I can’t think of another face in this world — not Jake’s, my mom’s or even my own — that I have more memorized than Shelby’s. Every curve, line, fold, discoloration, is forever branded in my memory.
That’s what happens when you lay face-to-face over 21 years on tiny twin matresses, pink, fluffy day beds, Cannabis-laced futons, slutty phase Sertas and grown up California Kings doing what two Pisces do best: overanalyzing the past and dreaming about the future.
From fourth through sixth grade it was every Friday night after Girl Scouts. In junior high it was after we tip toed in the front door at 1 a.m. By high school it was after inhaling a package of Chips Ahoy cookies, after inhaling something else. During college it was on hotel beds in Vegas over Spring Break. In the most recent years it was wherever we could push aside real life and make time for a trip to see each other.
She got married, had two kids and moved wherever the Airforce sent her husband. I dated a string of cocksuckers while trying to get a career started. We couldn’t lay face-to-face anymore but we could talk long-distance which was just as good because I could see her face during every second of those calls.
I knew when her appalled eyes squinted so tightly they nearly disappeared, when her confused eyebrows furrowed into a perfect steeple, when the vain in her pissed-off forehead surfaced, when she tilted her giddy head back with laughter so I could see her rectangular nostrils, when she was listening so intently that her full lips — the ones without the dip in the middle like Julia Roberts’ — parted to expose her white, short teeth, when the horizontal lines in her calm forehead — the ones just below her reverse Widow’s Peak — smoothed out, when the tears in her pain-ridden eyes made them a beautiful, brilliant, unforgettable blue.
I tried to explain that to her husband on the last day I ever saw her face but he didn’t seem to appreciate it the way I thought a husband would. He stood next to her coffin dry-eyed.
But everyone grieves in their own way, as they say. And it was just three days prior that he’d called my cell because Shelby “always said if she died she wanted two phone calls to be made.” I was one of them.
What 30-year-old makes arrangements like that? I guess the 30-year-old with a life-threatening addiction and a family unwilling to recognize it.
I couldn’t stop crying the day her husband made that call. I was a sobbing mess. When my eyes finally ran out of tears I had a moment. I sat in a sea of letters and photos and wondered if Shelby was watching me. If she was, I thought, I knew what she’d want to do. She’d want to lay down, face-to-face and talk it out.
I could see her broad nose, doll eyes and cleft chin perfectly.