Brenda was talking to me. I was bad at setting boundaries.
“So you wouldn’t want someone you knew to hold even–not technically a secret, but something like that–from you?”
“I don’t know.” I say. “I don’t think so. I think it’s always best to be open. Probably.” I myself was not open with my wife, I thought there were things better left unsaid there, but I wanted other people to be open with me. This sounds selfish but it’s not.
There was a long silence between us.
“So what was the secret?” I ask.
“Well, for example, I was dating my boyfriend, who’s now my ex-boyfriend, and we dated for four years, and at the end he told me I had just been an experiment. It took four flipping years for him to tell me that. I’m just puzzled why he didn’t tell me sooner.”
Brenda didn’t say “fuck” or “fucking,” that was the kind of person she was. She wasn’t religious but I guess she had some kind of holdover from her Jewish upbringing. Probably not because it was Jewish, just because it was strict.
“That’s shitty.” I say. I say things like “shitty” and I should feel bad about that because Brenda is my student and I feel like it’s somehow unprofessional.
There’s another long silence.
“I was really pissed off at the time. Enraged. I’m just kidding.” She looked around my office for a few more minutes and I looked at the shoe on the leg I had crossed against my other leg.
“I love my brother,” she said, “but I’m not too happy with the choice he made when he found out about it. It wasn’t legal. But that’s another story.”
I feel like Brenda wanted to build some kind of suspense or something but I didn’t really care so I didn’t say anything and she started up again after a moment.
“It bothers me still, I know what he was after—what all guys are after—and he isn’t worth dwelling on. I know that I was ‘used’. I know that he had a lot of ‘power’ over me.”
I feel like Brenda has been doing a lot of thinking and reading on the internet in the nine months since the breakup.
“I’ve been used by lots of people and been stabbed in the back, but I can’t change other people’s actions. I used to have ‘friends’ who talked behind my back, and once I found out, I couldn’t trust them.”
She took a long pause before saying,
“I still can’t. I guess what I’m asking you is, why would a person waste the time and effort to know someone and then use them or think of them as nothing? Why would you hold something back for a long time, then finally tell someone about it. Why fake shit?”
Sometimes Brenda used a word like “shit”. “Fuck” was where she’d draw the line.
“I don’t know.” I say.
“I mean,” she said, “it’s so much easier to tell the truth than a lie and hold it in. Seriously, why can’t people be up front with you. It doesn’t kill you. You might not believe me and I don’t care if you do or don’t, but I can’t lie. I really can’t. First, you can tell when I am and two, I feel as if someone punctured my lungs, twisted my stomach, and has a knife to my throat. It’s unpleasant and I don’t like it.”
Brenda likes to come up to my office and talk about stuff that’s bothering her. This has been going on all semester, and now it’s finals week, and we don’t have class and I don’t technically have office hours right now, but she’s coming up anyway. I’ve mentioned “this crazy freshman girl who you wouldn’t believe has so many issues” to my wife, who thinks she, Brenda, is going to frame me for some sexual crime or something in order to get an A in my class.
“Tell me about what your brother did,” I say, because I know it’s coming anyway and I want to hurry it up. Also I am a little bit curious about this part.
“Well…” She exhales. “My brother was, and I guess still is, friends with my ex-boyfriend’s brother. My brother told me all this one night when he was home before he left for his deployment, so I don’t remember a whole lot. But remember that this was his choice, not mine. One night my brother got a group of his friends together and called up my ex-boyfriend’s brother. Their parents were out of town and it was just the two of them alone in the house. So my brother and his friends got into a truck, wore ski-masks, and got their BB guns.”
I know what her brother looks like. She’s brought in pictures of him for me to see. The two of them look very alike, almost like fraternal twins.
“So my brother and his friends arrive, and my ex’s brother lets them in. They jump my ex as he’s watching TV, tie him up, blindfold him, and load him into the bed of the truck. They drive over one of the dirt roads in Indiana–Oxford is only five minutes from the border, so why not–so they’re surrounded by cornfields. They stop, take my ex out of the bed, and set him down in front of the headlights and take off the blindfold. They held up their BB guns and cocked them and didn’t say a word. My ex was freaking out, obviously, and asking them not to hurt him. My brother took one shot at him, and that was it. He shot him in one of his legs, but I’m not going to say which one.”
She looks at me to make sure I get the joke. This is the kind of nineteen-year-old she is. Very strict upbringing.
“Anyway, that’s all I remember from what my brother told me, but I love him and know he cares about me from that.”
“Sounds like he’s a very caring brother.” I say. I’m still thinking about the photos I’ve seen of him, a big guy in Army fatigues.
“He did what he did.” This is the part where I imagine if Brenda smoked she would light a cigarette. “I did save his ass one time with one of his exes who was psycho, so I guess we’re even.”
“Did you take her hostage?” I ask.
“No.” She says this without any emotion one way or the other.
“He sounds like a good brother.” I repeat.
“I miss him a lot.” She says.
Caleb Hildenbrandt takes copious notes. He posts them here.