Beginnings and Ends
Beginnings and Ends: They both agree that it has to stop. Although neither could’ve ever imagined it before, they’re here now, him married, and her in a relationship, looking at each other across the tiny kitchen, trying hard to control themselves, as if discipline and distance were somehow the same things.
“This is not who we are,” he says.
“It’s not really an affair though, is it?” she asks.
She’s also right.
It’s two years later, and their friends still use “perfect couple” and “Christopher and Amy” interchangeably. There were no rings. The obvious extra weight of the metal would’ve been a distraction to the easy flow of their lives. Their enduring friendship and a child sealed the deal long ago; they wear their connection like matching tattoos.
“You came all this way.” Amy takes a step backward, even though there’s really nowhere to go in the small studio apartment. “But I don’t want you to do something that you’re not comfortable with.” Her heart stops when she realizes she’s just given him an exit.
All of the “right” things are being said, but she truly believes that his leaving might kill her. She dares to imagine him walking out, and her knees begin to buckle. When Amy’s face pales and fear fills her eyes, Christopher leans her way, instinctively drawn to where he’s needed. The energy is intentional, and she backs up some more. It’s pointless. She’s pushing against the laundry room door, unable to move. He might as well have his body pinned to hers. The heat is unbearable and she struggles to breathe.
How did they get here?
The loss of their son was sudden, unthinkable. It gnawed away at their once impenetrable relationship, and they finished the job by destroying themselves. He drank, and she withdrew into a numb, silent shell. The couple that had once shared an entire life as the best of friends split up long before the words were ever uttered and a decision was made. Those who looked on prayed for a miracle and wept openly when none came. If they couldn’t make it, what hope did anyone else have?
They were at a party when they realized their mistake. Laura, a mutual friend, had urged Amy to come. When she saw Christopher standing by the bar, Amy knew that her invitation was no accident. It was desperate hopefulness from friends who wanted to reunite them in the same way that fans will try to resurrect a canceled TV show.
He spotted her, and the edges of her reality grew fuzzy. Their gazes locked while the crowd moved in slow motion around them.
Suddenly he shouted, “Amy!” and waved. Everyone sped back up and the truth was staring her in the face, like a chaperone who had caught them making out behind the bleachers.
She quickly averted her eyes, startled when her date walked up, took her by the hand, and led her away to meet his friend. Christopher watched them leave and ordered a refill.
That day she had gone to the doctor, hopeful that she would come home with good news and that their situation might turn around. Unfortunately, she returned needing to cry with her best friend and longing for words of encouragement that might keep her going.
And when, for a brief moment, she allowed herself to think that perhaps even the news that she wasn’t pregnant would somehow help them bond again, she unlocked the door expecting that the man she fell in love with was ready to reappear. Instead, she walked in to find the house being trashed by a very drunken Christopher, violently punching the walls and destroying furniture.
A voice, the clear one that usually speaks to us in the form of a nudge or an intuition, stated clearly and firmly, “I don’t want this.” There was no mistaking the finality, and when she wordlessly turned around and walked out to her car, she was powered by something bigger and better than insignificant ego. As she drove away, Amy’s all-knowing self melted back into the recesses, and doubt crept in, but she stayed strong, knowing that she could not continue on in that environment with the stranger Christopher had become.
She returned early the next morning, only to collect her clothes, and found him still drunk on the bedroom floor. He was lying in a pool of urine and vomit, randomly drifting in and out of consciousness. The sound of her keys rattling roused him. He slurred as he spoke. “Are you pregnant?”
Amy wanted to go to him, to help him up and tell him she understood why he was so sad all of the time. She started to regret leaving. “Not now. We can talk when you’re sobered up and feeling better.”
“No.” he groaned, lifting his head for a moment before turning pale and heaving. He closed his eyes and rested on the wood once more. “I have a right to know! You’re not, are you? I knew it! There’s something wrong with you! You either push out defective kids or none at all!”
Every word stabbed her heart like a tiny blade, viciously slashing and hacking away at whatever her own self-loathing hadn’t already destroyed. There was no reason to fight about it. He was right, but that didn’t mean she wanted to hear it anymore. When she grabbed an armful of clothes from the closet with the hangers still attached, he shouted, “Wait Ame! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it!”, but she couldn’t hear him over her own sobbing as she stumbled down the front steps for the last time.
