Jesse used to sleep with his eyes open sometimes. We were living in a shotgun flat in Chelsea. He and his brother had the long narrow bedroom that led to the bathroom. I'd pass them in the night and Jesse would be lying there, as if staring up to the ceiling, seeing nothing. Just sleeping. I would close his eyes for him, because I was afraid they'd dry out like that. I'd walk back from the bathroom and they'd be open again.
What was he dreaming about? What did he see? He hated that I'd moved out of the loft he and his brother were born in. He would argue with me when he was at this new little apartment. It wasn't big enough. He didn't have enough toys, clothes, games. He missed his dog. He wanted to go home. I know he had no idea how this lacerated me, all of it. His father did, and I could read his imprint on all of Jesse's criticisms and unhappiness. I knew his turn of a phrase. But Jesse was just being a boy, miserable because everything he knew had been turned upside down and he couldn't understand why, only that I was the one who did it.
But you know, I was happy then. Not because he was miserable, but because now I was free, and if enough time could only pass, he would see that it was better this way. HIs father would calm down and stop feeding him this bitterness. I can't even bring myself now to say what happened in that loft that drove me out, but the only witness left in the world alive from those days is Jesse's little brother, and he was too young to understand or remember any of it. He wasn't even old enough to be upset at the split. He thought it was fun to have two houses at first. At least until their father realized how much mileage he could get out of making him unhappy too. I don't think my younger son sees it that way. I don't want to change his mind. It's better for him not to know or believe what I saw, what everyone who knew us saw happening. And what difference would it make? Proving I was right? For what? His father is gone. Jesse is gone. Even the dog is gone. All that's left of that life is my only remaining son, and me. And I will protect us at any cost.
There were people who saw a little of the drama. My sister. She testified in court. My mother. Family friends. People at the school. Jesse and his brother's friends, their families. I don't know why I'm talking about it today, except to make a little bookmark in history, to help you find this spot where the book of my life naturally falls open, because it's been pored over so many times. How I could have handled it better. How I could have left sooner, and gone farther, how I could have saved Jesse if only I had done this or that. And I don't even mean, saved him from dying. I mean, saved his heart from what he suffered from the time he was only seven or eight, when things started getting bad. I would go back to that time, and pluck us all up and away from there if I could, but how could I know how things would work? I didn't believe it at the time. I thought going slow, building a plan, an exit, a safe way out was the right thing. I didn't know how little time we had.
And still, I'll wake up in the middle of the night here, back in that loft where both boys were born, but safe now, because we tore out everything their father had built, tore out even the walls and bathrooms, tore it bare to the shell of the building itself, and rebuilt everything. I put up new walls, new bathrooms, new kitchens, with my own bare hands. We even stripped and sanded the floors down to bare wood, stripped them on our knees, and brushed away every trace of their father I could remove.
And I'll wake up in the dark in this reborn loft, and I'll remember Jesse's eyes wide open in sleep. Remember how I used to cry when I sang him lullabies when he was a baby. I must have known, somehow. I dreamed of losing him again and again, from the time he was born. Terrible dreams about disasters I couldn't save him from. How can I say I didn't know? Something in me knew I wasn't going to be lucky enough to keep this child. Who saved my life just by being born. Without whom his little brother never would have been. Whom I saved. I can't even say the words. I don't want you to know what his father wanted at first.