May 18, 2007
It had been almost four months since Bailey had been in my zipcode. I’d pretty much come to grips with the fact that the relationship was over. The entire time he was gone, I’d gotten two drunken phone calls, and the only thing I could make out of the garbled slurred speech is that he was dreading coming back to Huntington. Thus in February when I suddenly received a knock at the door, I fully expected my friend Lenny the Loud to be there with a guitar ready to hack out some Who covers. The absolute last thing I expected was a cleaned-up sober Bailey.
“Hey baby!” He swooped me up in his arms 50’s sitcom style and trainwrecked his lips into mine. I looked into his eyes and didn’t have the heart (or balls) to tell him it was the last thing on my mind. Besides, after four months, it felt good to kiss any set of lips.
But that was the only conversation between us for a two-day stretch. His giddiness upon seeing me soon sank into the depression that had swam around him the month before he left. Most of the reason for the second day of silence was because he slept through 18 hours of it; by his body, I could tell that it wasn’t a pleasant dream. As I slept next to his worried frame, I sensed an odd emotion I hadn’t felt since high school: true fear.
In high school, every day was survival. Sure, everyone says that, but everyone hasn’t eaten popcorn for dinner or gotten their head slammed against a speed bump. The feeling I had that night was the same feeling I’d had one fateful day, when one of the popular girls just happened to be working that particular Kroger checkout line and saw I was paying with food stamps. She cackled and cackled and threatened to tell the whole school. I was so scared I dropped a dozen eggs and bolted. I got yelled at for wasting the last of the food stamps, but I never told my mom why I did it.
I watched this stranger lying next to me breathe shallow, rattled breathes and wondered what the fuck I was doing with my life. Was I afraid he’d actually become a stranger? Was I scared that some little thing I’d do would set him off, and that this time the shotgun wouldn’t be pointed at the sky? Whatever it was, it kept me from getting even superficial sleep until well past sunrise.
I knew he wouldn’t be awake before I left, even though my earliest class started at noon. I came back from work at ten and found him weakly sitting on the couch. The air static between us, I finally quietly said, “This isn’t working.” My hands were shaking. I expected to have to call the police to get him out of the house. I expected much worse consequences that would have me unable to even get to the phone. I didn’t expect him to feel the same.
“So there’s nothing I can do?”
He held my gaze. “It hasn’t been all bad, has it?”
I remembered the night we met. We kissed. My hands ran down the buttons of his shirt, and he recoiled. “I have scars,” he warned as he took it off. His chest and forearms were a roadmap of old cuts and burns. His wrists bore the all-too-familiar stamps of a permanent passport. I looked into his eyes and said, “Me too. You just can’t see mine.”
I know he thought I was speaking symbolically, psychologically, but really I just had years of practice being discreet. Two weeks prior, I too had my suitcases packed ready to check out. It was the only one that might have actually worked if I hadn’t snapped out of it soon enough. I painted a picture of having it together pretty well, and even the shortest of summer clothes hid the flags from my coworkers and friends.
“No, my dear, it wasn’t always so bad. But it’s bad enough.”
That was the best answer he was going to get. He looked at me, and in an almost comical tone, said, “Huh. Well, fuck you, then!”
He loaded up his pickup and drove back to Philly that very night. The house was empty and still; it was a hollow and melancholy quiet that didn’t meet the definition of peace. I thought about the painful summer I’d had before and was then left to wonder if the owner of a lonely heart was, in fact, much better than the owner of a broken heart. I came to the conclusion that Yes was comparing apples and oranges.
The morning after I awoke to a strange new world and didn’t know what exactly to do. This uncertainty had happened several times previously in my life, but experience never equaled preparation. I rolled out of bed and did my best to ready myself for the crazy world outside my window, a world that was fully prepared for another normal Valentine’s Day.
Come on, baby, now throw me a right to the chin
Don’t just stare like you never cared
I know you did
But you just smile
Like a bank teller blankly telling me,
“Have a nice life.”
- “Selfless, Cold, and Composed” by Ben Folds Five
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Alexis Stewart is a thief and a shitkicker living in Huntington, WV. She edits the zine the Rhododendron Reader (a collection of Appalachian culture and weirdness) as well as the occasional one-shot. When she's not wielding a gluestick, she's making movies, working at her college radio station, collecting records, or stalking Ben Folds. Her column explores the weird nuances of the West Virginia underground scene from her command post in a fake fraternity called SKA House.