I Wish I Were A Tree

#49: Be

I wish I were a tree.

I’d like to be an oak tree, tucked away in a quiet forest untouched by the world.  I’d grow a little more each year to add another ring to the hundreds already lining my body, all the way to my heart.  Thick, gnarled bark would protect me as I reach thousands of tiny hands toward the sky, stretching out with a soft “aaaah”.

Each of my branches could tell millions of stories of the animals and insects they’ve housed.  Roots that were once so feeble would spread so far and wide beneath the soil that nothing could topple me, no matter how hard the elements would try.  Life would bloom at my every exhale.

Stable, secure, I would be untouchable, dependable.  As years changed, there I would be: off in the forest.  A life-giver. A soul-cleanser. At one with all those around me.

Instead, I am the water.

Amorphous and unsettled, I am a constant cycle of death and rebirth and nothingness and everything.  I am unfathomably deep. The farther you descend, the more dangerous I become, until I suffocate you and feed you to the demons lurking beneath.  I am constantly contained, reworked, displaced.

Existing in the world is a process of drain.  I am sucked up by greedy mouths and greedy roots.  Any time I begin to recognize my shape, it changes.  The very nature of my existence does not allow me to exist.  I am nothing, I am everything. I am there for the taking and there for the giving, but it is never my destiny to receive.

I am the water that feeds the trees.  They drink and drink until the soils run dry and I recognize myself no longer.

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100 Words: #48

48. Mine

 

I straddle rock on the peak of a cliff, shielding eyes from the glare of a momentarily absent sun.  Salt burns my tongue, coated in a sticky sunscreen film. There’s dirt under my nails, dust caked into the delicate lines on the palm of my hand.  My ankles feel like wooden wheels subjected to a poorly cobbled road, and my heart pounds an unsteady rhythm against a ribcage aching from exertion and altitude.

Five thousand six hundred feet in the air, I can see through a blue skylight haze for miles and miles.  If I stretch the fingers of one hand wide and lean ever so precariously over the peak, I think I can cross borders and touch the foreign lands of Mexico.  The other fingers, sprawled open, could twist into the sand and rock of New Mexico. Under my feet lies the great sprawl of Texas, the soil in which I intended to bury myself, the rock on which I now preside like a mythic goddess over her kingdom.

It was impossible: Texas, the mountain, the voice next to me pleading I be careful, pleading I not fall.  An unreality somehow painted into fruition on the stark El Paso landscape with four years of blood, sweat, bile, and tears.  I doused myself in gasoline, burned and burned and burned and smoldered and cooled so that I could rise from the ashes, a phoenix, in brilliant reds and golds, here, atop the stone of the state in which I was reborn.

Memories that had tucked themselves away in the tiniest recesses of my mind have slowly been leaking out like poison in the days that precede this moment.  Times when I was not my own. Times when I did not want to be my own. Times when I rejected myself because that is what I had been taught to do, because I had no idea how to build anything but broken monuments out of the broken pieces of myself.  

I had been robbed.  A dark hand reached into my tiny stomach before I knew what was happening and tore my organs from me, one by one, leaving them splayed out for all to see and criticize.  That dark hand filled the void until it feared it could no longer. Without its bile-burn bubbling deep inside me, I had no idea how to fill my void. I tried to outgrow it, but it grew with me.  I tried to shrink, but my body shrank around it. I filled the void with everything I knew I could hurt me and had enjoyed the idea that I might one day fall into the abyss of myself to be swallowed up by the loss of things I hadn’t even known were gone.

Somehow, I didn’t.

Somehow, instead, I chose to climb back up, at first with weak arms and a heavy heart and an attachment to the slow burn ache I always knew.  I groped in the dark for footholds, I fell and stumbled, but I tried to follow the voices that called to me to be careful, pleading I not fall.  I climbed until there was light in the darkess and continued to drag myself forward as the finally-visible strands of my memories began to weave themselves together into an intricate quilt.  Suddenly, I began to understand. Suddenly, I grew, I was stronger, I could climb faster and harder.

