Chapter Fourteen; Part Three
“Mrrreow!” Onyx launches herself at me as soon as I walk in the door to Rembrandt’s house, and I catch her without dropping anything. Jet head-butts my shins repeatedly as I cradle Onyx to my chest. I carry her into the kitchen, dropping my weapon bag along the way. Jet trots behind us, his tail sticking straight up in the air. I feed them four Greenies each, and Ginger pops her head into the kitchen, demanding her share. I give her four as well, and Rembrandt ambles in behind her.
“Hey, babe.” Rembrandt hugs me, and I can feel his hardness against my thigh. “How was class?”
“Good,” I say with a smile. “I had to turn down an offer for hot sex with a twenty year old, but no regrets.” I laugh at the bemused expression on Rembrandt’s face as he processes what I told him.
“You what?” He lifts an eyebrow as the cats mill around our ankles.
“There’s a young man in my class, Donny, who is a big fan of the Sword Form, as am I.” I pause and grab a Diet Coke from the fridge. I pop the top and take a big swig. “Apparently, he’s a big fan of me as well. He wants to be bed partners as well as practice partners. I told him I was amenable to the latter, but not the former. He’s not sure about it, so we’ve agreed just to practice together in class.”
“I can’t blame him,” Rembrandt says, a gleam in his eye. “There’s something incredible hot about a woman who can handle her wood.” I lose it, laughing uproariously at his double entendre.
“My sword is metal, but I get your point,” I say, hugging him with enthusiasm. The cats meow in unison, and I laugh at them staring at Ginger’s cupboard.
“Wanna practice sex with me?” Rembrandt asks, offering his hand. I grab it and follow him up to the bedroom. We spend the next hour in a satisfactory fashion, then Rembrandt falls asleep as is his wont. I let in the cats, and Ginger hops up on his chest. She curls herself in a tight ball and flicks her tail around her nose. Onyx and Jet flank Rembrandt’s thighs, and I go back downstairs because he promised me pancakes. There aren’t any, of course, so I rummage through the fridge for something else to eat. There’s a Tupperware of tortellini, so I dish up a generous portion and heat it up in the microwave. It feels a bit strange not to have the cats begging me for food, but I guess sleep trumps sustenance for once. I take the tortellini and another Diet Coke to the living room to eat. I check my blog while I’m at it, and I start another post.
When Julianna was first murdered, I thought about her constantly. From the minute I woke up to the minute I went to bed, she was always on my mind. I would glance down the street and think I see her at the end of the road. I would rush up to the person only to find it wasn’t her, of course, and I’d have to apologize to some hapless woman for rushing up to her and grabbing her arm. I heard Julianna’s laugh everywhere I went, and I sometimes had to clamp my hands over my ears so I wouldn’t hear it. That didn’t help because the laughter was in my head, not outside of it.
I hated seeing and hearing her everywhere I went, but I hated it even more when I started losing her memory. Every day, I thought of her less and less, and I had a harder time remembering her smile and the sound of her laugh. I have several VMs on my phone from her, of course, but I can’t bear to listen to them because they make me cry. Something about hearing her voice and knowing I will never see her again hurts my brain. It can’t handle the dichotomy of the situation, and the way I usually deal with it is just by pushing it to the back of my mind.
I miss her something fierce, and I hate that I think less of her day by day. I want her to stay fresh in my mind, but I know that’s not how it works. When I rescued my brother-in-law from his kidnapper, the first thing I wanted to do was call Julianna and tell her what happened. Once I remembered she was dead, I burst into tears. I went from the highest high to the lowest low, and I was shattered all over again. I cried for an hour, and any time I tried to stop, I’d start up again. Onyx and Jet licked my tears away and comforted me as best they could, but I just ached to feel Julianna’s arms around me again.
It’s been just over a month since she was killed, and I can go several hours without thinking of her, except for a little bit of the back of my brain that is always focused on her. You’d think that’s a good thing because it gives me respite, but when I do think of her again, I feel a stab of guilt that I had forgotten her.
I can’t bear the thought that I won’t be able to mark any future milestones with her. She should be by my side to celebrate our ups and to commiserate over our lows. We should be giggling over our romantic escapades and yelling at the insanity that is American politics. I want to be able to call her at four in the morning when I can’t sleep, knowing she’ll be up as well. We could talk for hours about nothing at all, and she’s the most important person in my life. I love my sisters with all my heart. I have other friends and people who mean a lot to me. But Julianna—she was the yang to my yin, and I am incomplete without her.
