All my life, my heart has yearned for a thing I cannot name.
Of the three siblings, Sam had always been there and, it seemed, always would be. His beliefs were founded in those things that he had heard most often and that were told with the greatest conviction. Before his mother died, he had talked of moving south to some place warmer but, after her death, it looked like he had just been fantasizing his escape from the slavery she had trapped him in. He was born in handcuffs and found the key to release them as he laid his mother in her grave but was hesitant to use them.
Jade, on the other hand, came late to the family and left early.
When Jade met Walter, she had a confused reaction. She was trying to be a good person but felt that she was not and was in a constant, internal struggle against the disgust that she felt for herself and longing for the love that she naturally needed. What Jade saw, in his face, was something that she had never seen before and it made her happy until she began to fear it.
“Please find Dad and tell him I love him and miss him. I have not fucked up anything he ever cared for me to play. I want you to find his address and phone number. I want to call or write him; please help me I will do anything for you. I will pay you anything when I get a job. Please help me. I really love Dad and God. He makes me feel guilty. I hate mean people. Jade is an asshole. Jade is stupid. Jade is ugly. Jade has to masturbate because everyone thinks she’s too ugly and sick. No one has touched her in a month because they might catch her ugly disease. I’m stupid, remember? Sorry. He tries to fuck their brains up.”
Walter had just finished reading, for the fifth time, the words of a twenty-one year old girl. It was one of Jade’s letters to Mara that she’d had kept from when they were much younger. He had talked to the sisters and neither one remembered writing or reading these words; neither one remembered the pain reflected there. If he showed them the letters, handed the pages to them, they would just glance at the paper then refold it and put it away. The words, the envelopes, the traces are there, filed and boxed and kept available for him to read but not for the girls.
“Thanks for the memories,” Walter thought.
Jade is a couple of years older than her sister Mara, and came to be when her mother, Truc, and father, Jürgen, paired in Vietnam in the late ‘60s. Back then, her young father was lonely, scared of being killed, and horny when he’d met Jade’s mother. Her even younger mother was lonely, hoping to escape the war, and horny when she’d met the man who would become Jade’s biological father. To her father, her mother had smelled like fish but was a tight little bundle of sex; his LBFM as he used to say to the other soldiers – little brown fucking machine. To her mother, her father had smelled like a cow and, while not gentle, he was the size of most Vietnamese men and vigorous and knew of her wish for a better life than the one she had. Mother thought of him as a water buffalo. Somehow, for about three months, their relationship had worked. As often happened, the unborn Jade and her mother stayed behind when her father left their country at the end of his twelve-month tour. So, Jade was labeled Amerasian, a “half-breed dog,” and began her life shunned by most of the adults around her and most of the children, too, once their parents were done imprinting them. Jade couldn’t know why her father had abandoned her but she often fantasized that he just didn’t know how to find her or that he’d been killed in combat. To the contrary, he’d done everything he could to make certain her mother and, by extension, his unborn child, wouldn’t know how to find him, and he’d held a desk job in Saigon on one of the most protected bases with no exposure to combat; he’d abandoned them due to the qualities of his character in the start of a pattern he would continue throughout his life.
It wasn’t until six years later, when the protective man Bao, who had become her step-father, had accumulated enough money to buy the family’s way out of the country, that her mother finally felt her dreams were coming true and little Jade dared dream that she might find her real father. Her stepfather was a fabric salesman in Saigon and found life too difficult in the harsh years after the war. He had found, as had many, a fisherman on the coast who promised safe passage out of the country. It took them three days to gather some meager possessions, along with all their gold, and travel to Vung Tau where they boarded the boat along with thirty others hoping for happiness. Being on the water for ten days proved to be too much for Truc, who died from the flu and dehydration and was ungracefully pushed overboard into the sea one day before the sky rained down fresh water on the survivors as they touched land in Indonesia. For months, Jade and her stepfather struggled in the immigration camp until they were finally relocated to America.
The Universe does work in surprising ways: Bao and Jade were resettled in Michigan, in the very town where the father who had abandoned her now lived with his U.S. wife, daughter and son. One day, a car came across the good man who’d protected Jade in her early years, and tossed him fifty feet after striking him as he crossed 28th Street in the early morning hours on his way to his shift at the factory. At about that same time, Mara and Sam’s mother came across the letter that Jade’s father had failed to destroy, that sought the answers and made certain things clear. Through Child Protective Services, she tracked down Jade and brought her into their home to be raised as one of her own. It could have been what he was confronted with when looking at his oldest daughter, now living with him, that caused the last crack in his psyche or it could have been just the way he was put together but history repeated itself and within a few years after Jade’s arrival, their father walked out on the family leaving them in poverty. With his leaving, one-half of the verbal violence also left, most of the physical threats departed, and all of the inappropriate sexual innuendo was gone. He left their home but remained in the same town, coming back into their lives when the need was there for him.