And I climbed all the way to the top of this exact mountain. The world is spread out before me like a buffet, and I am finally able to reach out with greedy hands to snatch up the things that make my mouth water: sickly sweet ice cream that sits heavily on my tongue after a day at the beach; a hand to hold, precious and tight in my own, whenever I stand peering over the edge; joy, pure and complete and once-thought unattainable, from the simplest of life’s pleasures; the beginnings of pride and I-am-better-than-that when I look in the mirror.

I wonder what it would be like to take off my shoes and feel the dirt between my toes, the cool rock pressing against my heels, pressing me up into the sky.  The wind whips my hair back. I close my eyes and let it bring with it a sense of renewal and life. I feel whole again. I feel complete. I’ll never regain what I was missing, but now that I know it’s gone, I can flood that hole with love unrepentant until my belly swells along with my heart.  I can take the reins again and lead myself back onto a path, because now I can finally see where I’m going. I can and I can and I can.

When I open my eyes, the barren beauty of the southwest lies sprawled out before me.

This body is mine.  This body can climb mountains.

 

100 Words: #44-47

44.  Meditate 

Imagine an orb of light.

It radiates a warm, violet shade.  Suspended a few inches from the top of your head, it bathes your body in its protective blanket of purple.  Slowly – very slowly – it rotates clockwise.

This orb is like a magnet.  As it rotates, all the thoughts in your head come dancing out.  All the racing thoughts, the negativity.  The orb latches onto each tendril and teases it out as it spins.  Your head, you notice, feels lighter.  Your body.  Your mind.  Let it spin.  You are seeking a state of mental clarity, of nothingness – you are not to stop until you no longer even think of the orb.

As your thoughts slip from your mind and fill the purple sphere, you begin to notice that the light bathing your body is changing.  It’s subtle at first, so subtle that it takes you several moments to realize that it’s growing darker, that delicate lavender is now something rich and royal, now more akin to menacing shadow than to protective glow.

You try to stop the orb from spinning, but all of your cognitions are so tangled and embedded in both the angry depths of your mind and the ever-darkening orb that there’s nothing you can do.  Your panic only makes it worse; suddenly, thousands more thoughts fill your brain, and the orb begins to spin faster and faster and faster and you can’t move to stop it can’t do anything can’t stop thinking and it keeps spinning spinning spin-

The light goes out.  The orb stops moving.  It falls heavily into your lap with your thoughts still tangled in its blackened, clogged, swollen, corrupted mass.

 

45.  Brink

I close my eyes and see us standing on the edge of a cliff.

The moment hovers in the eternal evening of a sky choked with ashen cloud.  Our cliff is barren rock of inky black, as if someone spilled harsh paint on a blank canvas.  Fog swirls, thick, so that we can no longer trace our path back to stable ground, so that we can only peer over the edge.

We stand side by side, hand in hand, toes of our shoes rounding over the edge of a cliff that curves inside itself as it dips into the swell.  There is an ocean below, frothing and foaming and furious in its assault against the side of the mountain.  Foam spitting white from stormy depths.  The roar is deafening, still audible over the wind pulling clothes at their seams.

I have filled my pockets with the heaviest stones on our ascent in the vain hope that it might slow me.  I have pressed a note into your palm.  I have realized that this voyage out to the edge of the world is not one of self-discovery, perhaps too late; or, perhaps, I have known it all along.  I have asked you to take me here to confront my darkest fears; or I have asked you to lead me here so that I might convince you to push me over the edge.

Your silence is telling.  The way you slip your hand from mine: telling.  You can’t suggest the obvious, but I can infer.

The last step is going to be the hardest.  Falling, I think – falling will be easy.

 

46.   Written

I revise my suicide note each day until it’s thick with metaphor.  The pieces of the puzzle are hidden even as I present them to you, one after another, for your entertainment.  I trust that you’ll begin to understand only when understanding is unavoidably late.

