I don’t know why, but I felt suddenly very dizzy. Disorientation swept over my body and mind, and the thousand shades of green before me started to swim in my eyes, forcing them shut. My hands unfolded from my lap and grabbed onto the ground on either side of me. I steadied myself, staring intently into the blackness of my eyelids.I breathed deeply, and began counting to fifteen. It was silly, I realized. Childish and stupid, but I counted anyway, and when my breathing had steadied, I folded my arms again over my legs.
It was a very bright, lazy, empty Sunday afternoon in the last throws of summer. A cloud swam across the blue sky, and I tried to give shape to it. For a moment I imagined that I saw something, a dragon, but the form faded in my mind and I realized it had been my imagination. I craned my head backward, looking across the rest area. A few picnic tables, a small building with two bathrooms and a candy and soda machine, and my lonely car, parked on a grassy spot a dozen yards from me. Sighing, I looked down the embankment I sat on. Waves of grass, and then lines of trees that transformed into a thicket and then a forest which continued to the distant horizon, where a line of mountains splintered the land and sky.
She was coming. I thought to myself. She is definitely coming. And yet, something deep inside me, a snarling, bestial force told me that she wasn’t coming. The creature was bleak, concealed in darkness and very dark itself. It wrapped around me, strangling me like a boa constrictor, pressed its mouth close to my ear and whispered to me that she wasn’t coming, that she had never intended to come. I felt the beast seize around me and I tried to throw him off. Childish, again, yet still I imagined myself, standing tall and noble. I failed, though, and the fear continued to chew inside my gut, my hands clasping tighter around me knees as I waited. Waited. Waited. And began to feel she really wasn’t coming.
Then, she came.
I heard her car, the steady thrum of the engines and the cracking of gravel as the tires slid onto the rest area. I didn’t look back. I pursed my lips and closed my eyes again, muttering something that might have been close to a prayer.
Another childish, immature habit I had grown over the years, like counting to fifteen. Closing my eyes and praying– only, praying wasn’t quite the right word. I wasn’t uttering my desires to any particular being or deity or anything. And the world ‘wishing’ never seemed to fit, either. A wish, I always thought, meant you had a clear goal in mind. Health. Wealth. Happiness. That sort of thing.
Happiness. How strange. I didn’t rightly know what it meant then, and I think part of me still clung to the superficial sense of the word; the vague, abstractions that people carry with them. Happiness. Love. Reduced to the physical reactions people pretended were caused by them. Smiling, endorphin release, a stressless, weightless sensation, the pitter-pattering of little hearts. It’s all bullshit. A steaming pile of emotional refuse spawned by microscopic chemical reactions in the brain. Even then, part of me understood, but another part of me clung to the romanticized, idealized notion. Part of me still does.
Even then, that part of me was dying. Not overt, not recognizably so, but beneath the surface– the veneer of happiness, the eroding waves of cynicism had begun to break the core of my humanity. The beast of human disenfranchisement–if not the same beast as the lizard-thing in my gut, then a close relative–was slowly working its way through my body. Digging, clawing, and chewing through my intestines and stomach and lungs, looking greedily, hungrily for my soul.
When I turned my head, opened my eyes and gave a slight, casual wave of the wrist, though, I’ll be damned if I didn’t believe wholeheartedly all of the romantic notions I would dismiss as childish at any other time. She was there, alright. She was there. Stepping out of her car, with her long, brown hair tied behind her, the deep, puppy-dog brown color of her eyes captivating even at a distance. She smiled a perfect, white smile and waved back as she walked.
She was beautiful. Of that, and perhaps that alone I was absolutely positive.
“Hey,” I said, and I couldn’t help but smile. She had that effect on me. Had had it, in fact, for years, since I first saw her–her deep, enthralling, hypnotizing eyes that seemed too large and mature for her when she was a child, that she had grown into as a teenager and that still always made me smile.
She sat beside me, took a small, whimsical breath and paused a moment.
“Am I late?” she asked after a moment.
“No,” I said. She wasn’t. I was early by twenty minutes or so, I didn’t tell her that.
“How long’ve you been here?”
“Not long.” I said, and cracked my knuckles. Childish habit number three. As I did, I watched my knuckles intently, and pretend that each snapping were my knuckles breaking. All the bones in my hands shattering into a thousand splinters beneath my skin.
I saw her eyes flick skyward from the corner of mine. I allowed my eyes to slip skyward, a few clouds sailed by across the deep blue summer sky. I tried to find the cloud she was watching, I scoured the shapeless forms of gas, the puffy wisps of white miles and miles away. Something held her attention, something in the sky attracted her big, brown eyes– and I wanted to see it. To catch a glimpse at the shape which might appear formless to me, or might have looked like something completely different than what her eyes saw. I couldn’t settle upon what she saw, I stopped looking.
