some fall in love. i shatter.

Fragments of A Rainy Season (#21)

In Stories Volume 1 on July 23, 2012 at 2:15 pm

“Well?”

 

never win and never lose

 

I remember looking away from her, like looking away while the Sermon on the Mount was being read.  It was bad enough sitting away from her but to avert my eyes at the moment they met hers was a grave injustice to her, myself, and to all the romantics who christened themselves Great Lovers, the same group I previously and erroneously connected myself with.  She was lying on the painful comforter of a Wayward Traveler Motel bed, somewhere in Nebraska off Highway 25.  I had positioned myself on the edge of the bed, thoughts in my head contemplating moving closer to her or relocating myself to the meager chair by the miniature table, against the window that looked out onto the empty and cracking parking lot.  The lamp in the corner with the tired white lampshade cast pale yellow nightmares on the faded pink walls around us.  I swear I almost cried.

She had let down her yellow hair, dyed to shield itself from the natural brown undergrowth.  Are any of us honest anymore?  Her glasses were still on and the look on her face was one of love, care, and longing; one that was leaving everything up to me.  Never leave everything up to a man dressed in scuffed black boots, faded jeans, a shortsleeve black shirt, and a white longsleeve shirt underneath.  Never leave anything up to a man like this, especially when he dyes his hair black.  Are any of us authentic anymore?  There I sat, on the edge of the comforter, a vomited smatter of pastels cleverly designed to mask any stains the Wayward Traveler’s industrial chemicals and cleaners were unable to unstick.  My thoughts began to scatter.  I looked back towards her as she slid her glasses off the gentle slope of her nose.

“Sean, are you okay?”  I barely heard her through the din of my thoughts growing louder with every passing second.

“I’m fine.”

“Well then why don’t you lie down?  You look so nervous; you know there’s no reason to be nervous.”

“Nervous… nervous.  I could actually use another drink.  You want anything?”  Without even hearing the response, I relocated to the dresser and reached for the bottle of whiskey we’d brought.  I poured her a drink and one for myself with a little more going into my glass.  I brought Camille’s glass to her, noticing how her yellow hair had begun to curl itself around her shoulders, somehow magnificently floating over her body while melting into it at the same exact moment.  She sighed and our fingers brushed as I handed her the glass, the contact like a train barreling upon us and the stillness of the room.  I don’t know if it was the awkward and pained look on my face or the abrupt movements of my body, but a sad smile stretched across her lips.

“Seriously, what’s wrong?  Is it what I said?  Cause we can pretend it didn’t happen.”  Camille knew the answer, knew not to press it, knew she had gone far enough already.  The sweetness in her voice almost made me break down on the disgusting blue carpet of that forty dollar motel.  If I’d lost it there there would have been absolutely no reason for me to go on.

“I’m just trying to wade through my thoughts right now, trying to make sense of things.”  I returned to the whiskey on the counter, poured myself another drink, held it in my mouth, and swallowed.  “I think maybe I need a little air.”

“We just came in ten minutes ago.”  Looking back at her green eyes nearly shimmering in the lamplight, it seemed there was almost a trace of fear.  But for what, or whom?  “I know, I just need a few moments alone to collect myself.”  Camille nodded.  Could she possibly understand?

“Take your jacket.”  She propped her slipping body back up against the chipped and decaying wooden headboard.  I pulled my brown leather jacket off the chair and swung it onto my shoulders as I moved toward the door.  “Sean, come here.”

I moved to her.  Her electric hands reached up to my face, pulling it closer until her lips pressed against mine, her closed eyes trying harder than ever to look inside of me.  She let go and I kept my face against hers.  No, I thought, not here, not now; I will not lose myself.  I touched her face and pressed my lips against her cheek.  She had that unforgettable scent, like the desert, so vast and so ongoing.  It makes you want to forget everything you’re thinking, to kiss her closely, to climb into bed with her, to never let go.  And that is exactly why a moment later I was out the door, out of that deadly motel room.  As the door shut I thought I heard her ask, “Will you be back?”  I didn’t answer.  I didn’t have one to give.

Stepping out into the Nebraskan spring night was like stepping out of time.  The night was still beautiful and that mattered for the moment.  Almost as beautiful as Camille.  Looking up, past the garish orange light hanging from the ceiling of the motel walkway, there was the expansive sky.  There is nothing like the late night skies over Nebraska, when the sky is clear and you can see every tiny star outlined against that oceanic darkness, competing against the moon for infinite glory.  And that full moon, casting brightness over what should be an all-encompassing darkness.  It turned the harsh blackness into a shimmering blue-black, like a slow, fading sunset when the day and the night hold each other close.  A sense of comfort, almost as a giant comforter for the entire world, wrapping itself up in it and getting lost forever, finding blissful sleep in forgetfulness.  Even in cloud cover there’s nothing like those midwestern skies, utter darkness folding out over the land.  The only lights those random ones planted by humanity in the desolation of the Great Plains.  They’re no match though, the darkness seeps inside of you, letting you breath deeper while simultaneously strangling your mind.  Mankind.  Humanity.  Fighting so hard to hold a candle in that vastness.  A pair of headlights, a fire burning, the lights of a cheap motel.  The perfection is in the imperfection.

