Sunday, December 4, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 24 - Letters

From the Desktop of Bella Swan
Sunday, September 19

I forgot how relentlessly green Forks is.

Every day I’ve been here this week, I’ve realized more and more why you needed to leave, Mom. It’s peaceful and tranquil, and the natives seem to like it. Dad has settled nicely into his niche here, and he’s content. But within a few days, the flora-filled atmosphere somehow went from soothing to oppressive. Maybe it’s because the quiet and solitude gave me more than enough time to mull things over in my head. Too much time.

Maybe it’s because I miss Edward so much that my heart hurts.

All I know is that I can’t wait to leave tomorrow. I love Charlie and I’ll miss him, but I’ve decided he’s coming to Seattle the next time he wants to see me, even if I have to come here and forcibly drag him back with me.

The fishing trip with him Tuesday was good, and Wednesday I helped him do some chores around the house; but I think we were both relieved when he went back to work Thursday and Friday. Problem is, that left me with a lot of time on my hands. I practiced playing my new guitar until my fingers hurt; then I took lots of walks and did lots of thinking. But no matter what my head comes up with, my heart still holds fast to two things: I love Edward no matter what; and I love my job at Java Noise enough to try to work things out with Rose.

As long she’s in Emmett’s life and I’m in Edward’s, we’re stuck with each other. We had had a good working relationship before her paranoia got the best of her, so I’m hopeful that we can rebuild it. I was actually relieved to get a voicemail from her Friday afternoon while I was out for one of my strolls.

“Bella, I’m so sorry to bother you while you’re on vacation, but I have looked everywhere and I cannot find that press kit for Leo Clifton. You remember that big, hairy dude that looks like he spent three years in a Himalayan cave? Well, Mark saw him perform last week and was really impressed with the guy. I know we have his demo somewhere. If you remember where it is, please give me a call back.

“Hope you’re having a good vacation. I was thinking about you a lot earlier this week--I know how hard those days must have been for you. We all miss you here. Talk to you soon.”

I was actually grateful to have an opportunity to be useful, so I called her back as soon as I got home and discovered her message.

“The press kit is in my holding file, bottom right drawer of my desk,” I told her when she picked up. “That’s where I keep all the pending acts -- the ones we’re seriously considering.”

“Thanks! You’re a life saver.” I heard her rummaging until she let out an exclamation of victory. “How is it I’ve never known this is where you keep the hot commodities? I need to pay more attention, obviously. But I never would have looked in your desk without asking you first, anyway. I learned my lesson there,” she added contritely.

“That’s okay. Obviously you need to have access to all the files. It’s just the top desk drawer that I got a little upset about. It’s okay. I mean, you did have a point about everything in that office being Java property.”

“Well, I crossed the line and we both know it. But I really do want to try to earn your trust again, if you’ll let me. We want you back. I want you back. I need your ear! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned to ask your opinion on something and you weren’t there. I’ve missed you.”

“Wow,” I said, a bit surprised. Rosalie had never been so open or so complimentary before. “That’s nice to hear. I’ve kind of missed the activity, too. And the music. It’s so quiet here.”

“So . . . that means you’re coming back next week?” she asked uncertainly.

“Yeah, I think so. Would Tuesday be all right?”

“Tuesday would be great.” Rose sounded relieved. “I was afraid you were going to give your notice. Can’t say I would have blamed you.”

“I thought about it, to be honest,” I admitted. “But I love my job there, and I believe in the company. I’ve always liked the philosophy at Java. It’s more about the integrity of the music and the artists than making money.”

“True. Though I prefer to strike a profitable balance where that’s concerned,” she answered with a laugh. “Well, I’d better get this file down to Mark. I’ll see you next week. And Bella . . . thanks.”

Her last words carried more weight than the rest. I could tell she was thanking me for my effort to forgive and forget rather than helping her find a file.

“You’re welcome,” I told her, in the same knowing tone.

As I hung up the phone, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I never realized what heavy burdens grudges were until I let one go.

That night, I let the weightlessness get to me a bit. I met up with Eric, Tyler and Lauren. Angela will be interested to know that Eric asked me lots of questions about her. He always had a thing for her in high school but never acted on it, so Ben beat him to the punch. Eric was surprised, and I think a bit disappointed, to hear that Ange and Ben are still together.

