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Thierry Cohen-Still With Me
| To my friend Eric Haim Bensaid.
| As a way to say, “I miss you.”
| To my parents, Helene and Jacques.
| As a way to say, “I love you.”
| CHAPTER ONE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
| May 8, 2001—Paris, France
| Pills. Whiskey. A little pot. I’m lying down. I know what I’m doing. I’m thinking about how I’m going
to do it and nothing else. Thinking about the movements—that’s it. Thinking only about myself, right
here in the living room. About the bottle, the pills. Just me. The cap. The pipe. Opening my mouth,
placing the pills on my tongue, bringing the bottle to my lips. Swallowing. Thinking about how to do it.
Nothing else. Not about Dad, not about Mom. Especially not them. About my shame. All alone, right
here. Me and my shame. I know what I’m doing. Mom and Dad will understand. Maybe. I don’t care
whether they understand. No, don’t think about them. Think about no one.
Today it’s my choice. I don’t want this life anymore. It’s torture, an insult. It’s my choice. And I
choose to end it. Today I’m in control.
If I’m not brave enough, if I’m tempted to get up, to stop everything, I’ll think of her. The one who
is life itself and who rejected me. Not about the others, who love me, but about the one who doesn’t,
doesn’t want to love me. Who won’t even try. Her satin skin, her emerald eyes, her smile. Her smile.
Her beauty’s embrace, given so freely to those who come near. Now it’s agony. But it’s not just her
beauty. Everything about her destroyed me, dragging me into oblivion. The oblivion of death or the
emptiness of my life. What’s the difference?
God, my head is spinning. God…Why am I talking to you? Are you there? Have you been there all
along? Did you hear my prayers? Come on, God, let’s be honest. How can a God of mercy put such a
creature so close to me and at the same time keep her from me? What’s the point? To make me suffer?
You won. I’m suffering. I don’t even want to live. Are you proud of yourself? I’m handing you my
future. Give it to someone else. You’ve shown me nothing but the abyss, so that’s where I’m going.
I’m not afraid.
I’m thinking about how to do it. Nothing else. The rolling papers are still smoking. I can get a
little higher. Get away from myself so I can get away from her. There, my spirit feels light, lulled by
the smoke, the alcohol, and soon enough the pills. That’s how to do it. I’m sweating. Not from fear.
Just a few more seconds. Thinking of her.
I decided to tell her everything. Today, on my twentieth birthday. Cast off my doubts and finally
know. I practiced…Did I need to practice? I had no shortage of words for her. But she didn’t hear me.
She didn’t want to hear me. I reminded her of our childhood romance. The first pages of the story.
“But we were nine, Jeremy,” she said, smiling.
Ten, actually. That’s not too young, ten years old. I was madly in love with her. And she liked me
too. For her, it was nothing more than make-believe. A few innocent kisses, just a tender allegiance, a
sweet melody. A distant memory, colors fading. But for me, that’s when life began. A warm glow,
stronger than the light of our last summer together.
“We were friends. I confided in you.”
What torture, the role I had to play all those years just to be near her. Watching all those little
show-offs strut their beauty, their physiques. She liked making them happy.
So I pulled away. I tried to forget her. In vain. The pain, the hope. Like I was suffocating. I
| needed everything to end. On my twentieth birthday. An ultimatum I’d set when the wait became
I would confess my love. Try to convince her. With words like pearls, polished by their time
beside my wounds.
I saw her falter, touched by my words.
For a few seconds, she was mine.
Or did I imagine it?
That was when he appeared and everything fell apart.
“I want you to meet Hugo. My fiancé.”
With these words, my spirit froze. The pain, my old friend, lying in wait somewhere between my
heart and my stomach, suddenly resurfaced, stronger than ever. Like the last brave battle before
inevitable defeat. She’s mine. She was made for me. She belongs to me!
I thought these words so loudly they left my mouth. Loudly.
He hit me. I fell, pitiful. She held him back. Her eyes were full of tenderness. Her mouth, pity.
“I love him. And I don’t love you, Jeremy. I never loved you. I never will love you. I’m sorry.”
The words were meant to ease her passion, to butcher my love. Like arrows in my heart.
Then they left.
And everything ended.
I finish my joint. I lie down. Pills in one hand, bottle in the other. The only way out.
Now, God, let’s settle up. And you’d better explain yourself. I don’t want any excuses. Here’s a
chance to redeem yourself. What do you have for me up there when my hell is down here? Will I have
to appear before your court to answer for my sins? You don’t believe in suicide? You reject anyone
who does it? You rejected me while I was alive. This is your fault.
| Visions sprang up in Jeremy’s mind, the last embers of a dying fire. His parents watched him go. His
mother waving to him tearfully. His father watching him coldly. Then a little girl appeared and slid
into place between them. His sister. Back where she belonged. He moaned. His enemy—pain—was
strong! He needed to act quickly, to pacify the old hurt or win it over to his side. Wasn’t this what the
He placed the pills on his tongue and drank a mouthful of whiskey.
A cold shiver ran through him. Cold and strong enough to snuff out twenty years of life. He
thought he heard a voice. Was it Victoria?
And what that voice whispered, so far away, fixed a smile on his face.
“Happy birthday, Jeremy!”
| Light woke him. A delicious warmth enveloped him. He felt good.
Before dying, his last thought had been of the afterlife and his hope of finding something better,
And now a soft glow licked his eyelids. I’m dead. I crossed over. I’m going farther, and I’ll
arrive on the other side to discover the full light, the truth. And maybe understand the meaning of my
He waited a moment, anticipating the movement that would carry him toward total clarity. But it
never came. Instead, what felt like a gentle touch grazed his stomach, and the sensation surprised him.
Then he felt the weight of his body and thought he heard his own heartbeat.
A single thought threw him into a panic: he wasn’t dead yet!
Jeremy tried to open his eyes, and a light blinded him. Blurry vision, then a moving form.
The contours, shadows, and colors came into focus slowly: chestnut hair, a woman’s face. It’s not
possible! I’m dreaming! Death made me delirious. This face…It’s unbelievable.
With her chin poised on two slender hands that she clasped over his stomach, Victoria smiled up
Jeremy froze, hypnotized by this unlikely apparition.
“There you are. Awake, finally?” She spoke to him softly.
Victoria’s face. Victoria’s touch. And now her voice.
“Come on, lazy bones. Get up!” Victoria’s fingers played across his chest.
She’s here, beside me. She’s looking at me, talking to me…
“Are you really awake, or should I go?”
He tried to move; to his surprise, he managed to move a hand toward Victoria’s, touching it.
Is this a dream? An illusion? A work of fiction? Who made it? God? The devil?
