“Why didn’t you tell me Jenny was dead?”
All the way home, I had planned how carefully I was going to approach the subject so that Anders wouldn’t shut the conversation down before it started, and now I had ruined it within 30 seconds of opening the front door. He looked up, startled, like a deer in headlights, and didn’t say anything. A part of me wanted to backtrack, to say it didn’t matter, pretend I didn’t know and just climb in to bed and cuddle up to him, but it was too late.
He sat up. I sat cross legged on the bed in front of him, near, but not too near. I didn’t say anything more, just waited.
Finally, he started to talk.
They had gone for a picnic in late summer two years ago, he and Jenny. They both knew that their fling was ending with summer, but it had never been anything serious, so they kidded around and made fun of each other as usual, and got a bit drunk. Then they got more drunk, and Anders eventually passed out on the beach. He was woken roughly by some police officers who told him that Jenny had drowned. Still drunk, confused and distraught, Anders lost his temper and wound up decking one of the police officers. They took him into custody – for assaulting a police officer – and the story flew around Stockholm like a wildfire that he had been arrested in relation to her death.
Daniel, Tove, and Hanna were the only ones that stood by him as gossip zipped around that he always had been hotheaded and out of control when he was drunk, that she made fun of him behind his back and was about to dump him – that there is no smoke without fire. For two years, every time he has met someone new, he has seen that look in their eye as they realized, “aren’t you the guy that…?”
Part of the reason he went to Thailand on his own was to escape. He felt like he was cracking up, living under a forced assumed identity as The Guy Who Was Arrested When His Girlfriend Died. He had never gotten a chance to mourn for someone he cared for, so consumed was he by the quicksand of trial by suspicion, never been able to deal with the guilt he felt at not being able to stop her from swimming that day.
And then he met me. Who didn’t know any of this, who could barely pick out Stockholm on a map. Who just fell for the cute adorkable dude with the sunburn and quirky sense of humor. When I first started talking about coming to live with him, his heart sank because he knew that sooner or later I would find out, and maybe I would stop loving him. Maybe I too, would wonder if there was no smoke without fire. I remember him humming and hawing to begin with, and I thought that he didn’t want me to come.
So many times over the last few months, when we’ve argued or I’ve felt like an annoyance, a leech on his life, I’ve remembered that he didn’t want me to come.
But he had begged me to, in the end. After a few weeks of us discussing it and him being negative about visas and work and me being cut off from my friends, I lost patience and told him to forget it. The next day, when I got home from work – in the middle of the night in Sweden – he Skyped me and told me he was being a moron, and that he loved me and truly wanted me to come and live with him.
So now I know. And I understand why he was so secretive about past relationships – how could he talk about old girlfriends without omitting or flat out lying about Jenny? Why his friends were tense around me – they understood why he was so scared of me knowing, but were afraid they would let something slip. I guess Daniel kind of did back at that party months ago, even though I didn’t understand at the time.
And Hanna didn’t approve. She didn’t think it was fair for me not to know, for everyone to keep a secret from me about the person I was supposed to know best. That’s the urgent conversations she has been having with him, “tell her, tell her, you have to tell her,” while I was hating her and thinking she was undermining and ostracizing me. She told him that I obviously loved him and would understand, and that he was an idiot for not trusting me.