I was surprised myself to see that Tyler and Lauren were still an item, and in fact, were engaged to be married. I was also feeling guiltily smug that Lauren had put on a considerable amount of weight since high school. The guilt went away as soon as I realized that she was as snobby as ever, regardless of the fact that her beauty queen days were far behind her. She still acted like she was the hottest girl in town. But I soon realized that I was content to let her enjoy being the biggest and brightest fish in her tiny pond. I’d be heading back to the ocean I loved soon enough.

So, I decided to relax, drink and be merry. I joined them in their drinking games, to disastrous results. The drunker I got, the more I missed Edward; and the more I missed him, the more I drank.

We hadn’t talked all week. It seemed to be a literally unspoken agreement between us: that we would take this time to be on our own, to work on ourselves; so we had only sent text messages to one another. The sound of his voice haunted me. Amidst the noise of the bar, I kept imagining his velvet tones in my ear, his breath on my neck, his whispered tremors shivering down my spine.

His phantom voice guided me all the way home. I could practically hear him telling me which way to go as I drunkenly maneuvered my behemoth of a truck down the back streets of Forks. As soon as I sneaked past Charlie’s room where he lay snoring, I fell on my bed in a stupor and began texting Edward.

I groaned with embarrassment when I read the messages back the next afternoon. It took me a good twenty-four hours to stop vomiting in between bouts of fitful sleep, while Charlie gave me disapproving looks and then harangued me for driving drunk the night before. I finally choked down some toast last night, then spent a few hours practicing the guitar again before passing out once more.

Today Charlie and I went fishing again, but with Jake’s dad, Billy Black, this time. Billy asked me all kinds of questions about The Wolf Pack’s progress. Jake had filled him in, but he liked hearing about their prospects from someone on the business end of things. It was strange to be that person -- the one sounding like an authority on something, while talking to my dad and the father of one of my old friends. It was the first time I realized I wasn’t really a kid anymore. I felt like one of the adults instead.

It was late in the day and I was helping Charlie clean the fish we’d caught when he remembered the letter. Edward had written to me, old-school style, and sent it via snail mail to Forks. Dad hadn’t bothered to give me the letter while I was heaving all day long yesterday, but I wish he had. I would have made different plans for today.

But maybe it’s better this way. I’ve come up with the perfect reunion for Edward and me, I think. I’ve already called Emmett to help me put my plan in motion. Edward will be so surprised. I have a big, stupid grin on my face just thinking about it.

In the meantime, I can’t stop reading his letter. Every time it hits me as hard as the first. See for yourself:

Thursday, September 16

Dear Bella,

I know I told you that I needed time to get my thoughts together before I told you about my appointment today. But the truth is, writing them down is the way I’ve always sorted them out and made sense of them. I think -- no, I know -- you do the same. So I hoped you wouldn’t mind a letter from me while I attempt to figure things out.

I’ve written to you every day this week. Since the moment you left, I’ve known that you are the only person I want to write to anymore. So I went and bought a new notebook after work on Monday. It’s nice, a real journal, with a white cover. I’m sure the shrink would tell me that my color choice was symbolic. I’m sure it probably was. New beginnings, clean slate and all that.

But I decided to send this letter, because I want you to have it right now. I want you to know what’s been going on in my head. No more secrets, no more withholding. No more testing you to see what it will take to make you turn your back on me, thus “proving” to myself that I never deserved you to begin with. I’ve been very good at creating self-fulfilling prophecies the past few years.

That’s just one thing the shrink made me see. I think you’d like her. She’s older, probably sixty-ish, with these eyes that crinkle up like walnuts when she smiles. She looks like someone who’s smiled a lot in her life, and I like that. She’s warm and easy to talk to, kind of like my Aunt Jeanne was.

Even so, I was surprised at what happened when I met with her today. She had a cancellation after my appointment, so she let me stay there for two hours. I say “let me” because I was on some kind of crazy roll, talking my fool head off. So strange for me, the guy who’s so good at bottling everything up inside. But this time, everything came spilling out. What happened with Tanya and how much I let it derail my life. How I resented my parents, especially my dad, for their efforts to keep that from happening. Because if I had picked up the pieces and continued on the career path I had intended, it would have been like Tanya never happened, and I couldn’t allow that. Wallowing in the past and letting it ruin my life it was the only punishment I had for my perceived crimes.

