Sunscreen in hand, her dark curly hair all over the place because of the wild wind, Demi and I headed out to the beach with her usual group of friends. The ones who weren’t working today came along with their boyfriends, girlfriends and friends from Provincetown or further south.
On this hot day in May, we settled for a quick trip to the beach since it was my first day back in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Stretched before me was a long summer with my American relatives to raise me out of my persistent gloomy mood. We opted on walking to the nearest beach rather than driving to the more distant but beautiful beaches and dunes of Cape Cod’s National Seashore. It wasn’t the nicest strand, being a tad too narrow, but it was a quiet spot, good enough to spend a few hours and celebrate my arrival from Paris, France.
My favorite cousin, Judd, tagged along which startled me. He said he heard I had arrived and he missed me too much. However, he stayed as far away from Demi as possible, concentrating on putting lotion on my back.
“Why don’t you come over tonight and watch a movie? I’ll make fresh pizza if you want.” He was such a gentleman and had always been nice to me. I, too, was his favorite cousin. I, Rose, the happy French-American Parisian girl who turned into a ghost a year ago. Judd hadn’t seen that version of me yet and I could read in his eyes that it worried him and he would do anything to cheer me up.
Demi and Judd were my two favorite cousins but it was a challenge to see them together, because despite the fact that they were the same age, they didn’t get along at all. As a result, I didn’t see Judd as often as I would have wished, staying at Demi’s when I was in P-Town. For a stupid reason spread all over town yet unspoken, his mom, Elisabeth—whom I barely considered my aunt—couldn’t stand Demi’s mother, my favorite aunt, and the tradition carried on with their children.
The two women used to be best friends when they were much younger. As it happened, they ended up having a crush on the same guy in high school, and got into a huge fight over him. From there on, their friendship went downhill and they remained mad at each other since then. All hopes weren’t lost though, for they mumbled a feeble “Hi” when they met at the grocery store and so Demi and Judd tolerated each other.
Aunt Lana married the guy in question, right when Elisabeth started dating Aunt Lana’s older brother, Uncle Richard. They got married the year after that. I couldn’t help but believe that Elisabeth dated Richard out of revenge and not true love. Anyway, because of that big argument they lived their separate ways in P-Town and I had to deal with it when I wanted to see Judd. The two sides of the family had parallel lives that sometimes would meet, but the forbidden subject was never spoken out aloud.
I guess every family has its issues. Another one of them was a funnier one about choosing first names: they were all named after famous actors! My family loved the Brat Pack movies and my cousins were named after them. So Demi was a tribute to gorgeous Demi Moore when my ‘evil twin cousin’ owed his first name to Judd Nelson.
Oddly enough, when my grandfather, Gene, met Louise, they realized their first names were the same as famous actors and they started the trend when they had children, using names based on more classical actors, such as Uncle Cary (Grant) or my dad, Sean (Connery)…
Pretty funny, Uncle Cary took his gay status very seriously. For as far back as I remembered, he had never repressed his attraction to men and had been open about it. Meeting Arthur had enabled him to settle down, after about three decades spent trying to find the right person through diverse experiences and countless partners.
As for Aunt Lana, she had been special to me since childhood, the closest one to my dad, too. A hard-working, warm and cheerful person whose long hair, always in a ponytail, made her resemble a teenager.
To this day, I was still amazed by her looks, for she had fair skin with dirty blond straight hair and cute dimples whereas the rest of the family had a darker complexion, freckles and curly or wavy hair. Strong and reliable, she had always been the one to lean on, especially after my dad’s death in that stupid car crash ten summers ago when my mom, Isabelle, couldn’t handle the pain. Therefore she was the logical answer to my mom’s difficulties in dealing with me. Not that I was a pain in her butt, still I wasn’t fun to be around and she couldn’t find a way to make a change, until now.
Lost in my thoughts and my jetlag I hadn’t pay attention to Judd who was waving at me, waiting for me to agree to his invitation.
“That’s a great idea. I’ll make dough if you want. Get the other ingredients, like maybe mushrooms, bell peppers and ham, along with fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese,” I offered, toying with the sand between my fingers. “Sounds mouth-watering, I love fresh pizza!”
He wasn’t keen on making dough and I didn’t mind doing it. I had a thing for fresh pizza and his kitchen had a special oven for bread or pizza, so no wonder it was going to be delicious.
