After watching This Is Us -- Number Two, I felt like I needed to release this chapter a little early. Miscarriage and baby loss is heartbreaking, but we all heal in our own way and in our own time.
When Dwayne Died
Copyright 2016 by CF Winn
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
There's something sweet about watching a couple fall in love. An audience will eat up the romantic scenes in a book or on screen, hungry for the same kind of joy in their own lives. They forget that in real life, after only a few months, respect slips away and judgment slides in. At the beginning, everything is fresh and new; bad habits seem charming, but are quietly labeled TO CHANGE LATER. Resentments and criticisms are packed up and stored away, until that one inevitable nasty fight, when the glow of early love has finally been smothered by baggage and scars that can no longer be ignored.
After the procedure was over and Savannah was stable, the doctor said that she could go home. No longer pregnant, rather than focusing on healing her injured body, she ached for the piece of her that was lost. Her bloated stomach was a phantom limb that she still imagined bursting with new life and a happiness that would take her and Dwayne to the next level of perfect.
"Sweetheart, it's me." Dwayne's voice was soft and hesitant outside the closed hospital curtain.
"You can come in," Savannah called to him from the gurney, where she lay flat on her back, staring at the ceiling. The nurse had told her that she could take her time getting dressed.
The metal rings clanged as Dwayne pushed the curtain open, but Savannah remained still, finding it hard to tear her heavy eyes from the cracked white tile above her head. She studied the damage, taking comfort from its imperfection.
It was only when he held her hand and kissed the inside of her wrist that she dared to look at him.
Can he see how broken I’ve always been?
His gentle eyes met hers. "I'm so glad that you're ok." His chin trembled and he squeezed her limp hand.
"Dr. T said that I lost a lot of blood."
Dwayne bent to rub her head. "You did. They were all set up to give you a transfusion, just in case you needed it. No one even told me. After two hours, you still hadn't come out and I had to ask what was going on."
His brown eyes glistened and his deep voice shook while he recounted his side of the story. She stared at his caramel hand resting on top of her pink one, protecting her, while at the same time gathering strength from their connection. They were linked as if it was a regular Monday and nothing had changed.
Savannah listened from a place outside this scene, the way she would if she was watching a movie. Although the monologue wrenched her heart, and she wanted the main character to reassure Dwayne, Savannah remained a spectator.
A wall had sprung up between her brain and the rest of her body. It left her feeling foggy, the way she did on some mornings when she’d rather snuggle into her pillow than get up and face the day. Instead of reacting, when he stopped talking to take a breath, she struggled to sit up.
"I'm so hungry. I really want to get out of here." Her words were flat, as if she had not just had her child and most of her soul ripped from her body and tossed into the trash somewhere--dead, useless, and with any luck, forgotten.
Dwayne used his free hand on her back to help her change positions and asked, "Do you need anything?"
"Can you give me my bra and shirt from the chair behind you?"
He turned away to get her what she needed, and when he released her hand, things changed as quickly and subtly as they did when the seasons begin to shift from summer to fall. Even though no leaves litter the ground and it's still warm enough for shorts, something feels different. It's tempting to hold on to late mornings and lazy beach days, but suddenly the things that seemed so comfortable and familiar don't fit the way they did just days ago.
Savannah dressed in silence. Dwayne averted his eyes as if they had never shared a friendship, a bed, and almost a family. Whatever had caused her to miscarry their daughter would show on her bare skin, so she moved quickly, keeping herself and her defects covered. When Savannah was done, Dwayne left to get the discharge nurse and a tuna sandwich for her.
She was pushed to the front door in a wheelchair and driven home by Dwayne. Savannah stared at the tuna sandwich in her lap but only saw the hole she wanted to throw herself in. When they arrived at the house, she dropped her soggy lunch in the trash can at the curb.
As they took off their jackets, Dwayne insisted that Savannah take time off from work to recover, although he planned to return to his job the next morning. Savannah nodded and escaped to bed. As soon as her head hit the pillow, grief cloaked their home like a heavy blanket that stays damp no matter how many times you run it through the dryer. Neither acknowledged it and the sadness spread like mold, thick and toxic.