Jeremy felt divided between fear and euphoria. He wanted to scream, laugh, and cry.
He decided to simply give in to this death hallucination.
The girl slid next to him. Her skin felt like silk, rippling slowly across his body. Even softer than
in his dreams. When Victoria’s face was a few inches from his, he squinted to take in every detail: her
deep green eyes, her long lashes, and her mouth coming closer to his.
How many times had he dreamed of holding her?
She kissed him tenderly, and he gave in to his overpowering desire. Who cares if this is real or
not? It’s real to me…
“Come on, can’t you put in a little more effort?” Victoria chided him. “Just because it’s your
birthday doesn’t mean I have to do all the work.”
His birthday? He froze. What did that mean? Had Death chosen to respect the ultimatum rejected
by Life? Or maybe in the depth of the abyss, time and oblivion collided, conspiring to offer him one
last joy. He decided to take advantage of this moment, to live this delirium completely before
finishing his journey.
Victoria pulled his body to hers, and he felt her skin melt into him. Jeremy didn’t dare move.
“Hold me, damn it,” she moaned. She lifted her head and looked at him slyly. “Don’t you want
| She kissed Jeremy’s lips, and he tasted her in his mouth. He felt intoxicated, lulled by a ghost
that was so close to being real.
“I’ll turn off the light,” she whispered.
Not the dark. Not yet! The darkness will devour us, take Victoria away and drag me off to the end
of my journey. And this brief respite, so marvelous, will be over.
The light disappeared, but Victoria’s body did not.
“You’re holding me too tight. I can’t move,” she said, her voice low and playful.
| Victoria was still there next to him.
Jeremy held her hand. He had been afraid his joy would mean the end of his dream. How many
others had ended the same way? He had held completely still, dreading the moment he’d have to stop
and finally die.
Victoria set her chin on his chest and whispered, “You know, it’s silly, but I can’t stop thinking
that it was a year ago…you wanted to die. For me.”
| Jeremy sat on the bed, shaken. He tried to make sense of Victoria’s words. A year ago? My birthday?
Are we alive? Why don’t I remember the past year?
Jeremy’s thoughts darkened under the onslaught of foolish questions, incomplete ideas, and
answers and theories that were just as strange. The absurdity of the situation became unbearable, and
he got up. He rubbed the back of his neck nervously, trying to decide.
He could hear Victoria humming “Hymn to Love” in the shower.
He studied the apartment: a sunny room with creamy white walls in a somewhat cold,
contemporary style, cheered up by a few knickknacks. He recognized some of the furnishings. The
leather sofa his parents gave him. The lamp with a red shade he bought from an artist friend. Two
brightly colored pillows.
Jeremy walked to the window and parted the thick curtains. A ray of sunlight shot through onto
the bed, revealing particles of dust suspended in the air. Outside the people, cars, and sounds came
together to form an everyday street scene.
He looked around the room again—so full of natural light—and noticed an electronic calendar on
the wall. It featured a classic landscape from his hometown, Essaouira. Some white houses and some
blue; sunlit trees leaning in the wind. Jeremy stepped closer to read the date flashing in florescent
diodes: MAY 8, 2002.
He had committed suicide on May 8, 2001.
Jeremy sat down on the couch, shocked, his eyes riveted on the calendar.
In an effort to control his mounting panic, Jeremy forced himself to stop and think. Come up with
a few theories. If he was dead, maybe he was in some kind of paradise where every day was his
birthday. Or maybe it was a hell that condemned him to relive his dream, always on the same date.
And if he was alive…that meant his suicide had backfired and he’d lost his memory—of an entire
Victoria appeared in the bathroom door wearing a robe, hair in a white towel, cheeks red, smiling.
The love of his life was there beside him.
“What are you up to? Checking the calendar? Making sure it’s the right date? Well, yes, it really
is your birthday. Why do you think I threw myself at you earlier? It was your gift!” She laughed.
| Then she frowned, noticing Jeremy’s serious look. “What’s going on with you today? Why are
you making that face? You’re acting really weird this morning.”
Shaken, he decided to ask her a few questions.
“I…” It was the first time he’d spoken since he woke up, and his voice surprised him. He paused
and let the sound resonate, almost like something solid in his mind.
“Yes?” She tilted her head, intrigued.
What could he say? If this were all an illusion, what would be the point of admitting his
But he had to say something. “I forget…”
“You forget? What did you forget, my dear? Your birthday?” She made the joke without smiling.
He was too serious, too tense.
“What did you forget, my love?” she insisted.
“I forget everything,” he fumbled, delightfully surprised by Victoria’s concern. “I don’t
remember anything. I don’t know this apartment. I don’t remember yesterday or the day before
yesterday or the day or the month before.”
Victoria looked at him for a minute, puzzled; then she shrugged her shoulders. She sat on the
couch and began rubbing her hair with the towel.
“Victoria…” He shivered as he pronounced her name. “I think I have amnesia.”
“Oh, come on. Stop it. You and your bad jokes.” She went on rubbing her hair vigorously, her
How do I tell her? Is it really necessary? After all, whatever world I’m in, present or future, if
they even exist, it’s wonderful because she’s here. So why worry about the past? Twelve months out of
an eternity—what does it matter?
But Jeremy knew he couldn’t be himself again without getting back his memory of the last
twelve months. He wanted to try one last time.
“I really don’t feel well. I have a headache. And…”
Hearing this, Victoria raised her head and looked at him indulgently. “That must be from the
party last night. I’m not surprised after how much you drank!”
Jeremy shivered. A party last night? I drank too much? I don’t even like alcohol, but anything’s
possible. That must be it! I celebrated my birthday and got drunk, drunk enough to forget a year of my
A weak theory, but plausible and reassuring. So that means I’m really alive. And when my
hangover goes away, I’ll get my memory back.
“So what happened?” Jeremy asked, enchanted by the idea.
By then Victoria had moved on to painting her nails.
“Oh, well, you definitely tied one on. You really don’t remember?” she asked slyly.
“I see why you’d want to forget. You almost ruined the party. You told dirty jokes; you confessed
your love for Clotilde…It would’ve been fine if you hadn’t punched Pierre when he told you to shut
up.” She’d said all this without raising her head, a wry smile on her lips.
Her words bothered Jeremy. How could he behave that way? He was way too shy to act out like
that. Could he have changed that much in one year?
“Love for Clotilde? Pierre?”
“Don’t worry about it; they weren’t offended. They know you get stupid when you drink. At the
time, it bothered me. But then again, it was your birthday, you were drinking, all that…and anyway,”
she added, smiling, “what you said to Clotilde was really flat compared to your confession to me, one
year ago today.”
| “You’re talking about what I said in the park? But…I had to say it…I’ve said it since then…”
She flashed a brilliant smile. “Yes, of course. Sweet words. Some touching. But no real
declaration. Not the kind of thing that brings tears to your eyes…” She paused as if she were looking
back on those moments. “You surprised me so much I brutally dumped the man who had just asked
me to marry him so I could throw myself in your arms!”