I write for another twenty minutes before hitting publish. Predictably, I get responses within five minutes. TailoredSwift writes, “My husband died when he was twenty-seven, a year after we got married. I had been with him since we were fifteen, and I knew we were meant to be the minute I laid eyes on him in geometry class. The day he died, it was like any other day. I kissed him goodbye in the morning as he went to work and I went to class. I was studying for my PhD in economics at CU-Boulder, and I got a text at 10:43 in the morning telling me that my husband had been in a horrible accident. By the time I reached the hospital, he was dead, and my life was over as well. This was three years ago, and I still miss him every goddamn day of my life. It’s not fair he’s dead, and I will never accept it.” LazarusRises says, “Death is balls. I know it’s part of life, but it shouldn’t be. Don’t tell me it’s not feasible to be immortal. It’s not feasible to be alive, either, is it? I don’t care so much about my death, but I’ve lost my mother, my aunt, my brother, my niece, my lover, three cats, and somewhere along the line, my heart. I’m only forty-three, and I’ve lost so many people I’ve loved. It’s just not fucking fair.” UndulatingUvula adds, “I lost my best friend to breast cancer at the relatively young age of thirty-five. She fought bravely until the bitter end, and she never once lost her positive attitude. Any time I got depressed over her dying, she’d cheer me up. Think of it. She would cheer me up. Right before she died, she asked me to make sure her husband didn’t brood too long. She made me promise that I’d introduce him to other women a year after she died. I didn’t want to, but I eventually relented. She was so right. Her husband would have been a shut-in if it weren’t for me. We grew closer and closer, and two years after she died, we went on our first date. A year later, on the third anniversary of her death, we got married. I felt her presence hovering over us as we took our vows, and I knew she was happy for us.”
I tear up at the last story. I’m sure some people would find it sordid or unseemly, but I find it unexpectedly sweet and touching. It’s not as if they forgot about her or put her behind them. They got married on the anniversary of her death, for heaven’s sake. NatteringNat writes, “My fiancée’s twin sister tried to kill herself the night before our wedding. It wasn’t related to our marriage, well, at least not directly. Her twin was wrapped up in being a twin, and it meant more to her than anything else. My fiancée, on the other hand, had a full life outside of her twin. My fiancée put our wedding on hold while she attended to her sister. She really wanted her sister to be at the wedding, but after a year of her twin having relapses, she realized it wasn’t going to happen. We finally got married, and her twin refused to talk to either of us for the next three years. My fiancée mourned as if she’d lost someone to death, so by the time her twin was ready to talk again, my fiancée had already moved on. This was two years ago, and my now wife and her twin have worked out most of their issues, but their relationship is not the same.”
I love my blog community for their supportiveness and their willingness to share intimate details of their lives. I can take some credit in that I’ve stridently moderated the comments so that everyone who comments feels safe. That’s not to say there haven’t been lively and even contentious debates, but it means I don’t tolerate name-calling and low-blows. I’ve gotten emails from my commenters telling me how grateful they are for my blog. Some of them have told me mine is the only blog they comment on, which makes me feel simultaneously proud and sad. MNBorn chimes in, “I lost the love of my life when I was twenty and he was thirty-one. He was an adjunct professor at Macalester, English, and I took every class from him that I possibly could. He resigned from his post when we fell in love, but then he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. It was painful and terrible, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.” PossiblyHuman adds, “I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was forty. I was told it was terminal, and I made my peace with dying after going through all the various stages. My doctor gave me three months, but I whizzed right by that. After six months, she sent me to another specialist because she was baffled. That specialist figured out that I was given a false positive and that I did not have ovarian cancer. Can you imagine the relief I felt at receiving that news? Relief, yes, but also anger. Anger that I’d been misdiagnosed and that I’d wasted six months living in abject fear, then acceptance of my fate. After a few months, though, I was grateful for the misdiagnosis because it forced me to focus on what’s important in my life. That was five years ago, and now, I’ve published my novel, hiked in the Amazon, and married the man of my dreams. Life is better than it’s ever been, and it’s all thanks to thinking I was going to die.”
