Fragments and memories are all I have of Thomas. They are the pieces of a life spent years ago that sometimes bubble up to the surface. A song will come on the radio, the sun will glint in a specific way through the dirty windshield as I cruise down the highway, or the smell of stale urine will take me back to him, to that time, to those places. Losing him by leaving him has been a grieving process that I can’t seem to shake. He was my first, and perhaps most powerful lover. I let him take over my body and my mind. I pushed myself to the very brink of death itself just to be with him, unabashedly, unprotected, unfettered by fear.
I loved him. Right to my core, he had full access. I gave everything to him. He took all he wanted, all he needed. Right up until that last punch, when I finally said no and had had enough of his bullshit and drama. Right up until I realized that his life ending didn’t mean mine had to as well. I still loved him, though. He still held me in rapture, even when the little apartment we shared disappeared around the corner in my car’s mirror.
I know he’s long since dead. It’s been over a dozen years since his ashes intermingled with the cold North Atlantic. When I read stories like Martin and John, though, I’m brought back, across space and time, to the moments where I held him, when all he could do was throw up, when it seemed like his body was literally falling away from him in chunks and pieces. I’m brought to those dark rooms, those awful apartments in both Lewiston and Auburn, to the attic of my mom’s house, where we did lines of coke to forget about our troubles. I’m brought to the three-hour drive home from the club in Worcester, after circling the club and downtown for a number of hours just trying to track him down and get him back from the coke dealer he needed. I’m reminded how powerful love was in my life, and just what I was capable of to keep this love in my life.
I grief for him still. Staring out over the ocean, now living in the town where his body lived briefly at the very end, I often wonder what was on his mind up here. Was he safe? Did he feel peace? Was he angry with me? I had reached my breaking point with him, but to what end? Why did I fail him when he needed me most? Was I not strong enough to accept his failings and could I have been a better lover to him?
Martin and John reminded me of what I didn’t have with Thomas. He wasn’t as brave against the waves of death that threatened to drag him under at any moment. He hid, he ran, he escaped the reality of his mortality at every turn. He didn’t die gracefully. I wasn’t there, stroking his hand at the last hour, or washing him in a tub of hot water. I simply walked away. He was left to his own devices. There was no love left in me to give him, no patience, no money, no desire. I was only left with a numb sense of vacancy when I finally pulled up stakes and abandoned him.
I’m here now, though. I’m here, in Portland, facing down Thomas and our past. I’m finally piecing together the history that he and I had, albeit briefly. I’m trying to reconstruct what happened between him and I from a place of wisdom, of history, and of love. I too can write Thomas into and out of my consciousness. I can finally put him to rest in my mind. I can finally cut myself free from that moment in my past when I was with him. I too can reconstruct the situation in a way that informs my reader of the power and multilayered experience of life.
Peck’s style has shown me another way forward. He has demonstrated a way to tell a story that is honest, powerful, and real. Fragments are woven together in Martin and John that reassemble themselves into something else. References blend, characters intermingle, and in the end, the story is made more powerful because of it’s adherence to a specific way that memory works.
I need to read and write more like this. I need to just let the story flow, in bits and pieces that may or may not make sense, until I get to the place where I can let Thomas go. I need to let him go.