To my dearest JJ, with all my love 5/21/83 ~ 12/19/07
Excerpt from: Letters to the Looney Bin © 2008
It was the day before Thanksgiving and the temperature had dropped significantly since that morning. Bianca had somehow managed to make it through the day at work, although she had spent most of it crying in the bathroom. She had actually been holding up better than she had ever expected until she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket and pulled it out to reveal a text message from Rosie.
“He is your guardian angel now. He is still with you and you know that he’s watching over you and protecting you and he loves you more than ever. It’s okay to remember him but you need to move on with your life, too. It’s what he would want.”
Bianca had burst into tears at her desk and had to excuse herself to the bathroom where she sat blowing her nose, with tears running down her face for somewhere around ten minutes. She’d hoped none of the women who came in and out while she was in there recognized her shoes. As she reread the message repeatedly throughout the day, she found herself excusing herself to the bathroom often.
Now, she was sitting in her car at the cemetery, parked in her usual spot, staring at Marc’s grave, which was anything but usual. There was a tombstone now. A huge, black marble tombstone with Toneato engraved into it so largely, Bianca was certain she would be able to read it from the other side of the cemetery. At the foot of the grave was a large matching bench, also engraved. She drew a deep breath. It’s now or never, girl. He’s counting on you. She carefully placed one foot after the other on the ground and lifted herself slowly from the car. She was fairly certain that her legs would give out any moment now. She reached into the back and pulled out the small, cheap bench that now looked like a child’s toy in comparison to the grand bench that demanded the same kind of attention Marc did when he was alive. She should’ve known that if the Toneato’s were going to do anything, they would do it big.
As she approached the grave, still very aware of the instability of her legs at the time, Bianca’s breath caught in her throat and her feet suddenly stopped moving. She stared at the tombstone and Marc stared back at her. His high school picture had been mounted on the tombstone, and there he was. Smiling at her, the way he always had. His eyes were warm and happy and it was hard for Bianca to look at those eyes and remember the pain she had seen in them before he died, the anger that had replaced that happiness. Bianca wished she had known him then. Feeling uneasy and a little nauseous, she sat down on her usual side, opposite Eva’s, and arranged her bench at the corner of the tombstone. Looking at it among the rest of the offerings left there Bianca’s little bench managed to hold some of its own quiet dignity. If tear’s could build a stairway And memories a lane I’d walk right up to Heaven And bring you home again. Bianca recited the rest of the poem silently in her head. No farewell words were spoken No time to say goodbye You were gone before I knew it And only God knows why. But there was time. There was a year. A year of him being depressed and no one taking him seriously. There was a year to say goodbye, a year to find the right words to say…everything. But the words went unsaid. So many things went unsaid.
Bianca wrapped her coat around her as a gust of wind blew through the open air and a chill went down her spine. She knelt on the ground, oblivious to the cold that was seeping through her leggings. She looked at the picture on his tombstone again. She started talking.
“I don’t even know what to say. I had so much to tell you, about work and school and well, I guess that’s it, but now, I don’t know what to say. I almost expect you to start the conversation. I mean, you’re sitting there, smiling at me and I want to slap you. I want to slap that stupid smile off your face.”
She had started to cry. Usually, this was when she left. She’d get in her car, turn on her iPod and drive off, forcing it all out of her mind. But not today. Today, she cried. She stared at his picture, blurred by the stream of tears now running wildly down her cheeks and she cried. It was the first time in almost a year that she had let herself freely grieve. She didn’t try to stop herself from crying or to gain her composure, she just let it all wash over her. The tears came faster and Bianca was finding it hard to breathe. She was heaving from the sobs and she no longer cared what anyone in the cemetery thought. They were all there to visit loved ones who had died. Surely, at some point, they had gone through what she was going through right then and could understand. And if not, fuck them. Fuck everyone who didn’t understand or who thought she should just move on with her life. How could they not get that sitting there, looking at his picture, looking at those eyes that seemed so alive, so real, that all she wanted in the world was to touch him. To feel the warmth of his skin, smell him, and to feel his lips against hers. All she wanted was one more day. Shit, she’d settle for an hour. Just one more hour to talk to him, to say everything she didn’t say but should’ve. One more hour. And Bianca let go.
“Why?” she screamed at smiling Marc with a voice gravely from crying. His smile never faded. She brushed away the tears with the back of her hand, her original shock turning into anger. “Why did you fucking leave me here? You just left you selfish fucking bastard. You fucking left and now what?” Bianca leaned over and threw up on the side of the grave, barely missing her little bench. The caretaker drove by in his forest green van, Bianca not even noticing as he slowed down to watch her and make sure she was okay. And then she said something that surprised even her, something she hadn’t known until that very moment that she had been feeling. “I hate you.” And it was out.
