It was a calm surrender that overtook me as I laid against the asphalt and stared past the dimly-lit lampposts into the midnight sky. My arms and legs moved as if to make a snow angel out of the deserted road.
I thought if a car came right at that moment, I could die happy. I even envisioned it—the bright beams flooding over my eyes, the sound of tires screeching, honking, perhaps a faint panicked scream from the driver as he realized, shit there’s a person in the street! and then me, lying there, smiling, scrunching my face, and bracing myself for the split-second end.
The vision seemed romantic, appropriate to my nature. So I settled in, squirming into a comfortable position, and continued the fluid motion of my ligaments as I stared at the stars, hoping that perhaps one would fall to make me feel better about my own descent.
The last time I assumed I had my life together, I woke up in my car at 3 a.m. with vomit stains on my pea coat and a Taco Bell bag in the passenger seat. I didn’t recognize the street I was parked on, having blacked out earlier in the night and driven from my company’s parking lot to an unfamiliar residential neighborhood outside Beverly Hills. A pile of semi-digested Chalupa seeped from the bottom of the driver’s door and permeated the stiff air with its foul stench.
This was mere months ago—seven to be exact.
As I peeled out of the street, I remember my tires hitting the remainder of my stomach’s contents and spraying them across the side of my brand-new Honda Civic lease. I didn’t think too much into it then, but now I believe that instant served as a somewhat comical metaphor for myself —a seemingly advantageous being marked by visible traces of continual mistakes.
Just as I had closed my eyes to doze off, a rustle in the bushes signaled company was nearby. Out of instinct, my eyelids fluttered open to greet the unexpected disturbance. Overhead, one of the lampposts flickered as its worn bulb faded by the minute.
I checked my watch—3:14 a.m. If fate didn’t allow my rose-colored death by unintentional vehicular manslaughter, then I was doomed to make it home before my mom got up for work. I set an alarm for 5:45 a.m. and curled into fetal position. An owl hooted from the still pine trees lining the road, leaving with it enough momentary silence to lull me to sleep.
I’ve had three loves in my life.
The first took my virginity on my dorm twin bed after a year of dating. I was 20 years old and thought if I was going to take such a long time to lose it, I might as well have an emotional sex playlist to go with the moment. But as calculated as I was, the climactic song I wanted to play while he pushed himself against me for the first time came too late. Instead, we made love to a forgettable tune and watched anime comedy afterwards until my roommates got back. A year later we ended our relationship on an equally forgettable note over an hour-long phone call, only to wind up hooking up every couple of months afterward. As with the first time, a new playlist orchestrated our motions with each reunion, never landing on the perfect song for the moment.
The second took me back to the home she shared with her fiancé on our second date and fingered me under their white cotton sheets. That night we slept intertwined, just as we had the last time we were really together. The morning before she broke up with me, we flipped through a copy of US Weekly and picked out celebrities we would fuck all while (failing at) helping host a garage sale. After she and her fiancé dropped me off at my apartment, I remember being scared that she was in love with me and ready to leave him. I wasn’t ready. I was a broke college student and we’d only dated for half a year. She was already graduated, three years older, and made six figures. It was nonsensical. But it turns out she’d already made alternative plans and instead fell for someone else with a steady paycheck and a master’s degree. Neither I or her fiancé could suffice.
As for the third, I don’t know if I can talk about us yet.
What I will say though is we never had sex, not to “Heartbeats”, not on a king bed whilst panting dogs watched from the sides, nothing remotely close to it. And I don’t think we ever will. As much as I’m sure you want to know more, I’m sorry to say I’m convinced that our story can’t be summarized into words, so naturally I refrain.
Instead I’ll say this third love is most certainly my last, and yet one I may never see again.
In my dream, I see you behind the wheel of an oncoming car. I keep trying to move, but I can’t get up. I’m stuck. I’m screaming for you to stop, but you won’t. You gun it toward me and all my limbs freeze up as your headlights blind my sight. I hear you trying to brake, but it’s too late. You can’t help me. You can only hurt me, you say. My head spins and all I smell is your scent before your rubber turns me to glue within an instant.
For all you know, I’m a victim of someone else’s wrongdoing. I look it, I’ll give myself that.
But I’m undeserving of all the pity.
I’ve played an equal part in my own downfall.
You can point the fingers all you want, or tell me that it wasn’t my fault, or say that I had to do it, but you’re wrong.
I’m no victim.
I didn’t have to do anything I did.
It was a choice.
Everyone, everything—him, her, you, me, love, loss. All of it.
So now I guess I want to know, what do your choices say about you?
I wake up to a repetitive beep, beep, beep coming from my watch and rub my eyes with fingers covered in tiny shards of gravel. A cool breeze whips through my hair as I kneel to stand up.