For the next few days, she didn't cook dinner for them to enjoy together, or prepare food and leave a container in the refrigerator for Dwayne like she used to. Instead, he’d bring home take-out for them both, although the tins of beans and rice from the bodega that she had always loved so much sat untouched until they smelled and Dwayne finally threw them out.
Savannah showered at night. Not in the morning, either getting up with Dwayne and chatting with him from under the water while he brushed his teeth, or jumping in after he left for work.
She tried to watch TV, but would stare at the screen before looking around and wondering where she was. When it all came rushing back, she'd fall on the bed sobbing and pulling on her hair, unable to escape a reality she’d never asked for. By the time Dwayne came home, Savannah was silent again, curled up on her side under the blankets and pretending to sleep. Crying as hard as she did left her with awful headaches, and facing Dwayne meant facing that she was a failure unworthy of being his partner. Polarizing guilt kept her numb even when he left cards and love notes on her pillow in an effort to bring her back to him.
After a week and a half, Savannah finally forced herself out of bed before Dwayne got home. She showered, sobbing under the hot water and again while she dressed in sweats. By the time she finished, the sun had begun to set. She made Dwayne's favorite dinner--lobster tails, rice, and green beans–and struggled to keep herself together even as dull aches in her throat and chest pummeled her like rocks.
His eyes lit up when he walked in from work and saw her setting the table. "You're awake. How do you feel?" He dropped the takeout bag and hugged her. "I'm sorry I smell like diesel. I’ll shower in a sec. I'm just so happy to see you moving around--and dinner smells damn good!"
He held her limp body even tighter, wrapping his arms around her just under where her thick, wavy hair ended at her waist. With her cheek pressed hard against his chest, she inhaled deeply, as if his scent could take them back to a time when she couldn’t imagine ever enduring this level of pain. "I'm still sore, but I'm sick of lying in bed. It feels better to stretch my legs and do something constructive."
Dwayne moved his embrace from her lower back to her shoulders. He bent to kiss her, but she leaned away and turned her face to hide her puffy, bloodshot eyes. His lips caught the top of her head. He dropped his arms and stepped away, mumbling something about getting cleaned up before dinner.
Within seconds, she heard the water in the shower hitting the granite floor. Steam appeared, slowly drifting into the hallway towards her. Savannah felt it pulling her, urging her to join him. But the doctor says we can’t have sex for at least three weeks.
She stayed where she was.
He lost a child too you know.
A fleeting thought, for she had buried her instincts alongside her baby.
Savannah sighed and went into the kitchen to let their dog in. After she had come home from the hospital, Mingh sat next to the bed each night whimpering and nudging her hand, eager to resume their routine and go for their evening walk. She'd push him off, getting up only to feed him and put him in the backyard when his bowls were empty. Now he lay outside his doghouse, head resting on his paws.
"Mingh," she called. He popped up at the sound of his name. "C'mon puppy. Ready for a walk?"
Mingh bounded up the stairs, unencumbered by resentment at having been ignored, and jumped on Savannah, smothering her with kisses. For a moment, she forgot her pain and giggled as she rubbed his back. But as soon as he climbed down and went to get his leash off the low hook they hung it on so he could reach it with his mouth, she remembered that Mingh also depended on her. And she could not be trusted.
Her smile disappeared. She clipped the leash on and mumbled, "Let's get this over with.”
Savannah hurried out the front door and down the steps with Mingh leading the way. It was the first time she'd been outside since her world had become unrecognizable. Colorful leaves carpeted the wet ground, but their brilliant reds and yellows seemed duller than last year, when Dwayne and Savannah had planned to live happily ever after. She shivered in the cool air, having forgotten to put on a jacket, no longer aware that things like the weather change every day, sometimes even in seconds, taking us by surprise.
Will I be stuck here forever or will I ever feel whole again?
She breathed in the damp, musty smell of the woods that surrounded their block and felt the first few drops of rain. She looked up. It was a desperate sight, the bare branches of the tree exposed and vulnerable, reaching for something that wasn't there. Tiny specks of water fell softly through the halo of light around the ornate metal of a lamp post. Behind the weather, tiny stars winked coyly, only visible as the clouds shifted.
Savannah thought of Suki--she’d already named her daughter--and her tears mixed with the rain that dotted her cheeks and chin. Every birthday and special event had already been planned. Every bump, bruise, and hurt feeling had already been kissed and hugged away, yet Savannah would never know if her daughter could feel how much love was behind every fantasy, hope, and dream. Is she ok? Is she watching me now? Does she know how much we wanted her?
