Zayne winced as he forced down another bite of his godawful pizza. It was so flavorless and tough – like someone had spread tomato sauce over a piece of cardboard and sprinkled a little cheese on top. Trying a new place for dinner that night had proved to be a terrible idea. Ugh. He thought to himself as he threw the slice back into the box. Never again.
As the credits of the movie he’d been watching began to roll, Zayne began browsing through the other channels – A boring news broadcast, some lame new gameshow, a rerun of Fangs for the Memories… Zayne flipped past that one as quickly as he could. He couldn’t even look at one second of that show without thinking of Hope. With a click of the remote, he moved on to the next channel.
Zayne felt an enormous weight on his chest, pushing all the air from his lungs. Hope had warned him the day they broke up. She’d told him ahead of time “so you won’t get the wrong idea,” she’d said. But nothing could have prepared him for what it would feel like to actually see it with his own eyes.
Here he was, so pathetic, miserable, lonely… And there was Hope — his Hope — so vibrant and beautiful, melting into the arms of another man. What if that’s what she was doing at this very moment? Only not for the cameras… What if she’d already moved on and forgotten all about him?
Zayne threw the remote to the floor as he let his grief overtake him.
Jocelyne lifted her fist and knocked sharply against the apartment door. She was greeted with several long seconds of silence in reply.
“He’s home, isn’t he?” Her grandmother’s gravelly voice asked from beside her.
The younger woman leaned forward, peering through the dingy glass on the door. She could just barely make out the figure of her nephew, slumped forward on the couch with his shoulders shaking slightly. Jocelyne felt her heart break at the sight. “He’s crying.” She whispered in reply. “Maybe we should go.”
“We came all the way here to talk to him. We can’t leave until we do.” Mari shook her head, raising her own withered fist to knock herself. She lacked her granddaughter’s strength, but Jocelyne was fairly certain she’d still knocked loud enough to be heard.
This time, she saw movement on the other side of the glass. And though it took a bit longer than expected, Zayne finally reached the door. His surprise was apparent on his tear-stained face at the sight of his aunt and great-grandmother.
“Tante Joce? Ur-Oma?” He muttered as he quickly wiped away his tears and opened the door to let them in.
Jocelyne couldn’t help it. The moment she stepped over the threshold, she practically threw herself at him, wrapping her nephew into a tight embrace. She hadn’t seen him in over a month, ever since he broke up with Hope and moved back into the apartment. She’d missed him terribly, and it hurt so much knowing one of her babies was so heartbroken… Especially when she wasn’t there to help comfort him.
To her relief, he returned her embrace with nearly as much enthusiasm. Maybe, despite how much he’d been avoiding her, he’d missed her too.
“Hey, Tante Joce.” At last, he pulled away from her. “Hey, Ur-Oma.” Jocelyne watched as he leaned forward to give Mari a kiss on her wrinkled cheek. “What are you guys doing here?”
Mari smiled. “I just wanted to stop by and say hello to my favorite great-grandson.” She explained. “And Jocelyne was kind enough to be my chauffeur.”
“You’re lucky it was just me.” Jocelyne chimed in with a small laugh. “Your grandparents are all dying to see you, honey.” She explained gently. “They miss you so much. I think they all would have piled in the car with us if we’d let them.”
“Yeah, well I’m glad they didn’t.” Zayne muttered uncomfortably. Jocelyne did not miss the hint of anger in his voice. “And I wish you guys had warned me first or something…”
His great-grandmother shook her head. “I’m afraid we know you too well, sweetheart. If we’d told you we were coming, you’d have barricaded the door.”
Jocelyne could not help bursting into laughter at Mari’s comment, and thankfully Zayne did too.
“Damn it, you’re probably right.” He admitted, still chuckling softly. His earlier irritation seemed to have been forgotten for the time being. “Hey, why don’t you sit down, Ur-Oma?” Zayne stepped back, gesturing toward the sofa.
“Thanks, sweetie.” With a bit of difficulty, Mari made her way around the coffee table and settled herself onto the soft green couch. Jocelyne and Zayne both followed close behind.
“I’d offer you guys some pizza but… It kinda tastes like shit.” Zayne admitted with a small laugh as he settled on the couch between the two women.
Jocelyne smiled at her nephew. “Is that from DeSano’s? Your grandfather took me there once… Never again.”
“Yeah, I can see why.” Zayne laughed.
“We aren’t here to eat anyway.” Mari replied, her tone more serious than the others’. “We’re here to talk, Zayne.”
His expression darkened almost instantly, just as Jocelyne had feared. “I knew it.” Zayne shook his head slowly. “I don’t understand why you can’t leave me alone.”
“We’re just worried about you.” Jocelyne replied gently. “We want to help.”
“But I don’t need your help! This is exactly why I haven’t stopped by to see you guys. I don’t need some kind of stupid lecture or something, okay? I can handle this. I’m –”
“Don’t you dare say you’re fine!” Mari cut him off sharply. “You just had your heart broken! You’re not fine!” The old woman paused for a moment, taking a deep breath. “You won’t be for a while. And that’s exactly why we need to talk to you.”