 

47.  Exaggerate

I don’t miss you, but I miss the you that you became in between hundreds of visions and revisions and play-by-play replays of our interactions.  Reality was undesirable, so I rewrote it into fantasy, into the way I’d imagined it over and over before I met you.  I convince myself of the validity of my own embellishments and flourishes.  I’ve talked myself into loving a you that’s never existed and break my own heart every day this brand new you doesn’t sweep me off my feet.

black ice

In the moment before the car hits the barrier, time stops its slow stumble forward to dawn.  Stops, lingers: an unnatural body of black asphalt slithering through barren trees, slick and wet like a tongue; snow drifting from thick clouds, illuminated by heady yellow headlight beams; radio spilling songs of broken hearts to fill the interior, two bodies settled comfortably in dark cloth seats, bodies turned away from one another.  Silent.  Peaceful.

In that moment, they aren’t talking.  Mid-January blues hit hard; weeks of winter with no end in sight, the snowfall is no longer magical.  Lack of sunlight always goes to her already-addled head, but her plans had fallen through.  He wasn’t happy – said he was happy, but also said everything that connoted frustration with her, said nothing at all.  They buckled their seatbelts, set off home.  She wipes tears from her eyes.  He looks out the passenger window and counts the seconds between road signs, pretending he doesn’t notice.

They haven’t yet hit the ice.  A patch has formed where the trees thin out, where the wind chills the apex of a curve.  It waits just ahead of their tires, deceptive, untouched, imperceptible.  Camouflaged by a dusting of snow.

She’ll notice right away, when they do.  She’ll curse (shit shit shit!) and try to correct the way the back end of the car kicks out of her control, and he’ll reach over to grab the wheel, to try to help.  She’ll know it’s too late.  The road signs he’s been counting have instructed them to slow to 35 in good weather, but she’s so desperate to park the car and migrate to separate areas of the apartment that she’d barely let up from 62.  It’s a violent spin that will lock her seatbelt and send him crashing into her.  He had not put his on.

In the split second where they’ll realize they’re about to die, her hands will leave the steering wheel, and he’ll follow suit.  She’ll reach out for him in a display of pure animal instinct.  She’ll try to find his hand and tangle it with her own, and he’ll try to tell her he loves her, and she’ll try to apologize for being so easily hurt about things that don’t matter, that have never mattered.  Their mistake will be highlighted in a slow-motion play-by-play.  The ways they could have said they loved each other.  The fights they never had to have.  The nights he spent on the couch and she spent crying, the long days before they learned how to make up.  It won’t matter, they’ll realize, and it never had mattered, and it will never matter.  All that matters is that they’ll want to stop the cassette of time and rewind to just a few moments before; that they’ll plead with God to let them live because she won’t have enough time to hold his hand and he won’t have enough time to tell her he loves her.

The barrier will find them sooner than words or fingers, when the car spirals into a sense of normalcy and points nearly-straight down the road.  No one will be around to hear the impact, the crunch of metal pushing the engine into the floor of the driver’s side.  Glass will twinkle as one might imagine the stars would if only we could hear them, as his body hits the windshield.  

He will die on impact.  She’ll have enough temerity to try to open her eyes, to try to seek him out until she realizes that she can’t lift her hand, that she’s in pain, that the malformed shape before her eyes is his dark jeans twisted at unnatural angles, and she will close them.

After all is done, after a few long seconds tick past, the dark road will fall silent.  Two pairs of lungs will have drawn their last breath.  Two hearts will give one, last, labored effort at one more beat.  Two lives will end and two loves will be made meaningless.  Insignificant against a backdrop of events outside of their control.

But, yet, in that moment just before dulled rubber meets slick eyes, they are alive.  Living, breathing, silent, loving, falling-out-and-back-in-loving.  She is crying, and he is not.  This is the last moment they’ll spend together, the kind of moment people spend when they don’t realize it’s their last.