“What’s on tonight?” I asked, debating if he was more into an Alien or a Freddy Krueger kind of mood. When he was with me, Judd indulged in old cheesy scary movies, otherwise his tastes tended towards gorier material.
“Do you want to see the one by that French Director, Jeunet?” Alien mood it was.
“Not my favorite, sorry. I think I’d rather go with the second part if it’s fine with you, the one with the small girl, Newt, you remember?”
We’d seen them hundreds of times. All of them. We could recite every single line so the final pick didn’t matter. Still, I was glad he agreed on my choice.
Part of the fun of watching those movies was seeing them with him, spending fun times together, saying the lines out aloud in unison.
Judd worked in construction with his dad, Aunt Lana’s older brother, who had his own company. Just like his parents’ house, Judd’s had been built from scratch by them, on the land they inherited years ago. Although he didn’t live too far from his parents, Judd was relieved to be on his own this year while his sixteen-year-old sister, Ally, complained about her parents’ bossiness.
The house wasn’t big or fancy, but a cute blue home which the salted air and sandy wind worked on and ruined a little bit more each minute so the front needed to be repainted almost every year. He had an open kitchen like most Americans now. His kitchen resembled one of a professional despite the fact that he wasn’t into cooking and baking like the other side of the family. It was open to the huge living room, with giant couches and a massive flat screen, and a smaller dining room. He didn’t use this more formal room apart from when his parents and sister were coming over.
The first floor had two bedrooms and two bathrooms as well as an art room—since he had gone to sculpting classes in his scarce spare time—and a tiny storage room where he kept all his mess and old DVDs.
As for his small backyard, I loved this cozy area surrounded by big leafy trees so it always stayed fresh even in the hot East Coast summers.
At twenty-three, Judd didn’t care about family disputes. He never did but respected Demi’s choice not to be closer.
Before my parents and I went back to live in Paris, France, I considered him my older brother for he stuck by my side, always. We kind of looked alike as well: dark and quite wavy hair—that ran in the family—, greenish brown eyes—that ran in the family, too, since both Demi and I had the same intense and unusual eye color with thick eyebrows and lashes—, high cheekbones and not so full mouth.
The difference now was his build and height.
Where he was a surfer type—not too tall but muscular—I was more of a slimmer figure; his hair thick and dark, cut short while mine were shoulder length and had a few highlights here and there.
He was the one playing silly when I was so square.
Every time I came back to P-Town, he was in some kind of trouble for not studying, stealing, smoking pot… Maybe I liked him because he was a rebel. Maybe he was my evil twin, after all. Maybe my mom sensed that strong connection and that was why she offered his parents to take the five-year-old Judd with us.
For some reason my parents never figured out why Judd’s parents said No. However since then, Uncle Richard held a grudge against my parents—well, against my mom now, since my dad is no longer with us—for thinking they were bad parents for Judd. Thanks to that episode I had a clear understanding of my parents’ weirdness.
Judd remained my hero from the US.
I was thrilled to see him in the summer. When he wrote me his first letter at about thirteen years old, I was jealous since he had met this great girl, Jessica, he was totally in love with. I hated her. They were quite serious and dated for a while. I believe this charming blond girl was the one he first slept with the year after. Nevertheless, I was the one whose back was being taken care of, at that very moment, by his rough yet soft enough hands! Zero sunburn for me and maybe Jessica’s back was rotting in Hell now? Maybe she has two kids and lots of cellulite in her belly and thighs? Truthfully I still hated the girl.
Don’t get me wrong though, I wasn’t in love with my cousin… well, not anymore. We were way past that; there was zero weirdness in our relationship. I preferred the company of guys, cousin or not, whom I found less complicated than most girls, and Judd and I shared a deep connection. So that he didn’t mind shaving in front of me. So that I didn’t mind shaving in front of him. I could confide in him like in nobody else.
Deep in her heart, my mom, Isabelle, could have trusted Aunt Lana with her own life, it was the same for me and Judd. My aunt and my cousin were the only ones who could cope with me, considering what my state of mind had been for about a year. I was a wreck, empty inside. I had to do something to get out of my bottomless grief. I couldn’t bear to be in that state anymore and have “depressed” tattooed on my forehead yet I couldn’t help it.
A state where I couldn’t feel anything. Numb.
That was why I started to cut myself.