Jocelyne had a hard time hiding her own surprise at Mari’s outburst, and Zayne’s shock was just as apparent as hers was. It seemed to take him a few moments to find his voice.
“Ur-Oma, look.” He said at last, his voice much softer than before. “I just –”
Once again, Mari didn’t let him finish. “Zayne, I’m going to tell you a story.” She said, her voice more gentle this time. “Not the whole thing… Just the parts you need to hear. But this won’t be easy for me. So please, honey… I really just need you to shut up and listen, okay?” She smiled softly at her great-grandson.
For a moment, it looked as though he wanted to say something. Instead, he simply nodded.
Jocelyne felt a sudden sinking in her stomach. She didn’t know all the details of her grandmother’s past, but she knew enough that she’d had a feeling this would come up. Biting her lip uncomfortably, she rose to her feet. “Oma, I can give you guys a little privacy, if you want.”
Mari shook her head. “Stay. He needs to hear this from more than just me.”
She hesitated for just a moment. She wasn’t entirely sure what her grandmother was expecting her to say to Zayne– it wasn’t like they’d rehearsed a script or something. In fact, Jocelyne still had no clue what she’d say to make him feel better. But she knew she had to try. Guess I’ll follow Oma’s lead… With a small nod, Jocelyne returned to her seat beside her nephew.
“It happened a long, long time ago.” Mari began, taking a slow, deep breath. “I was very young – even younger than you are now – when I had my heart broken too. We’d been best friends since we were little. We were together for years, just like you and Hope. And losing him was devastating. My entire world came crashing down.” She paused, shaking her head for a moment. “Looking back, I can see now how silly it all was. But at the time… It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.”
Zayne raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Okay…” He said slowly. “But Ur-Oma, I don’t –”
“I had a lot of… issues when I was younger. Ones I didn’t even realize I had, until I looked back years later. But that heartbreak brought out the worst of them. I blamed myself for what had happened. I internalized everything. I refused to let anyone help me. And it wasn’t long before things got…” Mari hesitated for a moment. “Self-destructive.”
“What do you mean ‘self-destructive’?” Her great-grandson asked curiously.
Mari shook her head. “Only the parts you need to hear, remember?”
Jocelyne was grateful that Zayne knew better than to ask again.
“Anyway, things got bad.” The old woman continued. “I was digging myself into this terrible hole — one I couldn’t get out of without help. But I refused. I waited so long before I let anyone help me. And I suffered terribly for it. And so did the people I loved.”
Zayne shook his head. “But Ur-Oma, I’m –” He seemed to hesitate for a moment. Jocelyne had a feeling he’d been about to say ‘I’m fine’ again. “I’m… getting by. Okay?” He said at last. “There’s no need to worry about me! I’m not in a ‘hole’, or whatever you wanna call it.”
“Oh, honey… You’ve been digging this hole for months now.” Mari almost laughed. “I was hoping you’d be able to see that for yourself before things got to this point… And I’m sorry we didn’t have this conversation sooner.” She confessed. “I just knew it would be so hard to get you to listen.”
In an instant, Zayne’s brow furrowed in anger. Oh God. Jocelyne thought miserably. Here we go…
“The point is.” She chimed-in at last before Zayne could speak. “Your Ur-Oma understands how difficult this is. And so do I.” Jocelyne explained carefully. “I went through something… well, similar. I pushed everyone I loved away when it happened – for very different reasons.” She added quickly, hoping he wouldn’t ask for details. “But the point is, I never asked for help either… And I’ve always wished I did.”
Zayne was silent for a few moments before replying. Jocelyne wished she could know what he was thinking. “This is different.” He said at last. “I’m not doing anything ‘self-destructive’.” He insisted. His narrowed gaze turned to his aunt then. “It’s not like I’m running halfway across the world to have some kind of stupid rebound relationship.”
Jocelyne winced inwardly. She hadn’t realized just how much he’d been able to piece together on his own over the years. Much as his words stung, she knew better than to argue back. It would only make things worse.
“There are so many different things you can do to hurt yourself, Zayne.” She replied gently. “It doesn’t always have to be as extreme as what I did.”
“Your Tante’s right.” Mari nodded slowly in agreement. “’Self-destructive’ doesn’t always mean doing something drastic. It could be as simple as pushing away the people you love, blaming yourself for every little thing, letting yourself feel like a victim all the time…” She looked at him significantly as she spoke. “It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small. It’s not healthy. And one it hurts the most is you.”
Without warning, Zayne practically leapt to his feet. “What are you trying to say, huh?” He snapped. “Why are you ganging up on me like this? Just get to the point! Is this some kind of ‘intervention’ or some shit? You think I need a fucking shrink or something?
Mari appeared completely unfazed by his outburst. “Maybe.” She replied with a small shrug. “Maybe not. It’s not my place to decide. But honey, you have to do something. You can’t keep going on like this… You’re doing much better than I did in your shoes, I’ll give you that.” She admitted. “But I’m worried… I don’t want things to get worse. And if nothing changes, I promise you they will. Can’t you see that?”
