Junebug- Part Two

February 8, 2010
After two years of what most would call insanity and he just called his life, he decided that it was time to wake up, face reality, have a good cry, and go home. His mom sobbed with relief, her mom sighed with the same feelings, and his dad said nothing. But, regardless, he did go home. For a week. When he got off the bus, just one suitcase in his hand, his mom rushed to greet him. He gave a weak smile, wilted at the ends, and gently patted her on the back. His father had even made the effort to get outside, so he gave him the same bitter smile and wheeled him back up the ramp to the door.

His parents made him stay in his old room. He wouldn’t have minded it, had he not kept every possible memento from his teenage life there. Then, lying with his arms behind his head on his too-small bed, her memory was an all-encompassing presence that spun his world on its axle. It had taken him ten years to fall in love with her, two years to almost forget her, and one second to erase all his progress. The elegantly framed picture sitting on his bedside table seemed much more apparent in that second. He gingerly picked it up. His eyes locked onto her face, framed with bouncing red hair and glowing with laughter. He was next to her, like a peasant next to Aphrodite. No smile, no face, no laugh, no love could have compared. His anger flared. His resentment grew. His increasing sadness broke through the floodgate. His arm, in what seemed like an involuntary movement, threw the beautiful frame across the room. It shattered on the floor at the same time as his tears welled up and flooded over his face. He flailed around the room, not caring one bit about his parents, his neighbors, or his pride, as he brought his fist down upon the wall. His knuckles stung, but so did his heart.