 

there’s nothing much to choose

 

I looked around, exhaling.  There were just three cars slumbering in the concrete parking lot and the pavement cracks all resembled grins and frowns, mingling and drinking in a roadhouse bar.  The light from our room fell out the window, casting my shadow long and mean.  It seemed so warm and safe inside.  I thought about going back in.  I lit a cigarette instead.  In the light of the flame, I could see an image of glory, fighting so hard to stand straight in reality, but failure fell when the flame went out.  I stepped off the walkway between the cracks, a hundred examiners staring.  A sprinkle of dust fell over my boots, turning the dull black a harmless gray.  As I continued walking forward, not knowing where I was directing myself, my thoughts began reaching in every direction but moving too far and too quickly for me to follow.  I lost most in the tumult and held only fragments that made no sense when I tried to reconstruct them.  What’s one to do?  Keep moving, always keep moving.

I approached the quiet strip of highway.  This was my Desolation Row.  There was nothing in front of me, to my left, to my right.  Emptiness.  A wide canvas, blank for the stories of a life to be written and erased once the dust has cleared.  There were no other buildings visible and no cars on the road; all those passing through had found a place to rest for the night and all the farmers were home asleep.  This empty canvas hits hard to the gut, it inspires all fears and dreams.  The fear of abandonment, loss, failure, the fear of one person’s significance in the face of so much emptiness.  The fear of death.  The dreams of starting fresh, moving unseen through the space of life, leaving your mark, the dream of one persons significance in the face of so much emptiness.  The dream of permanence.  You could be everything or nothing, but what decides, what differentiates?

 

between the right and wrong

 

It had happened not that much earlier.  We were coming back to the motel from dinner after having stopped driving for the night.  The ride back from the Country Drive-In had passed in silence, both of us tired from the long day on the road.  At least I was; I thought Camille was too but it turned out she was busy thinking about what was to come.  The parking lot was silent and still as we pulled in.  The violent thud of my car door sounded like a right hook, Camille’s sounded like a knockout.  I should have known something was amiss as the sounds traveled unmolested across the flat country.

As we approached the door to the room and I reached for the key, I felt Camille’s quiet hand slip around my waist in a slight embrace.  Without much pressure, she pressed herself against my back.  I thought nothing of it, nothing extraordinary at least.  We were close, there was nothing strange about it if she hugged me.  Simply a matter of closeness between friends.  So I pulled the key from my right pocket and moved it to the keyhole.  Turned and pushed.  As I motivated my muscles through these actions, as the door waved gently on its hinges, as her hands slid up my back to my shoulders, as a star shone brighter in the sky, as the world continued its revolutions, as the threads of eternity kept unraveling, she said softly, just below my ear, “I love you.”

I shuddered.  My mind went empty and vast, I didn’t know what to do.  I couldn’t even comprehend the ramifications of what had just happened but I knew they were huge.  Most of my nerves had gone numb but I noticed that her hands had slid back down from my shoulders and eventually dropped off of my flat-world map.  Keep breathing, I told myself, inhaling deeply and holding it, afraid that if I exhaled I would have to face the reality that time was continuing to move.  She was becoming my double, standing silent and still behind me.  For the first time since I had known her, I was afraid of her.  I comprehended the passage of time and let my breath go.  There was nothing else that I knew to do, my options had been cut down to zero, so I walked.  That was it, I walked.  Straight into the room, past the table and chair, past the bed and lamp, past the dresser with the whiskey we had brought in earlier, past the chronological listing of events I had thrown out of my head and onto the floor, and found myself in the bathroom.  I never touched the bathroom door but it shut behind me.  It read my thoughts.

Once inside, I pressed myself up against the wall, left the light off.  I heard Camille shut the door upon entering, heard the light turn on, heard her movements across the room.  I sat down on the edge of the bathtub.  There was a window in the bathroom through which the moonlight came in and reflected off the cold white and black linoleum floor.  Camille tried knocking a few times, calling to me, asking me to come out from behind the door, pleading with me to talk to her and then offering me the opposite and insisting that we didn’t need to talk about any of what had happened.  She would have found better traction with consistency but instead tripped herself up by changing tactics.  Unfortunately, there comes a certain moment when a rational person doing an irrational thing realizes just how silly he’s become.  I was accomplishing nothing in that bathroom.  It was a cramped and pointless place for me to be at a moment like that.  Maybe I’ll fare better in the room with her, I thought.  Maybe.  If she was the catalyst, maybe she would be the means to an end.

