As luck would have it, the expected battle was taking place on the river bank below my apartment window, which meant I could watch. Even luckier, it was nighttime so I could watch sneakily. I turned out the lights and slowly and quietly eased the window open in spite of the frigid evening.
My view overlooks a swath of old warehouses which hug the river behind a line of old buildings once home to various 19th century businesses when this was an old mining town. Its location just across the bridge from the local bar makes it a perfect place to duck into the space between the buildings for any number of activities. The things I’ve seen from these windows… are the precise reason I keep my blinds closed.
This time, however, I wanted to witness. This fight had been coming for ages and I had watched it nearly crescendo into disaster only to be pulled back from the brink far too many times not to crave satisfaction. It was like a pimple I was itching to pop and couldn’t quite reach.
“She fucking told me you slept with her, Todd. I confronted her after Jenni saw you together and she fucking admitted it. And I fucking let it go. I fucking let it go, Todd. Because I knew you were like this and I loved you and I thought you made a mistake. I fucking let it fucking go and then there you were wrapped all the fuck around her in the bar tonight. I’m fucking done, Ok? I don’t fucking love you that much, you scumbag.”
I sighed, relieved. She was finally leaving him.
“Jamie, c’mon. I was just hugging her. We’re friends okay? We were in grade school together.”
“Fuck you, loser. I was in fucking grade school too.”
I watched as he made a grab for her and she pushed him away.
“Don’t fucking touch me!”
I hadn’t seen this part coming and looked out anxiously, trying for a better view.
“Stop! Todd! No!” She screamed and I knew her well enough to feel my heart drop in fear.
I was up and running down the stairs without a second thought. It had always been that way with Jamie.
I had always loved Jamie. I knew right away when she showed up near the end of 5th grade and my heart skipped a beat. She had stood in front of the class, her dark eyes stubbornly returning our stares with a glare that dared anyone to mess with her. I immediately wanted to impress her, to show her I was anything but a shy, ugly girl, shrinking into the corner of the playground… but I was a shy ugly girl who shrank into the corner of the playground which was how I found myself watching her from the shadow of a large pine tree at afternoon recess.
Jamie seemed to naturally migrate to the boys and joined their daily kickball without creating much of a disturbance. She was a really good kickball player and managed to score a home run immediately, whereupon Billy Jenkins cheered and offered her a high five. I instinctively shot a glance at Brenda Macintosh and noted that she too was watching Jamie through her impossibly long lashes while whispering intently to Norma, Billy’s twin sister. Norma was fervently shaking her head, narrowed eyes fixed on the action. Brenda, it was well known in Mrs. Quesnel’s 5th grade class, had a crush on Billy.
Within minutes, Brenda was striding huffily over to Jamie ready for a fight. I was out of my hiding place before I realized what I was doing and found myself by Jamie’s side intending to defend her… unnecessarily, it turned out, since Ms. Marta, the classroom aide had stepped smoothly into Brenda’s path just four feet from where Jamie stood.
Jamie, who hadn’t noticed Brenda, was looking confusedly at me, standing next to her, panting and red-faced with balled fists. She followed my eyes to Ms. Marta escorting Brenda to the other end of the playground for a talking to.
“What just happened?” she asked.
“Brenda is in love with Billy and was coming after you.” The words tumbled out with my exhale.
“Were you defending me?”
I felt my face flush but didn’t answer. I turned to walk away but Jamie grabbed my shoulder.
“We’re friends now, okay?”
I nodded, looking at the ground.
“Good.” She said, “Stay and play.”
We were nearly inseparable after that day.
As soon as I got outside, I heard her scream intensify, followed by an even more terrible silence. I was running and dialing the phone when I saw Todd run off for the side street that followed the river as it meandered out of town.
“Fucking piece of shit, Todd!” I screamed as the 911 operator answered.
“911 What’s your emergency?”
“That piece of shit, Todd Blaise, hurt my friend. We’re at 5151 Front Street behind the building near the river. He ran off down River Street. Hurry!”
I turned the corner and saw Jamie lying lifeless on the ground. “Shit. She’s not moving.”
I switched the phone to speaker and threw it on the grass beside her. I knew the operator was trying to give me instructions but I had already switched into emergency mode and probably knew the instructions better than she did. I did this often at work. I bent over her feeling for a pulse and checking for breathing.
“No pulse no breathing. I’m starting CPR with 2 rescue breaths.” I bent over her, placing my mouth around hers.
It was the summer after graduation and we had gone to Canada with a group of friends to enjoy a summer music festival and the reduced drinking age. It had been three nights of constant partying and Jamie and I had decided to forego the party and chill in our room. We put all the blankets on the floor in front of our balcony door and turned the lights out to watch the fireworks competition taking place over the river that night. We lay there, scantily clad, sipping champagne and giggling long after the fireworks had ended.
