It started with an eight ball, not of cocaine, but the plastic toy you ask a question, shake, and turn over to see the answer. We were checking out at Primo’s Deli when B grabbed it from the counter and handed it to me, the tips of his fingers bridging mine. Memory paints the December evening in a soft hue, some seventies love song playing, the man behind the counter waiting for us to pay as we each took a turn silently to see the future, our ten year age difference bricked between us.
An hour later we were trudging through the aisles of K-mart for no reason when B wanted to know what I had asked the eight ball. I stopped at an end cap in the toy section. “You never ever tell your question,” I said as I picked up a pink hula hoop to demonstrate my childhood talent and redirect the conversation.
“Jen, it’s not a fucking dandelion. What did you ask?” I grabbed two more hula hoops and ignored him as I started to sweat. He grabbed a fourth and added it to my waist, then a fifth. The five of them sounded like a parade of maracas for a few seconds before crashing to the floor, the herd of Christmas shoppers gifting the two of us with dirty looks. B helped me put each hoop back. “You are going to tell me,” he said, smiling that old soul smile that I had not seen in the several years since he left Ohio.
By the time we made it to the jewelry counter, B had stripped the truth from me like I was a piece of string cheese. “I asked if we were going to fall in love.”
He picked up some cubic zirconia looking bracelet. “And?” He said, too nonchalantly for such a conversation.
I shuffled through a rack of earrings until he grabbed my elbow. I looked up to his young questioning eyes, eyes that years later, when angry, I would coin as serial killer blue. “My sources say no.”
“Okay.” He dropped my arm, turned around and started running his fingers down a paisley scarf. “Good to know. Good to know,” he said. “I had a similar question, a bit more sexual though.”
“And?” I was still sweating from my hula performance. His mouth opened to answer me when a woman with three dirty looking children interrupted us, making it clear that we were in her way. B and I headed for the exit. I had completely forgotten about the dog food.
“Outlook not so good,” he said, as we walked through the sleet and snow to my Jeep. I hid my hands in my pocket, afraid the cold would remind him how much older I was than him or that he would notice the trembling.
We did not speak on the drive to his house. The roads were slick and I disguised my disappointment by taking hard rights and pulling up the emergency brake while he fiddled with the radio. When we reached his driveway he turned the music down and said, “I came back to Ohio for you. Forget about the eight ball.”
All I said was, “Okay.” Then he got out of the car, shut the door and walked away. When he opened the screen door to the house, he turned around to look at me. He pulled off his hat and gave me an upward nod, the staccato birth of a union that only death would undo.
The next day he accompanied me to a small party at my friend’s house. I don’t remember what drugs I did or who was even there. What sticks to memory like an old staticky black and white movie that plays over and over is the moment we were walking to the car and he grabbed me by the back of my jeans, spun me around, slipped his cold long fingers in my hood to brace my neck as he bent down and kissed me.
What words grant justice to this snow globe moment? Tethered to each other, we could never let go. How do I tell our story? It is one of hunger and violence, sorrow and death, and more love than B and I could ever manage. It doesn’t turn out the way we would have wanted. I can’t write us out of this tragedy. All I can do is conjure up the words that breathe B alive, if even for a few moments. When I’m not writing, I can kiss our little daughters. They are the best part of the story, evidence that the eight ball was wrong.