__

inspiration

100 Words: #43 (Age of) Consent

43.  Consent

Consent should be easy.

I was fourteen, a fledgeling feminist dipping her toes into female-fronted punk rock, when I learned about the politics and definitions of consent.  It’s an enthusiastic yes.  A vocal yes.  A yes at every stage, not a ‘yes’, then a ‘no’ or an ‘I don’t know’ or nothing at all.  Consent is not “I owe you for dinner”, is not “I changed my mind but now it’s too late”, is not “I feel obligated”.

It sounds easy.  It should be easy.  In theory: easy.

The reality is that I’ve given consent to one person – maybe two.

In practice, it’s hard.  In practice, a boy will take you out for your birthday, for wine and pizza and Shakespeare and forget (‘forget’?) the corkscrew.  In practice, he’ll hint that it’d be a waste to take the whole bottle home himself, that it would be lonely to drink it without you, that he has roommates – so you offer to bring him home with you, to watch a movie.  You won’t know any better, won’t know what that means, won’t know until his hand is up your skirt and you don’t want it there but now it’s too late, you think, to tell him no, to tell him to go home because you’ve both shared a whole bottle of wine and he can’t drive home.  He’ll spend the night in your bed while you chide yourself – you should have known better, should have known that no engineer is going to take an English major out for Shakespeare expecting nothing in return and you should make his time worthwhile because he’ll for wine and he’ll pay for pizza and he’ll pay attention to you, but not quite enough attention to realize you’ll cry when he comes on you and tells you that you better not tell anyone else, your mutual friends – it’ll ruin his reputation.

In practice, another boy will take you out to see Christmas lights and he’ll seem so nice and it’ll seem so innocent that you agree.  It’ll seem polite to take the beers he offers you before you leave, and your hopeless romantic heart will sing when he holds your hand and kisses you under the Christmas tree.  And you’ll have such a nice time that you don’t mind going home with him (“to sober up before you drive home,” he’ll say) and that you won’t mind listening to records and having a few more beers, because you’ll like him for weeks that turn into months and you won’t be able to believe it’s happening.  But you’ll think you’ve learned, you’ll know the warning signs when he asks you not to post anything on social media, you’ll have friends who warn you about him, warn you to stay away from him.  You’ll kiss him, but you’ll tell him “no” when his hands slide up your shirt, tell him “I need to leave” when his hands stroke up your thigh, tell him “I don’t want to” when you try to stand up and he pulls you back down next to him.  He’ll tell you “you can’t drive like this” and “don’t be nervous” and “we don’t have to fuck” and “we can do something else”.  And you won’t know how to protest any further, you’ll choke on your words, you’ll say nothing, you’ll stay up all night and leave at six in the morning, you’ll think it means something and he’ll take another girl to Hawaii two weeks later.

In practice, a boy will text you for weeks.  You’ll like him, but you’ll know he likes your convenience, so when he asks you to drive out to see him, you’ll say no.  No, thank you. No, but I hope you have a nice birthday.  No, I’m busy.  No, sorry.  You’ll feel bad, because he’ll have talked you into sucking him off in the back of a rental car months before and you couldn’t think of a reason to say no so you said yes – you’ll feel bad because he’ll have expectations, because he’ll spend his birthday alone.  You’ll finally agree.  You’ll drive three hours to see him, a sick feeling in your stomach that you won’t quite be able to define as ‘regret’ or ‘excitement’ or ‘anxiety’.  He’ll kiss you when you’re mid-sentence and fuck you with enough time to watch the football game.  He’ll take you out to dinner, ignore you, let you sleep in his bed with enough space between you to fit a small family, offer you a granola bar in the morning before he drops you in the lobby.  You’ll feel dirty, used up.  You’ll take a shower when you get home, scrubbing your skin raw.  You’ll tell yourself you asked for it, you technically agreed.  You’ll make it a joke, a story; you’ll make fun of yourself, you’ll try to make it okay because you asked for it, you drove out there, you didn’t want it but you did it.

