Caleb is gone. I can pull the chopsticks out of my ears and see if the self-induced lobotomy is reversible at all. Jacob can take a deep breath. Onward, Bridget. Momentum.
Caleb is (was? No, still is) Cole's older brother. He's 43 now, so he was off in college when Cole and I got together as teenagers and he's mostly been an absent brother save for small moments. He knew little of our lives and tribulations, preferring instead to take his yearly trips south to warm beaches and hardly ever calling the house. He and Cole emailed each other maybe once a month but overall, they weren't close. Caleb was similar to a third parent in Cole's mind. Someone to resent, someone who's shadow he had to walk in. And be compared to. There's a suit and tie mentality where I'm from that speaks of wearing the clothes and having a good (corporate) career. Artists don't get that kind of respect, even though few of them in this day and age can make a living of it the way Cole could.
I finally felt strong enough to call Caleb and let him know I was going to be shipping him several boxes of Cole's belongings, things I thought he might like to have. He surprised me and said he would fly out for a couple of days, if I could recommend a good hotel. I did and I asked him not to come but Caleb arrived on Thursday morning. When I met him at the airport he told me I looked beautiful. Too thin, but beautiful. He wanted to swing by the hotel and check in and change before coming for lunch, so we went there first. He invited me up. I sat at the table in his room and we made very awkward small talk while he hung up his clothes and even more awkward conversation on the drive to my house, the house I once shared with his baby brother.
It felt weird. Really really weird.
Jacob had picked up the kids at school and was making lunch when we came in. Caleb and Jacob have met on several occasions but have zero common interests and understandably things would be strange between them. Lunch was perfunctory, quiet and stilted, the kids chewing slowly and watching their uncle with wide eyes because they don't see him much. After lunch Jacob took Ruth back to school and took Henry to work with him so that I could sort through the boxes with Caleb. We made tea and sat on the floor comparing memories, looking at pictures. Caleb wanted to know about Cole's final projects, how he and Jake had gotten along when it came to the kids, and what our plans were for the future. We argued over little things and big things alike. It turned into a long, difficult visit.
Dinner that night and lunch yesterday went much the same way. Polite, strained, pleasant even, slightly weird in that the brothers shared so many unconscious mannerisms, and even hold their forks the same unique way. Several times I would look up and find Caleb watching me with curiosity, a slight frown on his face. Possibly because he knows it's the end of our connection in a way, not because he stops being the kids' uncle or my brother in law, we've agreed to leave everything as it was, but because maybe he's happy I'm not alone, because he knew of the problems I had, Cole had confided in him superficially more than once that our marriage wasn't so wonderful. But Caleb knows I tried and I stayed as long as I could. He knows I loved his brother. He probably hates my guts and thinks I'm responsible for driving Cole to an early grave. Hell, half the time I do, why wouldn't he?
At the airport last night we stood together checking the monitor for Caleb's flight out and he turned to me and smiled sadly.
Bridget, when you wrote in your journal that you still loved Cole, were you telling the truth?
I just stood there and nodded with my jaw on the floor as he kissed my cheek and turned to pick up his bags. Shock set in.
Caleb? How did you know about my journal?
The answer surprised me.
Cole sent me your link a long time ago. He was so proud of you and your writing. He said it was that good that I should read it. He was right. I've been reading it every day since. Because your words come out exactly the way you are in real life, Bridget: unbelievably fragile and yet strong and so determined. Untouchable and intimidatingly frail but hopeful for the future. It's contagious. It's addictive, like you were to my brother, Bridget. And as much as my brother hurt you, he really did love you. Never doubt that for a second. He loved you so much, and I know you wanted me out of your life, but I don't want to leave it.
And with that, Caleb turned and walked through the doors, leaving me standing there stunned by his words, so kind and gentle when they didn't have to be. Letting me off the hook for my guilt. Leaving me whispering softly, under my breath.