He left his parents house the next day, leaving them only with a short note and fifty dollars to fix the hole in the wall. He went to his house, and spent the next five days sitting and sorting through the 182 letters addressed to his past love, the first one containing only four words,
“Junebug, I love you.”
The last letter sent had the same amount of words, but their meanings differed significantly.
“Junebug, I hate you.”
The whole collection was promptly thrown into the fire, burning as he sadistically watched. The embers burned out on the floor and the fire glowed in his eyes, the light reflecting back off the tears. For too long the couple had just sat, talking, in this house. He wriggled his toes against the blue carpet and sat up. Not long after, the house was empty again, nothing left to give any clue that a heartbroken man and his Junebug had once lived there.
His father had once told him that time heals everything. So far, time had not been on his side. But maybe he just needed a few more years. Maybe in a few years he would be able to go back to that town and not feel stabs of pain, not get the judging, sympathetic eyes every time he stepped out. So he left. He was only twenty, and there were many distractions available to him. Gambling, women, liquor. He went to Vegas, Chicago, Los Angeles; anywhere he could hitch a ride to. His savings got slim; he was no good at poker, no good at pretending to be something everybody, it seemed, knew he wasn’t. His pain didn’t die down, just numbed once again, this time due to the alcohol, not the bullets. He didn’t care to know that, back home, his family was suffering. His father died from old age and disease. His mother sobbed, as it seemed she was losing every man in her life. He tried to wire her from Vegas, but he choked on his tears and hung up. He received letters. He wasn’t keen on writing them. He once wrote to his mom to get money, but he never again wrote at letter to June.
After five years, he wore himself down to half the man he used to be, half the man he felt he deserved to be. His smile was stiff, unused for years. His hand was cold, and still lingered with the memory of her touch. His eyes had blackened with shame, guilt, and the memory of a past too far away for his liking.
It still hurt him every time he thought of her, the way she left him. He remembered the pain, the tears, and how he counted down every second until he would wake up from the dream, the nightmare. He was still counting.
It hurt him even more to admit that he still loved her. He still cherished the memory of her smile, still thought her voice was the most beautiful music, and still ached for her touch. He remembered the way the light danced in her eyes, and how her laughter echoed in the halls of their house. Hell, he even remembered how the deep, hollow pain quaked through his chest whenever her tears would fall. He remembered everything.
As much as it hurt him, he couldn’t bring himself to forget. He used to dream about her at night, but now, seven years after her death, every thought was intensified by thousands, every second stilled, paused, the world seeming to love to see him suffer. But life was unfair. Right. Patience was a virtue. He would just have to wait, longer than he already had. Wasn’t time the key to winning the battle he had fought for too long? Wrong. Time healed nothing, only made him wallow in the painful memories.
After five years of reckless living, he finally realized that pain was just a feeling. One that could be easily blocked out, easily held in. So he held it in. He took the pain and buried it as deep as he could, with no intention of ever bringing it back up. But how do you live like that? Can you? He thought so.
Three years. That’s how long it took him to realize that it wasn’t working. Slowly but surely, the pain was gnawing through him from the inside out. He would get random flashes of memory, memories he didn’t even know he still had. It seemed that the pain would never let him out of its grasp. It held too tightly, suffocating him, slowly killing him.
It had never seemed like an option before. It seemed unthinkable, calamitous. To help the pain, why would you go to the source? He thought the only way to get rid of it was to avoid it, to hide it. But now, ten years wiser, going home seemed like the only thing to do.
A tear slid down his cheek when his mother didn’t recognize his voice. It added a little bit more to the heart ache when, after he told her it was him, her only son, she hung up the phone. Was it even home anymore? It was no more of a home to him now than his car was. The only thing left for him there was redemption. But if that wasn’t a reason stay, he didn’t know what was.
It was a three day drive to Tennessee, and he spent one day thinking about setting fire to the house. He spent the second day realizing that he would have to kill himself, and the third knowing that he would go through with neither. He thought he had it all planned out, but when he pulled up to the gravel driveway of his mother’s house, he had no idea what he was doing. He wasn’t quite sure if he could deal with the judging eyes, knowing that he could never wash the shame completely off his hands. So he fled.
Running was his specialty. He ran away from pain, he ran away from death, and he ran away from life. He couldn’t just change now, after ten years of habit. So, once again, he ran from what was sure to greet him when he knocked on his mother’s door. He left his car, grabbed his suitcase, and began walking down the long dirt road that led to the source of his never-ending memories.
So after long hours of contemplating, long hours of walking, and long seconds of rash decisions, he was in what used to be her room. The walls were orange, just like she left them. The window looked out over the creek, winding and twisting whatever way it chose to go. Trees dotted the miniature valley and hummingbirds vibrated in the distance. The clouds dived low in the sky, slowly moving about with the gentle whispers of the wind, while the sky glowed orange, mimicking the wallpaper in the long-abandoned room.
The room was small, and left no air to breathe, so he quickly dived for his destination, underneath the loose floorboard, and left the room. He wasn’t sure if it was just him, but the air seemed clearer, easier to breathe as he left.
As he sank to the floor with his back against the creaking wall, he opened the little black book he had received from her room. As he scanned through its contents, he quickly changed his mind: the air had never tasted so melancholy.
His eyes swept adoringly over the photo book. They held only resignation and pure, unbridled love.
For a second, he was unsure about his decision. Did he really want to let go? Was he going to make the ten years he spent pining over this dead girl worth nothing? Yes, he was. He was finally giving up.
He took one last long look at the smiling girl in the photographs; it would be the last look, ever. At least he couldn’t erase the happiness, the joy and love, nor the memories that had tormented his mind for so long.
His feet once again carried him back to her room, this time only to discard the book back beneath the floorboard and grab his jacket. Shrugging it back on, he coolly walked out the door and out of the house. Sitting himself on the porch swing, he gave himself one last chance to remember. One last chance to bask in the glory that was his first love, gone awry. One last chance to commit the house to memory, forget it, and walk off the property. The trees swayed in the mild wind, and the sun was beginning to set. He could hear, once again, the creek roll and flow over the rocks. His footsteps echoed into the clear air, and for the first time in a long time, he could breathe. So he was gone, leaving nothing to give any clue that a once-heartbroken man and his Junebug had ever lived there.

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