Love and Other Words

Page 52

He sighed a concerned sound. “What happened, min lille blomst?”

“He made a mistake,” I told him. “A big one.”

Dad pulled back to meet my eyes. “Another girl.”

I nodded, and a thick sob escaped at the memory of Elliot’s body, bare, just… lying there. Sprawled.

Dad let out a slow breath. “Didn’t see that coming.”

“That makes two of us.”

He helped me up, curling a protective arm around my shoulders. “We’ll come get the Volvo this weekend.”

We’ll come get the Volvo this weekend.

I wonder what ever happened to it.

Dad kept one giant hand on the steering wheel and the other curled around my fingers.

He glanced at me every five seconds or so, no doubt wishing he had Mom’s list right there on the dashboard, to reference the The first time a boy breaks her heart… advice. I knew where to find it. Number thirty-two.

His eyes were worried, brows drawn… As much as I hated what had happened with Elliot, I loved the warmth of Dad’s attention on me, the reassuring contact of his hand, the quiet questions – what did I want for dinner? Did I want to go to a movie, or stay home?

But his attention on me meant it wasn’t on the road.

I’m not even sure he ever saw the car. It was a blue Corvette, merging from the onramp and already going too fast. Sixty, maybe even seventy. It cut in front of us in the slow lane, screeching into the narrowing space between us and the eighteen-wheeler ahead. The Corvette’s tires skittered, his back end jerked to the side, and his brake lights went a brilliant red, right there. Right in front of us.

Was there a point when it wasn’t too late? This is what I always asked myself. Could I have communicated something more than a garbled “Dad!” and a pointed finger?

Witnesses told police they thought the whole thing happened in fewer than five seconds, but it would forever happen in slow motion in my memory: I still feel Dad’s worried eyes on me, not the Corvette. This was why he didn’t even touch his brakes. We came on it so fast, with a deafening clash of metal, and our bodies jerked forward, airbags burst out, and I thought for a fraction of a second that it was okay. The impact was over.

Except we hadn’t landed yet. When we did, it was a bruising of the driver’s side against asphalt, a screaming twenty feet of sparking metal. We came to a stop on our sides. My forehead ended up near the steering wheel. My seat had crushed Dad’s, with him still in it.

Later, I’d find out that the other driver was a student from Santa Rosa Junior College. His name was Curt Anderssen, and he walked away with a slight abrasion to his neck. Not from the seat belt – he wasn’t even wearing one – but from the fabric of the passenger seat, where he was launched when his car spun sideways through three lanes of traffic.

Curt was unconscious at first, I think, and most of the activity focused on the far more gruesome reality of our car. I was already on the stretcher with a broken arm when Curt emerged, stoned out of his mind and laughing at his survival, until he was shocked into sobriety by the scene before him and the police with their handcuffs.

I’ve heard people say that they don’t remember what happened immediately after being told of the death of a loved one, but I remember everything. I remember, acutely, the way my broken arm hung like a sack of bones at my side. I remember the feeling of wanting to claw my skin off, of wanting to run, because running would somehow undo what the paramedics told me.

Yes, he’s gone.

Sweetheart, I need you to calm down.

I’m so sorry. We’re going to take you down to Sutter, honey. You need a doctor. You need to breathe.

I remember asking over and over for them to take it back, to do more CPR, to let me try to revive him.


“Macy, I need you to try to breathe. Can you breathe for me?”

“Stop talking!” I screamed. “Everyone stop talking!”

I have an idea: We can start over.

Let’s get back in the car, go back to the house. I just need a second to think.

We’ll stay there tonight.

Or, no, let’s go back further.

I won’t forget to call in the first place.

I want to go back to that other heartbreak, not this one.

Today wasn’t a good day to drive. If we drive today, I lose everyone.

If we drive today, I won’t be a daughter anymore.

One of the police officers caught up to me easily when I clumsily rolled off the stretcher, sprinting down the freeway – away from the lights and the noise and the horrible mess of my father in the car. I can still feel the way the policeman wrapped his arms around me from behind, mindful of my broken arm, curling his body over me as I crumpled. I still remember him saying over and over that he was sorry, he was so sorry, he lost his brother the same way, he was so sorry.

Afterward, there was the intrusive numbness. Uncle Kennet came to Berkeley from Minnesota. He looked sour as we went over Dad’s will and estate. He patted my back and cleared his throat a lot. Aunt Britt cleaned the house while I sat on the couch and stared at her. She got on her hands and knees, dunking a sponge into a bucket bubbling with wood soap, and scrubbed the hardwood floors for hours. It didn’t feel like a loving gesture. It felt like she’d wanted to clean the house for years, and finally had the chance.

My cousins didn’t come, not even for the funeral. They have school, Britt said. This will be too upsetting for them. They’re staying with my parents in Edina.

I remember wishing I could find the cop who chased me down and cried with me, and bring him to the funeral, because he seemed to understand me better than anyone in my tiny remaining family did. But even that request felt impossible. The effort it took to eat and dress myself was already so intense, remembering a name, calling the police station was beyond my ability.

Or calling Elliot.

I was numb, but beneath it was a blistering anger, too. Even at the time, I knew it wasn’t quite right, I couldn’t quite connect the dots, but the tiny kernel of hurt over Elliot with Emma got all wrapped up in Dad and why he came to get me in the first place. I needed Elliot, wanted him there. I saw the first few of his frantic texts, his insistence that it was a mistake. But then I vacillated between wanting him to know that I’d been shattered, and wanting him to know that he’d been the one to lift the mallet. And then it felt better to think he wouldn’t know. He could have every other bit of my heart, but not this.

Like I said, I remember how it felt, and it felt like insanity.

Kennet and Britt took me back with them to Minnesota for four months. I picked at my cuticles until they bled. I cut off my hair with kitchen shears. I woke up at noon and counted the minutes until I could go back to bed. I didn’t argue when Kennet sent me to therapy, or when he and Britt sat at the dining room table, sifting through my college acceptance letters and weighing whether to send me to Tufts or Brown.

I remember everything up to Britt’s decisive tapping of the papers, her double take when she saw me standing at the foot of the stairs, and her satisfied “We’ve got it all figured out, Macy.”

After that, there is nothing. I don’t remember how they managed to secure my diploma. I don’t remember sleeping my way through the summer. I don’t remember packing for college.

I have to believe the administration prepped Sabrina in some way, though she insists they didn’t. For sure they handpicked her: she’d lost her brother in a car accident two summers before.

I also have to believe that leaving Berkeley saved me. By December, I could go minutes without thinking about Dad. And then an hour. And then long enough to take an exam. My coping mechanism was to wrap my thoughts – when they came – into a scrap of paper, then discard them like a piece of gum. Sabrina would let the ache tear through her. I would curl up and sleep until I was sure the thought could be wrapped up tight.

Time. I knew well enough that time numbed certain things – even death.


monday, january 1


lliot sits back, eyes glassy, and stares out my bedroom window.

I watch it all pass over him: the horror, the guilt, the confusion, the dawning realization that my dad died the day after Elliot cheated, that Dad was coming to get me because I’d been so upset and hadn’t called, that the last day I saw my dad was eleven years ago today… and for many years, I’ve blamed Elliot for it.

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