Bram made Jerome drop him, me, and Nick at my house. He carried me inside, then he and Nick pulled my mattress downstairs to the middle of the living room. Bram basically moved in. He had clothes, books, belongings at my place. He cooked for us and did my laundry. My new place didn’t have a shower, just a very high bathtub that I couldn’t get into without help. Bram would run my water and leave me to get mostly undressed. Then he’d come in and lift me into the tub. He’d ask if I needed help with my hair then leave me alone until I called him to get me out. Before lifting me out, he’d wash my back.
Dan’s brother Karry had told him about the accident and that my car was totalled. Dan found a cheap car for me to buy and took me out to pick it up. Now Bram took me grocery shopping and we were able to go back over to his house sometimes. We went to ACTF that year, with me hobbling around on crutches. I was given a ride through the airport in one of those carts and since Bram was my person, he got to ride, too. We shared a hotel room so he could keep taking care of me.
All during the week of ACTF, I kept telling my friends, “Save yourselves; don’t wait for me!” But someone was always around to help Bram carry things and get me where I needed to be. It was January and you could follow me through the snow, not because of the crutch-tracks, but because I kept falling over. Bram told me if I was going down, to toss the crutches away from me so I wouldn’t injure myself on them. We both walked around covered in snow that winter.
When the cast came off my ankle, I was given a walking boot. I could finally get my ankle wet and put away the crutches. Bram didn’t go home. He and Nick took my mattress back upstairs. The first night we were back in a room and behind closed doors, Bram curled up around me and whispered into my hair, “I could’ve lost you.” I told him I was never leaving; he’d have to walk away to lose me. He said, “No. Something could take you away from me and then I would regret not spending as much time as possible with you.”
He told me he was sorry for acting so stupid all this time. I told him he was young and I was scary and I loved him. I told him he’d stepped up when it was needed and he’d actually stood up to Joyce. He was my hero. Bram said, “I love you.” My heart soared; Bram had never told me he loved me. Then my heart dropped, as he continued, “But…”
I had waited 5 years for this doofus to say ‘I love you’ and when he finally did, he said, ‘I love you, but…’ Good thing Bram had taught me to control my temper because he continued, “You can’t stay here in Minot. You are too talented. You have to go to grad school and get your costuming degree and go make real costumes. I don’t want to be responsible for you staying here and being frustrated at never achieving your dream.”
He didn’t think he was ready for grad school; he didn’t know if he wanted to be an actor, a scenic designer, a lighting designer, or maybe something else. I told him he didn’t have to decide now; he had the whole rest of his life to figure out what he wanted to be.
We started splitting time between his place and mine. We went to school together, shopping together. We cooked and ate together. We continued going to his family’s Monday night pizza; Bram took me and the kids over to visit with his parents. Bram came along on my nights out with Tonia and he joined us at Sunday night dinners when he could. Karen seemed to like me pretty well until she found out how old I was. Which I thought was weird, because she knew how old Nick and Monica were, so… Joyce kept making cutting remarks to me about robbing the cradle.
Bram took me to meet one of his best buddies from high school, John, and I was shocked and overjoyed to find John had been my assistant stage manager a few years ago at Mouse River Players! We’d had a great time back then and became immediate friends again. I told Joyce I’d gone to meet Bram’s friend John and I was so surprised–
“Because he was so young?” she interrupted.
“I know how old Bram is.” She never heard the rest of my story. Bram and I stopped going over so often.
Ever since I’d known him, Bram would succumb to these periodic illnesses where he’d lay in bed with his legs up on the wall trying to ease the pain in his abdomen. He said it felt like someone had cinched a wide belt around his waist and was slowly cinching it tighter and tight. Vomiting didn’t help; trying to pass gas didn’t help. I could sometimes get him to sleep by rubbing his head, but mostly it was just 3-4 days of constant pain and not eating. I finally told him if he didn’t go see a doctor, I’d tattle on him to Karen. He told her and she made an appointment. The doctor said Bram had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and gave him a list of foods to avoid and a diet to try. I tried to implement this, but Bram loved sweets and had no willpower so he’d sneak food. Karen was of the opinion that ‘a little bit won’t hurt’ and would cook the foods he wasn’t supposed to have. Joyce decided only vegetables would make Bram feel better and she’d serve him bags of frozen vegetables boiled into a lifeless gray pulp. We didn’t eat many meals with either Joyce or Karen.
