It took all the strength I had just not to fall apart, I’m trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart…
“Ego is the anesthesia that deadens the pain of stupidity.”
Familiar but not the first words he thought he’d hear upon waking up dead. And having it come from his deceased grandmother. He was groggy, so he didn’t think to question that this experience negated his belief in an afterlife. About there being anything after death. Not to mention the presence of other dearly departed.
“Grandma…what? I’m dead…” He felt himself slipping into unconsciousness. Wait. How was that possible? He reacted to what felt like a back to the head whack, April-style. “Ouch,” he groaned. Were non-living beings supposed to feel pain? Or faint? Or the more manly, blackout? And he wasn’t even gonna think about the people he’d left behind – April, Harriet and Catherine – or about them losing him in so idiotic a fashion. Not that he knew the manner of his death. He just knew it was due to his stupidity. His gran’s homily made that clear. Any second now he would start bawling like a baby.
“You’re not dead. And I am the manifestation of your subconscious. In this form. Because apparently this is the only person you listen to,” the voice of his grandmother answered.
Joey really wanted to be here…But, but…she’s standing in front of him…an apparition of her. GJ.
In the past it had amused him to realize that both his kids and himself shared a grandparent acronym, his was GJ for Grandma Joey and Samuel and Harriet’s GJ was Grandpa Joe. Even the J part was so close…Joey, Joe…although derivatives of different names and not just a masculine and feminine version of one. She was Joanna, he was Joseph.
“Not true…I have…April. But…but I felt that smack. What…how? Is April here too?” his voice rose in excitement at the possibility. Only to plummet in despair at the thought that she would have to be dead too.
He was really confused. Was he in fact passed on – did he not pass go and not collect $200? No wait…that was go directly to jail, not to afterlife. Although, he supposed, if you believed in that sorta thing, then equating hell with jail was not so farfetched.
But why was GJ here telling him otherwise, that he wasn’t the Late, Great Jackson Avery? Then again she did mention that she wasn’t actually present in any corporeal form. That she was simply a reflection of his intuition. His brain hurt. To top it all off, he was immobilized and his vision was blurry and severely restricted.
“It would help if you opened your eyes fully.” The ever-pragmatic voice of his GJ instructed.
Aah. He was shackled to a chair. Explained why he couldn’t move. It was a relief to not be dead.
He strained against the restraints, but to no avail. He was strapped in tight. Upright, though. In an armchair, no less. Which looked to be in a man-cave basement room. Guessing from the foosball table (or was it a pool table?) and huge-ass stuffed male deer on the wall. Also, a really old-fashioned television cabinet that included a tiny set, was the other occupant of the room.
“So…how’s life Jackie? I heard it on the grapevine that you interrupted a wedding, got the bride to run away with you, eloped to Lake Tahoe, divorced her and then had a child – my only great grandchild, I believe – with her? Gold-digging tramp eh?” GJ decided to pass the time by giving him the third degree. “Very unbecoming of an Avery, my boy. I thought you’d be able to spot a fake ass out to trap you. But no matter. You fixed up the situation by getting rid of her. I hope you have an airtight pre-nup and custody arrangement.”
“What?! No! Now’s really not the time…or place, Grandma J? I need to get out of these straps,” he replied as he strained against them, looking for any room to maneuver. “And April’s not like that at all.”
“April, hmm? Sounds fake. Is she a person or a month? She must be some kind of femme fatale. I mean look at where you are, the situation you find yourself in? She probably played the damsel in distress and you fell for it, right? Always rescuing the wounded birds, even when you were little.”
He somehow managed to roll his eyes. “That’s not April at all, Grandma. She rescues me. She validates me. I’m not here because of her.” His softly voiced words were almost inaudible towards the end. “Wait…I know what you’re doing? You’re pulling that reverse psychology crap on me! I know you too, remember?”