The comment bothered Jeremy. It revealed part of their story and helped to make sense of his
presence in her room, but it also revealed a surprising aspect of his personality.
He moved closer and sat down next to her. He took her hands and placed them against his cheeks.
“You know, I should say beautiful things to you every day.”
“You’re so serious! Did I upset you, my love?” she asked, frowning.
“No, I just have a really bad…headache.”
She put a hand on his forehead. “It’s true, you don’t look good. You’re pale as a corpse.”
Jeremy shuddered at these words.
He decided to confide in her. She was the only one who could help. “I don’t feel well at all. I
don’t remember anything about yesterday—or anything from the last year. It’s a total blank.”
He got up and paced the room, carried away by his confession.
“I know it’s unbelievable, but I have…amnesia. An unusual amnesia because I’m only forgetting
this year,” he continued. “I remember the twenty years from before. And even a few minutes before…
Victoria hung on his words, frozen in the middle of the room, watching Jeremy and visibly
distraught. “Are you serious?”
Victoria’s face was grim. “The alcohol, maybe?” she said without conviction.
They gazed at each other in silence for several long seconds.
“I know! It was the fall!” Victoria exclaimed. “Yesterday I tried to put you to bed, but you
struggled and fell. You hit your head on the bed frame. You said you were fine, but you had a nasty
bump on your head. You fell asleep, and I thought it wouldn’t be so bad. But you fell pretty hard. I
should’ve taken you to the hospital.”
This explanation reassured Jeremy. He ran his fingers through his hair and felt, sure enough, a
fresh bruise on the side of his head. He felt some of the heaviness weighing on him disappear. A
physical cause, an injury. Finally a concrete fact that added some logic to the situation.
Victoria took Jeremy’s arm and sat him gingerly on the edge of the bed, like she was guiding a
senior citizen. Seeing her upset—worried about him—comforted Jeremy because it meant he was still
alive. Alive but unwell. And with Victoria there next to him, loving him.
Liberated from his fear, Jeremy wanted to shout for joy.
“What do you remember exactly?” Victoria asked.
“The first time we made love?” she asked with a devilish look.
“For me, that was a few minutes ago.”
Victoria’s eyes widened.
“And this apartment?” she continued.
“New to me.”
“But that’s crazy!” Then in a softer voice, she spoke to him like a sick person. “Try to remember.
When you woke up at the hospital, after your attempt…And the time you spent recovering at my
“No. I can only remember my suicide and then you and me this morning. Nothing between the
“Incredible! So you’re telling me that I’m new to you too? It’s like you just learned that you and
me, that we’re…”
“That’s crazy!” she exclaimed.
Then she sighed deeply and got up, unsure of herself. “Okay, no need to worry. It’s a temporary
“Temporary or selective?”
“I don’t know; what do we know about amnesia?” she said on her way to the telephone. “I’m
calling Pierre to come with us to the hospital. It’ll be good to have your best friend there with you.”
| With Pierre standing next to his hospital bed, Jeremy knew he’d seen him before. He was part of
Victoria’s group of friends from school. Jeremy knew them all and classified them by degrees of
danger. The best-looking guys, the most charming—he hated them. Then there were those without any
particular physical assets, but whose personalities were threats. Victoria was sensitive enough to fall
for strong, unique character types. The others were admitted to her court for their sense of humor,
their kindness. Pierre fell somewhere between the charming and the unique. He was kind of a Woody
Allen. Nice guy, brilliant, with intelligent eyes, thin hair, and unremarkable features. Jeremy
remembered his frail figure and slightly stooped posture next to Victoria’s when they were together.
She sometimes held his hand, and Jeremy envied him. At the same time, he was grateful Pierre took
care of her in ways that were, he hoped, completely innocent.
Jeremy wondered when and how Pierre had become his friend. His presence surprised Jeremy,
who was embarrassed by his kindness and concern.
Pierre leaned over Jeremy. “Hey, buddy, I know you don’t like to talk about it, but right now, it’s
for a good cause.”
Victoria eyed him anxiously, biting her nails.
“Do you remember this hospital? A year ago, Victoria drove you here. You were in bad shape. A
bottle of whiskey and a fistful of pills…You were in a coma.”
“I’m telling you, I don’t remember,” Jeremy replied mournfully.
“Fuck,” Pierre whispered. “Okay, what do you remember?”
“The bottle, the joints, the pills, my living room.”
“And before that? Do you remember your life before the attempt?”
“And nothing after that?”
“No. I’ve told you ten times.”
“Sorry. I know it’s annoying.” Pierre sighed. He sat down on the edge of the bed. “Cheer up. The
tests all came back fine. Of course, the doctor didn’t really dive in. He said something about ‘likely
psychosomatic causes.’ Your attempt must be the key. I thought it wasn’t a problem for you. You
never talk about it.”
“It’s true,” said Victoria, “but maybe that’s because it was a problem.”
“What’s strange is the selective side of the amnesia.” Pierre paused. “In fact…you don’t know
“Only by sight, from high school.”
“By sight,” Pierre repeated. “Me? Your best friend? I took care of you during your recovery. I got
you home every time you got toasted…and you don’t know me. Only by sight.”
| “I’m sorry.” Pierre’s presence irritated Jeremy. His questions, his exasperated affection. He
wanted to be alone with Victoria, to talk to her, hold her.
“Pierre, could you give us a minute alone?” Jeremy asked dryly.
Pierre looked up, surprised.
“Of course,” he replied, trying to hide his annoyance. Then to Victoria, he said, “Don’t hesitate to
call if you have news. Don’t leave me in the dark.”
Pierre’s last comment touched Jeremy. He held out his hand. Pierre shook it, leaned over, and
kissed him on his cheek. “When you’re your normal self, we kiss.”
Jeremy, uncomfortable with this level of intimacy, increased the pressure of his hand.
After Pierre left, Victoria snuggled up to Jeremy, touching his face. Once again, happiness filled
“So, how is it my baby can’t remember me?”
“To forget you I’d have to forget the first twenty years of my life. On the other hand, I have no
memory of us living together. So to see you here next to me, it’s almost…supernatural. If you tell me
what’s happened over the last year, maybe that would help.”
“It seems silly for me to tell you about things we did together not that long ago, but okay. Here
She lay down next to him, took his hand, and stared at the ceiling.
