I had probably ruined everything with that stupid comment I made about leaving together. I didn’t regret it though; I meant it. I wanted to get out of this living hell. It was like everywhere I turned, I was stuck. I couldn’t get out. But Rose was my way out. My comfort. She was the way that things seemed better.
But there was something about Rose, something like she was hard to hold onto. There would be moments when I thought she was slipping away, with me desperately trying to hold onto her.
I had a feeling I knew what it would come to – how it would end. I wanted her, and I wanted her permanently, but that wasn’t how it was going to go. Just like this place was to her, I was impermanent. A moving stage in her life. Wherever she went after summer, that was where she really felt at home. She didn’t feel at home here. Or with me.
I slammed my fist into the pillow. Why couldn’t it last? Maybe it would. I had to hold on to that hope. I couldn’t let her slip away, even it was like trying to catch smoke.
I knew what she wanted to know too, so maybe it wasn’t all her fault, I was keeping my life I had to wake up to every day, away from her. I just didn’t feel like it was right – telling her.
I knew that I was lucky to have someone that would listen, someone unattached from the problem. Most of the people I would consider telling would involve themselves too much, or they would think I was in danger, or their opinion would change of my mom. I couldn’t do that to her. I wasn’t in danger – this was my life that I had been living for nearly 10 years. I knew that I would be ok. It was her that I should have let others worry about. But even then, what good would it do? I couldn’t—nor could anybody – do anything about it. I hated it. It seemed so permanent. I couldn’t control the problem like I wished I could. It was something that was completely separate from me, and my decisions. It didn’t matter how I acted what I did.
When I was little, I tried everything. I had stupid superstitions. I held my breath as I passed a liquor store, or even if I saw an advertisement for it. Then I would also try to never say, “I love you” when she was drunk--- hoping maybe she would get the idea. But that didn’t work, because the words would tumble out. It was hopeless, because when I saw her wrecking herself. I felt sympathy. I cried, and comforted her. But the candles I blew out at my birthday wishing for her to stop drinking never worked, and it is still what I wish for. It is the only wish I have. And I know its never going to come true.
I just know I need to get Cassie out. I know that she cannot stay with her alone under any circumstance. I can’t leave her to fend for herself. I could never do that. But there are times when I think about freedom. I think about the endless possibilities. I would never go through with them -- that would be terrible. But it isn’t terrible to think, I guess.
My hand is cupped around her cheek. It has been almost a week since our “proper date” as Rose refers to it as. It seems as if I am more dependent on her than ever, and with August just a few days away, it seems as if I should try to let go.
I don’t let her see the pain in my face as I think about loosing her, but I just can’t let her go. I can’t let her become a distant memory, and I will fight to make sure that I don’t have to let go sooner.
“When do you leave?” I ask, despite everything that my gut says about not bringing it up.
She sighs, and her eyes flicker to the ground. I can tell I have upset her. I can tell that I have concerned her. Maybe she doesn’t want to let go either.
“September first,” she says, standing up from our position on the porch and sweeping some grass of her legs.
I stand up as well.
She slips her hand into mine, but still tries not to look into my eyes. I feel the pang of guilt as I got myself wrapped up in something much bigger than I thought.
“I can’t do this, Henry” She whispered. Her eyes got watery, and a wave of regret rippled across her face, creasing her forehead.
“What? What do you mean?” I asked, trying to keep down a choking feeling in my throat. I don’t cry about my mother forcing me into being the adult, and I won’t cry about a girl either.
“I can’t pretend like this isn’t going to end,”
“I know its going to end,” I forced myself to say, “I know that something like this can’t last. I don’t know that much about you, Rose. I don’t even know where you go in the fall… I mean I know it’s a school, but not anything about it!”
Her bottom lip trembled. “Its name is…”
She trailed off. Her face became pale.
I pulled her closer to me, and she rested her head on my shoulder. I kissed her forehead.
“I am so sorry Rose, I didn’t mean to say something that would upset you,”
“Couldn’t we make it last? Isn’t there some sort of way?”