“No-one’s good enough for my grandbaby!” she transitioned without interruption. Then reverted to the topic of her ex-granddaughter-in-law once again. “Well at least you divorced her ass,” she overrode his observations. “What did she do to you, my darling boy? Did you catch her cheating? Was she after your money…wait, did she steal from you? Run away with your best friend? Refuse your conjugal rights – did she not satisfy you, huh?”
“I’m not discussing my sex life with you GJ! Inappropriate as hell,” he mumbled the last to himself. Evidenced by Montana and his inability to have that conversation with her after, but sex with April was mind-blowing. It wasn’t a fact he wished to share with his grandmother though. Alive or dead. His grandmother, not April. He definitely was no Necrophiliac. Nor was he someone with a predilection towards blood relatives. He did not partake in anything even remotely in the vicinity of incest.
“Did you do a DNA test? Is that child even yours?”
“I don’t…didn’t…need to do any tests. Harriet is mine. April has only ever been mine,” he testily responded.
“Why did you divorce her then? In fact why did you interrupt her wedding and why did you then marry her yourself? Did she try to trap you with a pregnancy?” And then, totally out of the blue, “You know you could’ve had my Limoges cake topper, if you hadn’t eloped?”
He scoffed at the Limoges. “I know…I’m sure it’s lovely.” He’d already heard this from his mother.
“But why are you bringing up these other nonsensical scenarios?! That is not April. At all. In fact Grandpa loves her. She won him over with her direct practicality. And her efficiency. And the fact that she wasn’t a fawning sycophant easily impressed by the great Harper Avery.”
“Hmm, looks like she snowed your grandfather too. Must be getting soft in his old age.”
“Now that’s where you’re wrong. He’s still tough as nails. I donno how April…well no that’s not right. I do know. She utterly charmed him by being herself.”
“Well he is a man. You all think with the little head between your legs.”
“Grandma! Really!” If he could move any part of his hands, his reddened face would be hiding behind them.
“Is she one of those blonde bimbos whose intelligence resides in their boobs?”
“What is with you GJ?! Since when do you talk like this? Like…”
“No, like me. But yeah, a bit like her too. Honest and unfiltered April.”
“You do know that I am a manifestation of your own subconscious, right? I believe I mentioned that when you first conjured me up.”
“She left me, okay?! She didn’t care that I lost a child too.”
“She deserted you after you told her that you needed her? Now that’s a stone-cold bitch.”
“No…I was being strong for her. I didn’t tell her that. But she should’ve known. And yet she went to Jordan. Twice.”
“Why’d you take her back if she left you? And so callously, to run away again when you gave her an ultimatum…right?”
“Okay, I see what you did there. And you’re right Gran, she didn’t desert me. She went there to help and she needed to heal. I know carrying a baby and then watching him die, making that decision to spare him pain, I know that was hard for her. And that it went against her beliefs too. I couldn’t help her. So I understood and I let her go. But the second time…why did she still need more time without me? She did ask me to go with, but I had commitments that I just couldn’t up and leave…”
“Oh my baby, what you’ve been through! And did she even bother to apologize for not reading your mind?”
“Really, Gran?! I’m spilling my heart to you here.”
“I’m sorry, love. But you do realize that this is you rationalizing the divorce to yourself…don’t you?”
“Yeah.” He hesitated for a long moment before jumping back into the convo. “And she did apologize. Before and when we went for counselling. But I don’t think she meant it. She was just trying to justify her leaving. And I think our therapist agreed that she wasn’t taking responsibility. So I just put a stop to it. All of it. Therapy and the marriage.”
“Right. You showed her. How dare she not need you? And not know that you needed her? And resent her for both. And well for not snapping out of her grief, right? How rude was that?”
“I mean why didn’t she prioritize you over herself? You certainly put her first, right? Above the hospital and patients…”
“GJ,” he heaved a huge sigh. “I do get it. I made mistakes too.”
“The divorce being the biggest one, true?” She gave him more food for more thought.
