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I miss him so much. Some days, the pain is unbearable and I can feel the ache deep inside my bones. Other days, I feel nothing at all. It’s a deep hollowness, as if there’s a hole right in the middle of my heart that used to be filled, but can never be again. The pain of missing someone who’s gone is almost equivalent to dying right alongside them, because maybe you don’t actually die, but it sure feels like you do. You become empty and dead inside and I’m not sure which one’s worse.
Sometimes I pretend that Jermaine isn’t actually dead, just on a long vacation somewhere happy and peaceful and sunny too, because he loved the warmth of the sun. Sometimes being in the sun makes me feel this sort of sadness, the worst kind of sadness, because I’m enjoying something that Jermaine can never experience again. I don’t only feel sadness, but guilt. I hate enjoying anything without him here with me. Jermaine used to love to go to the park and just sit there and observe people. He loved watching people and he noticed little details about everyone that no one else cared to look for. He always saw what no one else could, and that made me love him even more.
December 9th, 2010. This day played over and over again in my head, like one of those broken record players that play the same song over and over and never stop. Sometimes things are so bad you think it’s a dream. Like you’re sleeping and having a horrible nightmare, but the only difference is—you can’t wake up. No matter how many times you try to slap yourself in the face or tell yourself it’s real, you can’t believe it. You can’t convince yourself that the one and only person you’ve ever loved is gone. He can’t be gone. I just kept repeating that and didn’t stop. I told myself I’d wake up from this nightmare and I’d call Jermaine and he’d tell me he’s fine. That he’s safe. He’d laugh and tell me to go back to sleep. But that never happened. December 9th happened. It was 2:00 in the morning on a Thursday when I got the call. The phone call that changed my life. “He’s gone, Miranda. He’s gone. Jermaine was killed.” Jermaine’s mom, Tanisha, was like my second mother. She loved me and I loved her. My love for her was different because she brought the man I loved into this world. She was the reason he was here, and that kind of love is different. Now that he’s not here, it isn’t the same. When someone dies, it’s never only one person who’s affected by it. Sometimes, people that never even knew them are affected. Relationships change because life changes and everything feels different than it used to. She only leaves the house to go to work, and never speaks to anyone anymore, not even me. Sometimes, I just wanna run to her house and hug her. I want to feel the closest thing I can to what Jermaine used to feel like. But at the same time, I can’t bring myself to do that. Tanisha reminds me so much of Jermaine that I couldn’t handle it. I remember holding the phone in my hand, wondering if this was some sort of sick joke. “What?” The only word I could say. Before she could even answer, I hung up the phone and cried. Tanisha called me back and explained to me, as calmly as she could, that Jermaine was a victim of a drive by shooting. She said that he was shot seven times. Seven times in his heart, and that was all I had to hear to completely fall apart.
Jermaine and I didn’t make sense to a lot of people in the world. He was black, and I’m white. We came from completely different worlds, but we made sense to each other. And we made sense together. That was all that mattered to me. All it took was for someone to spend the day with us to see that. To see how we just fit perfectly together, to understand how deep inside, we loved each other with all the love we had. Maybe even then some people still wouldn’t see it which makes my heart heavy. Jermaine used to tell me, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” It’s a Dr. Seuss quote. A few months after we started dating, he told me it was his new favorite quote and I understood exactly why. Some people would say to me, don’t you see how different you two are? Different as in our racial backgrounds. But, to be completely honest, it never occurred to me. I didn’t see a black man when I looked at Jermaine, like everyone else did. I saw so much more than that. I looked passed his dark skin and I saw him. I saw his dreams, his aspirations, and most of all—his loving heart that loved me with every inch. It didn’t matter to Jermaine that people didn’t like the idea of us together. Someone would call him “n*****” or tell him to “go find a black girl, because she would be more appropriate for him” and he would brush it off. He wouldn’t shoot back with an insult, because that was just the person that he was. He didn’t like violence, and he didn’t believe in fighting ignorance with ignorance. He ignored the racial slurs he heard during the day and prayed for those people at night. That was the one thing I could not completely understand about Jermaine; how he was able to let things go. How he was able to forgive and even love the people who talked down to him. How he could keep calm and collected when the average person would have gone overboard. I admired him for that. People thought we were so different from each other, because all they saw was a white girl and a black guy. They didn’t see us. They couldn’t see the love. In reality, Jermaine and I were not different from each other at all. The only difference between us was our skin pigment and where we came from. Despite those little differences, we came together as one. We were one.