The memories were still fresh, so she tried to avoid him at the party, but when he got her alone outside in the driveway, her heart crumbled. To most, Christopher was a large man, with a strong jawline and arms that would crush any wrongdoer, but to Amy, he was a sensitive teddy bear, willing to give her whatever she wanted, including his soul.
Pain masked his sweet face. His eyes pleaded with her: Dump your date. Hug me, kiss me…even slap me. He craved the emotion that once belongs to him.
He had gotten married a week after she left. How dare he look at her that way, knowing what it would do to her heart? Although part of her wanted to hug Christopher and tell him that the other guy was a mediocre stand-in, the anger wouldn’t let her.
“How have you been?” he asked as if they both hadn’t spent the last six months doing crazy things in order to stay sane.
She couldn’t bring herself to be snarky with him. He was raw emotion, so instead of saying, “Obviously not as good as you since I’m not married”, she answered flatly, “Fine.”
He breathed deeply, trying to push past the alcohol and fear. “I’ve been wanting–“, but he stopped when Peter The Date appeared. They stepped apart quickly, their faces flushed. Peter knew he was intruding, but he wasn’t about to lose Amy. He was already in love with her. He took her hand as if it belonged to him and waited politely for an introduction.
She didn’t pull away. Christopher was married. The sight of the gold band on his finger kept her voice steady and firm as she spoke.
“Peter, this is Christopher. ”
There was an uncomfortable silence as the two men sized each other up. Neither noticed that they could be mistaken for brothers.
Amy continued, breaking the tension. “He’s the one I told you I had the baby with. The one — ” she stuttered a bit, but finally said it out loud, “–who died.”
It was impossible to utter the words without looking at Christopher. She had to know if he felt anything.
A few people had wandered outside to smoke. They were immediately drawn to the scene a few feet from where they stood, their unlit cigarettes dangling from their fingers. Shared grief and unspoken regrets rippled out and grabbed hold of their audience. Instinctually, everyone there wished for a happy ending, even Peter, before he caught himself and quickly released Amy’s hand.
With that, the spell was broken. The bystanders averted their eyes, lit up, and Amy stepped back into Peter’s space. He put his arm around her, relieved that she had returned to him from the moment. He convinced himself that she had just gotten caught up in a shared experience.
Christopher struggled to stand. She had told a total stranger about their son?
The memory of his little boy’s death threatened to close his throat. He swallowed hard as if that would reopen his airway. If there was that level of intimacy between them, was Peter really a stranger? They had to be close if Amy spoke to him freely about the biggest tragedy of their lives. The thought of another man’s hands on his Amy… he had no right…but… he had to get away from them before he hit something.
Christopher mumbled, “It was nice meeting you”, and stumbled back inside where the loud music would keep him from being able to think too much. A double martini was screaming at him to come sit next to it.
Back in her apartment, he moves closer.
“I want to be here….with you. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Tears fill Christopher’s eyes. As if nudged by a divine finger, Amy moves in time to catch him before he crumples to the floor. She holds his head and rocks him, gently whispering soothing words of genuine love, dug up from a place where her true self lives, untainted by expectation.
“You know I haven’t been drinking anymore. But now that everything is clear, I can’t believe what a mess I’ve made.” He chokes out the words between sobs that throw both of them off balance.
His sorrow transports them back to the tiny coffin in the big room. There were many mourners for such a small boy, but Amy and Christopher never noticed. Kyle’s devastated mom and dad could only look at his face and grieve all of the missed opportunities for happiness. No birthday parties, no milestones, and worst of all, there’d be none of those hugs that a parent and child share during moments when the love becomes so overwhelming, there’s nothing else to do but grab each other and hold on while thanking God for the moment.
Christopher had gripped the side of the small box and squeezed his eyes shut. He tried to imagine Kyle waking up and reaching for him. His son lay motionless when he dared to peek, and he suddenly felt himself going down. Amy reached out and eased him gently to the floor, where they sat together, wailing and thrashing, as the funeral director silently ushered everyone from the room.
Four days after they buried Kyle, Christopher stayed out all night and came back the next morning, as drunk as if his partying had just begun. Amy stared at the ducks dangling over the empty crib and ignored him. When Christopher lay down on the bathroom floor naked and whimpering, she got up from the rocker and turned the knob till the mobile lit up and began playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” again. She could no longer tolerate the sound of his crying…or worse, the silence.
