by Kristen Abate
(Originally published in Sand Hill Review 2014)
Remember the night we got lost in space? That was the night I fell in love with you. You handed me some ground up chocolate concoction and told me to swallow, not chew. You did that a lot: handed me things—blue pills, white powders, chocolate potions—and told me to take them. I always did—most times it turned out okay. Usually it was some sort of magic. When it wasn’t, you told me it was because I doubted you. You handed me the shit, and I did as you said. It tasted like rotten meat, mixed with Hershey’s.
The sun slid behind a rock formation that stood like a giant red ship, rising from the desert, coming back from the land of no-return. The sun clung to the horizon, making the sun to glow amber and changing thin clouds into fiery waves. Behind us, the heavens stretched like a black sheet, peppered with grey puffs of cotton, expanding and expanding until it met the desert floor.
We had driven about forty-five minutes out of Las Vegas and hid the car. You liked to avoid attention. You walked out into the desert, the wind blowing through your wavy russet locks. The way they flew in sticky bundles around your head meant you needed to take a shower. Your t-shirt flapped against your thin frame, and your jeans sagged inches below your shirt, revealing grey briefs.
I followed you and calmed my mind, preparing for the moment when whatever you had given me would fire in my brain. You laid out a blanket on the red desert ground, and we sat down. You fished a blunt out of your woven, hippy backpack, your first-aid kit. Its contents fixed any ailment; headaches, back pains, the flu, crazy thoughts. You always had something to set us free. That was before I understood whythose things affected me differently and why I wanted—needed, to be fucked-up all the time. Before the night you ran into the emergency room holding me like a child, trying to silence my screaming and dodging my wielding arms and I was diagnosed. Yes, this was before all that.
You lit the joint, took a drag, and handed it to me. I breathed in the thick smoke that tasted like licking a tree. I lay on the blanket and shut my eyes, breathing in air tasting like dust and death. I heard the rush of wind across the desert swirl around me, daring to lift me off the ground and turn me into a tumbleweed. I thought I might want to drift away with you, across the desert, the blanket rippling as we climbed through the clouds, going upwards until we reached space. I opened my eyes and saw stars, stretching to every point of my vantage except where you blocked it out.
“Lie down,” I said and pulled you down beside me. We lay like that for an hour…maybe a minute. Or maybe it was half the night. You looking at me, and me looking into the sky.
“You excited?” you cocked your head, smiling on the same side.
I released smoke and let it carry my words, “Promise it will be good?”
The haze left me to sail into the desert and integrate back into nothingness.
You sucked in a lung-full of smoke and held it while you choked out, “As good as it gets, girl.” Your coughs hacked at my brain. I could feel the high coming on now. Inside, my body buzzed. I sensed all the little neurons we learned about in Bio 101 shooting around inside my head, my blood flowing through the vessels in my heart…I tried to think about something else.
“You’ve never worried about a thing in your life,” I said.
“Worry about what?” You stared at me. I stared back, seeing my face and the fiery sky behind me reflected in the dark of your pupils. I thought for sure there was another world in those pupils, a world I ruled under red skies, thundering with power.
“I don’t know.” I couldn’t think of a single thing.
Jesus, you looked so concerned. It was the look you reserved just for me.
I felt big. I wasn’t a tiny spec floating around in absent space. I was a giant, kneeling on a blanket as big as Russia. The earth was a small ball. There was only you and me. I stood to touch the sky, run my fingers through the stars and pick one to keep near me. Your stare never faltered. Surely you were thinking the same things I thought, seeing the same things I saw, knowing the same things that I knew.
I pulled you up, you stood with me. “Let’s go,” I screamed, and ran out into an expanse of freedom. You laughed and chased after me. I ran fast all the way to the stars. You caught up and grabbed my wrist. I looked at you, standing on a waving thread of Northern Light. Stars fell, like raining balls of silver. You slid your hand through my hair, behind my ear, and pulled my face toward yours. We kissed. It was wet, your lips felt smooth against mine. Light flowed from me to you, then back again. I could have grabbed the energy and held it in my fist. Time fell away. I think if we went there tonight, if we got in the Buick and headed back through Vegas and into the desert, we would still be there. We would be there embracing, with stars falling around us, me falling in love with you, and you caring about me…lost in space. We never found our way back from there.
. . .