“Stop me if something comes back to you,” she whispered. “Everything started during that fight
with Hugo, my…fiancé…after you told me you loved me. You were on the ground, and he was out of
his mind with anger. He screamed at you. He insulted you, made fun of you, and I started to defend
you. I was disgusted by his brutality. He got louder, and he started saying God knows what. He even
accused me of teasing you. You know, he was very impulsive. I was scared of his temper. But anyway,
I told him what you said moved me tremendously.”
She laughed. “He got mad and threw a fit. That’s when I understood I couldn’t build a life with
someone so…primitive. I wasn’t really in love with him. He was a pretty boy. The kind all the girls
like. Foolishly, I was proud he’d chosen me. I was like that at the time.”
She lowered her voice to hide her embarrassment. “After that, I ditched Hugo and went home.
And I thought about everything that had happened. About you and the way your lips quivered when
you spoke. About your words, your love, so absolute. About our childhood games. I won’t lie. You
weren’t really my type. You were an old romance, a friend. I knew you were crazy about me, and I
found that charming. I liked big guys, varsity players, even if I couldn’t exchange tender words with
“To hear your declaration—so sweet—your love and your sensitivity. It sort of clicked! Without
knowing why, I had to see you. Now I think it was a premonition. I knew your address. I’d seen you
watching me from your balcony often enough. Your door wasn’t locked. I called your name. When
you didn’t answer, I went into the living room. And I saw you there on your couch with a bottle of
whiskey beside you and the pills. I knew right away. I called an ambulance.”
She paused a moment, disturbed by the images her story brought back to life.
Jeremy squeezed her hand. He felt overwhelmed with happiness. Her story was tangible evidence
that proved he was alive in the folds of a reality that was beautiful and true.
“When the ambulance arrived, you were clinically dead. You were very white and very beautiful.
Your features showed a kind of determination. I was frantic. I cried. I called to you. I shouted, ‘I love
you,’ thinking my words might reach you wherever you were. I asked God to let you come back to life.
Me” —Victoria shook her head wryly— “a self-proclaimed atheist!
“I have to believe God listened to me anyway because the EMT restarted your heart. You stayed
in a coma until that night, and I was there when you came out of it. With Pierre. He was surprised to
| see me so attentive, so caring. I couldn’t explain why. I told him it was because it was my fault, but I
knew it was something else. When you woke up, it took you time to understand what had happened.
And you refused to talk about what you did. You didn’t speak at all for almost a week. I went to see
you every day. Pierre too. And one day, here at the hospital, I kissed you.”
Victoria paused. “Do you remember our first kiss?” She asked the question in a lighter tone.
How could I forget that kiss? I wanted it so much.
“It’s hard to imagine you don’t remember that,” Victoria remarked sadly.
Jeremy was angry at himself for hurting her, so he tried to distract her. “Tell me about the kiss. I
wanted it for so long.”
Her smile returned. “Oh, well, we talked a lot during your recovery. I mean me, mostly. You…
you stayed silent. It felt like you didn’t really know me or you held something against me.”
“What do you mean?”
She stroked his cheek. “It’s funny, we’ve never talked so openly about this period, and now,
because of the state you’re in, I feel like I can say anything. Okay, so…You were cold with me.
Almost indifferent. It was as if your love was dead, and at the same time, part of you had evaporated. I
took it as a form of retaliation and felt like I was boring you. I wanted to make you love me again.
And I did. You couldn’t resist my ravishing charm!”
“One day, I got a new declaration of love. You said beautiful things. Okay, not as nice as that
time in the park, but still…We kissed in the hospital. We even made love in your room. Spooning, if I
remember correctly.” She smiled. “Talk about a strange place for a first time.”
Strangely, Jeremy felt jealous of this other self who Victoria had kissed and with whom she had
shared these magic moments.
“And then?” he asked.
“When you were ready to leave the hospital, I worked it out so you could come live with me.
Actually, the doctors said you shouldn’t be left alone. So I offered to take care of you.”
She blushed and gave him a mischievous look. He smiled at her.
“A month later, you decided to leave your apartment to come live permanently at my place. You
were so excited. You had just found a job.”
“You can’t guess?”
“I was a graphic arts student, so…Illustration? Graphic design?”
“Oh, no. You never wanted to pick up your pens again. You’re a salesman.”
“What!” Jeremy almost shouted in surprise.
“Yes, you’re really good, actually. With a bright future and bosses who love you. You sell
“Salesman? I’m not the type. I never knew how to talk about money.”
“It must be love that changed you, my dear, because you’re about to receive a promotion, after
just a few months. It’s a real record in your line of work.”
“That’s crazy.” Jeremy was dismayed by this new revelation. “A salesman. It’s impossible. I’m
too shy for that. I wanted to be a graphic designer. I was passionate about my art and gifted.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep talking about this. You’re sweating, and you look tired.”
“I want to know…”
She interrupted him, worried. “No. I won’t say another word. It’s upsetting you too much. And
it’s probably not recommended for people in your condition.”
Jeremy wanted to argue, but Victoria pressed her mouth to his. Their kiss lasted a long time.
| Then she pulled away and stood up. He held onto her hand. He had so many questions, especially
about his parents. What did they think about his suicide attempt? Were they angry?
“I’ll let you rest. It’s late. They didn’t give me permission to stay with you tonight. I’m not your
wife, after all.”
“You will be soon,” he said weakly.
“Shhhh…I’m hoping for a more romantic proposal and in a place that’s more charming. Just
because we made love for the first time in a hospital room doesn’t mean all our big moments have to
happen here.” She laughed and leaned over to give him a peck on the cheek.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she whispered. “I hope you get better overnight.”
After Victoria left, Jeremy suddenly became aware of the darkness in the room. A cold wave
washed over him, and yet he was sweating. He wanted to sit up, but he realized he could no longer
control his arms and legs. Breathing became difficult.
A panic attack.
Jeremy tried in vain to regain control. He imagined the moments Victoria had described and
thought he tasted whiskey in his mouth. Beads of sweat dripped down his face. He wanted to call out,
but no sound left his throat. He groped for the alarm button on his bed but couldn’t find it. His vision
blurred. He opened his eyes wide with fear so that they wouldn’t close permanently. He tried to push
away the idea of death. Not now…not when he had a reason to live.
He heard a strange voice, cavernous and dark, coming from the side of the bed. He looked over,
and sitting next to him he saw an old man. He had a white beard and wore a dark suit. The man rocked
back and forth steadily with his eyes closed. He was saying Kaddish, the prayer of mourning that all
Jewish people recite to reaffirm their commitment to their faith: a prayer for the dead that borrowed
beauty from life.
“May his great name be exalted and sanctified in the world which he created according to his
will…” The old man contorted, articulating each word firmly, as if he was trying to convince an
invisible power. His voice rumbled painfully.
