I went through life being perfect at everything- perfect friends, a perfect boyfriend, and a perfect reputation. My family was the only part of my life that lacked perfection, but I always assumed that all the other perfect things in my life would cover up the one flaw. How wrong I was.
“Janine, I need to talk to you,” my mother’s voice traveled up the stairs and penetrated the sanctuary of my room. I groaned; this was not going to be enjoyable. I trudged downstairs and received a sight that was quite out of the ordinary-my dad was home, in the same room as my mom with a tense silence that seemed to fill up the air.
“Sweetheart how was your day today?” asked my dad, as if this wasn’t the first time in weeks he had graced us with his presence.
“It was fine,” came out my cold response. He didn’t just get to walk back in my life and pretend everything was fine. I cut to the point, no reason to spend more painful moments together than necessary. “What is all of this about?” I asked.
“Well Janine, we need to tell you something. Your father and I…”
“We’re getting a divorce,” cut in my father, not even giving my mom the chance to present whatever carefully phrased speech I knew she had to break the news to me.
“WHAT?” came my hoarse response.
“There’s more” stammered my mother reluctantly. She gave a meaningful glare to my dad, but he just shook his head. She sighed as if she wasn’t surprised that the man who was supposed to be her devoted husband was too much of a coward to tell his daughter what he had done.
I take it back; I’d rather spend more moments with them, painful or not. This was more than pain. This was a seemingly perfect clear blue sky shattering into thousands of glass spears, each raining down on me and stabbing me, each taking a part of me away with them. Learning that my father had been having an affair for months, years even…How am I supposed to deal with that? People say they can see a divorce coming, and part of me had felt this coming, but I didn’t want to see the inevitable. I convinced myself so thoroughly that it could never happen that when it actually did, I had prepared nothing to help myself carry on.
The days and weeks following the divorce passed in a blur. I stayed with my mom; the thought of moving in with my dad was comical. At school, everybody knew and the perfect reputation I had tried so hard to build was crashing around me. Even so, I could have dealt with it, plastered on a smile, if it wasn’t for the news I received from my mother one day after school.
“Honey, I’m proud of how strong you’re staying,” she started sweetly
How did she know anything about how I was doing? She had no idea that my best friends now didn’t want to talk to me or that my boyfriend since freshman year, Brian, who I thought would stick with me through anything had completely left me. She had no way of knowing that every day after school, I drove down the most desolate back roads I could find and let myself cry until there was nothing left inside me.
“I guess it’s been hard for all of us,” I said, pulling together the most unattached response possible. I know I should be there for her more, but the distance that had been so strongly established between us was not a trek I was willing to cover.
“Janine, you’re not going to like me for this,” she continued, with all pretext of gentleness and concern lost. She was using the businesslike voice I had grown accustomed to hearing from my mother. I always thought she struggled to know the difference between her job and her only daughter. “Your father and I have decided you need some space from all of this. So, like it or not, you’re moving in with Aunt Kelly and Uncle Finn for as long as needed.”
I managed to get out a shocked croak. “What?? You have got to be kidding me right now! Mom, seriously, you can’t do this to me!” This could actually rival the shock of the divorce. It was not just that my mom was sending me away, like some unwanted child, but she was sending me to Aunt Kelly and Uncle Finn of all people! It’s not that they weren’t nice people, they were…as well as being one hundred percent off their rockers and living in an isolated corner of Kansas that had no other neighbors in a 80 mile radius. The few times we had ventured out to visit them, it took hours of driving past depressing cornfield after depressing cornfield just to get close. Going to live with them would ruin whatever particles of my pre-divorce life I had clung onto.
“It’s decided Janine. Pack up your things; you’re leaving first thing tomorrow.”
The silence in the car was painful and the cornfields weren’t doing much to distract me from the fact my life was basically over. Rising out of the plains came the slumping white farmhouse that seemed considerably more dilapidated since the last time I saw it. As we neared the house, two figures on the ramshackle front porch became visible- an old man with a round belly dressed in disheveled overalls, his face covered in an unkempt white beard and next to him a plump old lady, long grey hair hanging past her hips, wearing a flowing, plaid dress. I can’t even begin to fathom what fun the next months and possibly years would hold.
“Thanks so much for taking her,” said my mother as I stayed back to unloaded my bags and listened to myself being likened to an unwanted dog that needed a home. “I’ve really got to get going, wonderful to see you two”. She was already on her way back to the car after a quick hug for her sister, who couldn’t be more different from her.