“What’re you up to, babe?” Rembrandt yawns as he pads into the living room. I’m startled because I didn’t hear him come in, and I shut down my blog. I’ve noticed that I’ve done that whenever he comes in and I’m reading my blog, and I’m not sure why. He’s read my blog, and he has no problem with me writing about us, so I don’t know what my problem is. In a weird way, it feels too vulnerable to have him read my work in front of me. When I hit publish on a post, I don’t have to watch people read the piece or react in real time. I’m sure there’s something wrong with me that I’d rather pour my heart out to strangers on the internet than to the man I’m sharing my bed with, but perhaps it’s just the sign of the internet times. Rembrandt has commented on my posts from time to time, but I know he doesn’t read them every day. Quite honestly, I’m not sure I’d want him to. I see my blog as a sort of journal, albeit it one anyone can read.
The woman who stalked me, murdered my best friend, and gouged out Rembrandt’s eye read my blog every day. She was my coworker, and she thought that what she read about me in my blog was all she needed to know about me. What she didn’t realize is that while I’m completely honest in what I write about, it’s still a carefully cultivated slice of my personality. Yes, it’s stream of conscious, and yes, the words just flow from me, but I do edit my posts, no matter how seamless they appear. In addition, what I present online isn’t the whole me. It’s a highly-polished version of me, and I’ve always been better with the written word than with the spoken one. It’s why I prefer email to the phone as well. I can take my time planning what I’m going to say, and I don’t have to instantly respond. People who fall in love with my words online are sometimes disappointed in person because I’m not as smooth-talking as I am on paper. I’ve had readings in which people literally bow down to me afterwards because they’re enthralled with my reading, and then their faces have fallen because I’m not making them laugh a mile a minute in person.
I know it’s part of the problem with any kind of celebrity, and the internet exacerbates the situation. You can be anyone you want online, and there are enough unbalanced people who live on the internet and are desperate to find a hero in whom they can believe. I know that I have a charismatic personality when I want, and I’m careful not to use it for nefarious reasons. I’ve had admirers pledge their allegiance to me after a reading, saying they want to spend the rest of their lives serving me. I recoil from such sentiment because it’s repugnant to me, but I can see why some people will take advantage of it. With a start, I realize I haven’t answered Rembrandt’s question yet.
“Not much, boo,” I say with a smile. Rembrandt sits next to me and massages my thigh, but not in a sexual way. Onyx, Jet, and Ginger flop on the couch besides us and promptly fall asleep. “I have to go out again soon, though. Dinner with Connie Wang.” I make a face because I do not want to go out again, but it can’t be helped.
“I promised you pancakes, didn’t I?” Rembrandt says, a huge yawn splitting his face.
“It’s OK. I found some tortellini, and I’m having an olive burger for dinner,” I say, leaning my head against his chest. He puts his arm around my shoulders and squeezes.
“That sounds tasty,” Rembrandt says. “I bet it wouldn’t be hard to make, either.”
“It’s has green olives and sour cream according to the menu, along with cheese, of course. I can feel my arteries hardening just thinking about it.” I scoop up Onyx and cuddle her to my chest. She squawks in protest, so I put her in my lap where she kneads my thighs to her heart’s content. Jet plops his head on my thigh so he can lick Onyx’s head vigorously. She purrs and head-butts him before falling asleep. “I just want this to be done,” I say softly. Rembrandt is lightly dozing, but he happens to hear me.
“I know, babe,” he says sleepily as he nuzzles my hair. “You’ve had a really rough go of it these past few months.”
“No harder than you!” I say, squeezing his arm. I still can’t look at Rembrandt’s eye patch without feeling guilty. I don’t mention it any longer, though, because it should be my burden and not his.
“My eye is nearly one-hundred percent better,” Rembrandt says. “You still have to deal with Julianna being gone. Not to mention your brother-in-law having been kidnapped and dealing with the secrets you found out about him and your sister.”
“It hasn’t been easy,” I say in agreement. “Once this is done, I just want to hibernate for six months and not have to deal with any drama.”
“I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” Rembrandt says. “Unfortunately, the world isn’t always reasonable.”
“It’s astounding how often it isn’t.” I sigh, my energy dropping rapidly. I am exhausted, despite only being up for a few hours. I need to take a nap, so I set my phone alarm to wake me up in plenty of time to get ready for dinner with Mrs. Wang. I’m out in five minutes, and it’s exactly what I need.