“School soon,” she said. I felt a pang, a sort of mild pain shoot through my spine. ‘Yes,’ I thought to myself, ‘school soon.’
“We’ll stay in touch, though.” I said.
“Yeah,” she responded, and repeated, as if trying to convince herself “we’ll stay in touch.”
And the voice within me, the beast, somehow alien to my nature yet indistinguishable from myself, edged away from my bleeding entrails to wrap around my neck. A mad grin spread on it’s hideous, monstrous face, and it whispered in my ear that we wouldn’t stay in touch. We would drift away. We could separate, and then I would be alone. Alone.
“We’ll definitely stay in touch.” The words escaped my mouth, defiantly, against the serpentine creatures will. It squeezed tighter on my neck, then relented with a mocking smirk, and returned to the consumption of my insides. I wanted to believe what I said. I wanted, desperately for the words that escaped my mouth to have been meaningful. I wanted to stay in touch.
“Still though. There’s a lot of people we won’t ever see again, you know?” she said. And I said nothing, I sat, watching the trees sway in the invisible breeze that tickled my face. “People I never really got to know, people I didn’t know very well. Faces, you know? Faces you see walking down the hallway, and you nod, you say hello, but don’t really know their names. They’re all going, and you probably won’t see them after graduation.”
“Who needs ‘em?” I said, and laughed. She smiled a little, too.
“And even–“ she said, searching for the words. “Even–“ she still could not find them. “Well, take you. Even if we stay in touch and call and visit once in a while–“
“Visit a lot!” I said. “We can visit all the time. I love the city.”
“–we’ll still be so far away.”
A pause swept over both of us in the form of the distant, cool wind that seemed to blow from the future itself. It licked at us, it tickled us.
“A hundred miles isn’t far.” I said, then laughed. “It’s not as far as it seems, I mean. A couple trains, a bus. It’ll be fine.” A pause. “Tell you what, we can meet halfway. Smack-dab in the middle.”
“I’d like that,” she said, and smiled.
We sat there, for a while. Neither speaking. Both, I am sure, absorbed in some deep, metaphysical thought. She was probably probing the depths of her psyche, asking herself questions about life and her goals and whether she belonged in art school. She would have been thinking about the faces in the halls, the endless stream of humanity that flickered past her each day, the jocks and the cheerleaders and the chess club alike. She was a humanitarian, I suppose.
My thoughts were selfish. I thought only of her. About her eyes, the rare, brilliant, intolerable cuteness of them. Adorable, I supposed was the word I would have used, but it didn’t fit. It wasn’t mature enough. It didn’t–couldn’t evoke how I felt when I saw them, even at a distance. I felt like I had just been thrown off a ledge, and the air had been instantly sucked from my lungs. I thought of her hair, and how it always looked as if it was exactly the way it ought to be, even when tied carelessly behind her or flung halfheartedly over one shoulder. I thought of her skin, pale like mine, flawless in complexion. I thought of the delicate, soft curve of her lips, and thought what they might be like, pressed against mine.
“Make sure to tell me all about art school,” I said, rather feebly, my eyes flowing easily from the sky to her face. It was everything I had been thinking, and more. Quickly, I looked away, as if I had just caught a small glimpse of the sun. For a moment, I saw spots before my eyes where her face had been. A silly thing to imagine, I know.
“Tell me about yours?”
“I’m sure it’ll be great.”
We sat, a while and talked little. I didn’t mind at all, but I grew worried she was dreadfully bored. I always worried about that, and felt no relief as I saw her smiles with each furtive glance I shot her way. Smiles– even though she was bored. Must be something about her nature, I thought.
She would be in New York, becoming famous soon. She left in less than a week. In two weeks, I would be upstate, as confused about what I wanted to do as I was now. Our time was short, it was exhausted. Kapoot. The drake wrapped around me, I felt it. It pressed on me from every direction, and every square inch of my body compressed in quiet disdain towards my core as the beast whispered in my ears. I was out of time. I thought those words as they slammed against me. I thought them with a great gravitational monotony, like a heavy weight pounding on a drum.
I was out of time.
I was out of time.
I was out of time.
I just had enough time.
“Have you ever thought,” I asked her quietly, suddenly and quite unexpectedly snapping the neck of the beast about my neck. “About us, do you think we could have ever been more than, you know what I mean?” I didn’t bother looking away from her as her eyes flicked toward me, even though she was bright like the sun in my vision. I didn’t look away.
God, she was beautiful.