Life hidden in a bag of M&Ms
We sat on his bed. He’d snuck in a big bag of M&Ms into his room and the routine was always the same. He’d open the bag, and separate the chocolate colored ones from the rest. The dark ones were his, the colored ones were mine. This was fine with me because I always got more. We were no more than ten, just kids. After that, it all changed.
A short time later, his mother died. He’d lost his mother at no more than ten years old. After his mother’s passing, I went to see him, to play and study together, like we always did. When I arrived at his house, I remember all the lights being on, but darkness was everywhere. The mood was what you would expect it to be. A house full of sadness and heartbreak. It even felt as if the walls were crying. You could feel pain everywhere, it was as if all things soft, beautiful, and bright from inside his house had vanished.
His father let me in and told me he was in his room. He said he hadn’t eaten in days and I should try to encourage him to do so. Nothing worked, not even M&Ms.
When I went to see him upstairs, he was just sitting there staring out the window. He was expressionless, and he looked at me and said, “what are you doing here”? If my memory serves me well, I said, “I’m here to talk”. He looked at me stone faced and said, “about what”? I sat with him for what felt like forever. No words were exchanged, no tears were shed. I knew then that he would never truly heal from his mother’s loss until he allowed himself to feel her loss.
With his mother’s passing one life was gone, one simple life. But, I would come to learn years later that one person is not just one person. In each of us there is a world branching out, reaching others, creating connections, sometimes strong, sometimes weak. In each of us there’s a world and the day my friend’s mother died, her world, and a big part of his, had been lost forever.
For the next couple of years, we would spend a considerable amount of time together. His father quickly remarried, and after that the sleepovers at my house became a constant. Most nights in the beginning, he would wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air. One night, he woke up screaming the word, “mommy “. I sat on the side of his bed, and he just turned away from me until he eventually fell back asleep.
With the passing of his mother, he seemed haunted every time his eyes closed to sleep. Initially, I thought it was trauma, only to understand that trauma is fear. Unable to transcend his fear, he hid behind it. His fears would eventually enslave him, and his pain would define his future self.
As we grew older, he became angrier and angrier. He was always fighting with someone about something, and usually dragging me along with him for the ride. For him every day became like swimming class, he had to decide if he was heading towards the bottom, or the top. And, with every passing day, he chose to go further and further away from the surface.
Over the years, he became the bad boy in school. His grades slipped, even though he was smart as a whip. He started cutting class. He seemed to love getting F’s. As for me, I liked being smart. I liked being on time. I thought being smart was cooler than anything in the world. We were now moving in different directions.
A few years later, when we were about fifteen, he took me aside at lunch time, to show me his father’s gun. He’d brought his dad’s gun to school. He was showing it to anyone willing to see it, or touch it. It amazes me to this day that no one reported him, and he wasn’t expelled right then and there. But, maybe this was his goal and in achieving this he failed as well.
Later that night, I remember telling my mother that my friend was heading towards the abyss and that he and I were drifting apart. I provided no details. She said this was to be expected, that after his father remarried, he probably feels that everyone in his life has abandoned him. She said in so many words, “I don’t know what your friend did, but when a friend in need tries to push you away, you have to find the strength to hold on to him tighter”. I didn’t have that kind of strength.
By the time we graduated high school, we had parted ways. I guess I’d had enough of him stealing his father’s car, trying to get me to drink that, smoke this, or swallow that. Lots of friendships can be fixed. Things can be fixed. But many times, relationships between people cannot be fixed, because they should not be fixed.
It’s like you’re onboard a plane about ready for take off, and the other person wants to get to the same destination hitchhiking, or is boarding a different airline with many unneeded stops. You just can't be with each other anymore, and you shouldn't be.
The years would pass and our interactions became more and more infrequent. But, one afternoon, out of the blue, my phone rang, and it was him. I lived in Boston at the time and I was in graduate school. He told me he was in town and wanted to come see me. He insisted on meeting me at my apartment. I lived in a small studio at the time and I gave him my address. An hour or so later, he was at my door step. He was not alone.
He introduced me to a very exotic looking girl that he had brought with him. She looked like a throw back from Woodstock, a hippy from the sixties, or a character fresh out of the musical Hair. He introduced her as Venus. I wasn’t surprised.
He told me that they were traveling across the US together, and that they had run out of money. He said, he remembered that I lived in Boston, and they didn’t have a place to stay. I told him that I didn’t have much money either, but what I could spare was his. I offered my apartment as lodging for the both of them for as long as they wished to stay. I even remember saying that anything in my refrigerator was theirs. That offer was quickly seized upon.
As Venus and my friend settled in, she told him that his description of me as his “nerd friend” was spot on. Venus knew a lot about me, and it was good to know that for my friend I mattered. Venus even said how good it was that our friendship had been rekindled. She said, it was good to see us using the “f” word again, “f” standing for friend. I quickly took a liking to Venus. She was one of a kind, so was he.
My apartment was one very small room in total. As night time approached, we agreed that Venus would sleep on the bed, and he and I on the floor. But, Venus was not agreeable to this arrangement. She wanted to sleep next to him. Venus put together a makeshift bed for the both of them on the floor, and in the middle of the night my friend woke up screaming, “mommy”. Venus quickly woke-up and told me that he isn’t really awake when he does this, and that it only happens when he’s tired. She apologized to me on his behalf, and went back to bed. I didn’t tell Venus that I’d seen all of this before.
They stayed with me for about two weeks, and this brought us closer together again, all three of us. He was fun, Venus was fun, and I hadn’t known fun as a graduate student for some time. It felt good to be out of my regular routine.
I really started enjoying our outings, and the jovial and upbeat attitude Venus had on everything. Venus was a rebel, the kind of girl I wouldn’t normally come across, and she was special. He even jokingly once said, Venus wasn’t the kind of girl you’d bring home to mother, but he didn’t have that problem. I think his mother would have approved when she got to know her, tattoos and all.
And, just before they left, he told me he wanted to marry Venus, which he eventually ended up doing. He told me, like him, she was broken. He said, that when she was a teen, she had tried to commit suicide, without telling me why. She had run away from home at fifteen, and he felt that they were both running away from something. He figured, if they got married they could at least run in the same direction. He said that Venus had some kind of glorious darkness inside her. He did too.
The more time I spent with the both of them, I realized how broken they both were. But, somehow they seemed to complete each other. If there was such a thing as love, they’d found it. Their warmth for each other was even spilling over to me and it was filling. Clearly, they both had come from childhoods full of pain, and it was good to see the love that grew out from that seed. This was their legacy, I thought to myself.
Later that afternoon, as Venus went grocery shopping, my friend shared with me what he said was a terrifying thought that haunted him. He asked me, what if his feelings for Venus were nothing more than a trick, a self deception. The deception of a broken man whose love for a woman is only premised in seeing his shattered reflection in her weeping eyes. He said, “I want her in my life, but I am broken. You know that more than anyone”. I reminded him that we’re all broken, but the trick is finding someone whose broken pieces fit with yours.
They were married that year after both growing up with so much suffering, so much struggle, and so much loss. They had found their way out of those perils together.
Before he left Boston, and after they had packed, we sat on my bed with a big bag of M&Ms. He took the dark ones, and I took the colored ones, and I shared my haul with Venus eventually. She preferred the colored ones over dark too. She tried to give him a colored one when all of his dark ones were gone. He refused. But, I knew she would eventually bring him back to color. And, when he was ready to take the colored ones from her loving hand, he would finally heal.