To be Expected
Jayden jumped up from his seat next to me suddenly, cursing. I looked up at him. We were at my apartment, watching the soccer game. I watched as he muttered a constant, low string of curses, running his hands frantically over his pockets, in search of… something. I looked next to me -at the spot where he’d sat- and rolled my eyes.
I’d bet $10 that I knew what he was looking for.
I whistled, calling his attention to me, and pointed at the couch, at his phone and wallet. He gave me an embarrassed look, but he seemed relieved.
“Thanks, babe,” he said, giving me a kiss on the cheek and grabbing his stuff.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, sitting up. I grabbed the remote and muted the TV.
“I’m the worst,” he muttered, fiddling with his phone. He ran a hand through his fine black hair and turned to me. “I’m an idiot. Today’s my dad’s birthday and I forgot,” he said louder. “I was supposed drive up to Boston this morning. God, I’m the worst son ever.”
He flopped back onto the couch next to me and leaned his head back, eyes closed and breathing controlled.
“No, you're not,” I interjected. “So you forgot one birthday. It happens.”
I had ignored much more important events.
This was a rare fault, not malicious or intentional. And his parents were the best parents you could ask for. His whole family was great, really. They wouldn’t hold it against him.
“Yes, I am,” he insisted. “I didn’t get him a present last year and this year I forget all together?”
“I haven’t gotten my parents anything for their birthdays in years,” I said, not at all exaggerating. Of course, that was mostly because they didn’t much want to see me after…
“Tyler, I haven’t gone back to visit them since you met them,” Jayden said, running his hand through his hair again. It fell back over his eyes anyway. “That was three months ago.”
I wasn’t going to tell him.
I couldn’t tell him.
What would he think of me?
I knew the answer to that.
Heartless, a voice taunted.
“I skipped my sister’s funeral,” I blurted.
Jayden’s eyes flashed open and he looked straight into my eyes.
I held my hands together to keep from slapping one over my mouth.
Idiot, the voice mocked now.
“My parents still hate me for it,” I continued. I braced myself for the rebuttal, shoulders tensing. Understanding dawned in his eyes and he put a hand on my shoulder sympathetically.
“That’s why I haven’t met them yet,” Jayden muttered. I nodded stiffly, still looking into his eyes. I was waiting for the judgment -the resentment, the disgust- that I had gotten used to. I waited for the words that would be spoken in the familiar repulsed, disappointed tone. “You skipped your sister’s funeral?”
But none of it ever came. The disbelieving squint, the horrified expression, the raised eyebrow were all absent from his features.
Instead, his eyes softened, his face relaxing with sympathy, and he pulled me in for a hug. I let out a surprised sob, my hands flying up automatically to grab his shoulders.
My last boyfriend had left me when I’d told him I skipped Merideth’s funeral. He’d called me heartless monster and he’d left. My friends had been disappointed in me, not seeing how I could miss my sister’s funeral on purpose.
My parents hated me for it. Absolutely loathed me. They didn’t understand how I could just skip Merideth’s funeral; my baby sister’s funeral.
Sometimes, I couldn’t either.
“It’s okay,” Jayden whispered soothingly.
“I just,” I felt the need to explain myself, “I couldn’t go. She was gone and I… I couldn’t stop her.”
I was crying into his shoulder. He didn’t seem to mind the tears, though they were falling onto his shirt.
I tried to slow the tears, force them back. I wasn’t supposed to cry, right? I was a guy. That’s what they told you: Don’t cry. Be a man.
“Stop her?” Jayden asked in a soft cautious voice, not letting me out of his arms.
“She killed herself,” I whispered into his shoulder. I didn’t know why we were whispering. “She locked herself in the bathroom and... Everyone was supposed to be out for a while and it was just her.”
The words were flowing now, tumbling out of my mouth like water spilling out over a riverbed. I couldn’t bring myself to put up a dam to stop the flood.
“I got home early and went to use the bathroom. The door was locked and she wasn’t in her room. I knew something was wrong. I called for her and she said everything was going to be okay,” I continued, tears falling as freely as my words now. I’d stopped trying to hold them back, “I called an ambulance, but they were too late. I banged on the door and screamed, trying to get her to let me in. She kept saying that it was okay. I should’ve… done something. Knocked down the door or come straight home rather than mess around at school. But I didn’t. It was my fault.”
And I hadn’t even known there was a problem.
“It was my fault. My little sister, my fourteen-year-old sister died and it was my fault,” I said again, a whisper now.
“No,” Jayden said. An objection. I pulled away and looked up at him. He was blurry through my tears.
“No?” What did he mean “no”? I wiped the back of my hand across my eyes, trying to clear my face of tears. Jayden rubbed his thumb over my cheek, stopping a tear from falling.
“No,” Jayden said, completely sure of himself. “It was absolutely not your fault. You tried. That’s what matters; that’s all that matters.”
I looked into his eyes. He really believed what he was saying.
“It. Was. Not. Your. Fault,” Jayden said, “and you deserve better from everyone.”
And for a minute, at least, I believed him.
Originally appeared in the 2013-2014 edition of Outside In.