In her apartment though, she listens to his pain with shared understanding. She strokes his head and smooths his hair. To everyone else, Chris is a blond; only Amy and his wife know that his hair is really light brown, just like Kyle’s was. He dyes it to soften his hard look.
After a few moments, Christopher calms himself, and Amy says, “One sec. Don’t move. I’ll be right back.” She gets up reluctantly, taking her time to loosen her embrace and move away from him, in order to get a tissue.
She cleans up his face, and for a moment, she’s a mother again, lost in the green eyes that both of her boys share. Christopher looks up at her, but she sees father and son, amazed that only they have the power to unlock more than mere love in her heart. Amy would follow Christopher through any hell that life hurled at them, just to show him that she’d never leave his side.
She has no words. The “right” answer is being pushed down by the thought that they were put together for a reason. Her brown eyes plead back, just as hard.
When he called her three months ago, she didn’t know what to think. He asked her to come to see the new shop, and she couldn’t help but ask why.
“Please just come. I’ll explain when you get here.”
“I don’t think your wife will appreciate me showing up.” Amy still wouldn’t use her name. They weren’t friends.
“It’ll be fine. Just trust me.”
A tight, hot feeling expanded through her chest and into her face. “Why should I Chris? What reason do I have to trust you? I don’t want to be uncomfortable and trapped somewhere with your wife…besides, I’m with Peter. We live completely different lives now.”
Christopher kept the hurt out of his voice. His goal was clear. “I need you to see that…Ame, I’m separated. She won’t be there. It’ll be fine. Please just humor me. Come look at the shop. You’re the one who said I could do it, even when I didn’t believe it myself. Please.”
She hesitatingly agreed and arrived an hour later. Besides the fifteen shiny motorcycles that lined the left side of the showroom, Amy and Christopher were alone. To the right, waiting next to a garage door that would open for test drives, was an electric blue bike with a big red bow around the handlebars. Across the body, Christopher had painted, “A&K Everlasting Love” in stark white letters. The ornate loops were joined at each end, as if infinite.
Amy could only gasp and run to the motorcycle, kneeling next to it, and tracing the letters the way she would if her dead baby were there, alive and accessible for her to caress. Her tears dropped to the floor around her knees until Christopher picked her up and held her in his arms, finally hugging her in the way she had needed him to so many times before.
Hopelessness is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a feeling that forces out all resistance, and with that release, the inner being can step in and redirect the soul back to its natural path. Amy and Christopher look at each other helplessly on the floor of her place, unable to make a decision.
As if someone else has entered his body, Christopher leans in and kisses her. She reciprocates without hesitation and as soon as their lips meet, the atmosphere changes…in the apartment, in the city…everywhere. All is finally right, and the Earth spins smoothly on its axis once more. It’s like a numb limb come back to life.
“This has to be the last time”, he whispers, although his heart pounds out the Morse Code for “I will belong to you forever”. His wife is pressuring him to reconcile, citing “vows made before God” as the reason for why they should.
Amy nods, knowing that she’s probably lying. She’d give him anything he asked for, eternally. She’s already been untrue to Peter, quickly calling him and claiming that she’d be gone for a few days at a conference when Christopher suddenly appeared at her door.
They stand, and he carries her to the tiny twin bed in her half-bedroom. The set up is for only one person; he needs to turn sideways to fit through the door. He smiles. There isn’t enough space here for a stranger.
He lays her gently on the bed, then crushes his mouth against hers, kissing her hungrily. Although they were together just a week ago, the finality of this encounter creates an urgency usually reserved for those coming together after a long period of absence. His hands tangle in her long hair, his pelvis grinds hers, pressing possessively and pleadingly. When she opens his belt, he comes to, pulling back and standing over her as she lies there with expectant eyes. Their breathing is heavy and loud when he speaks, “Hold on. Not like this.”
The buckle hangs loosely from his belt strap and jingles in the silence. Her body turns cold and her stomach drops. He’s not going to stay. He’s going back to his wife.
“I need you so bad. But…” He pauses, trying to find the right words. “But Ame, at this moment I love you so much more than I ever did. I don’t want to rush it. I want every minute to last much longer, if that makes sense.” He returns to the bed, taking her face gently in his hands. “What I mean is, I know this has to end, but I want to draw it out instead of racing through it like a horny beast. Ya know what I mean?”
