I can imagine you want to know why I was so obsessed with this man-baby who kept dumping me and leading me on and hurting me and hasn’t once, in almost 4 years, said he loved me even though I told him I loved him often. But I haven’t been fair to Bram; I’ve only talked about Frightened Bram. Because Bram WAS frightened and he had good reasons to be.
Imagine: Bram was only 19 years old when he met a girl he developed a crush on. The two of them got along amazingly well. He knew she was older than he was; she never pretended to be his age. By the time he realized she was eight years older, twice divorced, with two kids, he’d fallen for her. He dated other girls, trying to not be in love with the older woman, but those girls weren’t her. So he finally screwed up his courage and kissed her and what happened?
I told him he was too young for me!
Poor Bram tried to get over me, past me. I tried not to love him. Heck, he moved to another city to try to get away. Frightened Bram worried that he wasn’t mature enough for me, that he was too silly, too directionless to be worth my while. He was afraid I’d realize he was too childish and drop him. He worried that he was too different, too strange for someone to truly love him. He worried he couldn’t make enough money to support me, Nick, and Monica, even though I never expected him to. He worried his parents wouldn’t approve of him dating an older, divorced woman with two kids. He worried he wouldn’t be strong enough to deal with my baggage.
His friends teased him about bedding an older woman and asked if he was learning new things. They asked him why he wanted to be with me: I was so serious all the time. They teased him about playing Daddy, making him worry he didn’t know how to be a good parent. He knew about my ectopic pregnancy and how very slim the chances were that we’d ever have a child together. And he wanted children.
Bram had barely dated in high school and the girl he thought he was in love with had treated him terribly. What if he admitted to me that he loved me and I changed and treated him like she had? Shouldn’t he be taking time to date and play the field right now, while he was young? He kept trying to walk away, and then kept walking right back.
But Frightened Bram was not the person I knew 95% of the time.
Bram’s mom often tells the story of his pet spider. Karen says that Bram’s bedroom was always a mess. She says one time after they moved, she was helping him unpack and arrange his room, and she opened a box they had hauled across the state to find it was full of garbage. Bram had packed and moved a box of trash! Karen says once when he was in high school she was having a problem with bugs in the house. She tracked down the source of the infestation—you guessed it. Bram’s room. So she cleaned it. She cleaned the daylights out of that room. When she closed the door to clean behind it, she discovered a huge spider web. She said it looked like it hadn’t been disturbed for months and the web was big, strong, and tunnel-like. When she looked inside the web, there sat a fat happy spider. She promptly vacuumed that spider to death. When Bram got home, he went to his room and then came running to her and asked, “Where’s Bill?” The fat happy spider had been Bram’s pet.
Bram wouldn’t let anyone kill spiders. He’d explain patiently that spiders don’t jump and they are more afraid of you than you are of them. He’d say they are noble and just doing their jobs and they can’t help that they are ugly. Bram scooped spiders up and gently deposited them back outside.
Bram’s treatment of spiders exemplifies how Bram lived his life. No one was below Bram’s notice. No one was undeserving of Bram’s love and attention, not even ugly spiders that terrified others. Bram never held a grudge and he treated everyone with respect and love. He could always look beyond bad behavior and try to find the reasons for it. And if he couldn’t understand why someone was behaving badly, Bram loved them anyway. He felt that every creature on earth deserved love and understanding, respect and compassion.
Bram was a truly unique person, someone who was loved by practically everyone he met. He had a child-like wonder about the world and investigated everything with gusto. He was a counselor at a youth bible camp and talked about becoming a pastor. If he had, he would’ve been so great at it. He saw the good in everyone. He was in love with the wonder of the world. He had no fear of new things. He loved to learn.
He was creative, a writer, an artist, an actor, a singer, a playwright, a poet. He could draw, paint, sculpt, weave, build. He knew who he was and wasn’t afraid to show other people who he was. He was the class clown, and his laugh was loud and infectious. He loved to play.
What did we–eight years apart in age–have in common? We loved books and words and paper. We loved art, history, and movies. We were both science fiction nerds. He loved Star Wars and I loved Star Trek. He loved horror and I loved true crime. But we loved to talk about all of them. Of course we both loved theatre, designing, making, acting. When we were together we never stopped talking. Unless we were reading or watching a movie of course. We read books together. We shared music; we had very different tastes in music. We went dancing. We loved to dance.
Bram may have been younger than me, but he made me feel safe and calm. He could defuse my anger, even when I didn’t know what I was angry about. I know I’m not a beautiful woman, but Bram told me I was. He told me I was beautiful, smart, and sexy. He told me I was the best costume designer and seamstress in the world. He told me I was the world’s best mom and a fantastic teacher. He told me the world wasn’t out to get me and I was worthy of being loved. He told me I was safe with him. Never a very trusting type, always doubtful of my own worth, I believed every word he said. Because when Bram loved someone, they were better for it.
Bram taught me how to deal with angry people. He said you can’t solve anything when everyone is excited and yelling. He said if someone starts yelling at you, you should not respond. You should look them in the eye so they know you are listening and let them yell it out. He said they would eventually wind down and when that happened, you could (hopefully) have a sensible conversation and solve the problem. Bram taught me how to control my own temper. Whenever I would lose my temper and start ranting, he’d ask me, “what are you really angry about?” At first, this would just piss me off, but he really wanted an answer, so I would have to calm down and figure out what the problem really was. He taught me most things aren’t worth freaking out about, and if you remain calm and rational, you can solve the problem better and faster—or perhaps find there is no solution, so you’d best move on. Wise beyond his years.
He couldn’t believe I wasn’t ticklish and tried over and over to find the spot that would finally make me giggle. He was great with the kids, maybe because he was so in touch with his inner child, and had no fear of being laughed at. He seemed to never get tired of playing games. He wrote poems for me and about me and drew pictures for me. He cooked for me and sang to me.
And what did he get from me, the older woman? When he was with me, he didn’t have to be “on”. He could be quiet, contemplative. He didn’t have to entertain; he could just BE. I let him rest and be still with me. Bram was rambunctious and talkative and amusing most of the time. But sometimes he just needed quiet. When he would get still and quiet, I’d ask him if everything was ok and he would tell me he wanted to just be. So we would just be. Sometimes this involved cuddling on the couch or in bed. Sometimes it meant going out for coffee and reading books or writing poetry or stories. Sometimes we would just take a walk and not say anything at all. He felt safe and comfortable with me, enough to just be. He said he felt relaxed and peaceful when he was with me.
I rubbed his head for him until he relaxed and fell asleep. I sewed clothes for him–he requested a lot of vests. We designed houses we’d live in one day when we were rich, or theatres we’d build and run one day when we were rich. I let him know there was no pressure to decide right now what he wanted to be when he grew up and that there was no shame in changing your mind. I taught him sometimes you have to grit your teeth and push through the bad things.
Bram wasn’t just a spoiled little boy, jerking me around for his own amusement. He was young and afraid and unsure. He was smart enough to know there was a lot he didn’t know and worried he didn’t have time to learn; a young man, contemplating growing up very quickly. A Diamond in the rough. A pearl of great price.