Jeremy watched him in terror. He thought of his parents and wished they were at his side. He’d
turned back into the scared little boy, haunted by a nightmare. Like all those nights after the death of
his little sister. Where were they now? Were they dead from shame after his suicide attempt? They
loved him so much. How could he have hurt them so much?
He shouted, “Mother!” but only a low growl escaped his knotted throat.
The old man finished his prayer and moved closer. He looked down at Jeremy with excruciating
pain on his face. He was so close. Jeremy couldn’t help but look into his eyes; they were full of
sadness. His skin was weathered and wrinkled and thin as paper. His mouth twisted with inaudible
words. Then the old man leaned closer, and Jeremy heard him.
“It doesn’t have to be,” he said, and his words became a plea. “No, it doesn’t have to be! Life,
life, life.” Tears came to the man’s eyes as he repeated the word, louder and louder, in a heartbreaking
A tear fell from the man’s face onto Jeremy’s hand, burning him where it landed.
Pain was the last thing he felt.
| Jeremy must have overslept. Numb with a pleasant lethargy, he felt good. Suddenly, memories of the
night before came back to him: his struggle to breathe and move, the old man’s sudden appearance,
his words and his tears. Jeremy could feel the burning sensation on his hand.
Then he heard what sounded like a quiet whimper. Fear tingled his consciousness, and he opened
his eyes to look for the old man. He sat up abruptly, and flashes of light shot through his spinning
head. He wasn’t at the hospital anymore. He was back in the room where he had first woken up.
The whimpering stopped.
He took stock of his body, trying to understand his presence in this bed, and stopped cold. On his
left ring finger a gold wedding band glinted in the morning sunlight.
What is this? Where’s Victoria?
He called out to her weakly. The whimpers started up again.
Jeremy called out again, this time with more force. For a brief moment, perfect silence fell. Then
a piercing scream rang out right next to him, startling Jeremy. Inside a wicker basket a few inches to
his right, a baby stretched his little body in an effort to expel the angry howls. Crimson, he screamed
until he was out of breath, gasped, hiccupped, and started all over again. Dumbfounded, Jeremy felt
like he was actor and audience for the same scene.
Where did that baby come from?
A ringing telephone finally broke the repetitive rhythm of the baby’s cries. Jeremy tried to locate
the phone by focusing intently during the few seconds the baby paused to catch his breath. The
telephone had already rung four or five times by the time he found it.
“Jeremy?” It was Victoria. “Good God, what happened? Why is he crying? It’s too soon.”
“I don’t know,” Jeremy fumbled. “Where are you?”
“Where are you?” He almost had to shout to be heard, which only made the baby scream louder.
“Don’t yell like that—you’ll scare him,” Victoria warned. “I’m at the gym. I just finished my
class. Oh my goodness, he needs to settle down, the little monster. Put the telephone next to his ear.”
Jeremy obeyed without comprehending fully. He didn’t hear what Victoria said, but the baby
grew quiet. His eyes seemed to be searching for the origin of the voice. Then finally, he fell
completely silent, still trembling with hic-cups, his skin clearing slowly.
“There,” Victoria said with satisfaction. “His mommy’s voice made him happy. If he cries again,
pick him up. I’ll be back in ten minutes. Happy birthday, my love.”
Jeremy thought he was going crazy. Victoria hung up, and he stood there, frozen on two heavy
legs, unable to take his eyes off the telephone.
The same nightmare. I wake up on my birthday and part of my life has vanished. This time I’m
married. I have a child. Is this some kind of joke?
The baby started crying again, bringing Jeremy out of his trance. The screams irritated him. They
interrupted his thinking about this new crisis. Jeremy hesitated to pick him up.
“What do I care about this kid?” Jeremy grumbled out loud, immediately regretting his hostility.
I don’t even know how to hold a baby.
Jeremy finally moved to pick up the little boy. His tiny head fell back abruptly. Jeremy vaguely
remembered a tip he’d once heard and placed a hand under the baby’s neck for support. He leaned the
| baby against his shoulder and felt the little body stiffen under his fingers with each cry. He hesitantly
paced back and forth across the few feet that separated the bed from the bathroom door. The baby
Jeremy remembered the electric calendar from his last awakening and walked over to the wall.
The photo of Essaouira had been replaced with a picture of the Russian Cross bridges in Lyon. He’d
spent the first years of his life there after his parents left Morocco. The day and the month were the
same, but the year had changed: MAY 8, 2004.
Two years! Two years since I went to the hospital. Two years I can’t remember. Two years
Tears suddenly slid down his cheeks, emptying the lump in his stomach. At that moment, a key
turned in the front door lock. Victoria came in. She had changed. Her hair was shorter, cut into a bob,
her features transformed. Jeremy thought she’d blossomed, rounder than before, more feminine. Even
“Hello, my loves,” she called out joyously.
Jeremy turned away and wiped his eyes on the baby’s bib.
Victoria walked up to him and placed a kiss on the baby’s forehead. “What’s wrong? You look
like you’re crying.”
Should he tell her about this new episode? It seemed wiser to wait and try to figure out what had
He forced a weak smile. “I’m not crying. It’s…the little one. His tears wet my cheeks.”
She pouted a little to show her surprise. A look at the baby transformed her. “So, my sweet, you
cried for your mommy?” She took the baby and held him against her body tenderly. “Is that how you
wish Daddy a happy birthday?”
She faced Jeremy, offering her lips for a kiss. “Happy birthday, my love.”
Then she started to bounce her son again. Jeremy relaxed. Victoria was such a beautiful mother.
She was his wife. They had a baby together. A son. He wasn’t a teenage boy lost in love anymore. Now
he was a father and a husband. It was hard for him to understand, but the reality of the scene persuaded
He tried to reassure himself. If I’m sick, I’ll get better.
“Daddy’s going to give you your milk, okay? I’m going to fix lunch for our guests.”
Victoria placed the baby in Jeremy’s arms authoritatively and held out the bottle. Jeremy was
astonished by the fragility of this little creature. He was so lightweight, so vulnerable. Physical
contact with the baby made him feel better. Jeremy moved the nipple close to the baby’s mouth.
“You can be so clumsy, Jeremy,” Victoria said, correcting his stance. “Lean the bottle a little
more toward him and hold it in the second position or he’ll choke. It’s like you’ve never done this
before.” She went back into the kitchen, calling back to Jeremy, “Don’t you think he looks more like
you every day?”
Jeremy watched the baby suck his milk down hungrily, eyes bright, face well drawn, with a
delicate nose. He looked more like Victoria. The idea of having a son troubled him deeply. He felt too
young. A few days before, he had been someone else’s son. He thought of his parents. He hadn’t seen
them since…in such a long time.