“Can’t you see that you should be minding your own business? This doesn’t have anything to do with you! You guys are worse than Hope!” Zayne’s cheeks had begun to grow red as his anger rose.
“And you know what? She’s not even around anymore, so what’s the point?! Sure, I could go see a shrink and learn to control my stupid temper! I could try to stop being so damn jealous all the time! I could grow a pair instead of being such a fucking pussy about this dumb restaurant! Maybe then I could finally stop being so depressed about my shitty life!” He was practically screaming now. Jocelyne had not seen him this upset since he was a child, still grieving for his parents.
“But you know what? I should have done all that MONTHS ago! I’m a total fucking screwup, okay?! I blew it! I pushed Hope away! And now none of it even matters anymore! Not without her!”
Suddenly the red in Zayne’s cheeks seemed to have taken on a whole new meaning. He fell silent rather abruptly, staring down at the floor beneath his feet. He knows he said too much. Jocelyne realized. She knew that feeling all too well. It was so easy to get carried away when emotions ran high.
It was a few moments before any of them spoke again.
“Of course it matters.” Mari said at last, her irritation apparent in her voice. “It matters because you matter. You want to get better at controlling your temper? Then do it. For you. You want to finally start this restaurant of yours? Then do it. For you. To Hell with anyone else.”
“But Hope –”
“Especially Hope.” She snapped. “When I first went to therapy, you know who I was doing it for? My kids. My parents. My sisters. Not for me. And at first, that was enough. But you know what? The day I decided to do it for myself was one of the most liberating days of my entire life. Because I finally realized that I was worth it. And it’s time for you to stop feeling sorry for yourself and figure that out too.”
Zayne said nothing. He had gone back to staring at the floor.
“I don’t know what good you think any of this has been doing you, but it’s time to cut the crap. Everyone fucks up, Zayne. Some of us more than others. But you learn from it and you move forward. And when the shit hits the fan, you don’t shut yourself away like a goddamn coward.”
Jocelyne’s eyes widened slightly at her grandmother’s words. Mari had always been famous for her temper, but Jocelyne had never heard her speak to one of the kids like this before. Still, despite her harsh tone, there was something so sincere in her voice too. Pleading, almost.
“I’m sorry you lost Hope. I know it hurts like hell. I know you blame yourself. And I know you aren’t gonna heal from this overnight. But you can’t keep harping on her like this… And you definitely can’t just sit here making the same mistakes that got you into this mess in the first place!” Mari paused for a moment, sighing. “Don’t worry about what anyone else might think of you. The only person you should give a shit about right now is yourself… But I don’t mean feeling sorry for yourself or beating yourself up. None of that stupid shit.” She shook her head.
“I mean bettering yourself. Making yourself happy. Loving yourself… But you’re not gonna get there on your own. You need help. And soon, before you fall deeper into this hole.” She paused for a moment, as though waiting for him to say something, but he didn’t. “I know it might hurt to hear it, Zayne. But it’s the truth.”
The silence that followed Mari’s words seemed deafening.
She turned to Jocelyne then, sighing softly. “Well, I’ve said what I came to say… We should probably go.”
“Okay.” Her granddaugther replied awkwardly.
Jocelyne hadn’t expected things to end so abruptly, but her grandmother was probably right – what more was there to say? Everything she’d told Zayne was true, and it was something he’d needed to hear. But it still pained her so much to leave knowing Zayne was still so miserable. But what more could she possibly do to take away his pain?
Maybe nothing. She realized. Jocelyne slowly rose to her feet while Mari did the same. “We love you, honey. We just want what’s best for you.” She said softly.
Zayne continued staring at the floor. He didn’t even say goodbye. Jocelyne and Mari headed for the door without another word. They’d barely crossed the threshold before the sound of muffled sobs reached their ears.
“Do you think you were too hard on him?” Jocelyne asked softly as soon as they were out of earshot.
Mari shrugged her hunched shoulders slightly. “Maybe a little.” She admitted. “I know I got a little carried away. He’s just so much like I used to be… I guess it struck a nerve.”
“Well, harsh or not, I really think he needed to hear it.” Jocelyne replied sincerely. “And I’m really glad it came from you, Oma… ” She smiled warmly at her grandmother for a moment. “I just hope he was listening.”
“Me too.” Mari agreed as they headed toward the elevator. “But if he’s anything like me — and let me tell you, he sure seems to be — then he was, even if he doesn’t want to admit it.” She assured her granddaughter.
“I hope so…” Jocelyne glanced over her shoulder at his apartment door as she spoke. “I’m not sure how much longer I can stand seeing him like this… I just want him to smarten up and take your advice, Oma.”
“Oh, he will.” Mari assured her. “I don’t think it’s a question of ‘if’ at this point… it’s ‘when’ that really matters.”
Jocelyne nodded in agreement. He’ll get there, she told herself. Someday.
For now, all they could do now was hope it would be sooner rather than later.