My mom called me today. She told me she wants to meet downtown for coffee. I haven’t seen her in a few months, but that’s only because I haven’t see anyone in months. In spite of the overwhelming pain I feel today thinking about Jermaine, I get out of bed and get dressed. I know it’s what he would want me to do. If he were here, he’d tell me to try to enjoy the time with my mom. I used to tell him how my mom was nothing like his. Tanisha was a great mother, she was the type of mom that everyone would want if they didn’t already have. She was loving and did everything and anything for her son. My mom was never like that. She was in and out of my life as a kid and she wasn’t the affectionate type. He told me to continue to love her anyway and that everyone makes mistakes. But how can someone make the same mistakes over and over again? As I walk down the street, I observe every person I pass closely like Jermaine used to. I watch the way they walk and their facial expressions, trying to figure out their story. What makes them whoever they are. By doing this, I feel closer to him. Lately, I’ve been doing anything I possibly can to make me feel as close as I possibly can to him. I walk and walk and wonder if anyone here knows what it’s like- how I feel. I wonder if they ever lost the love of their life, or what they would do if they did. Before Jermaine left this world, I never stopped to think about what life would be like without him. I never thought about how I would go on if he passed. Now that I’m in the situation, it feels surreal. But I’m still here, moving on, walking down this street, feeling the cool air against my skin. I take a deep breath and look up at the sky. Jermaine, I love you. Never forget, I say in a whisper. I don’t care that people are looking at me with an odd look on their face, wondering why I’m talking to the sky. They don’t know that I’m not talking to sky, but I’m talking to the love of my life the only way that I know how.
I finally make it to the coffee shop where my mom wants to meet. It’s called Samantha’s, named after the lady who owns it. I used to come in here a lot, almost every morning, sometimes with Jermaine. This is the first time I’m coming here in a long time, and when I stop in front of the door, the place is packed. People are moving quickly, eating slowly, and conversation is erupting from inside. I take a deep breath as I look around for my mother. I notice her, sitting at a corner table with a menu in her hand, now waving as she sees me searching. I force myself to go inside and she greets me with a hug. Not one of those hugs where you can feel how much the person loves you, but more like a distant hug. I sit down and my mother starts talking about work and I don’t hear a word she’s seeing. I look around and I notice the table that Jermaine and I sat at a few times when we ate here. I feel my throat close up, and my eyes start to hurt. I tell myself not to cry, but I usually don’t take my own advice. “Miranda,” my mother asked? I turned back to her. “I’m so worried about you.” “No, you’re not,” I answered. I didn’t expect to say that, but it’s the truth, so the truth will set you free… right? “Excuse me,” she asked? “Oh, mom, don’t sound so shocked. You’ve never cared. All you care about is yourself,” I said. “Miranda, stop it. You know that’s not true. You look like a mess. You haven’t been out in forever. You’re still mopping over his death? You’ve got to move on, Miranda. This is crazy,” my mother said, shaking her head. The anger and hurt swelled up inside me. “Are you serious? It hasn’t even been a year, mom. Move on? He was the love of my life. I’m sorry that you never loved dad the way I loved Jermaine. You could never understand what it’s like. All you ever cared about was the way he looked! That he was different from you! You hated it, mom and you know it. You’d never say it, but you’re glad that he was taken from me. Even though you hated him because of his skin color, he never disrespected you, mom. Do you hear me? He told me to forgive you for all the s*** you put me through as a kid. He told me to continue loving you, that you made mistakes. But you wouldn’t know that because you were never there, and you never cared enough to be there. I’m done here. The only reason I dragged myself out of the house to meet you here was because of him, but I can’t sit here and listen to this. I won’t,” by the end of this, my voice was cracking. My mother’s mouth fell open and finally, everything I’ve ever wanted to say was said. Now she could try to be realistic and stop denying what she knows is true. I start to walk away, and she doesn’t try to stop me. She doesn’t tell me she’s sorry, or to please stay. That’s how I know she’ll never care. As soon as I get to the door, I start to run. I just start running, out of Samantha’s, down the sidewalk and I don’t stop. I keep going and going until I can’t run anymore.
