the water. The water seemed rough that night. Almost unforgiving. We’re always fighting. We know it runs deeper.
He thought of their tear-stained cheeks. He thought of the frigid air. He thought of the pitch black night sky. He thought of the emotions pouring out of them like a leaky faucet.
But Jen, I love you so much.
And I really, really love you.
He exhaled the smoke from his joint and recalled that Springsteen lyric from“ Backstreets.” Blame it on the lies that killed us, blame it on the truth that ran us down.
He thought of how they hugged for a long while after he finally dropped her off. They hugged as if they would never hug another human being again; as if it was their last chance for any form of intimacy.
You should really eat something. There’s a pot of chowder on the stove. The kind you like.
Mom, I’m more nauseous than anything.
Jen’s absorbed by her own thoughts. Irrational, abstract thoughts about life, about ideas.
I’m getting tangled up in anxiety. Jen succumbs to a muffled cry.
That’s to be expected, her mom says. Plus, you know where it’s coming from; this is how your stress manifests.
Jen holds her head in her hands, rubbing her fingers into the parts that ache.
At least eat something though.
Jen picks a green apple out of the bin. Takes a small bite. She prefers the red ones but this will do. She doesn’t know when she’ll return to her usual appetite; her midnight cravings for french fries (or anything with salt, really); her love of fresh seafood.
Her family lives down the road from Joe’s Lobster Shack; a quaint eatery renowned for some of the best catches along the coast. She wonders if she’ll feel hungry by summer.
Jen climbs back into bed, sitting upright. A mug of black tea is on her nightstand, getting cold as the minutes pass.
I know this hurts, her mom says quietly. You’re 21 years-old. Of course this hurts. But I promise you, it will be okay.
Not sure of when that will be, Jen remains silent.
She begins to recline back, coaxing her body to lie down, to release the tension in her shoulders, to dutifully soothe her nerves.
Can please you shut the door behind you?
Drew finds long car rides tedious. Unless the music is good. But on this spontaneous trip to Boston, he had no time to assemble a playlist.
He stops at the burger joint off the highway thirty minutes into the trip and dials Jay’s cell. Jay answers on the second ring.
Hey man, what are you up to?
Change of plans. Something kinda came up. I won’t be able to make it tonight; I’m driving now to Boston for Sam’s party.
Really? I thought you weren’t into that whole scene anymore.
Yeah, I’m not, but I figured it’s something different. Haven’t seen him much since we graduated. Change of pace, you know?
Drew’s standing on line and studying the menu, though he knows he’ll get what he usually orders. Two cheeseburgers, hold the pickles, and a coke.
I hear you. Is Jen going too?
Drew swallows hard at the mention of Jen.
No, she can’t make it.
Drew gets back into his car and cranks up the heat. He bites into his burger zealously, savoring its familiar taste, its grease.
He then turns the dial to the classic rock station, raises the volume, and continues the drive.
Saturday, 10 pm
Jen’s situated in bed, tugging at the zipper attached to her grey BU sweatshirt. She looks at her phone, wondering if it will vibrate with a message from Drew. She’s typically the one to reach out first after fights, but yesterday was different and they both know it. After two years, it’s not what it was, and that mere thought alone is enough to break her heart all over again.
Spring semester of sophomore year at Boston University was hard. Grueling, even. Jen would bring her textbooks with her to BU Beach, a grassy plaza on campus grounds; an idyllic spot that faces the Charles River.
She saw Drew there on Tuesday afternoons. They both had the same break after their business class, and while she attempted to study, he’d be lounging against the weeping willow, plugged into his I-pod. Sometimes, she’d look over at him, only to discover that he was actually sleeping, reaping in a midday nap. She’d smile at the fact that here lay a peaceful boy amidst her own chaos.
When Jen’s grandmother passed away that winter, her grief became a clingy shadow that she didn’t know how to shake off, that she didn’t know how to deal with.
Nights have kept her up, haunting her with various memories; curling up with her grandmother on the comfy beige couch in her grandmother’s den during a Rogers & Hammerstein musical (they used to belt out the songs along with the characters); family trips to Cape Cod and the delicious smell of the sea air; standing with her grandmother in the kitchen while she cooked her famous roast chicken dinner; hearing her philosophies on life over tea and chocolate fudge squares; and the small, ordinary moments in between it all.
Jen didn’t know how to process the reality of losing her. She didn’t want to. She needed a diversion.
She needed to be loved.
Jen sits on her bed, tugging at the zipper of her BU sweatshirt. Her hazel eyes are puffy, tired, worn down. She finally takes her phone in her hand and composes a text message. I don’t have to send it, she thinks to herself. But I have to feel it.
Sam’s apartment is neater than he envisioned. When they roomed together at school, Sam was the one their friends placed bets on; how long would it take for his side of the room to be in disarray again, scattered with T-shirts, CDs, books, and handwritten notes from lectures? This new-found habit has Anna’s mark all over it.
Drew makes small talk with Anna, figuring he may as well get to know the girl his friend’s been dating for the past few months. But his head is elsewhere.
As Anna recounts her recent trip to Costa Rica, his right pocket vibrates with a text message.
Jen, he thinks.
He reads the four words on the tiny screen: Hey. This is hard.
BU Beach was where Drew would go for a reprieve. That particular spring semester was tough; professors from his core classes were showing no leniency and intensive research projects with tight deadlines seemed to be the trend.
He always took note of Jen and how she’d bring her trademark green highlighter and textbooks straight from class and study by the river. Drew and Jen would chat before their class began, about the upcoming tests, about their friends back home, about nothing, really. And yet, their conversations always seemed unfinished. Always left him wanting more.
There’s something developing here, he thought to himself. Gone were the days of chasing the girl who couldn’t love him back. (Rebecca!) He craved another beginning. Another path.
Everything okay? Anna asks.
Oh. Yeah, fine, I’m just exhausted. I think I’m gonna grab another beer.
Sure thing, go for it.
Drew searches for a secluded space he can call his own, which is no easy feat since Sam tends to have an 'open door policy' when it comes to hosting parties.
He finally finds a private corner of the living room and sits down, pressing his back against the wall. A few guys are over to his left, drinking cans of Bud Light, heavily invested in the game on television.
Drew reaches for his phone in his right pocket. He carefully types out the twelve words he knew he had to say. To her. To himself.
I know, Jen. I know more than I ever hoped to know.