Bianca pulled back, having shocked herself, her sniffling filling a now silent graveyard. She hadn’t realized that everyone else in the area had left and that the only car remaining in the entire cemetery was three sections away. Still, it appeared by their stares that she had been loud enough for them to hear. Her face reddened, not just because she was embarrassed that these total strangers had witnessed her episode, but that she had said those words to Marc. Most of all, she was ashamed that a part of her meant them. She sat quietly for awhile, trying to understand what she was feeling, this feeling that was new to her even though she was now fairly certain it had been there, beneath the surface, the whole time. The sun suddenly poked through the clouds and was shining directly on Bianca and Marc. Having kept her sunglasses on to hide her tears, Bianca turned and looked at the sun shining through the small hole in the incredibly cloud covered sky. She didn’t think it was coincidence.
“Is that you?” she said quietly. She didn’t want anyone else to overhear her talking to the sun. She was already pretty sure the couple three sections over thought she was a lunatic, she didn’t need to confirm it for them. She looked back at smiling Marc, the sun’s warmth managing to sedate her.
“I don’t know why I said I hate you. I mean I guess part of me really does but I’m not sure why. I hate myself for a lot of things, mostly things I didn’t do, or say, when you were alive. I guess I think I could’ve saved you if I had only tried harder or listened more. But somewhere in the mix, is this overwhelming hatred towards you and I can’t explain it. I guess it’s because you left me here to carry all this guilt which, if the past year is any indication, I’ll be carrying with me forever. I guess I hate you for not having told me everything. Everything that would have made such a difference because maybe then I would’ve said the right things. Its weird how you can hate someone and love them so much at the same time, isn’t it? So much anger and regret and guilt and yet the strongest feeling is love. I love you so much, I always did. From the very first time I ever laid eyes on you, I knew that I would never be the same. When you suddenly wanted to start spending time with me I thought, wow, I really am the luckiest girl in the world. Even when I lost my job, it didn’t seem so bad, because I knew I could call you and we’d get drunk and make out and my world would be okay again. Wow, when I say that out loud it sounds dirty and sordid.” Bianca laughed, sniffled, and swallowed hard, mostly because of the phlegm that had built up from crying. “It wasn’t though. That was just us. We were just so taken by each other and I never knew that could happen. I never knew that your world could collapse around you and you wouldn’t even notice because you had love. I wish I knew what made you lose that feeling. I know you had it, I know you did. It was in your eyes, your touch, your constant affection and warmth. I know now that you felt that way even though I was too stupid to see it then. What made you lose that feeling, Marc? What made me not be enough to hold your world together anymore? I think the hardest part for me towards the end was that I was the hardest person for you to be around. Remember when you were in the hospital and you told your dad I was pissing you off more than anyone? You wouldn’t even look at me. I wanted so badly to say that it was only because I was the one person in that room who made you want to live. I ruined your plans, your perfect plans of hating everyone and hating life and having nothing to live for. And you hated me for that. Is that why you went that whole month before you died not seeing me? We barely even spoke, come to think of it. Was it because you were afraid I’d keep you from finding peace? I only ever wanted happiness for you. I truly hope you’ve found it. It’s caused me a lot of pain and very expensive therapy, but in the end, I’ll move on. I know I will, I have to. I’ll be okay so I hope that you are now, too.”
Bianca realized she’d meant it. She would be okay. This was her life and she could spend it in bed, crying over the pain of losing Marc, or she could take the tragedy and turn it into a miracle of some sort. What was that stupid saying Christy had? Take this stumbling stone and turn it into a stepping block. What the hell was a stumbling stone anyway?
The sun started to fall back behind the clouds and Bianca knew it was time to say goodbye. She stood up, her legs wobbly from having been sitting on them for so long but still stronger then she thought they would be, and placed a hand on the top of the tombstone. She leaned over and kissed the cold marble, a habit she had started with Pace. She wasn’t sure why she did it, they weren’t in the tombstones, they were in the ground, but it still was something she always had to do before leaving. She didn’t feel right otherwise. Bianca turned back to the grave and used her camera phone to snap a close up of Marc’s high school yearbook photo. She supposed there was something very morbid about it but she wasn’t ready to completely let him go yet. She had already forgotten his laugh and his scent, she wasn’t ready to forget his smile.
