Fourteen years doesn’t seem to make the memory any less indelible. I remember that I was at work. At the time work consisted of retail – a ladies clothing store that catered to the 50+. I was perhaps 128lbs and thus was too tiny for the store’s extra small. I managed to spend my earned clothing credits on accessories and the odd item that did fit so that I could conform to the company’s request that employees model their fashions. I was a good employee – I genuinely liked to help the ladies find something to wear for whatever the occasion – or to feel good about themselves in clothes. Sadly, self esteem is something in short supply among my fellow females. I certainly didn’t have much but that’s something for another post.
Anyway, I was at work. M and I had been going through a rough patch. He had objected to my dying my hair black in an intense and humiliating way and had also somehow managed to bend the frame of this beloved Hyundai Tiburon one night after deciding to see if he could drive faster than a police car. I was already anxious and had been hoping for a phone call at some point since I had not heard from him since early the day before. I was folding shirts for the front display; cursing the slippery fabric as I aligned them around the folded tissue paper to keep them square and neat, when the phone rang.
“Hello Tan Jay, Susan speaking,” I said in my best cheerful and professional voice.
“Susan,” he said and I knew something was wrong even before he spoke his next words. “I’m sorry, I’ve ruined everything…” my stomach completed its fall to the floor.
“Martin? What is it? What happened?” but he had already hung up and the dial tone seemed to scream in my ear. I stared dumbly at the receiver. I must have gone pale because my boss was suddenly there.
“Is everything all right? You’re white as a sheet,” she said, putting a hand on my arm.
I shook my head because I couldn’t talk. Cell phones were for rich people then so I couldn’t even call him back. I had no idea where he was and no idea what to do next. Panic gripped me instead of tears. And fear. There was that. What had happened? Had he tried to race a police car again and killed someone? A million scenarios raced through my head. Catherine tried to get me to sit down, but I couldn’t and she suggested instead I take a few laps around the mall to see if I could calm the jitters down enough to either speak or formulate some kind of plan. By then I had managed to tell her what M had said to me during that brief call.
By the time I got back to the store I had calmed down enough to decide to call his parents. Surely someone had to know something and they had more clout – and more mobility than I did. But no one was home. I left a message. Whether it was English or not, I still have no idea. Catherine thought I should go home, but I shook my head. As much as I wanted to, all I’d end up doing is pacing and I knew no one else would be home. Somehow I managed another couple of hours. Somehow I made it home. I don’t remember these details. I got in the door of the apartment I shared with Amber – and recently M. I left another message on his parents machine telling them I was home now and if they heard anything could they please call as soon as they could.
I don’t know what time his mother called, but she said they would come pick me up. She said she had received a similar message from M, but nothing else. She said we could all three wait for news together. I remember getting into the back seat of the green Prelude. She was in the passenger seat and his step-dad was driving. He was an affable sort, and she was defined to me by her cigarettes and cocktails.
They offered me one as we all three sat on bar stools in the kitchen while Peggy chain smoked and Paul paced. We had nothing to talk about even when I inspected the books in their bookshelf. I tried to make small talk because the silence was almost worse, but everything fell short. I froze when the phone finally rang. I don’t remember the words that Peggy said into the phone, but she did not seem surprised to learn that he was at the police station. What she did get was angry that they would not tell her what had happened.
“They won’t tell me, they just want us to go there.”
Paul took the receiver and got not more info than he had. In the end we all got into the car in silence and went to the police station. Never once did they ask if I wanted to come. They knew. But none of us were prepared for what came out of the officer’s mouth when we finally arrived. The walk from the car to the station is vivid in my mind. The escort to the detective’s office and the stupid chairs we sat in. He asked if I was sure I wanted to be there, if his parents wanted me there in light of the things he had to tell us. We all insisted I stay because we had no idea what was to come next. At least I didn’t. I’m certain that at least Peggy had some inkling. Or should have.
“Your son has confessed to some very serious things,” he said to Peggy and she just clutched her back tighter. And then he told us what had happened that day. The panic I’d felt until then, held barely in check, turned to shock. My boyfriend, as mercurial as he was, had tried to… it wasn’t possible. But the detective kept talking and I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was sitting in this close, neutral-shade office with it’s dying ficus plant listening to a man of the law in a white button down shirt with sleeves rolled up; badge clipped to his belt, tell us that Martin had attempted to kidnap a girl. Not just any girl either, the nine year old who lived in the apartment next to mine. At that point, I didn’t know thier names, but I had seen them – she was one of three kids, two parents and a grandmother, all with coffee with cream colour skin and dark hair. I wanted to throw up.
“Do you want to see the video of his confession? It’s quite long.”
There’s a video of this? There’s a video? As if it weren’t bad enough, my mind scrambled about in my head and I don’t remember what happened after that – my brain switched off. A few days later, though a counsellor came to my apartment and sat me on the couch and asked me if I wanted to stick with Martin through this. He told me that not many people do, even when they start off wanting to be supportive. But I said I wanted to visit him. I said I’d stick with him because I loved him because that was the only way I could answer at the time. I was too stricken, too numb, to think about any of it with any clarity at all. All I knew at that moment was the man who had given me a diamond promise ring, who loved me and who I loved, was behind bars and I had an obligation to stick with him. And I did, for a while. For a while I was able to push the reality of it away – even with the endless middle of the night drunken phone calls from Peggy and the mess his incarceration left me to live in. I compartmentalised everything until I fell apart. It was after that that I made my decision. I don’t regret it now, but it took years to get there. Martin represented two seperate men to me and it wasn’t until much later I accepted that they were facets of the same one. I loved the one and not the other and that was not fair to either of us. I wished him the ability to let go and move on from this mistake. Still do.
But this day still makes my heart ache, just a little, even after all this time.
Listening to: Smoked Glass and Chrome – Ott
Reading – The White Lioness – Henning Mankell
Eating: Cucumber Sandwhich
Drinking: spiced rum
Word count: 2236