Poor little desperate girl. Out of curiosity, I had questioned my ability to feel something. I did. It hurt. Not too much. The right amount to feel alive, at least. After the first few times that razor blade met the inside of my wrist, I took pleasure in it. I really did. I wasn’t trying to kill myself, I swear. I hid the marks under a large leather triquetra wristband that Guillaume had given me on our first anniversary.
The irony wasn’t lost in me when all I had left from him was his meaningful gift to hide the wounds of our broken love under a Trinity knot, that Celtic triangle that meant past, present and future—as if I had a future with him!
The wounds didn’t heal fast enough, but nobody ever noticed. Then it became an addiction. I had to do it. To remember I did feel. Some cuts here and there? Well, my body and mind were in pieces so what difference did it make? I was a zombie anyway.
For the first time I found it impossible to admit to Judd what I’d been doing to myself.
Because of Guillaume, my two-and-a-half-year relationship and first true love… or so I thought, since he betrayed me though I gave him my trust, my mind, my body, my soul. On my graduation day, that bastard shattered my heart into tiny pieces impossible to glue back together, by calling it quits for no reason. Strike that, he said something like, “I don’t think I’m ready for you to be the mother of my children.”
Out of the blue.
How lame of him to assume I would want that without even asking me in the first place. I doubted he was in any way interested in what I had to say on the subject. I had just turned twenty-one and considered myself too young to be into either marriage or motherhood. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to commit because my parents met at a young age, too, didn’t wait to get married, had this perfect relationship and my expectations were too high? Perhaps it was because I wasn’t ready with Guillaume?
Strange how hours on that plane from Paris to Boston helped me to fathom that the worst that could have happened wasn’t the unbearable post-break-up feeling.
Setting foot in P-Town was a cure for me to fathom that our relationship was pointless but not useless because I learned from it. That was the rational part of me speaking after the emotional nerve-wrecking part exploded in France. I have to admit I was still angry at him and at myself.
I had been such a fool… Learning to cope with bad experiences and rejection was part of growing up, part of the life cycle, right? I understood that now.
Our break-up helped me not to waste more years with Guillaume. Let’s say the P-Town version of me was grateful he dumped me. Not grateful of the way he did, grateful anyhow that he found whatever consciousness he had to articulate the thought and actually spat it out loud.
At least he didn’t use excuses like, “It’s not you, it’s me, you’re a wonderful person but I’m a mess right now so it’s best if we break it off now… Let’s stay friends, okay?”
Should I be appeased that he was half a jerk? I hadn’t seen it coming because everything had been so easy with him. We met at a student party thanks to a mutual friend from school; back then I was enrolled on my last year of a two-year-math prep school generally required in France to enter the elite schools, he was a first-year student in a prestigious architecture school, ESA.
Although we hit it off right from the start, we had a slow start. I chose to put aside my attraction to this good-looking guy with golden blond hair and deep blue eyes. Good student with a strange sense of humor, he was a huge fan of English music but we stayed on a friendship status for a few months. I was too driven by my studies and exams, didn’t have time to date since my school required loads of work, and after the mandatory two years I was exhausted because it had drained the energy out of my system. It had been too demanding and I couldn’t see my future. Therefore I needed a break before the prep school ended and traveled to Bali. That was where Guillaume and I hooked up on spring break.
Shortly after we came back to France he got his bachelor’s degree from ESA. I followed his path and joined his school from where I got my bachelor’s degree last year. Despite what I had told Guillaume, my dream of becoming an architect hadn’t been dictated by him but by my dad, also an architect.
Once we started dating I became friend with Guillaume’s best friend, Vincente, a tall and slender guy whose mother was from Italy and father from Vietnam. Despite his almost shaven hair on each side of his skull, he kept the rest of it long enough to wear in a short ponytail, giving him a unique look and everybody referred to him as Samurai.
The medicine student was a perfect mix who had inherited his mother’s dark blue eyes. Outspoken and reliable, he was easy to talk to and also the king of lame jokes. We had become inseparable around the moment things went down the drain with Guillaume and he stood by me. And to be sure my intentions were clear I made a bold move and got Vincente a blind date—not a typical French tradition—with Alexandra, another friend of mine. I’m glad I did because they’d been together since then.
Happily ever after, right? They were getting married on December 27th. At that point, I wasn’t looking forward to attending that wedding and facing Guillaume again.
My mind and my body, yearning for the daily rush of the blade, kept reminding me that I was far from cured.
© 2015 Hope Irving