There was, and had always been, a curse.
This relationship was just another casualty of it. I knew that, I had felt it for weeks. Our time was running it out, as it always did. And here we were, sitting on the couch, a blackberry pie we’d just baked together cooling in the kitchen.
My boyfriend Will sat next to me, tears streaming down his face while he waffled between anger and sorrow. I’d stopped listening to his disorganized rambling. Instead I tried to memorize the pores on his nose, the stray hairs between his eyebrows. Anything I might be able to remember later when he wasn’t there anymore.
There hadn’t been a fight between me and Will, though sometimes there had been with others. This had been a quiet distancing, culminating in the baking of a pie with the blackberries from the bush in his backyard. He’d harvested them himself, came over with a pan (I didn’t have one, I was never the cooking type) and we crafted a lovely little pie together, crust and all.
Then he told me he didn’t want to be with me anymore.
And that was it. The anger, the sorrow, the uncertainty of the decision he’d seemed to have made only seconds after he’d pulled this ridiculous pie from the oven.
I asked why, but he didn’t have any answers. This wasn’t uncommon for me either. So instead of fighting, I cried with him, hugged his now cold and indifferent body. I felt the striking pain of his rejection throughout my core and told him to leave.
I wasn’t surprised. I never was. This was my curse after all, I was familiar with it.
“It’s not a curse, he’s an idiot,” Sarah told me. “Stop saying it, you’re not cursed!” Sarah and I had been friends since college, separated now by Sarah’s pursuits as a lawyer. I was still in Boston, working at the bar we’d both found jobs at out of school. Sarah was in New York, working with women who were trying to escape domestic abuse. “Thea?”
“Please don’t think you’re cursed. You’re not. You just — like idiots.” She let out a slightly nervous laugh, unsure how I’d take her joke. I snickered to make sure she knew I wasn’t offended. A silent tear fell from my right, then left eye, I hoped she didn’t sense it. “It’s October, isn’t that when your grandpa passed?” Sarah asked.
I was quiet for a little while. “Yeah.”
“Do you think maybe that’s why you think it’s the curse? Maybe you’re just thinking a lot about your grandpa lately? You always seem to bring this up in the Fall.”
I didn’t answer.
“I’m not trying to upset you, you okay?”
“Yes. I’m sorry, I know — I just — can’t really think straight right now. You’re probably right.”
“Maybe you should talk to someone.”
“I’m talking to you.”
“A professional.” Sarah was smiling, she understood my joke.
“Maybe. Or maybe just accept that I’m cursed and no one will ever want to be with me for more than five months and seventeen days.”
“You didn’t — you don’t…”
“I do. It’s never more than five months and seventeen days.”
Now it was Sarah who was silent.
“Will was just a couple days shy of breaking the record. Still think there isn’t a curse?” I said.
“Nah, I just think you’re crazy.”
We both laughed. I took a deep breath. My apartment was empty, my stomach felt achy with anxiety, my head could’ve exploded with pressure.
“Okay, I need to go,” I said, finally.
“Mmhm. Bye Sarah, thank you.” I hung up and tossed my phone on my bed. I cried. I sobbed. I heaved. Alone. I felt very much alone.
One of my sisters, Lucy, offered to visit or to host me on a visit to get out of town.
“It’s only an hour and a half drive,” she was saying nearly every day now, “an hour if you speed. And you can be in the yard with the dogs and get away for a bit. Just let me know.” She lived the closest to me, of all the sisters, she lived in a suburb outside of Rhode Island with two Australian Shepherds and her new husband.
I said no, I didn’t want to see anyone. I didn’t want to go to work, didn’t want to eat, didn’t want to sleep. I wanted everything to go back to as it was a month before.
I considered every other man I’d ever loved. I’d thought that Will was different, I didn’t think he was the idiot that Sarah called him. I had truly been blindsided when he started to change. Had I been with the others? I couldn’t even remember now.
Maybe Sarah was right, maybe I should see a professional.
Weeks went by and I could hardly eat. My friends started expressing concern at my waning figure. I had no appetite and often went days without more than coffee. I was happy Sarah wasn’t there to see me, she’d have force-fed me or locked me in a room until I finished a burger.
And Sarah was right too, about my grandpa. It had been over a year now since he passed. I thought often about him and his memorial — the young woman with the new baby. The baby Grandpa had suggested she name Thea in the event of it being a girl. I thought of the implications of that suggestion. The young woman had simply assumed it was a pretty name, didn’t even know he had a granddaughter named Thea until I’d gotten up to speak at his memorial. A light must’ve gone off in her head, a connection of dots. Thea was more than a pretty name: it was a person with a life, a past and a future.