She wasn’t incorrect in her summation. He was the king of sitting like a mute ass when it mattered.
“What is really bothering you about the April situation…and Maggie?”
“Wait…how do you…?” Okay, he admitted to being a bit slow, but did she have to arch her eyebrow with quite that ‘duh’ mannerism? “Right, so you know everything that’s in my head. Why don’t you tell me why April would think that I have anything but brotherly feelings for my step-sister – you do know that mom is remarried, right? To Maggie’s bio dad – and have casual sex with her? With April, I mean. When we broke up before, I moved on to Stephanie only after we were over. And it wasn’t serious with her. Stephanie, I mean.”
“Hmm, so you started having casual sex with Stephanie after you broke off casual sex with April?”
“No. April meant something. Stephanie was casual.”
Somehow this conversation was no longer bizarre.
Perhaps it was because it was with Joey, who’d been even closer to him than Catherine ever was and it was second nature to confide in her once again. He’d had that sort of relationship with someone else too…April. When she was his friend and confidant. But since this was about her…and since they’d passed that stage a long time ago…
Also, as had been pointed out to him multiple times, this was basically him working out the situation for himself. Joey was a figment of his unconscious mind.
“When you stood up at April’s wedding, declaring your feelings,” she literally rolled her eyes at him, “you were still sleeping with Stephanie?”
“Ummh…yeah…” It was hard to be embarrassed without the use of his hands. He would be moving his collar and rubbing the back of his neck otherwise. Giving GJ a view of his bowed head.
“So did April believe you when you told her you loved her?”
“Of course she did. She’d told me the same before. Twice. But I…”
“…you rejected her. I can see why she’s not jumping with joy at the thought of intimacy with you.”
“No, I didn’t believe her. Or rather I didn’t think she knew what she wanted,” he replied to her interruption. “Wait, what…what do you mean GJ? Do you think she thinks that I think about Maggie as another Stephanie?”
“No…I think that she thinks that you think that she’s another Stephanie to you.”
“I don’t understand…”
“Basically you were having meaningless sex with one someone until feelings hit – or until you manned up and admitted to those feelings – for someone else. She’s afraid that you had sex with her while patiently waiting or suppressing your feelings for the other woman who’s not her. It’s your pattern.”
She would not give him an inch, the benefit of the doubt or a break.
“No. That can’t be it. No.”
“I’m disappointed that you use Robert’s rejection as a crutch, an excuse to throw away love. I always thought that telling you the story about John and me would influence you to find true love. Maybe you did. But seems the one lesson I forgot to impart was keeping that love. What I wouldn’t have given to have more time with John? And yet you throw away love so casually, so easily.”
Whoa. Now this felt really real. How was it that he was able to channel his grandmother so accurately? Coz he knew, yes, that the purpose behind her sharing her love story had always been to encourage him to never settle for anything less than the equivalent of what she’d shared, for a short while, with her John.
“You are the generation of casual replacement. There’s that word again.” He heard the sad resignation in her voice. “Fast food, convenient sex, inability to commit, drive-through divorce. Fungible nomenclature. And you’ve been blessed with so much. Is that why it’s so easy for you to simply discard and replace? Throwing away Limoges for Tupperware...?”
“I did your grandfather a great disservice, though. Not in marrying him or not divorcing him. I mean, I did learn to love him but I somehow always made him know that he was my second choice. His bitterness is all because of me.”
Grandma Joey was really getting philosophical. Wait, but these were his thoughts right? Sooo confusing. Was this an infiltration of his subconscious – an Inception? So who was Leonardo DiCaprio’d here? Was it him? Or was he his own grandmother, who in turn was Leo? His mind was boggled.
“Are we bound to see our mistakes repeated, you think? Regret is not something I wanted for you, especially when you have the choice and the opportunity to be with the one you love.”
He had no words. And this final monologue of hers needed to be heard by him. This original style self-introspection.
“Be careful what you wish for…”