Her questions were answered by emptiness and silence. They formed an alliance and ganged up on Savannah. An atmosphere of disregard clung to the pavement, rooting her to one spot, weighted by the heaviness in her heart, while the rest of the world moved forward, keeping its distance and avoiding her as if she would infect everyone.
Mingh finished peeing on the grass along the curb and tugged at his leash. Wiping her eyes, Savannah shook her head hard, as if she could erase her feelings at will. "C'mon Mingh. Time to go home."
Dwayne and Savannah began sleeping apart. They shared the bed, but kept to opposite ends of the queen-sized mattress, leaving each other to brave the nights alone. As Dwayne tossed and turned, she wondered if nightmares plagued him the way they did her. Was he also haunted by holes where happiness should have been?
Savannah woke early on Friday morning, the weekend of a long-planned ski trip. She stared at Dwayne's back, wondering how they had gotten so far away from each other. Maybe this trip will help us. She reached a hand out to this man she so desperately wanted to cling to during the worst time of her life. Her fingertips barely grazed the small of his back when the guilt crept in.
How dare you expect him to make you feel better. He lost his child because of you. How about how he feels? He wants children and you probably won’t even be able to give him any. What if you are built like your grandmother? What if you have eight miscarriages too? How selfish can you be?
Savannah pulled her hand away as if the truth burned. She rolled over, turned her back on him, and let the tears fall. Ever since the procedure, crying had become as instinctual as breathing.
When she thought she could handle packing, she got up and made them sandwiches to take on the road. They had planned the ski trip months ago, when they knew that their time alone was coming to an end and getaways would be limited. They were going with another couple and their five-year-old. Kim and John's daughter, Tori, was supposed to be Savannah's opening act, much needed practice for the young mom before Suki arrived. Savannah was going to be a pretend parent for the weekend and watch Tori while the other three adults skied.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Dwayne asked her as they loaded the car, then again when they drove to Kim and John's house, and once more when they stopped for gas before heading to the mountain. "I'm fine if we cancel. If you're not up to it, then we shouldn't go."
She knew that what he really wanted to ask was if she was in pain, but she couldn’t risk him hearing the truth in her response. They were enduring a shared nightmare. The only answer was: unbearably so.
After ripping apart his future, Savannah certainly couldn’t take this away from him, too. Dwayne loves skiing. He needs something. Watching her mope had to be depressing, and they hardly spoke anymore except when he asked how she was feeling. She was determined for them to find their way back to each other.
"I keep telling you, I'm fine. Let's go and have some fun. That's what we need right now." Savannah pulled out her camera and snapped a picture of him at the gas pump. "Yeah that's right. The camera loves you, babe."
Smiling, he posed for the picture like the goofball she used to know. He put the nozzle back in the pump and walked toward her, reaching out for her hand. The smell of the gas hit and made her woozy. She turned to breathe some clean air and Dwayne stopped a few feet away from her. "Savannah. Are you coming?"
The irritation in his voice pushed her forward. "Yep. Coming."
As long as Savannah kept her head lowered, her pale complexion and raccoon eyes stayed hidden. She wondered if she'd ever not look exhausted ever again. In one short month, her youth had disappeared and been replaced with the worn out insides of someone who had seen enough tragedy to write a really sad book.
As they approached Jay Peak, Dwayne whooped loudly. “I can’t wait to get up there and do my thing!” Savannah stared at the trails that lined the mountains like stripes, not seeing them. Then they passed Alice’s Table Restaurant, and the part of Savannah that wasn’t dreading more long days without Dwayne began planning a date night.
The foursome checked in at the lodge and got the keys to their chalet. Tori stuck with Savannah, excitedly chattering about what they were going to do that weekend.
"Mommy says that I can wear nail polish now, so we can do our nails. But only if I promise not to suck my thumb. Mommy says I have to be a big girl now."
Dwayne smiled at Tori as he reached into the car to grab their heavy suitcase. He left the tiny overnight for Savannah. She grabbed the small bag and took Tori's hand. “I’m sure you can handle that. You’ve definitely gotten much bigger since I saw you last. What else do you want to do?”
