ALL THE HEARTS
BY REBECCA BEYER
Over Christmas break, I told my dad he needed to move out of our family home. I hated that he was leaving my mom, and yet he had not left. I was tired of waking up in the morning to find him on the couch in front of the television. It bothered me that my mom fixed his dinner every evening. He watched television late into the night when we wanted to sleep. His reading glasses were on the counter. His cell phone was charging by the door. His keys were on the hook, and his clothes, which my mom washed and folded, came back in the same basket as mine. They had been “separating” since Thanksgiving. Our house was quietly miserable, unbearably tense.
So, the week after Christmas, I went with him to look at apartments.
“This one is too far away,” he said.
I thought it wasn’t far enough.
“This one is too bright; the sun from the windows will make it hot,” he said.
I said he could turn the air-conditioner on high when summer came.
“I want to wait until I get another job before I shell out money for an apartment,” he said.
I thought it wasn’t fair for him to drag out the separation for his convenience. I decided I couldn’t stand to live with both of them in the house together. I would go back to school early, and I told him so.
My dad leased the apartment that afternoon. I helped him carry old furniture into a U-Haul on New Year’s Eve. My mom divided up the silverware and glasses and plates and plastic cups. She gave him extra sheets and blankets. He stood behind her saying he didn’t need all of it, but she insisted. When he left the room, she burst into tears, holding a wine glass and a cup-towel in her hands. I hugged her tightly. I squeezed her shoulders, but I could not stop her from shaking.
“Things will get better now,” I said. “Now it will be easier.”
I thought the situation would improve. I think I really did. I thought that when my parents separated, everything would be better. I didn’t really consider the breaking of a heart.
Two months later, my friend, my brother, Brandon, and I flew to visit his girlfriend in San Diego for our spring breaks. It was ideal: six nights free at her apartment. On the third day, she and Brandon had a huge fight. He had found out she had been seeing someone else. She had seen him that weekend, even. We moved our duffel bags and swimsuits to the cheapest hotel we could find.
Brandon couldn’t eat or sleep that night, so he drank. After my friend went to bed, I waited while he chain-smoked cigarettes in the dark outside our hotel room door. I worried about him out there alone. I held a cold washcloth to his forehead while he threw up. To pass the time, we rented a movie that he couldn’t pay attention to, and I rubbed his back while he cried into his pillow. I never really liked my brother’s girlfriend.
“It hurts so bad,” he said. “It hurts so bad in my heart. I would never do that to someone…” His voice trailed off in tears.
“It will get better,” I said. “It will get better after it hurts.”
I thought he would be better off without her. I think I really did. I didn’t really consider the breaking of a heart.
There were lots of tears this year. Not many of them were mine. When my brother cried to me, I wanted to cry. I should have cried, but I couldn’t. When my mom cried to me, I wanted to cry. I should have cried, but I couldn’t. I thought I was being strong.
“I know I will be fine,” my mom would say one day.
I agreed. The next day, or maybe even the next minute, she would begin to doubt again.
“I can’t do life alone, Rebecca. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
My brother experienced similar sudden changes of attitude.
“I’m glad this happened,” he would cheer over the phone. “It’s better now than later. I’m glad she did this; it makes it easier for me.”
I agreed. The next day he would feel differently.
“This sucks. I don’t understand how she could lie to me. I can’t sleep; I’m not hungry.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I listened. When he had exhausted his emotions on his ex-girlfriend, he would begin on our dad.
“I can’t believe he’s doing this to Mom. He’s ruining our family. It will never be the same again.”
“It won’t be the same,” I said quietly, every time we talked. “It won’t be the same, but it can still be okay. It will be better for them.”
All the hearts are broken.
Last weekend, I flew to New York with my best friend. In the entire year, from fall to spring and now to summer, I had cried twice. She had seen me cry both times. When all of the sadness and anger and tears that I had soaked up from my family exploded inside me, she was there.
On Sunday morning of that long Memorial Day weekend, we stayed in bed watching movies. In each of the movies, which were romantic comedies at best, a man left his wife or girlfriend. The women usually ended up with someone cuter; the ex- was usually humiliated in some well-deserved way. Suddenly, I stopped laughing at the funny parts. I rolled over on my side. I went downstairs and called my mom, and I burst into tears. She started to cry, too, and put my brother on the phone. I could hear his voice cracking.
“I love you,” he said.
When I went back upstairs, I was still crying. I lay on the bed and put my head down on my folded arms. My friend touched my hair; my shoulders shook. It is hard for me to cry. It felt so good.
I recovered that day, the same way my mom and brother are recovering still. That Sunday would have been my parents’ 29th anniversary. My dad was out of town. Brandon and my mom were preparing a cookout with some neighbors when I called. I must have been right the first time, even before I really believed. It will be better. It already is.
All the hearts are beating.