From the kitchen, Victoria interrupted his reverie. “All done?”
Yes, the baby had finished his bottle and dozed off, content.
When Jeremy didn’t respond, Victoria appeared at the door to the living room. “You can give
him to me now. I’ll put him to bed.”
After giving the baby a few pecks on the forehead, she tucked him into his basket.
“I’m going back to the kitchen. Will you come help me?” Jeremy followed after her, curious.
| “Drink your coffee, then you can help me peel the vegetables. I’m only going to fix an entree. I
ordered the rest from the caterer.”
“Yes, of course,” Jeremy answered.
The casual ease of the situation unnerved him. But he started to feel a certain sense of
satisfaction, carried along by everyday activities where he had a role to play and a wife and a child to
care for. Despite his confusion, he was overjoyed to be standing in this kitchen with this level of
intimacy with Victoria and surrounded by the odors of coffee and cooking.
He looked at the vegetables on the table, his steaming mug, the half-eaten loaf of bread, and the
unwrapped stick of butter. And suddenly he was very hungry. An intense feeling of emptiness, nausea,
and restlessness filled his stomach and ran through his body in waves of heat and minute tremors. He
remembered this feeling from childhood. A feeling of imbalance, loss of control, merging with
pleasure when he knew the uneasiness would yield to the voluptuousness of total nourishment, warm
He took the bread, cut it, spread it thickly with butter, and bit into it eagerly. Then he gulped
down a mouthful of sweet, scalding hot coffee, appreciating the smooth sensation of these substances
streaming down his throat.
Victoria laughed. “You’re that hungry? It’s like you haven’t eaten in…”
Two years? Jeremy wanted to say it, but he held his tongue and took another bite of bread.
Hunger appeased, he turned to the task of gathering information. “Who’s coming at noon?”
“You forgot already?”
That worried Jeremy. Is she talking about my condition? Do I forget often?
“Well, it’s Pierre and Clotilde for lunch. Then for coffee, of course, your boss, who’ll be coming
straight from the golf course because you know the boss likes to play golf. You were dead set on
inviting him and it was your birthday, so…What about tonight for a romantic little dinner?”
“Yes…of course…good idea,” Jeremy stammered.
“It would be nice to go out to a restaurant, but I’m not ready to leave Thomas with a stranger yet.
There’ll be other chances to celebrate. So let’s behave like responsible parents for now,” she said in a
Jeremy seized the opportunity to ask the question that had been nagging at him. “And my parents
—they’re not invited?”
Victoria froze and looked at him in amazement. “Are you joking?”
Her reaction terrified him. Was it that surprising to have his parents over on his birthday? He’d
thought of them earlier and was eager to see them. He brought the coffee mug to his lips to give
himself time to think. The first idea that came to mind was that maybe Victoria didn’t get along with
them. The second idea paralyzed him. Were they…?
Victoria was still staring at him, waiting for an answer.
“And why wouldn’t I invite them?” he replied, afraid of what Victoria might say.
“Why?” she repeated, incredulous. “You don’t speak to them for three years and today, suddenly,
you’re surprised they’re not invited?”
Jeremy breathed a sigh of relief. They weren’t dead. But this comfort only lasted a split second
because Victoria’s words sparked another painful thought. Are they still mad? After three years? It’s
impossible. We never fought.
Their family had always been peaceful. No drama, never any arguments. A family united as much
by love as tragedy.
His parents had bought a bar two months after Jeremy was born. It was a little neighborhood
place that occupied all their time. His mother worked up to the minute Jeremy got out of school. His
father was away longer. The bar consumed him. And when he came home at night, exhausted, he
| collapsed in front of the television so he could forget the next day would be the same as the one that
just ended and all the days to come. As a child, Jeremy had longed to sit on his lap, talk to him, but his
father never encouraged the behavior. They rarely chatted at the house; his father preferred the
simplicity of eye contact and shared smiles. In the middle of all that silence, Jeremy sometimes
thought he could hear his little sister’s whimper. She was never far off, woven into the shadows of
Her name was Anna, and she was a year younger than Jeremy. Anna had been four months old
when their mother found her motionless in bed, Jeremy standing next to her with tears streaming down
his face. She’d left them alone for a few minutes to run an errand.
“Sudden infant death syndrome,” the doctors called it, putting a name to the mystery without
explaining it. Jeremy only spoke to his mother about his sister’s death once. He was eight years old.
His teacher, worried about Jeremy’s behavior—too silent, too calm—had advised Mrs. Delègue to
take him to see a therapist. It was during this visit that Jeremy’s mother described the scene, eyes
bathed in tears.
“I remember, Mommy,” he’d whispered. Aghast, his mother asked him to go on in detail, but he
didn’t know what to say. He just knew. That’s all.
“It’s not your fault. You were there. You saw it happen, that’s it,” she tried to explain.
Nevertheless, he sometimes thought he detected an element of reproach in his mother’s
tenderness and his father’s silence. But the love they surrounded him with had always eased his fear.
And ultimately, that absence, its stifled pain, and the tears shed every year on the same day by his
mother had cemented their love. So how, today, could he refuse to speak to them? The thought
“I want to see them,” Jeremy said.
Victoria gazed at him in astonishment. “You never go see them or answer their phone calls. You
never wanted them to meet Thomas, and now, this morning, you wake up and decide you want to
invite them over for your birthday?”
Jeremy balked at Victoria’s curt description. Although he was beginning to believe that this was
real life—that he’d returned from his journey into nothingness—here was a reason to doubt.
“How can I explain? Yes, I really do. Do you mind?” he stammered.
Victoria grinned. “Don’t try to switch places with me, Jeremy. I’ve always wanted to have a
normal relationship with them. But you wouldn’t listen. I’ve tried more than once to talk you into it.
I’ve tried to tell you. I even wrote to you about it…”
Jeremy wanted to eliminate the need for any argument. “You’re right,” he stammered. “These are
my parents, and I was wrong to behave like that, and I want to see them.”
“You’re acting really weird today. But I’m not complaining. Here, I’ll call them right away
before you change your mind,” she said on her way out of the kitchen.
Jeremy stayed behind and heard her talking on the phone.
He felt miserable. How could he refuse to speak to his parents for almost three years? Wasn’t his
suicide attempt hard enough on them? What thanklessness. On that day, he hadn’t thought of anyone
but himself. He decided his life belonged to him exclusively, that he was a planet lost in a cold
universe. And during his hallucinations, when his parents appeared to show him how disgraceful his
decision really was, he’d chased them from his mind so he wouldn’t lose his courage.
