By Sean Lalonde
It was only because of her eyes that I knew who she was. Everything about her was different but her eyes were the same, haunting me with the ghost of who she used to be. Her hair was shorter, only at her shoulders and not silky like it used to be. A scar took up the left side of her face. Her once healthy frame was sunken in and emaciated. Her arms were filled with track marks. She wore practically nothing despite the cold chill of the autumn air and a dress that was old and too tight.
I have known a million different kinds of pain. I have known the pain of dragging the cold metal object across my arm, tearing up the flesh. I have known the pain of being told, at only seven years old, that my father was dead. I have even known the pain of my own mother telling me she wished I would just kill myself already. All of that pain combined couldn’t come close to the moment I finally found her. The pain ripped through every part of me like never before.
Part of the reason I was out here looking for her every night was because I still loved her. All I wanted to do was reach out and hold her and nurse her back to health. The other part was my overwhelming guilt. What if’s played in my head over and over. What if I hadn’t shared a bed with her only because I was angry and lonely, just to break her heart, knowing she wanted more? What if I hadn’t made her promises I wasn’t committed enough to keep? Would she have ever slid that needle into her arm if I had been a better person? Would the person she had become, the person ready for a committed relationship, have been with the girl of my dreams? The girl she used to be.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I didn’t think you’d notice me.”
“Most people notice when someone stops in the middle of the street.”
It was nice to hear her voice again. I focused on the sidewalk, dragging a loose rock under my shoe. The guilt crashed into memories and I played them in my head every night that I spent out here looking for her. They all stopped when I saw her.
“You look awful, Kass.”
“You’re not even looking at me.”
“I can’t.” My voice cracked.
“You look pathetic.”
“Do I?” I asked, risking a glance up at her.
“You think I don’t notice you walking these streets looking for me every night? Well, here I am, tell me what you need to so you can sleep easier at night.” Her words stung.
“I miss you.” It was truly that simple.
“You left me remember?” she said. How could I not? I remember so much, it seemed to be the only thing I could remember. I remembered her sobbing on the phone, asking me why I was doing this, but my focus was on the girl sitting on my bed waiting for me. I remembered her calling me in the middle of the night because she had a nightmare. I remembered that she was always reaching out a hand for me and I would just turn away, but when I finally looked back her hand wasn’t there anymore.
“Quite well actually. I was a kid and I just wanted everything.”
“And now you’re an adult who has nothing.” She turned to walk away and I panicked. I couldn’t let her go yet, I wasn’t ready for her to leave.
“I think I have more than you.” I regretted the words the second they left my mouth, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say to keep her standing there. One of the things I remembered so clearly was her anger. She could spark up at the smallest of things. As long as she was angry, I knew she wouldn’t walk away.
“You’re out here with barely any clothes on, in the middle of fall. You’re skinnier than I have ever seen you and it looks like something has been eating your face. It isn’t too hard to tell, Kass.”
“What the fuck do you want from me? You’re the one out here looking for me remember? If you are so much better than me, why are you wasting your time?”
“I want to help you get off this,” I said and she laughed sarcastically. “Seriously, Kass, let me help you get clean.”
“Keep dreaming, lover boy, this isn’t one of those pretty scenes in a book. This is real life.”
“Does this really make you happy?” I asked. I searched her eyes for any hint of doubt.
“I gave up on happy. It wasn’t meant for me.” she said, digging in her purse before pulling out a cigarette.
“It could be,” I said, quickly pulling out my lighter and holding out the flame. She eyed me for a few seconds before leaning forward to light her smoke.
“Maybe in another life time,” she said, looking at her pack, debating before she offered me one. I took the cigarette and lit it before turning to stand beside her, looking out at the street. It was dark, other than the dim lighting coming from the street lamp. The old neon sign from the ice cream shop across the road hummed in its struggle to stay lit. I listened to it, just enjoying feeling her close to me again. How many nights had I been looking? I had lost count, but this moment was worth all those sleepless nights.
“I wish you would give me a chance,” I said, before blowing out a long stream of smoke.
“Funny, I used to feel the same way towards you,” she said.
I smiled despite the sting. Memories flashed back of her crying on the phone with me. Her pleading and holding onto my arm, nails gripping into my skin as she repeated the words ‘Please don’t leave me.’ But I did. I pulled my arm out of her grip, leaving long red marks, and walked away.
“Maybe funny isn't a good choice of words,” I said, forcing a grin when I looked at her.
“Words were always your thing not mine,” she said. She smiled at something playing in her head and I could only hope she was thinking of us.
“You did okay.” I took a long drag from my cigarette. “Do you ever think of those times?”
“I try not to.”
“Fair enough.” I nodded and looked at her shoes. I tried to think of more things to say. More pleading words.
“You need to stop thinking of it too. They were from another life,” she said, her hand touching my arm. My skin tingled where she touched me and I wanted to pull her against me to feel it all over. It had been so long since I felt her touch.
“Why can't it be now?”
“Because we aren't the same people anymore,” she said and took her hand away.
“But maybe it will be better now,” I said. She looked at me, her eyes burning into my soul. For a moment I felt like maybe she was considering it. I hoped that she would come with me.
I was too lost in my own thoughts to realize the man who pulled up to the curb.
“Hey, you want a ride?” he asked. I turned to look at him.
He was a middle-aged guy with salt and pepper hair. His face was rough with stubble and his dark brown eyes didn't even try to hide the fact that he was looking at her breast and not her face. My chest tightened and I dug my nails into my palms. I need to protect her from scum like him.
“You don’t have to do this. You can come with me,” I reminded her. She forced a smile and touched my face. I leaned down into her hand that was cupping my cheek.
“It was nice seeing you. You look good. Stop doing this to yourself, okay? I'm sorry, but I hope I never see you again,” she said, before placing a light kiss that lingered on my lips.
I stood frozen as she took two steps backwards still watching me before turning around and getting into the passenger side of the car. I watched until I could no longer see the tail lights in the distance. I would try again tomorrow, maybe by then I would find the magic words I was searching for.
Photo Credit: Zsolt Dreher