Jack was a drifter that had shown up in our small town. it seems as if I had helped him out of a skirmish with a local police officer (said police officer fancied me but I thought he was an arrogant ass) and we had become friendly because of it. I was in my early twenties, he seemed to be a few years behind at nineteen or so. I spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s house because my grandfather suffered from dementia and was recovering from a nasty fall. I didn’t live with them but my parents were no longer living (car accident), and my grandparents had (begrudgingly) taken me in when I was an early teen. as far as I could tell, I was on my own- no other relatives or friends in town to help the grandparents out or to be friendly with. Jack was seen as a troublemaker but I found a kindred spirit in him.
Jack didn’t just pick our town by accident, he was searching for information about his father. his mother had passed away when he was young and he was put into foster care, which didn’t work out well for him. when he came of age, he set out to travel to the town his mother was from and try to find some answers. I took up the challenge with him and we set about inquiring of the older generation and people who might have gone to school with his mother. my own grandparents were very dismissive when I asked them about Jack’s mother, but it was clear to me that they recognized the name. Jack and I grew closer, and my grandparents did not try to disguise their disdain for him. it was unseemly for me to be paling around with him so much in the first place, I knew, but there was more to it and I wanted to know why.
(this dream was a period piece, set in the late forties early fifties, I think. I wore tweed skirts and my hair was pinned back in waves like that time period. I had a job and seemed to live on my own but the dream never really showed details about this)
my grandparents were never very supportive or loving with me, in the best of times, but soon my presence seemed to irritate them even more than usual. my grandfather was getting back on his feet again and in a particularly lucid moment asked me why I insisted on hanging around his house all of the time. I said I was just helping out, to which my grandmother rudely said “no one asked you to”. well, okay then. before I left that day I went up into the attic and searched through some of my mother’s old things, hoping to find some clues about Jack’s mother and father. I hit the jackpot when I found a Christmas card that Jack’s mother had sent to my mother- it seems they had actually been friends! and in it, his mom revealed that she never told Jack’s father about him because he was on his way to New York City to follow his dream of opening a boxing gym there. oh boy! I couldn’t wait to show Jack!! he was elated. he had a destination now, even knew exactly which area of the city to look, because the letter from his mother was very specific. what Jack didn’t know was that I planned to go with him.
I had nothing in my little hometown, no one, so I was going to scrounge up some money and tag along with Jack. I didn’t know if he felt the same way about me that I did about him, in a romantic way, but I had fallen in love with him over the months that we had known each other. he saw me, acknowledged that I was a person, was interested in what I thought and felt, we had many philosophical talks together. I listened to him pour all his hopes and fears out about tracking down his father, now that he had a name and a location. we talked into the night and had fallen asleep in the abandoned shed we had been meeting in. when I left early the next morning, the police officer had apparently seen me and drew his own less-than-innocent conclusions. I didn’t see Jack for the next two days and was getting worried that maybe he left without saying goodbye. I happened upon him by chance as he seemed to be hiding out. he was battered and bruised, like he had been in a fight, and when I questioned him about it he wouldn’t give me a straight answer. he did say he had outworn his welcome in the town though and it was time for him to leave. I told him I wanted to go with him. he was shocked and didn’t respond. in the meantime, the officer and some of his men started making a racket outside of Jack’s hiding place, knowing he was in the area. I begged Jack to take me with him…and he refused. he seemed remorseful about it but he said I would slow him down, that the officer would chase us if I was with him. I was hurt by Jack’s rejection, but told him to go- I’d distract the officer and give him a head start. we looked at each other, having some kind of silent communication with our eyes that I didn’t understand, and then he left.
I did try to distract the officer, and was slapped across the face in the process. he called me a whore, among other nasty things, and moved to get into his car and chase Jack. I stepped in front of the car and tried to start an argument with him to buy Jack more time, but the officer started up his car and ran me over with it!! I woke up in the hospital with two broken ribs, a broken arm, and I had to get surgery on my ankle. my grandparents had to pay for it all, which they were not happy about. after my surgery I had to stay with them to recover. I had lost my job due to my time away and so I couldn’t pay the rent where I was living. about three months later, Jack sent me a letter. he had made it to New York City and had tracked down his father’s gym, even spying on him a bit, but hadn’t the nerve to approach him yet. he was working a job of some sort which afforded him the money to rent a room. he didn’t want to appear a beggar when he knocked upon his father’s door. Jack’s letter was bittersweet, he sounded fearful but happy. his words made it seem like we were back in the shed, pouring our hearts out to each other. I missed him terribly and I wished he was here, I needed the comfort this time. I wrote him back and poured my heart out to him but he never wrote back. a few more months went by and I sent him a Christmas card, with a short but sweet sentiment included, but he didn’t write back.