My thumb and index finger clasped the knob of the old silver lock and twisted it clockwise.  The lock silently slid to the right through it’s curved wooden frame.  Years of repetitive motion had smoothed the wood to it’s present frictionless state.  The door with it’s white paint and cracks of age swung inward on equally silent hinges and presented the tableau I’d been avoiding.

The bedroom was lit for a sacrifice.  Was I offering myself up?  She was lying on the bed, her eyes shut against the world, beauty reclining.  I had moved silently and thought perhaps she hadn’t heard my reentrance into the room.  Had I become a ghost to her, had my actions from a fleeting few moments ago killed the person whom she had thought I was?  Perhaps this is how the ignorant remain stable, they push out unanswered old questions with burning new ones, continuing the cycle, the ringing repetition.  They don’t feel vacant because there’s a flow of thoughts though nothing is ever answered and nothing is ever composed of a greater substance.  Whether this be the verdict or not, it was happening to me.  I was drowning in a sea of open questions.  I sat on the edge of the bed and knew that if she had not known of my presence previously, she did then.  I turned my head around to afford my eyes the opportunity of falling onto her grace.  She was looking away, out the window, maybe she wanted to be somewhere else, at some other point, as much as I did.  And then she turned back so that her eyes once again knew mine.  And then we rebroke that barrier of familiarity for a moment.  And then the intricacies rewound themselves tightly for it was in that instant that she broke the silence.

“Well?”

 

nothing lost and nothing gained

 

We were in the middle of America, in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a vague sense of destination precisely because Camille and I both found ourselves succumbing to becoming nothing without putting up any fight.  Both of us had dreams, both of us had ambitions, and both of us watched passively as those things begin to slip away in our post-collegiate years.  My dreams of architecture and painting had given way to the reality of an exhausting and low-paying administrative job in a bad economy.  Camille’s dream of writing a novel had repeatedly hit against the daily frustration and self-sabotage of long work-hours, a social life, and an inability to find the time to be creative.  We’d met just after graduating from university, a mutual friend, and had introduced ourselves with the titles of things we wanted to become.  But the world is a vicious place and society needs people to keep everything running smoothly; the support staff for those doing what they wanted was massive and we’d watched each other – unable to watch ourselves – be pulled into the machine.  We’d watched each other grow older and more complacent; we’d watched each other fall into a routine that wasn’t bad but wasn’t what we’d wanted.  That phrase had been seared into my mind: Not bad but not what I wanted.  That phrase was the catalyst to shake things up, to undo the mental ties we’d allowed to form around us, to once again fight against the notion of settling.

So, a cross-country drive. See things we’d never seen, do things we’d never done, allow our minds to wander and be inspired and realize what it was like to flex those muscles.  Two weeks wasn’t a magic cure but it was meant to be the start of something restorative.  It was a rallying cry to actively reject what we’d been passively accepting.  And yet there we were, just barely into the thing, when Camille said what she said.  It wasn’t the love that had frightened me so, it was the realization of what that love stood for.  Maybe she viewed it differently but I saw it as a retreat into the things that we knew, that complacency we were trying to head away from.  Even if we’d never approached each other romantically, we were each still anchors for one another.  Instead of being supportive for the changes we were each trying to make, a love between the two of us would pull us away from those things, wrap us up in one another with the dreams left on the outside.  We were safe while the things we were trying to do were god-awfully dangerous.  Camille had panicked and read that panic as love.  Panic and fear were no reasons to change the thing that we had between one another, even if love did exist.  If it truly did, we could nurture it later, see if it grew once we were strong enough to nurture ourselves.  She was a beautiful sense of fear though, one that wouldn’t be easy to turn away from.

 

still things aren’t quite the same

 

With memories and futures unfolding inside, I passed back through the parking lot, leaning against the hood of our car to regain a sense of footing.  I closed my eyes just for a second and stumbled through the paper-thin walls of organized thought.  All the ends and all the beginnings became mixed up and then lost upon themselves.  Everything around me experienced a momentary slice of evaporation, including myself, and all I knew was darkness.  Without order and without expectations, the world and our paths in it made just enough sense for me to think I understood what I was doing.  Normal consciousness ricocheted back into the forefront of my mind.  I pushed off the car and stood back up.  The light was still falling from the window to our room but there was no movement of shadows, everything was still in the night.  Not even a cricket chirped, making every step I took sound like a shattered shotgun blast.  Expand your mind with a shotgun, a friend of mine used to say.  I didn’t see many of my old friends anymore.  Always keep moving.