In practice, boys will buy you drinks and try to fuck you outside a concert venue because they’ll be taller and bigger and you’ll be too drunk to stand up on your own and you’ll almost let them because you feel guilty they spent money on you.  In practice, boys will press you against the stage at a show, will press their erections against your ass and kiss you before you find the words to say no.  In practice, boys will have their friend pick you up from the airport, will take your bags up to your room, will invite himself in and press you against the counter and ignore you when you tell him to leave.  In practice, boys will be older men who tell you they have connections to the band you just saw, who tell you they’ll drive you home, who tell you he’ll introduce you to the band at the next show but only if you show him how good you are on your knees, who tell you he’ll pick you up and drive you away with him to Dallas, who text you over and over despite how many times you say you’re not interested.  In practice, boys will do that a lot – will text you with propositions that you have to ignore or decline, will text you and text you no matter how many you ignore or decline, until you actively avoid being near those specific boys.  In practice, boys will surround you with their friends in corners of grandstands so that you can’t leave, will ask you for your number, will find you again in the paddock to ask again, will hold your wrist until you kiss him.

It should not be this difficult.

100 Words: #41-42

41. Rise

Wake up.  Count the aches in your body.

One.  Muscles.  The pleasant, full-bodied ache of working out too much, of pushing your body to, and then past, its limits.  Warm burn, tissue ripped apart and stitching back together, stronger.  Calories lost in the process.

Two.  Head.  A steady thump of your heartbeat in your temples, a steady beat rhythm-reminder that you are still alive.  Full to bursting with angry buzzing bees of thought.  Millions of possibilities and potentialities and panoramas that all need to play out before your mind’s eye the moment consciousness returns.

Three.  Stomach.  Not quite physical, but an emotional churning to make you sick, the eye of a black hole centered in your center of mass, angry and violent, spitting grease and vitriol.  The kind of unease that makes you want to stick two fingers into the back of an irritated mouth, to curl over toilets, if only that will make it go away.

Four.  Throat.  Ripped raw, days of body-wracking anguish like an incessantly bad cough.  No spoken words, just malformed attempts at expressing the inexpressible in a language understandable across language boundaries.

Five.  Thighs.  Surface-level.  Cold burn of cold metal digging into skin too soft and pliable, hot burn of hot water washing away lazy shame that won’t stop oozing out in little drops that pool into ruby red rivulets.  Precious stones.  Sleep on your left side, don’t roll too far to the right.

Six.  Eyes.  Crack them open in the dark like dusty coffins containing dead souls and the dusty corpses of lives you dreamed and never lived.  Even in the light, you can no longer see but in blurry smudges of spilled paint.  Rehydrate, resupply.

Seven.  Heart.  Don’t let its pieces fall into the vacuous void of your collapsing star stomach.

 

42. Weapon

How to teach your daughter that her body is a weapon:

Step one.  Weigh her.  The scale is part of your greeting, a fundamental aspect of your goodbye.  Analyze the numbers critically, and let her know that they are always wrong.  Take notes.  Compare.  If she has gained weight, let her know in scrutinizing gazes and harsh words.  Tell her that her guardian is trying to make her fat.  If she has lost weight, press your fingers into the indentations you must prod to find in her ribs.  Tell her that her guardian is starving her.  This, you say, is evidence.

Step two.  Photograph her.  The scratches, bumps, and bug bites she accumulates on bare skin during excursions in the woods can be misunderstood.  Strip off her layers and collect images of her traumas in neat albums, carefully labeled and dated and annotated with explanation.  This is not your fault.  These are not your wounds.

Step three.  Other her.  She will not tell you when she bleeds out of shame of her difference, so ensure that the disgust in your eyes and the acrobatic dance of your words lets her know she was right in doing so.  Create a show.  Point out the curves of her budding body as horrifyingly different from your own until the flush on her cheeks burns hot and prolonged like trapped coals.  Then laugh.