Her hand burned with betrayal. She felt like she was being watched; not just by her boyfriend, but by the daughter she would've given anything to hold. Tori giggled and listed their itinerary while Savannah struggled to breathe beneath her sham of a smile.
Kim, moved by Savannah's swollen, sad eyes, pried Tori away. “Let Savannah get inside. Girls Day isn't till tomorrow, and that's only if Savannah is feeling well. Remember that I told you that she was sick and is still trying to get better?"
Kim’s supportive look made Savannah feel pitiful.
"I know Mommy. And the baby in her belly got sick too, right? So I have to be very gentle and no hugging.”
Everyone averted their eyes but Tori. She stood right in front of Savannah and held up a lifelike infant swaddled in a crooked diaper.
"You don't have to worry about me, Savannah. I'm very good with babies. I practice all the time with my dolls."
"I'm not worried at all, Tori. Just let me unpack and then we'll start with dinner. Do you think you're ready to help cook?"
Savannah didn't wait for the answer. She continued to their room, hoping no one noticed her shake, or the zig zag in her walk as she struggled to stay on her feet, and she closed the bedroom door before anyone could see her tears.
That night and for every night of the trip, Savannah tried to snuggle close to Dwayne. The doctor had cleared her for sex and they could even try to get pregnant again, but Dwayne blew her off. "Sorry, Savannah, I'm tired. I was on the slopes for hours."
John, Kim, and Dwayne left in the mornings, right after breakfast. By the time Tori was ready for a nap at two, Kim would poke her head in to check on them and to see if Savannah was sick of playing nanny.
"Don't be silly Kim. I'm fine. I'm going to read until she gets up. Go have fun."
As the door closed and the glare of the sun on the distant slopes disappeared, Savannah put her head down, fighting back lonely, hot tears.
Dwayne returned only after they'd all finished eating, his cheeks flushed red from the wind on the mountain. He reeked of the whiskey dinner he had at the bar in the lodge. "Hey! You guys are a bunch of party poopers! Why'd you come back so early?" He swayed when he pulled off his boots on the rug by the door. Bits of snow fell from his hat and melted in tiny pools of water as the heat from the fireplace reached him. "Crack open some beers, John."
Savannah pretended that the knots in her stomach weren't there and focused on staying in the lines as she and Tori colored at the table. She was beginning to cling to the five-year-old just so she could hide her emotions behind playing games and excuses about giving Tori's parents some time alone.
Kim and John looked knowingly at each other. "C'mon, buddy." John said. "I need some help with the bed. Something's loose and the squeaking keeps waking me up during the night."
As Savannah outlined the dress of the princess, she didn't sigh and think of how Dwayne used to make her feel beautiful. Instead, she thought of how this trip reminded her of the early days, when Dwayne drank too much. Seeing him like this made her worry.
It was hard for Savannah to recall times when Dwayne disappointed her. For the most part, she had always regarded him as someone she wished she was more like: laid back, disciplined, sensitive, forgiving, thoughtful. But after they decided to live together and began moving her stuff into his house, things got rocky. Dwayne wanted so much to be the one to take care of Savannah and made no secret of it.
“I’ll show you that I can take care of you. That I can be a partner you can rely on. Maybe then you’ll quit all of your jobs and marry me.”
At that time, Savannah knew the pressure to work full-time and branch out independently was getting to him, and that he’d begun drinking to ease the tension. She watched him spread himself thin, all the while claiming that he had it under control. Like a dam trying to hold back a constant rush of water, eventually the load became too much. The night they went dancing, the rules went out the window and a side of him that she had never seen before made an unwelcome appearance.
Crawdaddy’s was a popular club with bright blue lights and smoke machines that made the sticky wooden floor and worn leather bar stools seem nicer than they really were. As soon as they arrived, Dwayne made a beeline for the bar and ordered two beers. Savannah pushed past a group of guys catcalling her and rushed to stand next to him.
"What do you want to drink Savannah?" he asked.
She looked down at the two bottles in front of him. "One of those isn't for me?"
"No. I didn't think you'd want beer, and this placed is packed, so I ordered two, rather than having to try and get this guy's attention later. You want me to get you a Kahlua and milk?”