Walter always smiled when he thought of how Jade introduced her family. About Sam, Jade liked to say, “He’s my brother from another mother;” and when introducing Mara she’d just call her “My twin sister.”
Walter heard of Jade shortly after he started seeing Mara when Jade and her husband drove to Michigan to spend the 4th of July with the family at Sam’s cottage on Pickerel Lake. At that time, it seemed that Mara didn’t really like her sister. Walter didn’t spend time with them, that holiday, but he was at Mara’s the same week and heard the stories about the drama at the cottage and how Jade’s husband had been critical of Mara and how their mother had gotten into it with him and he and Jade had departed a few days ahead of schedule because of the tension. Mara continued to tell him stories about Jade, over the next year, and it made feel wary but also made him smile. The next year, after the death of their mother, in a replay that would become tradition until Jade’s marriage ended, the couple drove to the cottage for the summer holiday, bringing potato chips and Hostess Cupcakes with them. That was the first time that Walter met Jade.
“Be sure to call about a half hour before you get here,” Mara had instructed.
“How come?” Walter had asked. He was bringing Mara’s friend Kara, who was Jade’s age and had been her close friend in high school.
“Jade wants to make sure she has time to fix herself before you two get here.”
That made him smile.
“Whatever she thought needed fixing got fixed,” he thought when he first saw her. She was petite with pale, flawless skin, stood straight and proud, and had a bit of a boyish figure, athletic, with broad shoulders for one so small. He remembered thinking how she had one of the cutest butts he’d ever seen, standing there with her clothes on. The only time he ever saw it naked was in his dreams.
That first day, when he met her, the women were gathered around the dining table and Walter was sitting there, the only male figure in the room, and Jade was telling a story, entertaining the other women.
“We all know what it’s like to be disappointed by a limp dick!” said Jade and, with a smile on her face, she looked over at Walter.
He didn’t know if she had looked at him like that because of his failure to butt fuck her sister; he knew that sisters could talk, or if she was judging whether he found her words to be inappropriate for a first meeting, but he took her words for what they were; the truth of a part of life.
That night he caught her just as she was coming up the stairs from the kitchen, heading for her bedroom. He was on his way out, taking Kara back to River City before heading back to his home. He stopped Jade to say goodbye. She was standing down the steps, lower than him. He leaned forward and gave her a kiss on her forehead.
“What’s that for?” she asked.
That should have been his first clue.
“You are great. I’m really glad we got to meet,” was what he said.
Silence, and a face staring at him, wearing a smile.
Sam and Mara had been so excited about Jade’s visit and had anticipated it for weeks. Walter thought that they would feel a letdown, when she left, but it was he who felt the letdown. He thought that, for that one day, Jade had just been one of his last distractions and, in that, he might have been right. He was deep into his relationship with Mara and knew that he loved her but what he didn’t know, at that time, was that he had fallen in love with Jade also. And his loving one did nothing to diminish his love for the other.
“Probably just my projection,” was what he thought.
He knew that what he was seeing in Jade was the light of life, just as he’d seen it in her sister earlier, but that it seemed to have faded just before she left. Walter was beginning to realize that it was his character, or habit, to respond to that fading light in people by trying to infuse life back into them. He didn’t, yet, understand the lesson; it was to let that light shine brightly inside of him.
Years later, it was a Friday night and Jade’s training group would do their long run the next morning. That Saturday would be the start of the cycle for the next marathon they were training for so she wanted to be sure and make the run. She set her alarm for 5:30 a.m. so that she would have time to get her coffee, take the dogs for a brief walk, and then get herself together and to the meeting spot on time. She completed her evening ritual, brushing and flossing her teeth, cleaning and moisturizing her face, and the rest, and then lay herself down for sleep at a little after 11:00 p.m. She tried to sleep but she tossed and turned for a couple of hours, not willing to admit to herself what she was thinking of, before finally nodding off around 1:00 a.m. Barely a few hours later, at the pre-set time, the alarm went off.
“Why am I so tired?” Jade asked over the phone, talking to Mara.
“What do you mean?” asked Mara, in return.
“I slept right through my alarm, this morning, and missed my running group.”
She had been working sixty hours a week in a high stress position managing Creatives and trying to keep the product ahead of the competition. Her department worked seasons ahead, trying to project what the trends would be at future holidays, so that their products would sell and the company would stay on top. She had worked her way up, over the years, happy with her accomplishments but, perhaps, unaware of the cost.