Step four.  Trap her.  In corners of beds pressed against walls, scorching and desperate and suffocating.  In your arms, her body close, painfully close, to yours only so that it is away from others.  In your home, cut off from outside influence and the life she used to know, from the friends who drift away like expedited continents.  Ask her what she is doing wrong that so many people leave, but assure her that you are the only one she needs.

Step five.  Sever her.  Half of the genes that made her are fundamentally flawed, half of her cells have been tarnished and corrupted.  It is unavoidable that she will never be perfect, inevitable that she will never quite be good enough.  Wield her features as a sword with which you cut off her fingers, one by one, watching her bleed, watching her cry.  

Step six.  Impress her.  Even when she has shed you like an ill-fitting skin, she will never quite be able to separate your words from her own consciousness.  A knife without a hilt, she will never quite sit comfortably in anyone else’s hands.

100 Words: #38-40

38. Rainbow

The rainbow hues of the world drain to black and white when you leave.  It feels wrong, strange.  This is not your space and yet when you leave, the holes in your wake are gaping, as if you’d been there since the beginning.

It’s quiet, uncomfortably and strangely and achingly quiet.  You aren’t there to shift the blankets in bed next to me, to run the shower while I’m in another room, to type away at a laptop while I lay on the couch pretending to read and just listening instead.  

My apartment is small, capable of fitting two but filled with enough to make it suitable for maybe one and a half at most.  Three years to come to terms with the silence of an independent space.  But having you slot into the spaces felt right; never claustrophobic, never overtaxed, just right.  In the span of just a few days, you became as permanent a fixture as the hum of the dehumidifier, or the washing machine that beats out strange rhythms when it gets a little too full.

You fit in so well that it’s easy to forget that you are not designed for this this space, that it is Mine, that you are a Guest, that you have a home and that this is not it.

I had never known what it was like to miss someone, body and soul, with every single atom of my being until I got to hold you here and then had to give you back.  Until I wanted to clean out half of my dresser to make room for you.  Until I wanted one of the empty spaces in the toothbrush holder to be filled by yours.

I had never known what it was like to fall so hard that someone could take colors with them.
39. Self

They say you can’t love someone until you love yourself first, but I’ve found that’s not true.  You can love someone deeply and fiercely, love them with every ounce of your soul and heart, love them with an intensity you’ve never felt toward anything in your life.  You can love them love them love them until the world stops turning and the stars stop shining and the sun dies away, until the universe is dark and cold and warmed with nothing but that love.

They say you can’t love someone until you love yourself, but that’s not true.  You just can’t let them love you back.

40. Humid

It’s hot in Texas.

More accurately, this particular bar in Austin, Texas is hot.  Stifling.  It’s all open air, and sticky humidity is stagnating in the windowpanes, the gentle occasional breeze unable to carve a path through too many bodies packed tightly together in not enough space.  You can feel a bead of sweat trailing down the nape of your neck, and you take a long draught of the cold beer condensating in front of you hoping that it’ll do something.  It doesn’t.

You’re buzzed – not drunk, definitely not drunk enough to mistake your decision for a good idea – but it doesn’t stop you from pushing back your chair abruptly and leaving the bar, dialing an all-too-familiar number and dropping a handful of crumpled bills from your purse next to your half-finished drink as you do.  You’re not drunk, it’s a bad idea, and consciously you know that calling Him from a bar when He hasn’t called you back in weeks is A Bad Choice That You Should Reconsider, but the phone is ringing, it’s ringing, it rings twice, three times, and then, “Hello?”

You had thought that you wouldn’t be affected by the simplest syllables only half-heard through the noise of the bar and the tinniness of of an only-partially-functioning cell phone speaker, but a shiver runs down your spine anyway.  You respond, “Hey.”

“…Do you need something?” And it’s confused.  As confused as you are, honestly.