“Be good Janine. Be nice to your aunt and uncle. I won’t be able to call you since there is no service out here but if something comes up I’ll let you know.” To the last second, she was businesslike. She started getting in the car and stopped as if she had forgotten something. “You know I love you, honey, right?” She gave a tired smile and before I knew it the little black speck that was her car had disappeared off the horizon.
I turned to face the two people I was going to have to start liking really soon or else life here would be miserable. Except, I didn’t find two people-I found three. A boy, not that much younger than me, had found his way to the porch, and he stood there staring at me quite intently from behind his hideously large glasses resting upon an acne filled face with buck teeth peeking out of a gaping mouth. A scruffy mess of frizzy red hair, very similar to a bush that needed pruning, sat upon his head.
“Janine, my dear, it’s so lovely to see you again,” came out the gypsy like voice of my aunt. “I know you’re surprised to see somebody other than us, but this is Arnold, our foster child for awhile. I think you two will be fabulous friends.”
I extended my hand to Arnold, trying to look past the appearance that screamed weirdo, and hoped dearly that he had a good personality. However he just stared at me, eyes goggling as if he were observing some rare species of insect.
“Oh Arnold dear. You’ll have to excuse him Janine, he has a few social problems...but he’s getting better. Soon he might be able to talk to you!”
So much for that good personality.
Life on the farm could be summed up in one word- dull. Beyond dull. Death itself would die here because it’s so dull. A typical day included homeschooled lessons from Aunt Kelly with her own adjustments to teach what she thought necessary, avoiding Arnold and his extreme awkwardness at all costs, and generally doing nothing. Sometimes I would help Uncle Finn do yard work, but as it turned out the farm wasn’t really functioning anymore, so there was truly nothing to do.
As the days slowly crawled into weeks and the weeks painfully changing to months, I was so lonely, I was forced to do something I had vowed to never do-spend time with Arnold. Most of our conversation went something like this.
“So Arnold, Aunt Kelly tells me you collect bugs. That’s cool.”
“What kind of bugs do you like to collect?”
“Do you collect them near the house or in the fields?”
“Fields” came out his weak, high pitched voice. At least I had squeezed a syllable out of him, which was better than usual.
“The fields? Those are pretty big, how do you find bugs in them?”
However, as surprising as it might seem, Arnold and I became…acquaintances. Slowly he opened up, one syllable at a time. I learned he was incredibly smart and that underneath his inability to be normal, he was a nice kid, though I think part of his social awkwardness made it impossible for him to have any form of empathy. Nevertheless, I persevered until we could have semi-normal conversations and life wasn’t so lonesome anymore.
One day while sitting on the porch after we had finished our studies, Arnold did something quite unusual-he started a conversation.
“Tell me about your life before you came here,” He blurted out, failing to make it sound natural in the least.
I laughed. Sure I’ll entertain Arnold, there was really nothing else to do. “Well, before the divorce, I had it all- popular, good at school, lots of friends. Great boyfriend.” The very thought of Brian was painful.
“You had a boyfriend?” inquired Arnold, surprise and curiosity carrying his nasally voice an octave higher. Poor kid probably didn’t even know what dating was, but no way was I telling Arnold about my past relationship.
“Come on Janine,” pleaded Arnold. “Please tell me about it.” Now thinking about it, he probably really didn’t know what dating was. Perhaps I could take pity on him.
“Well, his name was Brian. We met the first day of freshman year in high school and even though I don’t think he knew it at the time, I knew we were meant to be together. We started going out spring of that year.” I can’t help but smiling remembering how Brian had gotten up the courage to ask me out. “Brian was the perfect guy, and in high school those are pretty much impossible to find. He wasn’t too full of himself and a little awkward at times, but he was kind and considerate and made me laugh so much my stomach hurt. I know it was so naïve for me to think, but I thought he was the one. I thought he would always be there for me.” I stopped because this is where the perfect bubble popped.
“After he found out about the divorce and my dad’s affair, Brian suddenly became really distant. Most of my friends stopped talking to me, but with Brian it was different. He shut me out entirely. I had relied on him and I thought that when I needed him most he would be there. If not as a boyfriend, then as somebody who understands my position because his parents had a pretty rough relationship too and his mom was never home. I did nothing wrong and he just left me. He never returned any of my calls or texts and before I came here, I went to his house to try to talk to him one last time, but he wasn’t there or wasn’t answering the door. I haven’t really said this out loud yet, but I guess this means... we’ve broken up.” I finished quietly, taking it in. Saying that out loud it made it all more real.