Up to this point, he’d considered his suicide attempt to be more or less a good thing. Hadn’t it
won Victoria’s heart? Out of laziness, he’d avoided any thinking that would’ve led him to recognize
the horror of his actions. Yes, without a doubt, his behavior had been egotistical, stupid, and mean.
His mind floundered; only the conversation taking place over the phone kept him in the present.
Victoria came back into the room. “All done. Your mother was even more surprised than I was. I
| think she cried a little. It turns out she just ate lunch. You’ll have to introduce her to Clotilde and
Pierre. They’ve never met.”
“My mom? What about my dad?”
Victoria made a face. “She said it’s a bit too fast for him. She’ll try to persuade him, but don’t
get your hopes up.”
Victoria stepped out to pick up some groceries. The baby slept. Jeremy took advantage of
Victoria’s absence by searching the apartment for clues about the past two years.
He opened a large white wardrobe sitting across from the bed. It held a lot of clothes, ties, and
dress shirts. All of them name brand. He saw a briefcase sitting near the chair at the entrance to the
apartment. It was inscribed with his initials, J.D. Inside he found a planner, some folders, a parking
ticket, and a few receipts. In the planner was his schedule for the week: executive board meetings,
team-building exercises, motivational meetings, meetings in Paris and the surrounding area. On
Tuesday, he had had lunch with Pierre. Then again on Thursday. Pierre, his best friend. Other names
were written down around the noon hour and often at dinnertime, but they told him nothing. The
folders contained his work orders. On a business card he read, “Jeremy Delègue, Sales, Ile-de-France.”
He leafed through a booklet. It promoted the company he worked for and its products—adhesives
designed for some use he couldn’t fathom.
None of these materials helped him. Quite the opposite: Jeremy felt a strange quiver of guilt, like
he was violating someone else’s privacy. I need to see some photos. They’ll tell me something about
the past few years and maybe give me some clues.
He quickly found three albums sitting on a shelf. On the faux leather cover of the first album, the
year 2001 was written in gold ink. Elegant handwriting provided captions for each of the photos taken
in the course of his first year with Victoria. The first shot took him by surprise. He looked tired and
wan, with vacant eyes. Victoria sat on his knees with her arms around his shoulders. She wore a big
grin. He looked gloomy and sad. The contrast was obvious. According to the date, he was looking at a
photo taken a few days after his release from the hospital.
He flipped through the album. The further along he got, the more life and vitality seemed to
return to him. The captions helped him with the timeline. “Monastir, our first vacation,” “Luberon,
weekend,” “My birthday,” “New Year’s Day.” He noticed several people who appeared to be friends
but were strangers to him now.
Jeremy stopped on a snapshot of himself where he was alone, looking lost. His expression was
hard to place. The longer he looked at it, the more he found it empty and very different from the ones
he’d seen in other photos. He went back to the first pages and was surprised to see that in all the
photos, even when he looked ecstatic, his eyes never changed. Like two black buttons sewn onto a
teddy bear’s face. Then he told himself that everyone who looked closely at his own image would feel
the same way. A feeling of strangeness. It had happened to him before when he’d played a childhood
game, staring at his reflection in the mirror while repeating his own name. After a few minutes, his
face became unrecognizable, an amalgamation of someone else’s flesh and unknown features—his
name a series of meaningless letters and syllables.
According to the title, the second album was devoted to his wedding. He and Victoria at the
courthouse, she in a stunning white dress, traditional and elegant, and he in a gray suit, white shirt, and
charcoal tie. They were both smiling at their guests, hugging them, laughing. He didn’t see his parents,
and his heart quaked. He looked for photos of the religious ceremony, but they were nowhere to be
found. They must have had a civil union only.
The third album was titled, “Our Family.” It opened with a few photos of pregnant Victoria. She
had a baby bump, and it looked good on her. The world changed, and the people he loved changed with
it; his universe altered, and he stayed the same.
| Then came photos of the birth. The first photo of Thomas showed a newborn baby lost in the blue
of an oversized bib. The caption read, “Thomas, my prince.” The rest featured Thomas in different
settings and outfits. In some, Jeremy played the role of father, baby in his arms or bottle in hand.
Dizzy, he closed the album. None of these photos brought back any memories. He had looked
through them with curiosity and anxiety, like he was violating the intimate secrets of a twin brother he
had never known. This life wasn’t his.
What can I do? Tell Victoria about this new bout of amnesia? Wait and count on a recovery?
After all, these photos seem to show that I lived normally since my last episode.
He didn’t hear Victoria come in. “What are you still doing in your underwear? Get dressed. It’s
almost noon. Our guests will be here any minute.”
Jeremy walked obediently to the bathroom.
| Clotilde was the kind of girl who was extremely pretty and completely annoying. A cold beauty, full
of confidence. Jeremy didn’t like her. She was a poseur. An imposer as well. Her feelings and opinions
prevailed over others, whom she barely listened to. Her relationship with Pierre seemed to be
established on a tacit agreement: in exchange for her beauty, Pierre let her play the intellectual.
Sometimes one of Clotilde’s opinions or attitudes kindled a spark of annoyance in his eyes or smile
before he caught himself and looked at her again adoringly.
Jeremy was shocked by how much affection Victoria seemed to have for Clotilde. They were so
By now they’d been sitting on the couch for twenty minutes. When Victoria served the aperitifs,
she’d placed a glass of whiskey in Jeremy’s hand without hesitation.
Pierre had hugged Jeremy warmly when he came in. “Happy birthday, buddy.” He held out a
bottle of wine. “Your favorite.” Clotilde had given him a silent peck on the cheek.
The conversation had by now turned to birthdays and other celebrations. Clotilde, with the help of
several extremely conventional arguments, admitted that she saw nothing in these rituals but an
impulse to consume. Jeremy would’ve appreciated the irony of the conversation if his mind had not
been filled with questions.
Then Victoria nudged him. “Darling, could you get Thomas? I think he woke up.”
“Oh yeah,” Pierre said. “He probably misses his godfather.”
Thomas turned over when he saw Jeremy appear above his crib. Father and son peered at each
other with the same curiosity. Each seemed to question the other in silence. Jeremy watched the
baby’s facial expressions, his features, his bright eyes that seemed to ask for nothing more than hugs.
Jeremy tried to step into reality by embracing his growing affection for the child.
He’s mine. This is my son.
He picked the baby up awkwardly, and, afraid of hurting him, pressed the little body against his
own. Just as with the first time, the physical contact felt good.
“Ah, there they are,” Victoria exclaimed. “They’re magnificent, aren’t they?”
“Thomas is magnificent. I don’t know if I can say the same about Jeremy,” Pierre said, laughing.
He held out his arms. “Look, he wants his godfather. He knows me.”
