Monday, June 16, 2008
His name is Jeremy.
His eyes have that weird quality of being light brown in direct sunlight, but totally black when seen intimately. His smile quirks up to the right, ending in a half-Joker curl which would look ridiculous on any other person but him. He has the arrogance of his youth, proud for one moment, but then, curious the next. He is hungry for knowledge and experience just like a young wolf; he devours life as if he would never get enough. He is fresh, he is tentative, he is overconfident, and he is lost. He is also just seventeen years old.
I am a crone. I am wrinkled in places the sun never sees. Sagging and jiggling in places it never ought to be. But I am an Amazon. I am tall, for someone so ancient. No lines or creases have touched my face just yet. I look young, but I feel old. And perhaps I am not wise. If I were, I would have stayed away. I would have never fallen in love with a cub of a boy---- a lion of a boy. A devourer.
At the early part of our relationship --- yes, it was a relationship somehow--- he would sit in my class, trying to be unassuming, and totally failing at it. How he imagined he could blend in, I don’t know. He stood out like a delicate lotus amidst common water lilies. He shone, that’s the best I could describe it. He shone with an inner light that pulsed dark now and then. His was tainted innocence, and it was seductive and fascinating.
If only it stayed that way: raised hands, deliberations on development and economy, and submitted homework, I would still have my job. But a few weeks into the semester, trouble at home has kept Jeremy from going to the university. And we all know trouble boils double, don’t we? After 3 weeks of absence, he knocked on my office door and asked for reprieve. I should have turned him away, told him I do not give passing grades to lackeys. I would’ve, if only I haven’t noticed his split lip. There were still traces of blood on it and I swallowed my words of rejection.
“You are hurt.” I said, as formal as I can make myself sound. “Your lip is still bleeding.”
A brief surge of emotion rose to his eyes. Anger. Hurt. Then Sadness. “It’s nothing, Miss. I hit my lip on a … doorknob.”
“That’s some vengeful doorknob to have hit you on the eye as well. But at least that’s not a screaming violet as I would expect a bruise to be.” He smiled, a small lifting of the lip, but it took the wind out of me. I hesitated, shifted on my feet. Well. “Come in, let’s talk.”
I have chosen this damnation.
He said he would do anything to pass my subject. Can’t I give him some special task, some extra work, he asked. I asked why he split his lip.
“The truth?” he asked.
“If I was asking for anything but, Jeremy, I would be teaching Law instead.” I answered, tone as dry as twigs. “The truth, please.”
“My uncle beats me.” His hands turned into fists. “My father is dead, and it is my uncle who runs our business now. He’d love if I die so he could have everything I rightfully own, for himself.”
Trouble, trouble. “And what does your mother say about this?”
His eyes glistened. “I have not talked with Mother for the last two years.”
“She could help you with this.” I reprimanded.
“She couldn’t! She’s been in a coma for 2 years. She can barely breathe without a machine, so to talk, or to tell off my uncle is nothing short of a miracle!”
“Then come out in the open and sue your uncle, Jeremy. This is abuse. He has no right to hurt you. And if he is trying to steal what is rightfully yours, he is a thief.”
“I am a minor! Who will believe me?” His forehead was creased in fury. He gripped the edge of my table so hard his knuckles were turning white. “Who will help me?”
I sat in silence and waited for his anger to pass. Then I answered, “I will.”
Two words which turned both our worlds upside down. I really thought I could help him then without getting dangerously close. I asked for help from my lawyer friends. But they said we’ll have a stronger case if Jeremy was already of age. At seventeen years old, he still needs a guardian. Since his mother is in a coma, the uncle might still have some loophole to play out. A year. They said we could wait a year.
But in one year, Jeremy could be a beaten pulp, not just physically but the beautiful things about him as well. His spirit. His innocence. And I thought I was protecting all of those when I offered to help.
I asked if he would consider moving to a boarding house for a while. He said he needed people he trusts to be around. I asked my sister if he could stay in her house, but with her 4 boys, she had every right to hesitate. I did not push. And then Jeremy asked me if he could stay with me instead.
I said okay.
I should have been wiser. More careful. I should’ve seen the signs.
He left his uncle and moved in with me on a Saturday. I prepared the small library room for him and a comfortable couch to sleep on. He never got to sleep on it.
The same night, he knocked on my bedroom door and asked to talk. I clutched at my bathrobe and stilled my breath.
“Can’t it wait tomorrow, Jem?” at this point, we were using nick names, pet names, if you must call it that.
“Sylvie, I… I’m sure I’ve done the right thing. But I want to know if you’re sure too.” He said.
“It is right, and it is true.”
He blew a sharp breath of relief. “I just want to be really, really sure.” He smiled. “Thank you for helping me do this. I wouldn’t have been able to gather my wits about me, much less sue the bastard. You saved me.” And with that he leaned forward to kiss me.
I wish I could tell you that I caught it in on my cheek. I still wonder if I should’ve sent him to his couch and then commandeered my sister to take him in after all. But lips call out to lips and hunger seeks fellow hunger. I was Humbert, he was my Lolita. Not even Nabokov’s most famous scumbag came this close to his prize with more than mere willingness. I --- a crone --- was kissed by my precious’ lips.
I don’t think we even broke apart for air. We were each other’s air. We breathed in the scent of the other, as if gathering perfume in our lungs. Our hands were explorers, we held each other and learned the curvatures of our new territory. Clothes fell, we fell. We moved, we pressed closer, we rose, and we fragmented into a million pieces. And when we put ourselves back together, it was impossible to put the world back the same way again. We ended up with pieces of ourselves in the other.
I have never felt so complete.
So I don’t care if you judge me today. You can throw me into that cell. Let me just say that if you do that, you have unwittingly played the hand of his uncle seated peacock-like on that side of the room. I have acted unwisely. But I now doubt if it was ever immoral. How can something so real, so searing true, be a taboo? Isn’t the highest law about saving lives? He says I saved him, and he has saved me.
No, I don’t believe I abused him. Nor broke him. We completed each other, why is that so hard to understand? He is young, yes. I was too. Ask him next month, when he turns 18, if he feels any different about our love. Ask him five years from now.
And you can ask me until the end of my life if I regretted any of this. I will give you the same answer you heard today. No.