“Janine, you’re crying,” observed Arnold with an unusual tone of concern.
Without realizing it, wet tears had begun to slide down my face and I couldn’t stop them now. The unfairness of the whole thing was hitting me, my parents abandoning me, my friends leaving me, and the last straw had been my boyfriend who I had counted on shutting me out. Everybody in my life had left me.
“Hey Janine, it’s okay,” said Arnold still sounding strangely sympathetic. He handed me a tissue for the fountain of tears coming from my eyes that did not seem to want to stop. “You know, if this helps, I wouldn’t have left you. I would have stuck with you.”
I looked up through puffy eyes at Arnold. He just said the first normal words and with them I had to look at him as not just some weird kid; he was my friend.
More weeks and months flew by. I hadn’t heard anything from my parents in a long time, but part of me was glad about that. I didn’t want to think about that life and the farm wasn’t quite as miserable now that I had Arnold.
Spending time with Arnold made my day brighter. Sure he was still incapable of any social skills, but I had grown to love that part of him. He was hilarious and kind and always had the best ideas. Thinking back to when I thought he was just some awkward kid I would have to deal with, it’s hard to imagine.
We were sitting in the kitchen one day, passing the idle hours when the old doorbell rang. It was probably Uncle Finn who sometimes rang the doorbell just to make us think we had actual people other than the four of us in our lonely corner of Kansas.
“I got it!” I called jokingly as I got up, ready to grandly welcome my uncle in as if he was a long awaited guest.
But when I open the rickety door, it wasn’t Uncle Finn standing there. It was Brian.
He looked different, his hair had grown out and his face didn’t carry the natural glow it used to. He stood there with a sad wilted bouquet of flowers in his hands, staring at me for what felt like centuries. Finally he spoke.
“They were once fresh you know. Journey here didn’t do them much good,” he said with a weak smirk.
Hearing his voice snapped me out of my daze and I quickly shut the door behind me so Arnold wouldn’t get suspicious.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Not just why he was here after he left me but how did he find me in the middle of nowhere in Kansas?
“Well it did take a while to find this place,” he started, with another weak attempt at humor. Seeing it was having no result, he wiped the struggling smirk off his face and got serious. “Janine, I had to see you because I need to explain what happened, why I left you. What I did was completely unfair and I owe an explanation and apology.” He took a deep breath and continued.
“This is a lot to take in, but did your parents tell you anything about the affair?” he asked cautiously
I wasn’t expecting this at all. “No. Truthfully, I didn’t want to know the details, but they wouldn’t tell me anything anyways.”
He took another deep breath to stable himself. “Janine, the reason why I cut myself off from you wasn’t anything you did wrong. You see, the women your father had an affair with...” he stuttered, “It was my mother.”
There is was again, the shock. The sky was breaking into a thousand spears, everything was crumbling around me. I couldn’t do it again; I didn’t have the strength for this. I felt my lungs fight for air, my legs felt weak. Without realizing how it had happened, Brian held me until I could breathe again.
“I should have never left you, Janine. I was just so confused and being around you reminded me of the pain all over again so I thought leaving you would fix it, but I was so wrong. I screwed up Janine, but I still love you. Please all I ask is that you forgive me and I don’t want us to be over.” He ended with a defeated plea.
I looked into the brown eyes of the boy I had once been in love with and I tried, not just to forgive him, but to love him again. But something inside of me had changed. The love of my perfect life was gone, just like the life itself.
“Brian,” I started, using all my strength to steady my voice. “I get it, you screwed up, and I forgive you.” A flicker of hope entered his eyes. “But, I’m sorry, I know this isn’t the answer you came here to get, but whatever love we had is gone.”
To see the defeat in his eyes crash into pure despair killed me, but I knew this was the right thing to do.
I had learned something about myself at this farm that I thought would be the death of me. I was so sure my life was over moving here, but really it gave it a new beginning. My “perfect life” had just been a paper paradise that I had so carefully crafted and wrapped myself into but could crumple at the slightest breath. My parents getting the divorce woke me from this fool’s paradise and I realized how fake my life was. I found peace within myself on this lonely farm and I wasn’t about to lose it.