She never left a suicide note. Never blamed me for anything, nor forgave me for anything. She left no answers to my myriad questions “why?” So I answered them myself, or tried to. All those letters to her were just my way of trying to get answers that I can never have. Creating any kind of scenario more complex than the cause-and-effect finality of me telling her I didn’t care if she killed herself, and her going ahead with the deed. I was trying to be my own confessor, jury, judge, priest. . .you name it. I waged war on myself daily. And when you’re waging both sides of the battle, self against self, you can never truly win or lose. Never move on from the battlefield and just find peace.

I stayed there because I thought that was all I deserved -- a purgatory of my own making, suitable for someone who’d be as callous and unthinking as I was the day I said those words to her. Like many a prisoner, I became accustomed to the captivity. It became the norm. I sought no conscious release from it.

At least that’s what I always thought. But Norma -- that’s the therapist -- pointed out that it was no accident I went into massage therapy. I know that’s true. It was an easier path than getting my undergrad degree and then going to med school, but it would still allow me to heal people. And I figured out long ago that my desire to help others was mostly a futile stab at making up for the person I’d driven to destruction.

But what I never realized was that I was subverting that healing from myself onto them. I still kept my old wounds festering close to the surface without even realizing it. Outwardly, I appeared to move on. I came out of isolation after a few months, went to massage therapy school, and befriended Kate. She was “safe,” non-threatening, because she would never want more from me than friendship. She got me socializing more, and so did Jasper, taking me to clubs and urging me to join him onstage.

Before I knew it, I was back in a familiar groove, not that different from the one I was in before I met Tanya. I only dated women casually, never letting anyone inside. Because right there under the surface still lurked every ounce of pain and guilt I’d ever had over Tanya’s suicide. I picked at those wounds in secret every night, in the pages of that black notebook, never letting them heal. Making sure they held me tightly in that cocoon of carefully concealed self-loathing. I didn’t deserve to move on from that. I didn’t want to.

And then I met you. I’ll never forget the day I first saw you, your pale skin gleaming in the glow from my desk lamp. I felt something I hadn’t felt in so long. I didn’t know why at the time. But when I touched you, I knew that there was as much pain inside you, right beneath that perfect porcelain, as I carried under my own skin. I was enthralled. And I was terrified.

It only got worse the more I got to know you. The things you said in our first few meetings let me know just how much you and I had in common. I held you at bay because I knew that connecting with you would mean moving beyond my self-imposed prison. . .letting myself out of the cage, giving up the fight. I knew you were my empathy and my freedom and my salvation.

And this whole time, I’ve never felt like I deserved to be saved.

I know how angry everyone was that I didn’t press charges against Tanya’s father, but I also suspect you know exactly why I didn’t. He finally took my punishment out of my hands. I’ll never be able to describe what a relief it was to feel his fist slam into my face -- to have someone besides me place the blame squarely atop my shoulders and then knock it sideways. The catharsis I felt from that was the first taste of freedom I’d truly allowed myself, and the first time I began to fight back, at least in my mind, against the accusation that everything was all my fault.

But the downside, of course, was what it did to you. I hate how I made you suffer by being a coward and not confessing everything to you earlier. The second I began to let go of the guilt over Tanya, I felt it attack me over my failings with you instead. It had happened before that, too. The night I tried to goad you into hitting me, into being my punisher. The times I pushed our sexual boundaries and demanded more of you than I had any right to. They were designed, subconsciously at the time, to provoke you into telling me what an asshole I am, so that I would be justified in my self-loathing and self-blame.

But you never did that. You never let me sabotage myself that way. I know you never will. You see through me -- no, into me -- like no one ever has before. I knew all along that you would. And I knew just how badly I needed that. Needed you. Part of me was ready to accept it; to accept you and your love. The other part was determined to keep myself in that cage of my own making and make sure that I continued to suffer for my sins.