“Jenni, remember the time I decided to run away and took Clara with me because I didn’t want to miss her?”
“Yeah. You made it a whole two blocks to my house before Clara had to pee.”
“She was so little… remember how she was always clinging to me?” She looked at me tearfully, “Remember, Jenni? She always wanted to do everything I did. She tried so hard to be like me.”
I knew where this was going and instinctively put my arms around her. Jamie’s little sister, Clara, had died in an accident when she was seven and we were thirteen.
I held her while she cried and continued to hold her after she stopped and when our lips met, softly, lovingly, over and over until we forgot our sadness and the kissing became more urgent. Our embrace progressed to desperate writhing and we removed our clothes, feverish with need. We made love on the floor on top of the blankets for what felt like hours before drifting into a haze of satisfied exhaustion.
That was the first time. The first time I held her, the first time I kissed her, the first time we made love but not the first time I knew I loved her. I always had but I knew her father was fervently against homosexuality and I had always been afraid to tell her how I felt. Now, I was elated we could finally be together. I held her lovingly, hopefully, as I fell into the restful sleep of post coital relief.
Jamie, however, seemed to feel differently and had disappeared in the morning. She had apparently packed her bags and camped out in the hotel lobby until it was time to go. We had ridden home awkwardly in the back of a friend’s car, exchanging furtive glances in the silence.
We had not seen each other again until the day before I left for college. When we said goodbye it was like she wanted to pretend nothing had ever happened. I felt my heart break silently in my chest but mirrored her jovial tone as much as I could. It had taken me most of my first semester to get over it.
I began chest compressions. Counting out loud.
“1… 2… 3…”
How many times had I had to let her go already?
“4… 5… 6…”
Was this it then?
“7… 8… 9…”
The final solution?
“10… 11… 12…”
This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.
“13… 14… 15…”
She had promised.
“16… 17… 18…”
She had said she was ready.
“19… 20… 21…”
Fuck! I wasn’t letting her die.
“22… 23… 24…”
I wasn’t letting us die
“25… 26… 27…”
I’ve loved her for too long to let her go.
“28… 29… 30…”
I repositioned to give her two more rescue breaths, placing my mouth on hers once again.
It was two years and several relationships later before we had been able to talk about what had happened that night. I was openly bisexual by that time and a bit of a player. Jamie had just ended a long relationship with a man, her married Literature professor. She was devastated and unable to understand why she had chosen a man as unavailable as her professor. We sat on my couch, drinking wine and commiserating until she was drunk enough to tell me the truth.
“I only dated him to get over you.”
My heart skipped but I kept my gaze steady and merely raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“That night, In Montreal. You and me… I never…,” her voice broke, “I never meant to… I just was too afraid to be with you.”
I was unable to speak. I just stared at her, all the horrible moments of getting over her accumulating in my heart.
“Jenni. Say something. Please.”
“It was too hard, Jamie.”
“What was too hard?”
“Pretending I was fine all the time. Pretending I didn’t love you. You were the one who acted like it was a mistake.”
“I know,” she said, tears falling down her cheeks, “I couldn’t face it. You know? I’m sorry, Jenni. I didn’t mean to hurt you, to hurt myself.”
I was openly sobbing and this time she reached out to me.
We held each other, crying, and she promised it would be different this time. She promised she was ready and she didn’t want to let me go but she didn’t want her dad to know. We spent that summer dating in secret. I put my whole heart into her but she broke it off with me before returning to school. She wasn’t able to be open and I wasn’t able to hide.
This became our pattern. She would come back to me over and over, promising she was ready and once I gave my heart over, she would run and date another shitty man whom she could never really love. Loving Jamie was like driving at breakneck speed on a cliffside road. It was exhilarating but I knew it would hurt when, inevitably, I hit the edge.
I was back to chest compressions and heard the sirens getting close. Please hurry, I begged silently as I counted out loud. Please let us have a chance.
The paramedics showed and relieved me, leaving me to fade back from the action and dive headfirst into my pain. I could barely watch. I didn’t want to count the number of cycles. I didn’t want to feel my hope fading, draining slowly to the river below along the rivulets of her blood. I wouldn’t listen when the paramedics came to talk to me. I wouldn’t leave when my cousin came to collect me. I didn’t hear or care what happened to Todd. I barely noticed the police officer’s attempts to question me. I couldn’t care about anything anymore.
Eventually I became aware that I was no longer sitting on the riverbank but was instead in the river looking up through the dense water. For a moment, I saw Jamie’s face smiling down at me and then I lost consciousness…