It was the brightness of the late morning sunlight pouring in through his window that woke him. He opened his eyes and his sense of smell, as though its function was momentarily arrested by the sudden rush of consciousness, became aware of the cigarette stench that clung to his clothes which he had been wearing since yesterday. A searing pain in his head made him close his eyes again. Massaging his forehead with his hand, he remembered flashes of what had transpired more than twelve hours ago.
Gin. Cigarettes. Tears.
“I am not happy. I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore.” He regretted the way she said it, the way it sustained a note of finality.
For the past three years, they had been happy. At least he thought they were.
He met her in February of 2009 when he and his friends, adventurous and a little reckless, decided to crash the prom of the only other high school in town. A crescent moon illuminated their backs as they were climbing over the school fence. They took their places behind a large bush, huddling like lost dogs, peering through the thicket. In front of them, revealed through a glass wall that surrounded the whole venue, was the prom. His eyes reflected the bright glow that emanated from the revelry inside when he spotted her sitting on the corner by the punch bowl, fixing what seemed to be a broken heel. And he knew, at that moment, that he had to get in.
“May I have this dance?” He asked her a few minutes later, presenting his hands. He didn’t mind the students staring at him for his choice of prom wardrobe—a Metallica shirt and a pair of serrated jeans— nor did he find it uncanny that she gave him an expression of complete amazement which slowly turned to a whimsical grin. She then took off her shoes, placed her hand in his and let him lead her to the dance floor.
Two months later, perhaps brought about by the heat of summer and the nonchalance of young love, they became a couple. They planned everything together, too. First it was just a trip to the beach. Then there was the picnic by the hill. Bicycle rides, aimless wanderings in the town mall, and heady visits to the local theme park. It was only by the time she had invited him for dinner at her home—with her family—that it dawned on both of them that they had become something else. Something more.
The sudden flight of a bird that was resting on his window sill brought him back to the present. He found it pointless, a waste. All of it. Three years of his life invested in a hope of something perennial, long-lasting. Something true. Had he known that a thousand and ninety-five days would culminate in a night of drunkenness and sobbing, he would have never bothered. What a colossal waste.
His futile attempt to dry his eyelids prevented him from hearing the increasing sound of footsteps so he was caught off guard when the knock on the door began.
“Don’t come in.” He said.
Despite hearing her son’s words, she entered inside his room slowly but firmly, carrying with her the chicken soup scent from the kitchen as well as the calm expression he observed she only sported during times when she was about to say something really smart—something only a mother would know.
Downstairs she had been silently making her son a soup. With a wooden spoon, she stirred the viscous concoction as the heat made bubbles rise and then burst. This was her mother’s recipe, of course. The same thing her own mother served her with when she had locked herself in her bedroom after her first heartbreak.
Of course, now she had forgotten the little details—the bullet points of the plot that lead to the ending of her first relationship. Time erases such trivialities, she figured. But not the feeling. She knew what her son was now going through and she knew she couldn’t do anything to take that pain from him now. It wasn’t like a snake fanged venom which she could suck from his bloodstream, nor was it a headache two Advils could easily take care of. No. Her own mother knew this, too, and the only way she found to pacify her then was to warm her stomach and feed her mind that what she was going through was necessary, part of living and part of life. Earlier, before dawn broke, she decided that she was going to do the same to his son.
After what seemed like a full hour, his mom gently placed her hands on his shoulders.
“She left me,” he mumbled.
She slowly walked to the other side of the bed to face him. She stood in front of the window, partially blocking the light radiating behind her, casting a long shadow on the bed which is what he watched moving as his mother began speaking.
“I know.” She said. “I want you to cry until a fraction of that pain that’s in there has left. Drink. Sleep all day tomorrow if you so desire. Skip work. Take a leave. But I need you to remember one thing.” She stopped, afraid that her voice would crack. She closed her eyes, breathed in, sat on the bed beside him and continued, “Do not, for one second, regret any of this. The reason you’re hurting right now is because you had tried for something, something you believed in. And you held onto it. Until the end. Until it was time to let go. Few people would recognize that as love, but it is.”
He gazed at her as if seeing her for the first time.
“Well,” she said imperturbably her mood totally shifted, “I made you some chicken soup downstairs. I’ll wait for you there.”
She headed for the door. When her fingers felt the knob, she paused and looked back at her son motionless on the bed. The light from the window now beamed on his figure making his eyes glisten.
She smiled and said, “I’m proud of you, son.”