Her eyes release the fear and tension. Although tears spill down her face, she smiles and nods. Christopher can’t breathe. Her smile is Kyle’s…the life that they created and lost together. How could he have ever left her to deal with such a profound loss alone?
This time his kisses are gentle but slow and deep. They make love before their clothes come off; the real intimacy is found in their touch and declarations of devotion. It comes from the well-hidden part of their souls where they meet often in dreams that they forget in the light of day. To others that don’t know this connection, it’s spectacular, but to Amy and Christopher, it’s exactly how it is supposed to be.
When they’re done, Christopher kisses her forehead and says, “I’m always so tired after being with you. You bring out the animal in me…the puppy dog.” He laughs and adds, “Ame, I love you so much. I want things to be different.”
He drifts off then, the effort of uttering those sentences doing him in, but his arm stays around her, tight and possessive. Their bodies fit together so perfectly, that even if they had been on a king-sized mattress, with room to spread out, they would’ve clung to each other, never feeling close enough.
Amy sighs and takes a mental snapshot, wishing that the morning would never come. She stays awake, studying every line and nuance in his face and hands. She traces the ridge of his nose, noting that although Kyle inherited her “tiny button” that Christopher loved to playfully poke, she’s grateful that Chris passed on his full, soft lips to their son. With each breath he takes, she counts off the seconds until it’s over.
Amy begins to doze off, but her stomach lurches painfully and she wakes herself. She will have to let him go soon, and losing a moment with him is not an option. Crying is impossible because in his presence, she feels nothing but happiness. The tears will flow tomorrow, probably after work, when she returns to the empty apartment with nothing to do but smell him on her pillow and accept that their final hours together are just a memory.
She already agreed to open the florist shop that morning. If she had known that Christopher was coming, she might have scheduled herself for the late shift, or not at all, if she thought she could convince him to spend the day with her.
Too soon the time comes for her to shower and dress. When she tries to move a little, Christopher groans and holds her tighter, “Ame. Don’t leave me. Please. I can’t.” He mumbles this through thick sleep, so she shushes him, rubs his face gently, and says, “I’m just going to shower. You rest. I’ll be back.”
She lathers robotically, her mind preoccupied with figuring out how to keep him. Although she could cry and beg him to come back to her, Amy knows that unless he feels the decision is his own, it wouldn’t be right. It’s clear that he’s conflicted, and she wants all of him, forever. It’s time to let him go and let their journeys take them far apart, or wind back toward each other. She grows anxious, almost inviting a panic attack, but ignores it and quickly towels off and dresses.
She returns to him with her extra key. She puts it on the nightstand, then sits on the edge of the bed so she can kiss his lips lightly and whisper, “Don’t forget to lock up when you leave. Just drop the key to me at the store on your way home.” Her stomach knots when she says the word home and some of her earlier resolve weakens. It’s not right that he’s leaving her…she knows that she’s home.
She wants to tell him to keep the key, that they can start over, but he’s married. This is already so hard, why should she humiliate herself as well?
Amy starts to stand, but Christopher is suddenly awake and pulls her back down hard. With his other hand, he cradles the back of her head and brings her face to his. This kiss is hard and passionate, but it doesn’t invite sex, it claims a soul mate.
Christopher releases her after a minute and looks at her in a way that implies that they are connected by meaningful stares such as this one.
When he finally says something, it’s understood that he speaks for them both. “I love you so much. I don’t want to leave you now. I feel so lost when I think about how this is it.”
Amy answers, “It’s just the way it has to be. No matter what, I hope you know that my life was not complete before you. As corny as it sounds, you’ve always been my missing puzzle piece. But I get it, and I’ll back off. ”
One more kiss, and then she forces herself out the door. She’s no longer necessary to the healing process. He knows what his future holds if he stays with Amy; now he has to trust it.
Christopher tries to close his eyes again, but sleep doesn’t come. He’s suddenly uncomfortable in his own skin. Thinking a shower might help, he gets out of bed and turns on the hot water. Amy has left a toothbrush and towels on the rack for him. He smiles and his heart aches for her.