it had been a year since I had first met Jack and I was now at my wit’s end with my life. I was depressed, unloved, unwanted, and I needed out. I started making plans to go to Jack in New York City. I wasn’t sure if he’d be happy to see me, as a friend or as more, but I had to get away. if he didn’t want me, I’m not sure where I’d go, but I’d figure that out later. I sold a bunch of jewelry and things that my mother and father had left to me, and had emptied what meager savings I had in the bank. I had let it slip to my former boss what my plans were. he was a nice older gentleman who felt bad replacing me at my job and so he bought me a train ticket, one way, and refused to accept anything in return for it. it was a big help and I was very grateful. so one morning I just left. I didn’t tell my grandparents goodbye or anyone else. my old boss was the only one who knew and he promised not to say where I had gone, just that I had gone to find my own life. I was nervous and I was scared and my ankle, not fully healed yet (due to an infection), was not holding up well under all of the walking but I arrived in New York City and made it to Jack’s address. unfortunately he wasn’t in at the moment, so I sat down to wait for him on the steps of the building.
time seemed to drag on. I was hungry, thirsty, tired and in need of a restroom but I waited. and finally I saw him strolling down the street towards me, with his arm around the shoulders of a small petite blonde, both of them laughing heartily at a story he seemed to be telling in his dramatic fashion. it made me smile to see, even if part of my heart was breaking with the possibility that she was his girlfriend. I shakily stood when they approached the steps and that’s when he saw me. he was struck dumb, just like when I told him I wanted to come with him. I bravely found my voice and simply said, “Hi, Jack”. he silently stood there. the girl looked between us and moved out from under his arm as she introduced herself to break the uncomfortable silence, “Hello, I’m Cyn. you a friend of Jack’s?” I nodded as I looked away from Jack’s intense gaze and said, “my name is Nancy”, then I looked down, not liking the friend description but fearing it wasn’t even true anymore. Cyn, or Cynthia, as I later leaned, tried to hide her surprise, which caught my attention and caused me to look back up at her. a big smile graced her face as she said “I’m this lug head’s sister, our Pop owns the gym around the corner”. her explanation seemed slightly out of place but I was thankful for it, she knew what I assumed and she was trying to smooth over the tension. Jack continued to just stand there, but had also looked down and was shuffling his feet. that’s when he saw my ankle, the puffy scar still quite visible. I had taken to wearing slacks to cover it but I wore the dress for traveling, to try and blend in with what I thought fashion was in the city.
Jack bluntly asked what had happened to my leg. Cynthia elbowed him in the ribs, which I found amusing. I looked at him and confusedly asked, “did you not get my letters?” he seemed to close in on himself a bit and cleared his throat before answering, “yea, but I didn’t open them.” now I was the one struck dumb, just standing there staring. oh. deep breath. oh. it seems my fears weren’t silly at all, he didn’t want me. as either a lover or a friend. what was I going to do? I had nowhere to stay, I didn’t have a plan, all hope flew out the window. my eyes teared up but I refused to cry. I squared my shoulders, turned to Cynthia and asked her if she knew a place nearby where I could stay, a YWCA maybe? I didn’t have a lot of money to spare but I was very tired and I needed to put my feet up. Jack looked confused, like the conversation was moving quicker than he could process. Cynthia sympathized and said her father rented out rooms in the same building as the gym. she knew one was vacant at the moment and said I could stay there for the night, no charge. I tried to argue, saying I could pay something just not a lot. she said, nonsense, her father would want to see to my ankle himself anyway. I latched on to her kindness. I didn’t want to be a charity case but I had gone so long without anyone offering anything to me. I accepted.