She must have thought her story would comfort me, she didn’t realize that before there was Thea the granddaughter, there was Thea the girlfriend, the mysterious woman in a town outside of Vienna in 1945. The Thea I was named for, for one reason or another.
Now, I couldn’t stop thinking of her. I’d always known she existed but I was weighed with the regret of never asking about her. As another relationship — the best I’d had to date in fact — fell apart for an unapparent reason, I became obsessed with Thea, the story the woman at the funeral had told me, and my curse.
My jeans didn’t fit anymore and sleeping wasn’t getting any easier. I’d lie awake at night, my full-sized bed feeling like an ocean, and think about Will. I thought about Will constantly, but trying to fall asleep was the hardest on me. I remembered falling asleep to the rhythm of his breaths, he always fell asleep first but it never bothered me. And when he woke up and wasn’t touching me, he’d wrap his long arm around my torso and scoop me towards him, nuzzle his nose into my neck.
Sometimes, he’d sneak out of bed in the morning and put on a pot of coffee, sliding back into bed to rouse me for the day.
I considered knowing he’d never touch me like that anymore, never watch me as I got dressed with his head tilted, smiling. Once I noticed him doing it, I looked at him, confused, “What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he’d said, “just — admiring you.”
I missed crawling into bed and folding his long arms around me, sleeping in the cave of his clavicle.
Work was becoming harder for me. I worked as a bartender, a job I’d always adored, a job that had brought me friends and accolades. But now, I was tired and weak all the time. I struggled with keeping up with the volume and struggled even more putting on a smile for my guests and coworkers. Regulars and friends alike began to outwardly express concern. Tears became harder and harder for me to fight. It had been five weeks. I couldn’t help but wonder: I should be feeling better by now, shouldn’t I?
People were asking me to grab dinner or drinks, to see movies or come visit. But I said no, I had trouble holding it together, I didn’t want to be seen that way. I felt stupid for being so attached to Will, especially knowing what I’d known all along — it wouldn’t last, it never does. I was cursed by Thea or because of Thea, I didn’t know — but I was sure of it. Now more than ever, I was sure of it.
It was for that reason that I awoke one day and decided it was time to put Thea to rest.
I considered the heartache I was feeling, the heartache that had been the constant struggle of my life. I thought about the original Thea and all I knew about her: she was Grandpa’s girlfriend in Austria after the war. She’d stayed when he’d gone back to America, why? They’d broken up, obviously. Possibly before the move, possibly because of it. But no matter what, a break-up results in heartache. There was a part of me — and I will admit it was a bigger part than a sane person would like to own up to — that believed my grandfather had broken Thea’s heart so thoroughly, her name carried a curse for me. I’d never retain love until I’d found out what happened to Thea, what happened between her and my grandfather, and did something about it. I needed to make a seventy-year wrong right.
“Should I be worried?” Sarah asked, not hiding the fact that she was clearly worried.
“Nope.” I said, assuredly. “It’s just something I gotta do.”
“You gotta go to Europe to find the original Thea and relieve yourself of a curse only you believe in?” Sarah said, her voice heavy with doubt and concern.
“I mean, when you say it that way…” I laughed, unlike Sarah, I felt an enormous sense of relief. Since I’d decided to go to Europe, things seemed to come into focus. I was able to put on a happy face at work. I’d go home and eat up any kind of information I could get her hands on regarding my grandfather, his infantry, the push and pulls of the war. I felt like I was already in Europe, already solving the mystery that was the original Thea.
“Yeah well it isn’t not crazy.” I didn’t answer Sarah, I had my phone on speaker and was packing. I’d be in France within a month but I’d be heading to Rochester tomorrow to visit with Nana and speak to an army buddy of Grandpa’s. “You there?”
“I am. I’m here. For now!” I laughed again, sheer glee.
“I’m glad to hear your voice happy again,” Sarah said, “I’m just nervous that this trip won’t give you what you’re looking for.”
“I know.” I said, I sat down and picked up the phone, took it off of speaker and pressed it to my ear. I took a deep breath and focused on my friend’s feelings. “But nothing here is getting better for me.” Now Sarah was the quiet one. “This is something I really feel like I need to do.”
“Okay,” Sarah said, “but you make sure you get a damn international phone plan lady!”
I smiled and lied to my friend.