Two hours later, after illegally parking in the village to check out an independent bookstore she’d been dying to see and having left after only five minutes max because she was afraid her car would get towed, even with the FDNY parking placard in the window, and then getting lost down back roads and driving through the richest neighborhoods on the northern most part of the island, gawking at the houses and the views and pondering whether she should knock on one of the doors and ask if she could move in, Bianca’s phone rang. It was Rosie.
“You’re not still at the cemetery, are you?” was her greeting. Truth be told, Bianca was rarely one to say ‘hi’ herself, so she couldn’t judge. Sometimes, you just had to skip the formalities.
“No, I’m lost in Fort Solonga, I think.” Bianca tried to read the signs on the buildings as she passed, hoping one of them would help her figure out where she was. Wherever it was, there wasn’t much around other than huge houses set back from the road behind the trees. She felt like she was trespassing and that any minute someone would step in front of her car and banish her, telling her she didn’t belong. She could fit at least four of the house she grew up in inside one of these houses, some of them even the garage.
“Okay, good. I was a little afraid you’d be sleeping on the ground next to the grave right now and I would have to call the cops to pick you up if they hadn’t already. Wait, Fort Solonga? What the hell are you doing there?”
Still trying to read the fucking signs, that’s what. “Um, heading East, I guess. I don’t know, I went to check out this independent bookstore but then I was afraid they were going to tow my car because I had to park at the bank because all the metered parking was taken and there were signs that they would tow anyone who wasn’t a bank patron. I figure even though I’m a Bank of America member, I technically was not at the bank so that didn’t count. So I left without even having a chance to really look around but I guess its okay because I couldn’t really focus anyway. Partially because I was worried about my car but more so because of Marc, you know? I think I’m just in shock still and I need to just go home and go to bed. Or at least curl up under a blanket.” Bianca was rambling, she knew it, but she didn’t know how to stop.
“Yea, or have someone slap you across the face at least. What the hell are you even talking about? You’re babbling and I tuned out somewhere around bank parking lot. How does any of this have anything to do with you being in Fort Solonga?” Wasn’t it obvious, Bianca thought.
“Well I went back to my car and I drove down 110 until it ended. I never realized 110 ended, did you? I guess I hadn’t really thought about it though, I mean all roads have to end eventually, right? Even I-95 eventually ends.”
“Doing it again.”
“Right. So when it ended, instead of turning around and going back to the main road to go home, I just kept driving. I took the side road it ends at and drove around through these gorgeous houses, ohmigosh, you can’t even imagine. The neighborhoods were amazing; I never knew parts of the island looked like that. So then I wound up at some beach that wasn’t a beach really, but it was beautiful. I would love to live in a house like that, looking out at the water from my living room, next to the fireplace, with some tall-dark-and-handsome curled up next to me on the floor drinking Bailey’s and hot chocolate and making love on the hard wood floor. Or maybe carpeting, what do you think?”
Rosie sounded annoyed. “I think I still don’t understand what the fuck you’re doing in Fort Solonga and now my head hurts. You can’t even pay the rent on your converted studio apartment and now, in this fantasy land in your head, you’re living in a beach house making love on the floor with…who? Your dead best friend/boyfriend/whatever? Who really gives a shit whether there are hardwood floors or carpet in your head? I’m beginning to wonder if there’s anything up there. Right now, I think it would have been better if you were still at the cemetery, sleeping next to Marc’s grave. At least then someone would know where the hell you were.” Silence.
Bianca thought maybe Rosie had a point. How was she paying for this dream house? She couldn’t even pay her credit card bills. And she hadn’t been on a date for over a year. Unless you counted Marc, which she didn’t. They never really went on dates, at least it didn’t feel that way. They were always just spending time together and ‘hanging out’. Dates were awkward and you always spent the night wondering if you should kiss each other goodnight at the end of the date so you rarely got to actually enjoy the date itself. Unless of course you were further along in dating and now you were spending the night wondering if you’d be taking off your clothes later and, if so, had you worn good underwear or had you put on the smiley face Joe Boxer’s that were starting to turn grey but were still your favorites. That was a different awkward situation entirely. But there were never any moments like that with Marc. Okay, so there were times that were awkward, but they were mostly when one of them was hinting about their status and the other one was avoiding making eye contact. Either way, it had been a long time since she had dated so Mr. Tall-dark-and-handsome knocking boots with her on the floor was certainly a fantasy. Maybe she’d be more realistic if she imagined herself petting her dozen cats next to the fireplace. Bianca snapped back to the present tense by the sound of a car horn. She had driven through a stop sign and the driver coming from the side street was giving her the finger. She gave it back.
“Okay, I just passed a town sign, finally, and I’m in Kings Park. At least that means I’m definitely heading East.”