But Bram wasn’t get any better; instead it seemed like his bouts of pain were becoming more frequent and then I realized how much he was drinking and going to the bathroom. I started thinking he didn’t have Irritable Bowel Syndrome at all, but something more serious. I told Bram the constant thirst and urination were symptoms of diabetes. When he brushed me off, I photocopied an article at the library and showed it to him. I told him I’d made another copy for Karen; did he want to give it to her or should I? Karen and Bram went to a different doctor.
Bram was diagnosed with diabetes, taught to give himself shots, and sent home with insulin. I called Joyce crying, telling her Bram had diabetes and I was afraid. Both Nick and Monica were remarkably healthy children; I’d never had to deal with anything worse than chicken pox. Joyce told me Jerome had cancer. I was now crying for another reason. She told me not to worry, he’d had it for a while and was getting treatment. She told me about being up on the ward with Jerome where all the men would hang out on the hall and air out their nether regions.
Dizzy from the rapid conversational turns, I hung up and set to work learning how to care for a diabetic.
The school year ended. I was out of all casts and walking again in time to graduate. Since I was an honors student, I didn’t get to sit with my fellow graduating Campus Players, which has always made me sad. I’d applied to go to grad school at Mankato State University to get a Master of Fine arts in Costume Design. I’d been accepted, but was unsure I’d be able to attend. Mankato had two different stages as well as a black box theatre; they produced far more plays each semester than Minot did. I’d asked the costume shop faculty if I could bring my kids into work with me and had been told no. Bram wasn’t planning on coming with us; he was going to take a year to earn money to pay for grad school.
I didn’t know how Nick, Monica, and I were going to survive alone in a new place where it sounded like I’d be leaving them at home alone way too often. I turned down the position at Mankato and decided I’d apply to different places next year. Tonia helped me get a job at Penney’s. Monica was tired of living with Joyce and Jerome and moved back in with us. Before J had moved out, he’d bought her a dog she’d named Morgan. Joyce wouldn’t let the dog stay there so Monica was ready to come home to her dog.
Meanwhile, the lease was up at the house Bram had been renting with his sister and Derek. Ail was headed to University of North Dakota in the fall for grad school and Derek was going with her, so they didn’t renew the lease. Most of Bram’s belongings ended up in his parent’s garage, where they stayed for the rest of the summer. Bram stayed with us. We auditioned for Summer Theatre again and I was cast as Cha-Cha DiGregorio, ‘the best dancer at St. Bernadette’s’ in “Grease” and as Fruma Sarah in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Paula called to express her concern about me being able to dance Fruma Sarah’s dance, what with my ankle having been broken. Six months ago.
I told her I was Dancing Cha-Cha two months before Fruma Sarah. Paula said she thought Fruma Sarah’s dance was going to be more vigorous, so she was worried. Well, I can take a hint, however heavy-handed it might be. I turned down the role. She cast the person she really wanted in the role and the ‘dance’ was mostly Fruma Sarah being carried around–she IS a ghost, after all.
I got really sad when fall came and everyone started leaving for various grad schools and jobs. Bram pointed it that this time I was staying while everyone around me left, instead of the other way around. Paula called me to tell me I shouldn’t give up grad school for Bram; he was unreliable. I said I wasn’t giving it up; we just had it on pause while we decided what to do. Bram was working at the bookstore in the mall and I was working at Penney’s in the mall. If we had lunch at the same time, we’d eat together.
Bram’s mom told him to come move his stuff out of the garage and into the house so they could put the cars in the garage come winter. Bram and Bob showed up at my house with the first load of Bram’s belongings and while they were moving everything in Bram asked if it was ok for him to move in. Better late than never. So now we were not only officially a couple, but we were officially living together. Weird things started showing up on our porch. Someone blocked the door with traffic cones. A Virgin Mary yard statue showed up one morning. I went out to the car to find someone had smeared hamburgers all over the back windshield. I was late for work because they were crusted on and I had to scrape them off to be able to drive. Another morning, someone had dumped sugar and coffee creamer all over the car. Bram got to clean that one off. It was making me angry and it was scaring my kids. Bram and I started talking about moving farther away from the main thoroughfare because it was getting ridiculous. Then the weird things just stopped happening.