Savannah looked at the dance floor. One of her favorite songs played, and she wanted to get out there with her boyfriend. Was he planning on bouncing with a bottle in each hand? "No thanks. Just a Sprite for me. I'm the designated driver."
He shrugged and turned to talk to the bartender.
Why would he think it was okay for me to drink when I'd be driving us home? Dwayne knew how she felt about drinking and driving. In college, she had been in a car hit head on by a drunk driver. Firemen had to use the jaws-of-life to get her and the two other passengers out of the mangled vehicle. Only after months of physical therapy was Savannah able to use her injured leg normally.
"Here ya go, Sweetheart. Let's go find a table. Mike and the guys should be here soon."
It took Savannah a moment to move. She had no idea that Dwayne had invited his friends. "Are they bringing any girlfriends or dates or anything?" she asked as she hurried to catch up to him.
"Uh, I don't know," he said over his shoulder before making a run at a table in the corner where a couple was wrapping up.
Left behind, Savannah got stuck between two drunk girls purring at each other as they held hands to keep their balance.
"You're so beautiful."
“No, you're so beautiful. Every guy here wants you."
Savannah would've smirked at the thought of them falling on the floor laughing and trying not to wet themselves if she wasn't wondering why she had bothered to come.
Eventually, Dwayne’s friends showed up. They had not brought anyone, leaving Savannah to dance alone while they ordered shots and ribbed each other. She drifted further out onto the dance floor, as the crowd pushed her thin frame along to their rhythm.
Strange guys approached her, one after the other, parade style. They filled the distance between her and Dwayne with their sweaty, gyrating bodies, never asking if they could join her, but sliding in and getting too close. Their breath smelled like salami and alcohol.
Savannah, no stranger to the club scene, backed up and politely shouted over the pulsing bass. "No thank you!"
Some nodded and moved on, but others pretended not to hear and grabbed her around the waist. In most cases, she'd repeat herself loudly in their ears and then turn her back on them, firmly ending the interaction. One guy, though, refused to release his grip.
"It’s okay,” he said. “You don’t have to worry. I'm engaged."
Still holding on to her, the man held up a black onyx pinky ring and grinned. Savannah scowled and grabbed his finger, bending it back. It was her turn to ignore him when he cried out in pain and she refused to release her grip.
"Not stupid and not interested. Leave me alone."
Suddenly Dwayne appeared. The ex-marine towered over both of them. "Is there a problem here?"
Savannah let go of his finger and frowned at Dwayne as he put his arm around her waist and pulled her close to him. The annoying guy backed away and held up his palms.
"Nope. Uh, it was really great meeting you." He shoved several people aside as he pushed through the crowd away from them.
Dwayne turned her around and bent to kiss her. He smelled of booze and a shaky hand almost knocked her glasses off her face. "Hey, baby. What are you doing dancing without me? Every guy here thinks you're alone and wants to get with this fine piece of ass." He squeezed her and smiled.
"Are you kidding me?" Savannah wriggled out of his arms. "Go back to drinking with your friends." She turned from him and started dancing alone again.
"Hey, hey, hey. What's going on?" He moved in front of her and gently took her hands. He swayed slightly and slurred his words, but his touch was soft and his voice curious.
"Why did you bring me here? Was it to be your driver so you could drink and hang with your buddies? You could've just taken a cab."
He dropped one hand and led her by the other to a dark corner that wasn't so crowded. This time he kept her close and made sure that no one stepped on her. For the first time that night she felt like he wanted her there.
Dwayne leaned her up against the wall, placed one hand on either side of her head, and brought his face close to her ear. "I hate that you think that I don't want to be here with you. I love you. I love you so much. I want things to be perfect for you, for us. Sometimes I just need to blow off some steam and I go too far. I'm sorry and I'm here for you. Not for them."
He pointed in the direction of his buddies sitting at their table and threw himself off balance.
Savannah sighed. "You don't need to ignore them and only be with me. I just thought everyone would be laughing together, instead of you all joking around and me sitting alone at a table full of men. And I don't understand why I'm the only woman here. Didn't you tell them to bring someone?"
"I did tell them to bring someone, but none of their girls are as cool as you. They want to cling to the guys all night long--even if other women are around--and my boys need to blow off some steam, too."