Hearing her say that, hearing the desperation in her voice made me tremble. She wanted it to last too. She thought it could last. I didn’t, though. I didn’t think it would, but I would try, because her being in my arms felt right. It felt as though she would make the problems end, even though she couldn’t.
“Yes,” I whispered into her dark auburn hair, “Yes.”
It felt as if her body and mine had melted into each other. Neither of us had the strength to move, to pull apart. I led her by her hand into the house. Cassie and mum were out, and suddenly I didn’t know how far this was going to go. But I just relaxed as our lips met, again and again, barely giving us time to breathe.
It felt as if the more we were together, the more we needed each other. I didn’t know that I would be able to let go of her, or if she would be able to let go of me. But eventually, we broke apart, before things got to intense, before we let things go too far. Because in the end, it was better that way.
I kissed Rose’s nose as she cuddled into my arm further. She closed her eyes and sighed.
It was there when I started to tell her.
“Rose, I want you to know something about me…about my family”
“Yeah?” She said, her eyelashes flickering as she looked up at my face.
“I think you know. I think you could probably figure it out, you’ve seen enough of it. I just want to get it out. I want to stop hiding it, stop pretending like it isn’t there. Because it sucks. It sucks living in constant fear that she is going to screw up…”
“Slow down, what?” She asked. Her face pulled together in confusion.
“My mom…she’s an alcoholic,”
My words hung in the air, waiting for someone to grab them, to respond to them. They were oppressive. They weighed it down, making it hard to breathe. I felt like I was choking. I hadn’t ever said those words before. There was no one to say them too. And now Rose sat here, letting them hang above us.
“Oh, Henry…” she said. I knew this would happen. She didn’t know how to respond? How could she help me if I couldn’t even help myself? I was angry, but not at Rose. I was angry with myself. At my mom, for putting this on me. At my dad for leaving. For making her the way that she is. What if he hadn’t left? Would she be the same? Or would we all sit together, laughing in the kitchen. Would my dad hug my mom’s waist as she was cooking dinner, and make her laugh? Would we sit together as a family? Would we have family jokes? I thought about it way too much. And I needed to let it go.
“Don’t.” I said, looking away, “I am so sorry Rose, I shouldn’t have said anything. “
“Henry, I just don’t know what to say in response, but I am glad that you told me. I just don’t have…erm…experience in this problem. But I am glad you told me. Really. I know what you are dealing with now. I know that you have a lot of things that you have to deal with. I am glad that I know.”
I winced. I couldn’t really believe her in that she actually was glad she knew. I felt maybe as if she wished that we had kept things “complicated.” I don’t know why I let the words slip. I felt as if she deserved to know that I wasn’t hiding something else from her. But she didn’t deserve this. She didn’t have to be expected to deal with my pain.
I wanted more than anything just to let her pretend like I hadn’t told her.
“You can pretend, I mean, like you don’t know.”
“Why, Henry? I know this is hard for you to deal with, but I want to know why you are always taking care of Cassie. Why it is always up to you. I want to help you. I know you don’t think I can, but I want to be here for you. Have you told anyone about this before?”
“No,” I said.
“Because it is my problem! I am the one who has to deal with it, and by telling someone else it isn’t going to help! It is just going to get me sympathy. I don’t want that! Nothing is going to help, Rose! I can’t always look out for her, and when I stop, what’s going to happen? She is going to hurt herself or someone else! I shouldn’t have told you.”
“Henry…Don’t be this way. Don’t let her problems control your life. You have the right to live how you want. It’s not your problem, it’s hers!”
“I might have the right, but think about what she would do to herself if I left. Think about what she would do to Cassie, if I left. I am only 17 Rose. I can’t leave her. I have to stay with her. And Cassie has to stay with her for what, 11 more years? So until Cassie can get herself out of there, I will stay. I will protect Cassie. It is my job.”
“Henry, I am just trying…”
“To help? You can’t, Rose. Nobody can help me.” My voice raised, but it was quivering now. I can’t believe I was yelling at her.
The pain on her face was unavoidable. I hated myself for creating that for her.
She got up, straightened out her shirt and put her purse over her shoulder. She walked out. I couldn’t blame her. I would have walked out too.
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