Bram stopped being available to eat with me while we were at work. I’d walk down on my break to see if he was free and he would be sitting in the store office with his friend K, having taken a break when she showed up instead of waiting for me. Then she started calling for him at our house. She called so often that whoever answered the phone would shout, “Bram! Your girlfriend’s on the phone!” I did it too, but I was not amused. K always wanted Bram to meet her for coffee and she really never invited me.
At some point before Christmas, Bram was late showing up after work. Just as I was starting to get worried something had happened to the car we shared and stranded him, he called me. He was at his mother’s. He and K had been talking a lot and they both agreed Bram was too young to be living with me and settling down. He was moving out. He’d bring the car back tomorrow and he’d get someone to help him get his things.
I was livid. I felt that K had played on Bram’s fears and helped him talk himself out of being with me again. I couldn’t decide if she wanted him for herself, or if she was just playing some nasty game. I suddenly realized who’d been messing with my car and putting things on my porch. I told Bram, “That’s fine. I know better than to try to talk you out of something you’ve made up your mind to do. But listen carefully, not only to what I’m saying, but how I sound, because I am dead serious: if you move out, it is the end. Consider it a divorce. I refuse to live the rest of my life wondering if you’ll decide to move out or wondering when you’ll be back. You are 26 years old now. You are not a child anymore. You have used up your final chance. Go, and go forever. Or stay, and stay forever. I love you, Bram. I probably always will. But I will NOT play this game any longer.”
I said goodbye and hung up. I willed myself not to cry. It really was an old and stupid game that I thought we’d finished playing and I was sick to death of it. I went to make dinner. About 10 minutes later, Bram walked in, took off his coat and boots and asked, “What’s for dinner?” After dinner, I was washing dishes and he came up behind me and put his arms around me. I said, “You came back.”
“I love you. I don’t want to leave. When you said it was over I thought I’d lost you and I don’t want to be without you.”
“And you’re staying? You’re sure? What if K tries to change your mind?”
“No one can change my mind. I love you.” I like to tell people that Bram and I once broke up for 5 minutes.
After that, Bram and I told each other “I love you’ constantly-at least once an hour, sometimes more. The first thing we said in the morning, the last thing we said at night. We were both accepted to grad school at UND where Aili and Kelly were. I got a graduate internship; UND would pay part of my tuition and pay me to work in the costume shop. Bram wasn’t offered an internship. He was heartbroken and said now he couldn’t go and he didn’t want me and the kids to leave without him.
I said, “Why would we leave without you? You’re going to apply for financial aid.We’ll figure it out. That’s what families do.” He asked if we were a family. I asked him what else you’d call it. Bram was awarded enough financial aid to pay for tuition. He was upset that he wouldn’t be bringing any money in. I told him, “I’ve been poor before. We’ll figure it out.” He hugged me tight and said, “We’ll figure it out.”
Another summer theatre. Bram and I and a few friends would gather on our porch for beers. Sometimes we’d walk down the road to Peyton Place and then come home after the bar closed and sit on the porch and visit some more. Tonia joined us more often than not. I was concerned that she wasn’t at home with her husband and kids. She and Doug had had a little girl they named Abbi who was about 1 year old by now. But Tonia was out with me and my friends. I was too happy to let it worry me for long.
One night we were all sitting on the porch talking, drinking, smoking. Bram brought me out a beer and I popped it open and took a drink. It was warm. I asked Bram if there hadn’t been any beer in the fridge: “You gave me a piss-warm beer!” He insisted he’d just taken it out of the fridge. I went inside to see what was wrong with our refrigerator, bitching about piss-warm beer all the way. Bram followed me, to help fix whatever I decided was wrong. Somehow the temperature had been adjusted upward. I turned it back down, turned around, and tripped into Bram’s arms. He kissed me and then just held, me, rocking me back and forth just a bit, with his chin resting on my head.
He kissed the top of my head and said, “I love you.”
“I love you, Bram. So much.”
“So…when are you going to marry me?
“When are you going to ask?”
“I just did.”
“As soon as possible.”