True love is a myth and I’ll tell you why:
He called me at 2 am to ask if I could come over. He was drunk or at least I thought he was. I cradled the phone in my hands as he pleaded, hearing as his sloppy words pooled at my feet. The phone was cold against my ears, almost feeling like a prison and an addiction at the same time. He told me he would be leaving for Portland in a few days and that he wanted me to stop him. I loved him, had never stopped loving him. So I agreed. It was 2 in the morning but I agreed because I wanted to see him and I wanted him to see me too. I hoped that when he did, he would see the swelling and he would know he was going to be a dad.
I called in sick for work and then drove the old car down to his place. It used to be his mother’s but she was taken away a few months ago by his sister. He was standing on the porch when I arrived. As I climbed down, he waved at me and he smiled and we said nothing. He led me into his place and closed the door. The place was dark, sort of like the kind of houses mostly used in horror movies. The hairs on the back of my neck stood in fear. He stepped away from me and switched on the lights.
Then I saw that he had closed all the windows and the curtains and he was shivering. The paint in the living room had begun to peel. As I walked the length of it, I saw that they had begun to peel over the rug. I bent and picked a picture up. I turned around to look at him. We did not talk, we simply shared a look we had come to know and understand over the years. It was the look of an apology and twisted love, something that never should have happened.
“Oh it’s been a long time,” he said.
“It’s been two months,” I said. “Not a super long time.”
He ran a hand through his hair and he coughed and he bent forward as if he was going to fall. We were both used to it. “I guess.”
“Have you gone to see the doctor? Did you ever go for the checkup?”
From the living room, I could make out the outline of the dining room. There was a door after that, probably leading into the kitchen. My stomach grumbled. The child might be hungry.
He shivered again and he wrapped his hands across his chest. It was a silent prayer; the sort said when one was desperate to be alone.
“The doctors don’t know shit,” he said finally. He had a smile on his lips, the one dented and insincere, the one he gave when he agreed to go see my parents, the one he gave when I told him I couldn’t continue with him again.
“You always said that. It’s so typical of you.”
He stopped smiling. Then he looked around at the shelves housing books and old CDs and the walls with photographs of his mother and his sister and the father who died. “I do suppose you’re right.”
Instinctively, I touched my stomach and I felt his baby and I wrapped my hands around myself tighter.
“You still look stunning,” he said finally. He coughed again. I handed him a handkerchief and he thanked me with a nod of the head. “Are you still working at the diner?”
“Where else were you expecting?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “You used to have these dreams of being a singer. You wanted more.”
“You sound as if we broke up ten years ago.”
“It’s been two months, I know, but I remember and that’s a good thing, right?”
He began to cough again and it rocked him hard. I let him sit on the couch while I hurried to bring him water. The handkerchief, when I arrived, was stained with blood. He stared at it and then he looked at me. “It’s nothing.”
“I want to call a doctor,” I said. I could feel my eyes burning and my lips quivering. All I could think about was how painful it was to look at him and feel him dying. “Maybe get you to a hospital.”
“No, no,” he laughed. “You should see me when I’m running or cooking. I don’t even look or feel sick or anything.”
I took my seat beside him. We chose not to talk for a long time, relegating ourselves to the background noise of old music and singing birds. “What do you do on most days?” I asked.
He smiled softly and knotted his fingers. He shuffled his feet until he reminded me of rusted guns and bullet holes. He looked like a lost child and it was the most depressing thing to think about. “I got a new job in Portland, will be moving there over the week. For now, I’m doing nothing.”
He shivered suddenly.
“Do you do that all the time?” I asked.
“Do you shiver all the time, I mean?”
He closed his eyes then opened it. “It’s sexy, no?”
“Tell me,” I insisted.
“I guess it goes along with the cough. I know that it’s nothing.”
I sighed and looked at my hands. I had promised not to tell him about the baby but it would be wrong to keep the information from him. In a way, he had the right to know he was going to be a father. Still, I faltered and I waited for the courage of ten thousand drunken women.
“Do you think we still have a chance?” he asked suddenly.
I said nothing back.
“I remember when we first met and you asked me if I was okay with interracial dating and I said yes,” he laughed.
It was not a funny memory.
He continued, “You asked me if my family would be okay with me dating a black woman and I told you that I loved you either way. That was the fourth date, right?”
“I don’t remember,” I said.
“See, I know that you remember,” he said. “How long ago was it anyway?”
“I feel like I’ve known you for a lot longer.”
I said nothing.
He coughed again and he spat out blood. “I keep thinking about you, Constance. I keep wondering what I could have said to keep you from ending us.”
“I was a bad lover and a bad, bad person.”
“Can you forgive me for failing you?”
He had not failed us, no, but he had not tried to save us. He was a good person but there came a time when good just became irrelevant to the story and we slipped and we fell and rolled off in different directions. He was like an open book with a list of sad, dirty, and poorly written poetry and I wanted to read something else. In the end, I realized I would always crave more and he would always remain bad poetry.
“I am pregnant, Dan,” I said. It was sudden.
He stopped talking and pulled away, falling to the rug. He shivered again and he coughed and he pressed his knee closer to his chest, rocking back and forth. He started to cry, slowly like a trickling raindrop.
I pressed on. “I am pregnant for you. You are going to be a father.”
“I—I don’t know if I can do it. I am a bad person,” he choked on words to say.
I knelt by his side and I hugged him and he pressed his face on my shoulders and he cried.
“You are a good person, Daniel, and I don’t want you to forget it even when you move to Portland.”
He shook his head. “I am not moving away anymore.”
“I don’t want you to make a mistake.”
“The mistake will be leaving you and the baby.”
I slept peacefully that night knowing that he would be home and he was going to love the baby. I grew up in what you might call a broken home where my mother did not show me love and my father beat me up. I was ten when I went for my first therapy. The pretty woman let me relax on her couch and she offered me biscuits and candy and told me to be happy. She pressed happiness for me like dollar bills and I stopped being happy. It was Daniel who taught me that I could be happy again. It was he who taught me what sadness really meant.
Daniel Macgregor died in the morning in the time I did my lipstick in the bathroom mirror. I went by his house and they told me he had fallen outside and had been rushed to the hospital. The details were irrelevant. What mattered was that he had died. It should not have bothered me but it did and I cried and I took his shirt and pressed it against my chest. I hadn’t known people could die until he did and I realized I was climbing and falling and not knowing what to do anymore.
His funeral was the type of funeral that made no sense, with people in black, holding up umbrellas. I watched them all and pretended it made no difference to me. Then I went home and I slept on one side of the bed like I was used to. He was never coming back and that was something I had to accept either way.
I am not saying his death was unexpected. Dying is in fact one of the things we discussed on the day his car broke down and we had to walk in the rain. We talked about death like it was nothing; like it was something we could toss around in the belly of nothingness. Dying was inevitable and so was his death.
What I am trying to say is that he should have died before the 2 am call or weeks after. Not the day after when I was beginning to feel love. Is that selfishness? No. It is just the way it should be.
So, yes, true love is a myth. Not just true love, no, but the idea that I could find something else to keep in its place.