He leaned on the wall with his shoulder and took her hand in his. Her tiny fingers disappeared. "I get what you're saying. It wasn't fair to leave you all by yourself the whole time. I'm sorry." Then he did something he'd never done before. He lifted her arm and turned it to kiss the inside of her wrist. "Can we be friends again?"
Snuggling into his arms, Savannah let her walls collapse and left her anger on the floor with the rest of the discarded trash. Dwayne’s full lips on hers sealed his apology, and she told him to go back to his friends, that she’d join them after a trip to the bathroom.
Two hand washes later, she exited the grimy restroom. Most of the place had emptied out. Savannah glanced at her watch, amazed at how long they’d been there.
Dwayne sat alone at the bar, guzzling a rum and coke. The woman next to him was checking out the bartender’s bottom. With his eyes fixed on a shelf of cognac, he didn’t notice Savannah in his peripheral vision until she was about three steps away. He jumped and turned toward the woman, who was still not paying any attention to him. "No! I have a girlfriend and I love her!" he shouted at her back.
The woman looked at him like he was crazy. Savannah made eye contact with her and mouthed, "I'm sorry" before the woman got up and switched her seat.
Dwayne pulled Savannah onto his lap and kissed her neck. She found it hard not to laugh, but knew she had to get him out of there before he had any more to drink. "C'mon baby. Let's get you home. We have to be up early to move more of my stuff in before we go to your sister's for the barbeque."
"Yes Ma'am." Dwayne held onto the bar for support as he lifted himself from the stool. He was unsteady, but able to get to the door without any help.
“Let me just get my sweater from coat check. I’ll meet you at the truck.” The keys jingled in her hand as she promised to hurry.
After tipping the attendant, Savannah put on her sweater and pushed open the front door of the club. She scanned the lot, trying to remember where they had parked, but stopped short at the scene unfolding in front of her--Dwayne yelling at a guy who was at least two heads shorter than him.
The stranger’s posse surrounded them both. The guy reached out and grabbed Dwayne's shirt, sending two buttons flying.
"Are you kidding me?! This is my favorite shirt!"
And with that, Dwayne put him in a headlock, and the fight began.
Savannah ran to Dwayne's truck, parked only two spots from where the boys now wrestled. As she unlocked the door and stepped up to get into the driver's seat, she saw one of the guy's friends pull the two men apart. But instead of stopping the fight, he swung at Dwayne as he tried to get to his feet. Drunk as he was, Dwayne was a Marine whose training was far beyond what any of them had ever encountered. He stepped aside and the punch clipped his shoulder, leaving him unhurt, but in a rage. "You must have lost your damn mind!" He grabbed the guy by the collar. The shorter guy jumped on Dwayne's back, but was too drunk to do more than just hang on for the ride. The other friends stood in an uneasy circle, as if they weren’t sure whether or not to jump in.
Savannah pulled the truck out of the spot and sped at the group, stopping short inches from them. Startled, everyone froze, and the guy slid off Dwayne’s back. Leaving the car running and the driver's door open, Savannah jumped out. She pushed the short guy out of her way and pointed a finger in Dwayne's face. "You. Get in the car. Now."
Dwayne, still holding the gangly friend, looked at her as if she was telling him to clear his plate before he was done eating. Savannah growled, "I should've run all of your stupid asses over. Let go of him right now or I’ll get back in the car and do it."
Without another word, Dwayne let go of the guy he was holding and walked to the passenger side of the truck, angrily adjusting his torn shirt. The rest of the group slowly backed up, silent as Savannah stared them all down. She heard someone complain, “That bitch is crazy!” before she followed Dwayne and got behind the wheel.
They drove in silence to Dwayne's house. As she unlocked the front door, he leaned on the stone column that held up the porch, the same column Leisa's sister had leaned on months ago, when her time with Dwayne was coming to an end and Savannah's was about to begin. She held open the door for him to stumble through, her anger giving way to doubt. What happened to the guy I met? I can’t be stuck with this mess.
He pushed past her and tripped into the bathroom, leaving her to wonder where the guy she had longed to kiss, the one she thought would take care of her forever if she let him, had gone. The door slammed shut, waking his brother Aaron, who came downstairs and hugged Savannah.
"What's going on?" Aaron asked, pointing to the bathroom door.