The sky is still black, creating the illusion of perpetual nightfall, and for a moment I’m temporarily fooled into thinking my alarm is merely another dream before remembering you’d be here if that were the case.
I grab my keys and head towards the white Civic parked adjacent to the right lane of the street. As I climb into the car, I see the bright headlights of another vehicle come barreling around the corner, speeding at nearly 80 mph as it passes me. The driver honks his horn, throwing me into a stupor.
I slump into the driver’s seat, sitting there for what feels like hours staring ahead at the empty highway. It’s enough to make you wonder what could have happened if I stayed there just minutes longer. Would I have gotten up? Would I have been able to? Or would I have laid there and accepted the inevitable? These things and more I thought about the longer I sat there, leaving the car door open to cleanse the air of any dried vomit that somehow might have lingered inside, until finally I put the keys in the ignition, shut the door, and drove away.
In my daydream, you’re riding shotgun as I’m driving us up into a starry sky. You tell me you’re only going to hurt me, but I insist on taking your hand as we ascend. Let me go, you say. Why? Because I’m not deserving of this. Because I don’t think I’m capable of being loved. The engine sputters. You slip your hand out of mine. I clench the wheel tighter, biting my lip until it bleeds. Where do you want me to take you then? Home, you say. You wipe the tears from your face. I lean over to brush them away, but you only push further back. The headlights flicker. I try to turn around, but the gas won’t budge. We keep floating up as you tell me to stop doing this. Doing what, I say. Romanticizing everything! The engine sputters, a puff of smoke rises from the hood. I just wanted to give you the love you never had. Your tears respond for you. I brake the car to hold you, to show you how much you mean to me. I would never hurt you, don’t you understand? You shove me farther away and say you hate me. The headlights go out and the stereo blasts the last song I heard you listening to. Then we fall from the sky, your hands in the air as mine are clasped around you.
I pull into the driveway just as the sun begins to rise over my shingled roof, a dull orange creeping over me as I step outside into the early morning air.
I breathe in and close my eyes. Then suddenly, it happens. A single tear falls, then another, then I’m sobbing and crouched down with my arms wrapped around my knees, hugging them so tight my body starts to shake and quiver. I bury my face into my sweater sleeve, heaving every so often as my lungs progressively plunge into my stomach.
“You’re a monster,” my first love told me three days ago as I listened, emotionless, on the other line to his crying.
“I’m sorry, that sucks,” my second love said over the phone when I asked her if I could vent to her about it, all the while never making mention of you. I hung up quickly and called my best friend instead.
But with you, there’s nothing. Not a text, not a phone call, not even an email. It’s as if you disappeared all together, leaving me to a memory of you on the night two weeks ago that caused you to hate me.
“I can’t even look at you right now,” I hear your fading voice whisper as I grip harder.
The last time I saw you, I couldn’t even cry as you said it. I sat there in silence, staring ahead at the portrait of a pin-up doll painted on the brick wall of the bar where we first met. At the time, I was with my second love and you with my friend. I asked you if you remembered the video I took of all four of us, sitting in the exact same spots where we sat then, but you couldn’t nod. You couldn’t even glance my way. When I walked you back to your car, we didn’t speak. I told you to call me if you needed anything, but you said you wouldn’t. I still didn’t cry. I walked back to my car and drove away, never once shedding a tear.
But now here I am, collapsing in front of my house as a bright yellow hue shines overhead, with part of me wishing you could see me now, and the other part hoping you never will.
Three months ago, you told me from the passenger’s seat that no one had ever seen you the way I saw you. You felt that you could be your full self around me. With tears in your eyes, you said it with such indignation I couldn’t help but wonder why you chose me to be that person for you. Still, I couldn’t cry. Instead, I put my left leg up on the seat, and leaned against the window as I watched your blue eyes turn pink.
I pick myself up off the ground and look up into the sky. There were no stars to cling to now. Only sunlight as it pours over the neighborhood street, illuminating the cookie-cutter houses and its residents.
I shake the keys in my palm, turning them over as my thoughts run wild and eyes dry in the morning heat. Without a second more to think, I’m in the car, starting the ignition. My mom could be awake, but I could also care less.
Then, like that, I’m on the road again. This time with no destination in sight. My instincts tingle as I hit the highway, going north at about 60, then 70, then 80, then 90 mph until I’m merely a rumbling blip in the sights of truckers surrounding me.
As long as I keep driving, I tell myself, everything will be okay. I turn up the stereo and blast your song, my soul suddenly returning from a distant atmosphere as the AC dries all signs of a momentary surrender.
And now, my reader, I guess I’ve exposed a partial glimpse of my life.
Copyright Nicole Mormann