The tarnished golden doorknob spun with my hand and the great wooden door inched open.  Slight upon slight the door opened until I had a clear image of Camille curled on the bed.  I couldn’t tell if she was asleep or waiting for me.  Her glasses were off, resting on the dark wooden nightstand, her hair had fallen over her face, slipping down onto the bed.  It was here, standing in this doorway, looking at her with the smooth, chilled Nebraska night behind me that I realized the beauty and wonders that she was composed of.  And it was all feeling, all emotion.  As much as I try to lay these thoughts out and piece them into intelligible words, I know it’s an impossible task.  That was exactly the wonder of her.  It’s as if she wasn’t real and never was because nothing tangible is sufficient to describe her.  She hits you on a different level of perception and you never know what it was that hit you, you’re just left reeling.  I stumbled over thoughts about her and nothing fell in a straight line; they scattered and that was the only way I was able to read them and get an idea, to begin understanding what I felt about her.

I remained in the doorway: one foot in the room, one foot out, my hand still on the doorknob.  I couldn’t pull my eyes away from her, I couldn’t do anything; if I were to fall at that moment, I would realize what was happening yet be unable to do anything about it.  And my body did seem to be going limp, my hand slipping from the door and lightly pushing it.  It creaked this time, shaking me out of my trance.

Camille was sort of splayed out, laying on her side with her head in the direction of the bathroom that had been my refuge not so long ago.  She slept in her jeans and the red tank-top she’d worn during the warmer parts of the day, the cable-knit sweater folded and placed neatly atop her unopened rolling suitcase.  Just looking at her, in that singular moment when God knew how many people were awakening to their problems and how many were succumbing to them, I knew that I loved her.  It was stronger than any other fake premonition of love I had ever felt before.  I had loved her since I met her and now I loved her more fully than ever before.  I stepped softly into the room and clicked off the lamp.  The room became awash in darkness with only ghostly wisps of moonlight drifting in, terrifying and beautiful.  I walked in and stood over her, just looking, taking her in.  That tiny tide of light became homicidal, its strength overpowering me until I felt like I was suffocating in the air of the open room.  I could see myself leaning over, brushing the gold silk off of her face.  I caught a heavy scent of her smell again and almost lost myself in that desert that could bring me to my knees faster than any act of brutality or repentance.

I tilted my bent angle a fraction more and kissed her forehead.  She smiled unconsciously.  Love had always been a thing that I so strongly pretended to understand but it was always just that, just pretend.  I stood straight and turned away.  My brown and beige overnight bag sat atop the table near the entrance to the room.  The two leather hand straps were still buttoned together and they stood straight up.  The bag was light, just a few changes of clothes and some toiletries inside.  Almost absentmindedly, I took the car keys from my pocket and laid them on the table where my bag had been.  Then my hand was back on the doorknob, turning it so slowly and deliberately.  She had outdrawn me; I was shooting back.  I had loved her in numerous ways since I had met her, since we’d been friends, years and years earlier, but things were now in dangerous territory that I thought was bigger than the two of us together.  And so I walked out the door and back into the night, breathing in the air of uncertainty.

Walking back out into that Nebraska night was like walking directly into a self-directed line of fire.  What was I doing?  Where was I going?  Who did I think I was?  The worst part was that I had no answers to justify myself.  All I really know, I told myself, is that I cannot stay here, I cannot stay with her.  In searching for love between her and myself she was simply angling herself downwards, not just setting herself up for a fall, but actually begging for it.  I didn’t want to be the one pulling the lever to make the floor drop out from underneath her, she meant too much for me to do that.  And though I felt like I loved her with all my heart, I knew that if I stayed I would have eventually worn the executioners hood.

 

between you and me

 

My boots on the parking lot’s gravel kicked up the same gray clouds as before.  The sky looked even blacker.  The air felt even stiller.  The atmosphere was alive and all changing but the gray cloud remained the same, kicked up and resettling back where it’d come from.  My steps were loud against the gravel.  The brown bag hung from my right shoulder and I knew the strap would leave a solid red mark on my skin by the time I dropped it again.

I stood at the edge of the road.  Street lamps shone in the distance but I couldn’t tell how far away they were.  The Wayward Traveler sign to my right had long ago been turned off.  I looked to the left, the direction we’d been heading when we stopped earlier, the direction I was to again head now.  I didn’t know what Camille would make of my disappearance, if she would try to find me on the road or leave me to my journey.  I hadn’t left any note so she’d need to piece it together herself but she was smart.  I had utter faith in her, more than I had in myself, but it’s all about big gambles and big payouts. I hoped so at least, and I put my foot to the blacktop.

 

**credit to John Cale for the lyrics from ‘(I Keep A) Close Watch’

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