“I don’t have much of a libido anymore, either,” she said to Mara, again over the phone, when they were talking about relationships.
“I wish I did but I don’t,” Jade said, with resignation.
Mara had talked to Walter about it. She knew that he cared for Jade and that they talked but also knew that she wouldn’t share such personal details with him.
“She’s probably just burnt out,” he said, “She should slow down or take a vacation.”
“I know, but she probably won’t,” said Mara.
“Maybe she never had much of a libido. Maybe that’s part of the problem with her marriage,” suggested Walter.
“No,” Mara said, “I don’t know how it came up but, when they were first married, she used to fuck like a bunny.”
“Rabbit. How do you know that?” he asked.
“I don’t remember. It was inappropriate but I think her husband told me,” she answered.
Jade had told Walter that, in the early years, her husband had a crush on Mara.
“It’s normal,” was what she said.
When she first got married, she planned to keep her husband happy while he designed Carolina houses and earned big bucks to keep her happy. Early on plans changed when he decided he wanted to become an actor instead, so she pledged her support and stayed behind while he moved to LA. She was miserable and lonely but he had some limited success that kept him going. They lasted that way for less than two years before he came back depressed, she traded her misery for happiness, and their new way of being together had begun. She kept working, getting busier and more active in perfect balance to his fall into lethargy and inactivity. He set up “his” room with skulls and skeletons, mounted bats and rattlesnakes, and started attaching his beliefs to conspiracy theories. He’d go three nights without sleeping, growing his beard out, and looking half-crazy but still handsome. He became a germaphobe and it starting rubbing off on her. They tried to have kids until he lost his erection. They tried blue pills to get it back and they got it back enough to keep trying and failing so they tried fertility clinics and hormones and everything they could until it became obvious that they couldn’t. She got sick. She had a biopsy that proved positive for breast cancer and, after weighing the alternatives; she opted for a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.
“At least they’re bigger now,” she often thought, “and they aren’t going anywhere when I run.”
Her husband never doubted that she’d be okay. Mara stayed with her for a bit, during that time, but it probably hurt them both more than being of any help because even then Mara recoiled from the unseen blows that life rained upon her. A few years later, Jade and her husband decided on adoption and, through an agency, found two young sisters living in the Soviet Union who needed a home. Jade invested her heart, along with thousands of dollars, into the girls and the process only to find out that she was considered unsuitable, by the Soviet adoption agency, because of her history of cancer, even though it was more than five years behind her. They shifted their search to the U.S. and fell in love with a two-year-old girl whose mother had given up her parental rights and began the process, all over again. They seemed to be well on their way to a successful adoption, taking the requisite parenting courses, having their home inspected, their lives looked into, only to find that they missed the deadline and another couple took the child.
Her husband continued to get parts in community theaters, impressing everyone with his talent and apparent honesty. None of the parts paid but that was okay because she was making a good six figures now and just wanted him to become happy and to stay with her.
Jade had so much love to give and was filled with caring, so she and her husband did the best they could with each other. She loved being seen with him and loved being on his arm. He was tall and dark, a little heavy but not fat, kind of brooding. They never travelled, never vacationed, other than a few days at his family home or Sam’s cottage. His distance became greater and she needed something more so they decided on a pet, tried a guinea pig and a cat but she was allergic to both so they settled on Papillions, two of them, and the only thing her husband ever said, “No!” to her about, in twenty years, was when she tried to name one of them a name he couldn’t stand.
“It might have worked if we’d only learned to argue and fight instead of compromising on everything in an effort to get along,” Jade told Walter, later, when she and her husband were still married but living states apart.
They gave the Paps good names and called them by many. It might have drawn another wedge between Jade and her husband, when he found traces of their feces on the carpet and called it, “Pap smears.” When she finally drove her husband away for his sins, the two furry Monsters were all she had left.
“She used to return the rage back to our parents,” Mara said, about Jade, talking to Walter. “Once, in high school, she overdosed on aspirin and her boyfriend and I drove around trying to find her. It took forever but we found her and took her to the hospital. Our parents never found out.”
Jade was approaching that age when she would no longer get wet and though she didn’t fully understand what the changes would bring, some part of her mourned the loss for the things she had given to her ideals. She thought of herself as a good person, and she was, and she would never be with another man while married and, once separated from her husband, she couldn’t think of dating.
“Do you think you guys can get back together?” asked Mara.
There was a long silence.
“No. I don’t think so,” Jade answered and Mara could hear the sadness in her.
“You’ll find someone new,” Mara assured her.
“No one would want me,” Jade responded with complete certainty.