I came home tonight to find her sitting, in the dark, on our back porch; the same place she's been sitting since she moved in two weeks ago. From the bright kitchen, I could only see her legs, and a small fraction of her face as she inhaled drag after drag of her Marlboro Red. I dropped my purse on the counter, retrieved my own pack of Lights and headed out to chat with her before bed.
I slid the heavy glass door between us open, let my eyes adjust to the darkness she was draped in. I heard her talking before I saw the cell phone clutched in her frail hand. She murmured into the mouthpiece and I began to slide the door closed again. She lifted her soggy eyes to me and softly said goodbye to the person on the other end of the phone conversation.
"Laurie," she said, so quiet she could barely be heard. "It's really over." She leaned forward into a square of light seeping out from the kitchen. Her face crumpled and gave way to the tears she had obviously been shedding for hours. Her mocha cheeks were covered in tears, her eyes swollen from sobbing. She pursed her lips to keep from wailing, then covered her face in her hands. "It's really. Fucking. Over." I didn't really feel like she was speaking to me, more like she was telling herself things she didn't want to hear.
I rushed over to her and wrapped my arms around her. I could feel her ribs, her shoulder blades, her bare bones beneath her thin skin. She hugged me back with more strength than I thought her capable of.
"I'm so sorry," I whispered into her hair, holding onto her until she backed away first, letting her control the amount of affection she received.
"Fourteen years," her words were sodden, wet with tears. "Fourteen years and he's already moved on." Her whole body was pleading. Please tell me something to make it better.
But there was nothing I could say; there were no words I could offer that would come close to solace for her. Very rarely does a good vocabulary salve heartbreak.
Lisa moved in with Joe and me when she and her boyfriend called an end to their tumultuous fourteen year relationship. She moved into a spare bedroom, filling the closet with clothes to cover her petite frame, lining the walls with shoes to fit her tiny feet. But that was all she brought - No car, no furniture, not even a bed; only her clothing, her cell phone, and a steady stream of tears.
Lisa lived with Darren for fourteen years. They raised two children together. They shared a life, but never shared a last name. They built and sold a house together and were just beginning to build their dream home when the axe dropped.
"I don't get a penny," she told me in one of our first conversations. "Not one fucking penny. He sold our house - our house, Laurie. Our house - for Three Hundred Thousand dollars, and I get nothing. I don't even have enough to buy food. Fuck. Him." She took a drag of her Marlboro, stretched her skinny legs out on the patio, examining her red toenail polish. "Just don't ever do what I did," she said, punctuating the syllables of her sentence by flicking her cigarette over our ashtray. She pointed at me with a manicured finger. "If you're gonna live with someone, have bills in your name, keep your own checking account. Make sure you're on the deed. Don't ever let a man have complete control. Because he will always fuck you in the end." She took a defiant drag of her cigarette and looked hard at me. "Always." She stubbed out the butt in the teeming ashtray.
I tried to recall the strong Lisa I met that day when I looked at her tonight, but it was nearly impossible. She was crushed. Defeated. Broken. She had curled in on herself, her legs and arms braided in front of her torso, her forehead resting on her bony knees. Her shoulders shook from crying, and I sat beside her, waiting, just in case she felt like talking.
"What do I do now?" she whimpered. "I'm forty-three years old, and I have nothing." Her last word came out as a whisper. "Nothing," she said again, louder, to be sure I understood. "I don't have my house, I don't have my car, and I don't have my man." Her Puerto Rican accent leaked out into her speech; her face twitched the threat of more tears. She shook her head, wiped her eyes with her palms.
I had nothing to offer except more "I'm sorry"s. And they weren't enough. Not hardly. So, instead, I just listened.
"I begged him, Laurie." She was looking for her cigarettes; found one and lit it with a shaky hand. "I begged him to take me back. You don't even know..." she trailed off for a second, lost in thought. "I begged him to let me come back home, begged him to still love me. You would've been so ashamed of me," she shook her head slowly in disbelief or embarrassment, dropped her cigarette ash just shy of the full glass ashtray before her. Despite the fact that their relationship was laced with abuse and mistreatment, she desperately wants him back. "And he...said...no." She gave in to the tears bubbling to the surface. And I just sat there. There was nothing that I could do.
When you see someone that shattered, that raw, it's all you can do to not break down with them. It's terrifying to peer directly into the face of love gone wrong. It makes you want to run screaming from even the prospect of a future with someone. Because you never plan for the fallout. You only think of the highs, the benchmarks, the anniversaries, the picket fences and side-by-side rocking chairs. And seeing the bloody mess that love can leave behind reminds you that the romances you read about were, in fact, fiction.
But we've all felt that way before, if we were lucky. Devastation that complete can only come after some type of utter fulfillment. And the tidy bow is, most times, worth the unraveling. No amount of potential tears would ever stop me from diving straight into the deep end if I thought it was worth it. Even though I'm terrified of the aftermath.