Jeremy watched Victoria and Pierre trying to entertain the baby with funny faces and exaggerated
chirps. Clotilde made do with a conditional smile. Jeremy even thought he saw some slight irritation
with her fiancé’s childish behavior. She locked eyes with Jeremy and stared at him until he turned
Why is she looking at me like that? Her cold, inquisitive appearance annoyed him. He tried to
| force her to lower her eyes, turning toward her suddenly and saying, “Do you want to pick him up?”
Surprised, she stammered, “No, no thank you…”
Happy to have rattled her, Jeremy wanted to gain more of an advantage. “You don’t seem very
interested in babies,” he said provokingly.
A heavy silence fell on the room. Victoria looked at Jeremy, stunned. He realized he had made a
mistake. Pierre, who initially watched for his girlfriend’s reaction, tried to hide his embarrassment by
smiling at the squirming baby. Clotilde clenched her teeth and continued staring at Jeremy with
Everyone seemed to be waiting for an apology. “I’m sorry. I’m tired,” he blurted halfheartedly.
Victoria steadied herself and announced that she had to finish preparing the meal. As she got up,
her eyes bored into Jeremy, concentrating all the anger she wanted to express out loud.
“Clotilde, come with me. I need help carrying the crostini.”
Clotilde followed her.
Pierre hadn’t looked up. “Why’d you say that, Jeremy?” he asked.
Jeremy was as puzzled by the question as Pierre’s mournful look. He’d been hurt. But by what
“I don’t know. I’m tired, that’s all.”
“You know we’re having trouble conceiving, and you throw that in her face?” There was no anger
in his voice, only a frustrated desire to make sense of Jeremy’s words.
Jeremy felt ashamed. “I’m sorry…I’m an ass…”
“I know you’re an ass. But that doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want.”
The doorbell rang. Clotilde and Victoria came back into the room. Victoria waited for Jeremy to
react. But he just sat there, petrified, so she walked to the door. “That must be your mother.”
Pierre handed the baby to Jeremy.
From where he was sitting, Jeremy couldn’t see the door. He heard the crests of a conversation.
He held Thomas tighter. When his mother appeared in the foyer alone, Jeremy’s heart flew into a
panic. His mother dropped her purse and stared at him, motionless.
She looked tired and older, and that unnerved him. In his mind he had seen her only a few days
ago, still beautiful, energetic, vibrant. And now here she was, weak and distant. In her little brown
jacket and cream blouse, he recognized his mother’s elegant, discreet taste in clothing.
“Allow me to introduce Clotilde and her fiancé, Pierre,” Victoria blurted out. “Close friends. And
this is Jeremy’s mother, Mrs. Delègue.”
“Call me Myriam.”
Pierre and Clotilde moved in to shake her hand. Myriam smiled politely and then turned to face
her son again. Everyone tried to appear relaxed, but the palpable effort weighed heavily on the room.
“We’ll leave you two,” Victoria continued. “Pierre, Clotilde, I need you to help me set the table.”
She moved to take the baby from Jeremy, but he shrugged her off. He thought the little one might play
an important role in the next few minutes.
“Hello, Mom,” he murmured.
“Hello, Jeremy.” Her voice was calm and controlled, but her emotion was not entirely contained.
“Dad…didn’t come,” Jeremy remarked.
“It’s too soon for him.”
“I understand. And you?”
“Me?” She smiled with a mixture of bitterness and exhaustion. Her eyes tried to express all the
feelings she’d stored up in the years of separation. She would’ve liked to show more hostility—or at
least reluctance—for a few more minutes, but the barricade of anger started to collapse under the
onslaught of her emotions.
| She’s mad at me. She wants to me to know how much I hurt her.
Thomas wiggled his tiny arms and legs, trying to turn and face this new presence.
When the small child turned his eyes to hers, Jeremy’s mother gave up her silent dialogue and
adjusted her mannerisms. Her face softened, and an infinitely tender smile played across the wrinkled
outline of her lips.
“Look, I think he knows who you are. A family bond…”
“Family bond? That’s funny. Sometimes values skip a generation,” she scoffed, letting a sad
smile slip through.
The comment hurt him. But he knew it was her last one. An attack meant to defend her honor
after giving in too rapidly.
“He’s so cute. Watch out, you’re not holding him right. He’s going to hurt his neck.” She
“Here,” Jeremy said. “Come sit next to me and hold him.”
His mother already held her arms out to receive the child. She sat down next to Jeremy, holding
Thomas so that he faced her, and smiling, visibly pleased. Jeremy could smell her scent. The same one
from his childhood. A mix of lavender spray and fabric softener. The fragrance of honesty and virtue.
Jeremy wanted to get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness. He wanted to kiss her. “Mom…
I’m so…I don’t know how I could…” But what could he say to heal her injured love? The words piled
up in his mouth. “I love you, Mom.”
She stiffened but pretended not to hear him and went on smiling at the baby. “He’s so cute. I
wanted to meet him so badly. I’m his grandmother, after all.” Her voice broke. Tears sprang to her
eyes. She pressed the baby’s face to her own and kissed him, hiding behind her grandson. Jeremy felt
“I’m sorry for making you suffer, you and Dad. It wasn’t me. I don’t even recognize myself. I
love you so much.”
She raised her damp eyes toward Jeremy and continued to pepper Thomas’s forehead with little
kisses. “We always did our best, Jeremy, believe me.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong. How could I let you blame yourselves like that? It wasn’t you,
Mom. I was immature, and I felt lost. I was in love with Victoria. Madly in love. She didn’t want me.
And a life without her, I didn’t want that. I know it’s ugly to put it so plainly, but suicide is always
ugly outside the moment you go through with it. It doesn’t exist except in the few seconds and
minutes leading up to it. And in that moment, it’s devastating. But you didn’t have anything to do with
it. As for the rest, everything since then, I don’t know what to say. I think it was a lasting sickness. Or
maybe I was ashamed of myself. I don’t have an explanation.”
“And why did you want to see us today?”
“I have no idea. I just suddenly felt like I became myself again.” Jeremy realized his explanation
must have sounded strange.
“I was so happy when Victoria called me,” she confided with a smile, eyes bathed in tears.
“And I was so happy you agreed to come. And Dad…”
She interrupted gently. “It’ll take some time. A mother forgives more quickly.”
Jeremy put his arm around her shoulders and squeezed. Thomas started to fall asleep.
“I think I’m going to be crazy about him,” she said, watching him doze off.
Victoria appeared in the doorway. Seeing them side by side, she decided to enter.
“I’m so happy to see you two like this.” She winked at Jeremy. “Come on, get up. We’re going to
eat lunch,” she sang joyful|
Date: 2015-04-20; view: 988