It’s been two days since the incident at the coffee shop with my mother, and I haven’t heard from her and I doubt that I will anytime soon. She can’t face the truth. She can’t admit to herself that she never wanted me and Jermaine to be together because he was black. She wanted me to be with a “conservative white man with a future”, as she would say, and it killed her that Jermaine was who made me happy. It killed her even more that there was nothing she could do about it. For once in my life, she was not in control and I damn sure won’t let her be now.
It’s a week after the incident with my mother. My phone rings and I have this feeling deep down that it’s her. “Hello, mother,” I say. She starts apologizing and telling me she was very “inconsiderate of my feelings” and how she’d like to start over. “Start over? Every time you want to start over, we always end up right back to where we are now,” I tell her. “It’s a waste of time. Just admit you never liked Jermaine because he was black. Just admit you wanted to control every aspect of my life and still do. You don’t care about me. You think I can just move on that easily from the love of my life dying? He’s gone, mom. This isn’t some long vacation he’s taking for work. This isn’t a game, and it’s sure as hell not fun for me. He’s not coming back, and I’m still trying to cope with that. I can’t say how long it will take before I recover. Is it okay with you that I grieve my dead boyfriend?” Silence… I hear her whispering to someone nearby. “Honey, your dad is here with me,” she says. “He wants to speak to you.” I hear my mom passing the phone over. “Sweetheart, it’s so good to hear from you,” he says. I roll my eyes. “Yeah, that’s why you call so often,” I shoot back. Silence again. I think of Jermaine. He would tell me to be nice, to be forgiving but I can’t. My eyes begin to well up as I hold my breath. I’m sorry, I want to say to him, but he’s not here for me to apologize to. “I’m sorry,” I whisper anyway. I hope he hears me. “What was that, honey,” my dad asks? “Nothing,” I reply. “What’s going on? Why are you two together and calling me?” My parents have been divorced since I was ten. They haven’t spent more than five minutes in the same room in at least twelve years. “Your mother and I have been talking. We want to come visit you at your place,” he tells me. “Just check on you and talk for a bit. I know I haven’t seen you in a while.” “Yeah, sure, whatever,” I answer. I don’t have the energy to argue with them today. “See you tonight, then,” he says and I hear a dial tone. I hang up the phone and cry. Why should there be a certain amount of time that someone has to get over the death of someone they love? I wipe away my tears like Jermaine used to do and grab my jacket.
I stand in front of Jermaine’s grave and it still feels surreal to me. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to come here and feel like I’m not stuck in a nightmare I can’t wake up from. His full name is spelled out on the tombstone, there are flowers lying in front of it, and the wind is blowing hard. I bend down to fix the flowers so they don’t blow away. I wonder if the wind blowing is Jermaine’s way of telling me he sees me and he misses me too. He knew that I used to like going out on windy days with him just so that he would wrap his arms around me and keep me warm. Now here I am, out on a windy day, with no one to wrap their arms around me and keep me warm. “I love you, Jermaine, I love you so much,” I say. I look up to the sky and wonder if he’s listening, looking down on me, protecting me. “I wish you’d give me some sort of sign.” I kneel down and touch the headstone that I’ve read over and over. The same headstone I’ve seen in too many dreams. They say true love never ends, but what about when someone dies? When someone no longer exists in the world? One day, all good things come to an end. Sadly enough that is what Jermaine’s death has taught me.