Jack seemed to come alive then, and grabbed my arm as I turned to follow Cynthia. “Nancy, what happened to your ankle? are you okay? why are you going to the gym, you can stay here” I interrupted him and said, “Jack, I know it was a shock to you, me just showing up like this. I would have written you to warn of my coming but I guess it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.” I scoffed. “I really do need to sit down and eat something, drink something. I’ll go to the gym with Cynthia and you take a bit to think of what you want to say to me, okay?” I took his hand in mine and looked into his eyes, “we can talk then.” he numbly nodded. “I’m glad you found your father, and that you have family now.” I gave him a watery smile and then walked away with Cynthia. we were half way down the block, when she looked back and then laughed softly to herself. I whispered “what’s he doing? pulling on his ear and roughly rubbing his head?” she laughed out loud and nodded her head yes. “good” I mused, “he’s still the Jack I know, then.”
Cynthia was right, Jack’s father did insist on looking at my ankle. he chastised me for walking on it too much and not letting it heal properly. Cynthia said not everyone is lucky enough to have a pain in the ass father to keep you in line. that seemed to mean something to the both of them because he became softer towards me after that. I learned quickly that all of the people at the gym knew exactly who I was, recognized my name in relation to Jack, and seemed happy that I was there. so at least I knew he had talked about me, and favorably, that was something. Jack’s father wasn’t pleased that Jack wasn’t with me, that it was Cynthia who had brought me to see him about my ankle. Cynthia just rolled her eyes and said Jack was definitely his father’s son. again, something that held weight with them that I was clueless about. ‘Pops’ wanted to know what had happened to my ankle and I said it was a car accident. Cynthia asked if I was driving. I said no, and I begrudgingly went on to relate what had really happened. when I finished, the room was eerily quiet. I felt very uncomfortable and didn’t know where to look. when I looked up though I realized they weren’t looking at me, they were looking behind me, at Jack, who was standing in the doorway. his father stood up from his kneeling position where he was tending to my ankle. he patted me on the shoulder and grabbed Cynthia, herding her towards the door. I watched him move pass Jack, leaning down to whisper something in his ear and then shoving him, a bit forcefully, into the room towards me.
Jack sat down beside me, all shock from earlier gone. it was my turn to be shocked because what he did was fuss. Jack was fussing all over me, asking if I was in pain, adjusting my ankle upon the chair. asking if i had eaten, if I was thirsty. finally I laughed in exasperation and ordered him to settle down, like a dog. he looked abashed but then took my hand in his and took a deep breath, “I wanted to be worthy of you, set myself up with a bit of money and stability before I came back for you. I wanted to show you that I was a man now, instead of the messed up boy who left.” he looked so vulnerable and ashamed as he said it. I always saw him as a man, never a boy. I told him as much. I saw him as my friend, my best friend. the person who made getting up in the morning worth it, the person who made me feel like I mattered. the man who whisked into my dreary little existence and opened it up, gave me a peek at really living, really loving, and the possibility that I could be loved in return. that I was worth it. he looked like he was going to cry when he answered, “and I left. how can you even look at me?!” the self-loathing, that was my Jack too. “you needed me, you wrote to me and I was too much of a coward to open it.” I asked what he was scared of, and he said he was scared to read that I could get on without him. that life goes on and our time together was just a moment in time, cherished but easily forgotten.
I placed my hand upon his cheek until he raised his head and looked at me. I had to come see if he found his happiness with his father, if new york city was everything he hoped it could be. I needed to know that one of us got their dream in the end. he told me that he was in love with me, had loved me every moment before he left and every moment after. he didn’t know if I felt the same way, if I only thought of him as a messed up boy that brought excitement to my life. he knew there was a strong possibility that I didn’t return his feelings, that I would tell him not to bother setting up a life for us together, that I wouldn’t come. that’s why he didn’t open the letters. denial. “I convinced myself, and everyone around me, that you would though. if I asked, that you would come. I just didn’t expect you to show up all on your own, without my even asking. not in a million years!” he laughed in disbelief. I was crying, with a big smile on my face, and playfully moved my hand to lightly slap him. he smiled in return. I looked up at the ceiling and tried to pull myself together. all the weight left my shoulders, as I looked back at his waiting face. my lip started to tremble. he worriedly asked what was wrong, what I needed. I said I needed him. needed him to know that I did feel the same way, that I always had. he leaned down and kissed me then, softly, tentatively. and then asked if I was ready to come home with him. home? home to his place, our place, the place he had slowly but surely been preparing for us. I said yes.