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Three Or Four Weeks

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They had been calling us the perfect couple. I guess it was apt; we were both just out of college and had bright careers in front of us. We both were pretty good looking, him with his wide blue eyes and killer smile, me with my long dark hair and smoky looks. Yes, they called us the perfect couple. We met at graduation and had been dating for three or four weeks when I got the call.

I hadn’t moved in, I wasn’t his “steady,” and I hadn’t even said “I love you” yet. Heck, it was only three or four weeks. I wasn’t sure it was going to be “the one,” nor was I sure if I were ready for “the one.” We had just gone on a few dates and had a good time. It seemed like the natural progression. Everybody thought we were perfect. I thought we were perfect. He thought we were perfect. It only seemed natural that we were going to go on and get married; have some kids, and live a perfect life. Somebody had some other ideas.

Paul had left my apartment around eleven. It was a rainy Sunday night and he had to get home. He had some sort of business meeting – a job interview I think – and he had to get up early that Monday morning. Our evening consisted of dinner and a movie. Pizza and some show I forget the name of. No drinks, no drugs, I told you that we were a perfect couple. Everybody said so.

He got up, put his coat on, kissed me on the cheek and told me that he would call me that Monday afternoon. Maybe we could go out and catch a hockey game. But the call didn’t come on Monday afternoon. The call came later that night around three o’clock. The annoying jangle of the phone’s ring woke me up out of my deep sleep. I picked up the receiver and groggily said hello. I was greeted with the gruff voice of a rain soaked highway patrolman. He told me that there had been an accident. He asked me what my relationship with Paul was. And he asked me to come down to the morgue to identify the body.

Whatever sleep was still lazily hanging around my body was shocked out of my system. I felt my body fill up with anxiety and I began racing around my apartment, trying to throw something on. I hopped in my car and drove around for I don’t know how long, I wasn’t sure where I was going, but it felt good to drive. The rain had stopped.

I made it to the morgue sometime between five and six o’clock that morning. The waiting area was empty, but I could hear voices coming from a room off to the side of the front desk. I walked down to the room and discovered it was the employee lunchroom. Three nurses sat at a long table chitchatting with a highway patrolman.

I cleared my throat and the four of them became quiet. The patrolman asked me my name and I told him. They took me back to the front desk and had me sign in, and then they walked me back to a small room with stainless steel lockers and surgical tables arranged around so that work could be done. One of the nurses pulled a locker open and then pulled a long tray out. The body was on the tray, covered in a medical blue cloth. She pulled back the cloth and there was Paul.

I felt my stomach fall out. It was like he was still alive. His color hadn’t changed. His eyes were open and they still had that old familiar smile in them. Yet, despite the pristine nature of his face, the nurse assured me that he was gone.

I took the remainder of the week off. I wasn’t sure what level of involvement I was to have in the burial; I had only been with him three or four weeks. Paul didn’t have much of a family left; his parents were both older and had died while Paul was a freshman. Dad of cancer, mom of grief. His younger sister was working at a bar in Nevada, she said she could make it to the funeral, but it was obvious that she didn’t have the money to spare for anything other than a plane ticket.

We had only been going out together for three or four weeks. Here I was at my desk with a pile of papers in front of me. I didn’t try to understand half of them, but what they basically told me was that I was going to have to shell out about half of the total cost it would take to put Paul in the ground.

That may sound callous and mean, but the plain fact of the matter was, I had suddenly been thrust into a situation that was totally beyond my control. I had only known him for such a brief time, yet the responsibility was completely mine to bear. If it had been two or even three weeks earlier, nobody would have expected anything from me. We had been the perfect couple, everybody expected me to be the perfect widow as well.

The whole thing left me incredulous. Why had I been chosen? What was this man to me? Sure, he had been a lover; did that make me responsible for him? Was I the one who had to bury him even though we had known each other for such a short time? Why wasn’t anybody helping?

The ceremony was quietly held in a small Catholic church near campus. Only a handful of people came to pay their respects, most of them my friends, but a few of Paul’s fraternity brothers had made it as well. We motored to the cemetery a few hours later, the procession moving through traffic smoothly, like a diver slicing into the water.

Soon it was over and the flowers were packed away. The casket had been lowered into the ground and the words had been said. It was my job to go home and figure out a way to pay for the whole mess, and I didn’t have the slightest idea of how I was going to do this.

At home, I took off my black. I put on my most comfortable pajamas and slid into my chair. Everything looked like Paul. Everything smelled like Paul. We had gone on a weekend canoeing trip on our fifth or sixth date, and the picture of Paul, grinning with his sunglasses on, white water splashing behind him, leered down at me from atop my bookcase. I took the picture and put it into a drawer someplace. I tried to forget.

I went on trying to forget. Over the next three or four weeks, I was hired on at a company and began to work on my career. But at home, I was constantly reminded of Paul. Between the piles of bills left over from the funeral, to the occasional article of Paul’s clothing I would find mixed in with my laundry. Paul just didn’t want to stay underground.

I realized that I was beginning to hate Paul. Paul hadn’t done anything to me, he had surely loved me, but here I was, cursing him for having the misfortune of dying at the wrong time. These feelings occurred like clockwork; when a bill collector called, or when I would find one of Paul’s old, ratty sci-fi novels that he so loved to read.

Even his own past had come back to haunt me from the grave. I was looking through some of his personal papers that I had found in a box in his attic. In one of the dusty old folders, I stumbled on some of his old elementary school report cards. It was with a curt smile that I read what his third grade teacher had said about Paul all those years ago:

“Paul is a wonderful student to work with. His understanding attitude makes him very popular with the other students as well as the teachers. He does his assignments on time, and does not need to be reminded of them. He can be somewhat of a troublemaker, but nothing more than the normal mischief a child of his age is capable of. All in all, I have enjoyed having Paul in my class and happily promote him to the fourth grade.”

My smile went away as I read what his teacher had said. I began thinking about my feelings that I had concerning him and the situation he had left me in. I realized that Paul was perfect. He had been a model student all of his school career, and had been a model boyfriend in his dating career. But he had left something out. He had tricked us all and had hidden something from all of us. He had stuck me with the bills and had shafted me with his non-presence during the whole affair. “Damn you Paul!” I screamed in that dusty attic. I went downstairs with that old grade card crumpled into a ball in my fist. I walked over to the sink to get a glass of water and realized that for the first time since this whole mess had started, I was crying.

Three Or Four Weeks is a part of a series on Old Stuff

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