Ever since I lost Jermaine, I have my decent days and my really bad days. Today is one of those bad days. I’m walking aimlessly down the street, faces of unfamiliar people watching me as I pass them. I’m absent to the world. I don’t feel anything. I can’t feel the sun that’s beaming, and I can’t hear the sounds of car horns. I keep walking until I stop on one familiar street, one I used to know too well. Tanisha’s street, 90th Ct. I miss you. I walk down the road until I reach her house. It looks empty inside, but her car is parked and I know she’s home because she’s always home. I go up to the door and knock. I look up at the sky and today is different. The clouds seem to form a heart. This, of all things, makes me feel. I feel warm inside and I know, with everything I have, that Jermaine is watching me right at this very minute. I feel him being proud of me from far away. I feel him smiling so hard his face will hurt later. “I love you,” I say to the sky. I feel complete deep down inside, and I know it’s him telling me he loves me more. Eventually, Tanisha comes to the door and her face tells all. She looks like she’s seen a ghost. As soon as I see her, I feel like I’m looking right at Jermaine. That’s when I break down, and really break down at that. I fall to the steps and she falls with me. She holds me tight and tells me it’ll be alright, but I know she doesn’t even believe that. “You remind me so much of him, but I needed to see you,” I stutter through sobs. “I’m sorry. I miss you. I should have come by sooner. I went to see him – Jermaine the other day. I don’t know what to do. I miss him so much.” I cry and cry for what feels like hours. Finally, she speaks to me. “You remind me so much of him,” she says. “He loved you more than you’ll ever know.” She closes her eyes and holds me tighter.
She invites me inside, and we go in. The house feels lifeless, not lived in. I look around and it’s not dirty, but it’s empty. It feels empty and sad and already I feel myself wanting to cry again. “I haven’t had anyone come by here in forever. I think they’re scared honestly,” she says, almost at a whisper. She laughs a little, but quickly stops herself. “It’s okay to be happy,” I blurt out. I immediately regret it. “I mean, he would want you to be happy. You were everything to him.” She smiled at this. “You were everything to him, dear,” she tells me. “Do you know what he told me one day?” I shake my head. “He came over here after he’d met you. It was the same day. He told me, “Mama, I met the woman I’m gonna spend the rest of my life with. I found my soul mate” and he went on to tell me how beautiful you were, what distinct features you had, and what a beautiful heart. He said your heart would outdo anything else. He went on to talk about you and how different you were for what felt like an eternity. The way his eyes light up as he said your name and how he smiled so hard when he told me you didn’t treat him differently because he was black was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. I’ve never seen my son happier than he was with you, and I need, really need, to thank you for that. His happiness was because of you, Miranda. I never expected him to fall in love with a white girl. It never crossed my mind, but the minute he told me about you, I could feel it. I felt you were different and I knew you could love him, too. I didn’t care. The way I see it? We all bleed red; we all come from the same place. You and Jermaine may have been very different culturally speaking, but you two would never fit better with anyone else.” I sat there, attempting to take in what I just heard. Those words sound so beautiful coming from Tanisha’s mouth. I almost start to tear up again when Tanisha says, “You know what else? He told me he was gonna marry you if it was the last thing he ever did. Excuse me.” She ran off to the bathroom and I knew she was going to break down. I’d gone completely numb again.