"Your brother got drunk, was in a fight, and is now hopefully peeing himself a little closer to sobriety before I get him to bed and leave. Since you're awake, can you help me with him? We have to make sure he falls asleep lying on his side so he doesn't choke if he throws up."
After Dwayne's roommate had moved out, Dwayne and Savannah decided to take the downstairs bedroom and invited Aaron to move upstairs into Dwayne’s old room. Aaron needed a place to stay. The new couple made the decision with barely any discussion. They both agreed--this is what you do for family.
Now Savannah and Aaron stood in the living room, their eyes sore and droopy as they waited. After almost ten minutes, Aaron knocked on the door. "Hey Dwayne, what's going on? You okay?"
Dwayne mumbled almost incoherently. "Yeah. Just a second."
Another few minutes passed. Aaron and Savannah looked at each other. “We’ve got to do something,” she said.
"What if he's taking a shit?"
"Ask him." Savannah moved closer and listened, but heard nothing.
Aaron called out. "Hey, Dwayne. You taking a shit, man?"
He didn’t respond and Savannah lunged for the door, afraid that he’d fallen and was indeed choking on his own vomit.
The bathroom was tiny, so Dwayne groaned and shifted when the door hit his huge feet. He lay sprawled naked across the tile, his clothes thrown in a heap in the tub. The room reeked of spoiled beer. There was pee and vomit in the toilet.
Savannah gasped and bent down. "Dwayne. Are you ok?" She tried to lift his head, but he pushed her away.
"Stop bothering me. I'm trying to sleep. Why do you make things such a big deal?" His words were garbled, but his tone came across clearly.
Savannah stood and backed out of the room. "He's disgusting,” she told Aaron. "I'm leaving, so you do whatever you want, but I think you should leave him there." She kicked Dwayne’s legs and smiled when he yelped. Then she turned and walked out the front door.
Outside, she got into Dwayne’s truck. The plan had been to load it up in the morning and return with more of her stuff, but now she backed the truck up hard into the large stump that no one had ever removed from the property. Then she pulled forward and backed into it again. And again. As the metal hitch bent and warped, she thought, Plans change.
The next morning, after only four hours sleep, Savannah had not changed her mind. Her father had been an angry man and a heavy drinker, and life with him had been miserable. She refused to let her past also be her future.
She woke her brother. "Get up. I have to drop off Dwayne's truck and I need a ride home."
Rob rolled over and covered his eyes with his arm. "What time is it?"
"Nine. I just want to get this over with and then you can go back to sleep."
Rob was sleeping off his own crazy night, but she knew he never argued with her when she was annoyed. He pulled on some sweats and brushed his teeth. As they walked out to the driveway, he asked, "You got everything loaded by yourself?"
"Things have changed."
Rob followed Savannah. When they got to Dwayne’s house, his sister was there having coffee with Aaron.
Terry smiled and hugged Savannah. “Hey. How’re you doing? Dwayne’s not up yet.”
Savannah handed her the keys. “No worries. I just came to drop off the truck.” She looked at Aaron, who averted his eyes. “My brother’s waiting for me outside. I’ll see you guys later.”
Aaron lit a cigarette and stared into his mug while Terry looked from one to the other, confused. Savannah was heartbroken, but felt that she was doing the right thing, so she turned and left.
By late afternoon, Savannah was sure of two things. Life would go on and Dwayne was over her. He hadn’t called to apologize, argue, or end things. If silence counted as closure, they were done.
She ran errands, made a few calls, and contemplated what she was going to do next. She could continue staying with her mother, but she was twenty-one years old. Time to grow up.
Whatever she did, she’d need to travel light. She pulled out her boxes from school and started sorting. She could throw out her notes from her Biology lecture and Statistics class. When the phone rang, Savannah was on box number three and garbage bag two. She tossed another notebook and answered. “Hello?”
Hearing Dwayne’s deep voice, Savannah started to sweat. Don’t say another word. You know I turn to mush when you use the sexy voice. This isn’t fair. You were bad.
Silent, Savannah flipped a textbook cover back and forth, letting the breeze cool her warm cheeks.
“I don’t expect you to forgive me, but can we talk for a few minutes?”
“We are talking Dwayne.”
“No. I mean face to face. I need to talk to my friend.”