This is the hardest thing that he’s ever had to do. He finds himself craving another night with either her or Chivas Regal Gold Whiskey; his drink of choice to forget the things that really hurt. As he brushes his teeth, he focuses on how much better the peppermint flavor tastes than the bitter burn of the alcohol. He will step out of the bathroom feeling clean, rather than the achy, dirty feeling that comes after a bout of overdrinking and self pity.
When he puts on fresh clothes from the duffel bag he had haphazardly packed the minute he knew he had to hold Amy, he feels better about overcoming the craving; it’s gone, although his longing for his one true addiction is not.
Christopher calls her to let her know that he’s on his way, but regrets not surprising her with a kiss, a ring, and a promise of forever. He’s so close—how hard is it to kneel and ask a question? The drive to the florist is too fast and before he knows it, he can see her, outside sweeping and waiting for him to return her key or to beg her for a second chance.
He pulls over and asks for one more kiss, knowing that she won’t deny him, but feeling guilty that it’s too much to expect. He is torturing her, but he can’t help himself.
She steps back from his lips and snaps another brain pic. The sun catches on the hood of his evergreen Jaguar, mocking her strong desire to drive east with him, in the direction of the beaches. He looks like a model in a magazine, ready to speed off toward a glamorous life that will never include Amy. Christopher can’t seem to move his foot to the gas although the silence is becoming awkward. Inside the flower shop, the staff gathers by the window, eager to witness the perfect movie ending. Amy’s back is to them, and Christopher can’t see anything but his beloved, struggling to be strong for both of them. Her chin quivers, so he forces himself to leave.
Their pain is so palpable that the staff groans when Amy breaks the gaze and Christopher accelerates away from their store. They jump back to avoid being spotted when she turns toward them with tears in her eyes. Her knees buckle and she steadies herself with the broom, almost using it as a cane, until her assistant dashes outside to hold her up and help her into the office.
Christopher’s drive is normally thirty minutes long, but he stays in the right lane on the parkway and drives slowly, taking one of the exits so he can pull over to get something to eat.
He thinks about the separation. He feels pressure to reunite, but out of obligation, not passion. His heart will always be with Amy and their dead son. When he thinks of Kyle, his chest tightens and pains streak down both of his arms. “Just breathe”, he tells himself.
His marriage doesn’t feel right. Without the alcohol haze creating the feeling of euphoria that used to get him through the day and night, he’s forced to face the truth. He’s made promises that he has not honored.
When he joins the line of customers waiting to order bagels, his discomfort builds, but he makes a decision. It’s not fair to leave either of these women hanging. They are both good and kind, and deserve more than he has offered either of them.
He takes his food to go and walks to the stationary store next door to buy something to write on. He sits in the car and gets it all down on paper. Sealing the envelope finalizes it…now it’s figuratively written in stone.
With new resolve, he drives like everyone else on the parkway—fast and pushy. The windows are open, his way of creating new beginnings— swapping stale air for fresh. Christopher realizes that although he’s been separated, he still felt like he was sneaking around and doing the wrong thing. It’s time to start again, and this time, to live an honest life.
When the first sharp pain hits his chest, it knocks the wind out of him, and the car swerves. He hears horns going off, but they are very much in the background and muffled. His arms go numb and he lets go of the wheel as his heart explodes and intense pain consumes him, but only for a brief moment before his soul jumps ship. The jag heads for the median, as other drivers do their best to avoid his vehicle. He’s dead before the car stops rolling, brought to an abrupt halt by the guard rail.
Kyle has been waiting, and he runs with arms outstretched, yelling, “Daddy!” Christopher is overcome by the sight. His boy is healthy and handsome, a perfect combination of himself and Amy, the toddler Christopher was not able to meet till now. He’s filled with joy and starts moving toward Kyle until he suddenly remembers that he forgot something. He stops and looks behind him.
Amy has left work early and is curled up in bed, heaving with sorrow. Has she heard already?
The letter he wrote earlier flies out the open back window and drifts over the heads of the onlookers, innocents that are purposefully spared as the Jag zigzagged out of control.
Christopher is not sure if these two events are happening at the same time, have already happened, or will happen soon. The one thing he knows for certain is that the words he composed so carefully now belong to the Universe:
My sweet Amy,
It’s you. It’s always been you. By the time you read this, I will be at your side, and I will never leave it again.
Love, your Christopher, Forever and Always