Two hours and a few emotional breakdowns later, Tanisha and I are sitting in her living room, going through old pictures of Jermaine as a baby and old family outing photos. I don’t know if this is comforting me or making my heart hurt more. She set one aside, then tells me, “He was two here. This is the day his father left us. He told me he found better across town. He told Jermaine daddy would be back, but he didn’t come back.” She stares at the photo of her son for a long time. I look at it and I see a little boy who had no idea what he was up against. He was smiling so hard you’d never guess his father walked out on him and his mother that day. He was always stronger than the average. He could handle bad times better than most people. “I’m sorry,” I say. “Jermaine hardly talked about his dad with me. He did tell me he never wanted to be like him though.” Tanisha smiles at that thought. “He was never even close,” she tells me. “He was more of a man than his father ever was. He would have been a great father.” I choke up after she says that because Jermaine and I had always talked about having our own little family together one day when we were stable enough. “Excuse me,” I say, and run off to the bathroom just like Tanisha had done earlier. I look at myself in the mirror and not only do I see myself, but I see Jermaine too. He now lives through me. I’m the one that Jermaine loved, the one he wanted to marry. I smile at my reflection. You’re beautiful, he would say. Stop looking for the flaws you don’t have. I gather myself and head back out to the living room. “Tanisha, I’d like to ask you something,” I say as I return. “Yes,” she asks? “Will you come back to my place with me? My parents are coming over tonight—and honestly I don’t want to face them alone. They aren’t very rational people and me and my mom—we had a falling out, like always, not too long ago. You don’t have to, but…,” my voice trails off. “Of course I will,” she replies. I’m shocked by her quick acceptance. I smile. My love for Tanisha stems from Jermaine and even though I don’t have him by my side anymore, I’m glad that I have her. She is the closest thing to him and the closest thing to the love I felt for Jermaine I’ll ever feel for anyone again.
As we drive, I tell Tanisha about what happened with me and my mom in the coffee shop, about how she’s always wanted to control me, and even about how judgmental she is. “Jermaine always used to tell me forgive, but it’s so hard. He was so good at it. I never was,” I say. She smiles to herself. “He was very forgiving. I’ll never understand it. He forgave his father, while I struggled with it,” she answers. “One day I will forgive him, just for Jermaine. Not for myself.” “He’d like that,” I tell her. We pull up to my house and I spot my mom’s black Subaru parked in my driveway. Her and my dad are leaning against the car, facing each other and they seem deep in conversation. I park behind the car and Tanisha and I get out. My mom and dad turn as soon as our car doors shut. “Oh hello—,” my mom stops. I smile at her, because that’s what Jermaine would want. “Hi. Mom, dad, this is Tanisha, Jermaine’s mom. I asked her to join us tonight,” I say. The look on my mom’s face displays surprise, fear and annoyance. My dad’s face is completely blank and I can’t read him. “Hello,” my wonderful mother says so coldly. “It’s nice to finally meet you. Your daughter is wonderful,” Tanisha tells her. God, I wish my mother was more like her. “Honey, can I speak with you in private,” my mom asks? “No, because anything that needs to be said, can be said right here,” I tell her. My mom fakes a smile. “Okay. I’m so sorry for your loss, Tanisha, but honestly I don’t think being around my daughter is helping her get over what’s happened,” my mom says. “Leave,” I tell her. “Go. I’m serious. You’re out of line and you need to leave.” “Sweetheart, let’s not overact..,” my dad says before I cut him off. “Overreact? Do you want to know what overreacting is? Overreacting is you and mom’s irrational prejudice. Overreacting is mom telling me I’d be better off with a nice white man. Overreacting is what you’ve both done my whole life and I’m sick and tired of it. Quite frankly, I’m done with it. I’m an adult and I don’t have to stand for it any longer. Both of you should go, because Tanisha has helped me through the loss of my boyfriend more than you two ever have. Neither of you have been any help at all, you just make it harder, so leave now.” My mom’s jaw drops. It was as if she couldn’t speak, and she didn’t. For the first time in my life, she had nothing to say. Her and my dad got in the car and they drove away. I looked at Tanisha and kept apologizing over and over. My heart hurts so badly for her, for me, for Jermaine, even for my parents. I began to cry again and she held me, telling me it was okay, that nothing was my fault. Maybe that was all I really needed to hear.
Sometimes I think that God is testing me. I don’t know why he chose me. Maybe he’s trying to see how much I can take before I give up. I think he was testing me when he gave me the parents he did, when Jermaine and I met, when I got that phone call, and ever since then. Maybe the day I was born he decided he wanted to start testing me, and it all began with who he chose as my parents.