I suspect that you’ve already figured all of this out. That you’ve seen it, or at least sensed it, all along. Before I delved this deep into myself, I was sure that you were the one who needed me. I was so focused on the idea of “fixing” you -- your body, your soul -- that I didn’t recognize just how much I was getting out of the deal. That’s not such a bad thing. You finally made me selfless for once in my life. I’ve never wanted anything as much as I’ve wanted you to be healthy and happy and whole again.

But I know that you were afraid that if I didn’t look inside and see all the stuff that’s been going on there, it would come back to haunt us both. It broke my heart when you found my journal. Not because I was afraid of what you might read there, but because that old insecurity was back in your eyes -- the self-doubt I thought I’d helped you get over. I’ve never been able to understand why you don’t see the beauty in yourself that I see in you. It baffles me still. But then I realized that maybe that’s how you see me, too, so maybe I should start believing it. Believing that I’m worthy of your love. Worthy of forgiveness for past mistakes -- not just your forgiveness, but my own.

So that’s what I’m working on now. Norma says I was already well on the way to making a lot of these breakthroughs on my own, especially after what happened with Tanya’s father. Those last weeks leading up to your birthday were like a ticking time-bomb. I had given myself a deadline to tell you everything, but Donnelly literally beat me to the punch. That old adage “everything happens for a reason” seemed to hold true that day. An act of violence wrenched my cage door open, but I’m counting on you to take my hand and help lead me out of it.

I took the first step, or maybe the second, after I left Norma’s office. I went to the Admissions office at the University of Washington and picked up a course catalog. I’ve decided that I’m going to get my undergraduate degree, even if it takes me two more years of night school while I work to do it. I don’t know if I’ll go on to med school or not -- I haven’t thought that far ahead. But finally finishing what I started seven years ago seems like a good start.

As for the therapy, I’m going to see Norma every Thursday afternoon for awhile. She thinks it would be a good idea for both us to visit her together some time. I told her I’d run it by you. Maybe she can help us really let go of all the old misplaced guilt instead of just giving it lip service. Maybe only time can really make that happen, but I still think that you and I can help each other more than anyone else ever could. We already have. There was definitely a reason that you came into my life when you did. I’ll be grateful for that -- for you -- every day of my life.

I’m tearing these pages out of the new notebook to send to you, but the rest of my letters are here for you to read when you get back. This isn’t just my own journal I’m starting. I want it to be ours, to tell each other anything we might be thinking or feeling, no matter how awkward. Maybe that’s weird, wanting to share something like that with you. Diaries are supposed to be personal. But now that I’ve let you in to the darkest corners of my soul, I don’t mind the light shining on them anymore. Because with the light came warmth, and love.

Bella, your love is the best gift I’ve ever received. I want to cherish it, and return it, with everything I have. No holding back any part of me anymore. What’s mine is yours. All you have to do now is claim it.

Forever yours,

Can you believe him, mom? What guy has thoughts like this, and then sits down and wrestles them onto paper? I never knew it was possible for anyone to touch my heart the way he has mine. I literally ache for him, like part of me is missing while we’re apart. I don’t even know if it’s healthy or normal. I guess if I visit the therapist with Edward, we can find out together.

But I don’t care, really. All I know is that I love Edward with everything I have in me, and I’m hanging on to him -- to us -- until my dying breath.

This is where the difficult part comes in, because I’ve made a decision.

This is the last letter I’m writing to you.

Of course, I’ll still mutter to you whenever things are going wrong, and imagine you smiling down on me when everything’s great. But it’s time for me to stop turning to you to get me through the ups and downs of life. After all, if Edward is being brave enough to give up his crutch and count on me instead, then I need to step up and do the same.

“Need” is the wrong word. I want to. I’m ready. You’re my past and my foundation; the amazing woman who made me what I am today. I’ll always love you more than words can say, for being the best mom, and friend, a girl could ever ask for. And I’ll always wish that Fate could have written a different ending for us, so that you could have been with me decades longer.

But now it’s time for me to embrace my present and my future, and I know without question that they lie with Edward. There’s a new journal waiting for me, with tons of blank pages ready to be filled with a new story -- Edward’s and mine. I know that wherever you are, you’re excited for me. And you’re always welcome to read over my shoulder.

I won’t say good-bye . . . just au revoir. Until we see each other again.

I love you, Mom.


1 comment:

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