“Yes, it also means that you’re as north as you could possibly go and your apartment is pretty much as south as you could possibly go. Do you know how to get home from there now that you know where you are?” Bianca reminded her that she was not an idiot and it was all main roads and she would be fine. “I don’t know about that. I mean, yes, I believe you can get home from there, I was just checking. But I don’t think you’re fine. I’m really worried about you lately.”
Bianca felt her defenses go up, almost like the quills on a porcupine. “I’m not going to slit my wrists in my bathroom or anything,” she said with all of the sarcasm and disdain she could muster. It was quiet for a moment before Rosie replied.
“I don’t know that.”
Bianca was overcome with a new kind of guilt. The kind she imagined Marc had probably felt. She was becoming a burden to her friends. Instead of enjoying their lives, they were worrying about hers. And who was she to do that to them? Who was she for anyone to worry about? As if her being gone would have any drastic impact on their lives. She hardly ever saw Rosie, they didn’t even get to talk that often. Rosie’s life would certainly go on without her. Sure, she would probably cry, but in a week, her life would go back to normal.
“Rosie, stop, you don’t need to worry about me. Are there days where I’m pissed off I woke up in the morning instead of just going to sleep forever? Yes. But am I going to take my own life? No. I know what it’s like to be the one who’s left behind and I’m never going to do that to anyone else. That, if for no other reason, is why you shouldn’t be worried that I’m going to slit my wrists in my bathtub. Sure, I’m a little depressed. Okay, a lot, but I’m not going to take my own life.”
“You wish you wouldn’t wake up in the morning? Because Marc died, you wish you would, too? What kind of bullshit is that? You think this is what he wants? He went off to find peace and now he’s looking down on you throwing your life away and wishing you could die and you’re ruining his peace. Instead, he has to have all this guilt for your life now. Get on with it. It sucks that he died, okay. It’s very sad and its okay to miss him and to cry every now and then but you can’t let this kill you. This is not the girl I met two years ago. What happened to her?”
She died, thought Bianca. When Marc died, that girl died. She would never be the same, no matter what. She could lie around and cry every day or she could get up and do something positive with her life but, either way, she would never be that girl again. She would never be happy-go-lucky again, smiling without a care in the world. He would always have a part of her, no matter what, and she couldn’t change that. She didn’t want to change that. Moving on with her life meant forgetting him, forgetting them and what they had and it was the only thing that ever really mattered to her. She hadn’t been there for him the way she should have when he was alive, the least she could do was to remember him and honor him now.
“You think he wants to look down and see you crying all the time? You remember the girl who lives upstairs from me? The one whose boyfriend shot her in the head because she was going to leave him? She was murdered, in cold blood, just like that, by someone we all knew. And yet, I’ve managed to still live my life and her sister has managed to move on and function and have a life and you have to do the same thing. Granted, I have Dylan and he keeps me going but there are times where it’s still hard. You still have to do it. He’s dead. You aren’t.”
Bianca was trying her hardest not to cry. She had cried enough for one day and was not ready to burst into hysterics again, not while she was still finding her way home. “That’s the difference” she said instead. “You have Dylan. You have something to live for, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. You have a light of your life. I don’t. I did and it killed itself so now I don’t.”
Rosie sighed. Bianca could tell she was getting frustrated with her but she didn’t care. This whole thing was stupid. Why was everyone yelling at her to get over it and move on? It hadn’t even been a year yet, not completely, and everyone thought she should just be normal again. Like it was that easy. Just snap your fingers and life is all rainbows and butterflies again. Like any of them knew what she was going through. That girl was murdered and that’s horrible, but she didn’t choose to leave her loved ones, she was forced to. None of them knew what it felt like to know that the person you loved didn’t love you back enough to stay for you. Rosie was talking again and Bianca thought about just hanging up on her.
Rosie’s voice softened a little. “No, Bee, you have to make something to live for. You’re talking about going back to school? So do it, go. Kick ass at it, get into a school and help some other poor bastard so that his girlfriend doesn’t ever have to feel what you’re feeling. Or write about it. Where’s the book you’ve been talking about publishing for like ten years now or something sad and pathetic like that? Take this experience and make it something to live for. If you’re going to revolve your life around his death, do it in a positive way, one that helps other people. And Bee? He is still with you. You know that. He is your guardian angel and your biggest cheerleader. So give him something to cheer about.”
And that was it. Bianca couldn’t hold it in any longer. She pulled over to the side of 25A in who-knows-where-ville, held her head in her hands, and sobbed on her steering wheel.