“So you got a new job?”  You blurt it out without and pretense of small talk, the tip of a knife carving straight to the point.  Get the whole damn thing over with, you tell yourself, as if you weren’t the one who picked up the phone.

“Yeah, I mean.  It’s been good.  Desk job.  We don’t really get that much hands-on stuff anymore, but it’s good.  It’s really good.”  He sounds genuine.  Happy.  He sounds like all the things you could never make him.

You squeeze your eyes shut and lean back against the wall.  Despite the miles of distance separating you, despite the lo-fi quality of a degenerating cell phone, you hear music in the background.

“Are you out?”

“What?”

“Are you out?  Like, are you at a club?”

“Why?” He laughs.  You can imagine him shifting awkwardly at the question, a smile on his face, a glint of confused defiance hiding in chocolate brown eyes.  “You’re out, too.”

And you can’t say anything, because it’s true.  You don’t know why it bothers you so much to know that He’s out in a club; you’re both independent now, both adults who can do whatever you like.  And without anyone weighing Him down, it’s not like He’s going to spend Saturday night in bed.

“Are you out with anyone?”

“Why?” He asks again.  Trying to laugh like he did before.  But you know that underlying note in it.  A ‘what fucking right do you think you have to ask me that’ tone just a scratch beneath the surface.

“Dunno.  Just.  Wondering.”

It’s dark.  Humid.  Two girls clutching one another teeter by you on a pair of heels too tall and too thin to be anything but a safety hazard, and you’re distracted for a moment by the faint smell of alcohol, by a flood of messy Spanish spilling from red-tinged hips.  You wish you knew how to have fun like them.  Instead, you’re very aware of the silence on the line.  Aware of your sundress clinging to your back.  You sink to the ground.

“Babe, are you okay?”

He stopped calling you that months before he stopped looking at you.

“Babe?”

“You’re not out with… with her?”

“…What are you talking about?”

The Spanish girls are waiting for a ride.  You spoke too quickly, not thinking, too busy watching them, too busy listening to the way the words are flowing between them unhindered, too busy wishing your own words flowed like that instead of tumbling out of your gut like mismatched building blocks.  There’s a dam in your throat now, thankfully, and the Spanish girls are cheering for their savior the cab driver, and He’s on the phone demanding, “Answer me.”

“I just- I saw pictures of you two online and-“

“What the fuck?”

“And you just – you never did that before.  With me.  Never took pictures with me like that.”

“You – I  – what – I never could.”  His voice has dropped, so low that you can barely hear him over the sound of music in the background.  “You never let me.”

“Yeah, but.  You could have… you could have…”  You don’t know what He could have done.  You don’t know why you’re so accusing.  You just can’t stop thinking about that picture, about Him, about Him and her, about how it’s not Him and you, about anything and everything and –

“Are you… are you jealous?”  Disbelief.

You don’t answer.  The Spanish girls are making negotiations.  You pick the sweat-damp dress away from your skin like it’ll bring you relief, and it does nothing.

“Babe?”

You’re mesmerized by the spinning in your head, by the way the neon lights are painting the sidewalk in myriad colors.

“Babe, you‘re the one who left.”

You swallow.  Your stomach is churning, but not with anticipation, not with excitement.  Mouth dry.  Fingers that won’t stop picking at the hem of the dress.  You want to vomit.  You lick your lips and it takes you two tries to say, “I didn’t-“

“I’m gonna say this one last time, okay?  For good this time.”

You squeeze your eyes shut.

“Goodbye.”

You stop breathing.

Second later: nothing.  Just a dead connection.  A spinning head.  A sick feeling of immeasurable guilt that you wish you could drag out of the pit of your stomach with angry claws.  A dress falling limp and shapeless against a trembling body.  Even the Spanish girls have long since climbed into the cab and are nothing but a pair of taillights fading in the distance.

You don’t move for a long, long time.

It’s too damn hot in Texas.