“Oh, we’re friends now?”
“I ... I don’t know what you mean.” He sighed. “The truth is, I can’t remember much of anything. I just woke up, and you’re not here but the truck is…”
Savannah still said nothing.
“When I asked Aaron where you were, he said I acted like a dumbass and that you were mad and I’d better call you right away.”
“I’m not mad. I’m done.”
“What? Please, baby. Just come talk to me. I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry for what? You don’t even know what you did. I’m supposed you to forgive you and move on as if nothing happened, but you get to walk away without guilt, shame, or the disgusting memory of it all?”
I want to hug you. I know how good you are. You’d never hurt me intentionally. But we have to have rules and consequences. Because when the newness wears off, if this happens again, it’ll get much uglier. On both sides.
Her question hung there like a problem with no solution. Despite the tension of the situation, the silence was not uncomfortable. It never was. Their rhythm came naturally. Pauses were never interpreted as personal or offensive, so the energy shifted smoothly between them.
Finally, Dwayne spoke. “I understand. Can you tell me what happened? I have only bits and pieces.”
Savannah recounted the details as if she were reading an essay, choosing not to mock or name call. So far no one had raised their voice. By the time she was done, she felt lighter. Now that it was out there, they shared the burden and the embarrassment of what had occurred the night before.
“I’m so ashamed, Savannah. And I’m sorry. For real.” He paused. She could hear the springs on his couch creak. He groaned softly and sighed again. “Can I just shower and get dressed and then come apologize in person?”
Savannah stayed silent as she considered it.
“No strings attached. I really do understand and respect whatever you want to do. But I can’t help that I love you as much as I do, and I need to say I’m sorry properly. You didn’t deserve any of that. I really was a dumbass.”
I love you too. I love you so much that I want to jump through the phone and hug you and kiss you and tell you that you are forgiven. That you are always forgiven. But I can’t. I won’t. I want us to do the work. To have the best life possible. It won’t always be this easy, and I can’t wind up like my parents.
“Thank you. I’ll see you soon.”
And in the end, Dwayne not only knew all the right things to say, but he also knew the right thing to do. As he kissed the inside of her wrist, Dwayne promised to stop drinking. Did he have a problem? Neither of them had that answer, but they both agreed that he was drinking a lot and it was causing problems between them.
Weeks later, Dwayne wrote Savannah a letter. He left it next to her glasses on the nightstand when he bent to kiss her gently as he left for work. They were always writing notes and leaving cards for each other--at home, in their cars--as if just saying the words wasn’t enough. In this case, part of Dwayne’s letter talked about his drinking and his decision to stop.
I don’t even have cravings for alcohol anymore, and I found that I can have fun without it. I kicked this habit for you. If not for you, I never would have realized how often I drank.
As soon as I found out that you didn’t feel comfortable with it, I wanted to quit. It was hard, but I did. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal to you, but it is very important to me, for US. Please don’t be worried about the Crawdaddy’s situation happening again. I beat my problem!
Thank you for sticking by me. I love you, Sweetheart.
And now, after the miscarriage, just as she had predicted, the newness had worn off, and things were not as easy as they once were. Dwayne was drinking heavily again, and Savannah wondered if he’d find the strength he needed to live up to the promises he had made. She hoped that by hiding her grief, he could focus on his own, and that maybe he’d heal.
It didn't make sense. In a beautiful chateau at the top of a mountain with a view that should have rekindled their romance, all Savannah could think about was her own misery and how the security she had felt, that had seemed so automatic--like their heartbeats--could just disappear.
She remembered how she would sometimes squirm when Dwayne's kiss would tickle the inside of her wrist. As Savannah lay only inches from the love of her life, she swore she'd never pull away again.
Read Chapter One of WHEN DWAYNE DIED here:
CF Winn is the award-winning author of The COFFEE BREAK SERIES, a quirky group of short stories meant to be read while on break or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Her first novella, SUKI, has been grabbing hearts and hugging souls all over the United States.
You can now order SUKI in paperback at BOOK REVUE, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org Learn more about SUKI at BOOK REVUE.
Her blogs have been syndicated on multiple sites including The Masquerade Crew. More posts like these can be found at Humor Outcasts and The Patch where she is a regular contributor.
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