Yesterday you told me you still loved me. I said I didn’t believe you. After four years, how can that be? No one loves anyone for four years. It made you angry. I’ll forgive you because for the past four years all you’ve done is take care of me.
But that was the way it was always going to end up, wasn’t it? When I met you at that dorm party freshman year, my thoughts stopped. You were rolling a jay, your fingers quick and nimble over the weed, your tongue sliding down the side of it, securing all that mindlessness in one tiny space. Your hair fell over your eyes, and your sweater smelled like damp wood. “I’m James.”
“Nice.” That was it. You kept your eyes on me as you finished the joint.
I was addicted to you almost immediately. Your mind had so much room. I could dump every thought, every worry, every question into that empty space, and you let me. All those incessant voices ceased to speak when I was around you.
With you, things happened and that was it. My failing grade in psychology, my mother’s questions about my future, my daddy issues, my best friend’s glare when I stumbled in drunk on a Tuesday afternoon, my five pounds of weight gain—with you, I could shrug it off and let it become someone else’s problem. It didn’t necessitate a fuck being given. Releasing those burdens induced a calm, cleaner than any drug.
And you, I guess you just fell in love with me because men love crazy women.
. . .
Today I met one of your mistresses. I was sitting on the couch, trying to make myself care about watching the news, all the while thinking about fitting into my party dress for next weekend’s Bellagio party. Would my fat arms scrape against the sequins and chafe? I thought I should start doing cocaine again.
“Babe?” You turned to me, one of those quick, jerky movements that made me uncomfortable.
“Huh?” I raised my eyebrows to let you know I was listening.
“I’m gonna have one of my guy’s girls come over to pick up his stuff.”
I wondered why you told me this. “Okay,” I said. You never had given me warnings before, about when or why people were coming over. They just did. I never asked questions.
I waited for her. I watched you clean the house. I could tell you were mad I hadn’t called the maid sooner. I stared at Brian Williams’ glossy face spread out wide across the wall. Just after I heard a knock on the door, the bitch popped it open before I could answer it. She flashed her black eyes at me and looked at the floor. You didn’t introduce her, but later you told me her name was Loraine. What a truly hideous name. You both went into the kitchen and talked in low tones. You moved items around in your brief case when she took out some cash from a sequined clutch. It looked like something from the drug store. I’m sure her blue and yellow hair extensions and sparkly-bobby-pins were from there too. The money was all Ones. You wanted to go outside to smoke a cigarette I used to think they were disgusting. But you made it seem cool.
I got up to join you but you glared at me. I glared back. Outside the breeze made me clasp my arms around myself. I waited for you to hand me a cigarette, but you were preoccupied with lighting Loraine’s. One of her yellow hair extensions came loose from its bobby pin. She snatched at it, then dropped it into her glittery clutch without saying a word. I stared. You nudged my elbow and handed me a cig. I lit it myself.
The sun was down, but the clouds looming over the Vegas skyline were dark lavender. I pondered this. It’s reflection, right? All those particles up there, refracting light in a certain way so colors show up in our minds. Silence hung in the air, but I could hear myself breathing.
Loraine stood so she wouldn’t have to look at me, but the wind blew smoke back in her face. A drop of water fell from the roof, carrying the golden reflection of a street light. Daisy, our bulldog, sniffed around our awkward huddle, her nose guiding her.
My lungs felt heavy and my heart pattered fast. I had to sit down. The concrete of the steps rubbed rough against my legs. I scrapped my fingernails across their gray, jagged surface. The tips of my fingers tore but I couldn’t stop. I needed something to keep me on earth.
“Jesus, Kim,” your voice dripped with disgust. I looked up, you were staring at my bloodied hand looking concerned and desperate.
As I fell into your eyes, Loraine left and so did everybody else. You and I were the only ones left in this world. Then the streetlight flickered out and your face went black. “Oh shit,” I said, acting like I was surprised to see the dark liquid trickling down my hand. “I’d better wash this off.” I walked in with my cigarette still lit.
. . .
I went to bed alone. As I lay in bed, I went through the thousands of ways you could leave me for her: run in the middle of the night, scream at me to leave, throw my things out on the sidewalk…
What I wouldn’t have given to feel your arms wrap around me, the hardness of your collarbone pushing against my back. I heard you pacing in the living room, back and forth. I stretched out my arms. The sheets were cold, my body twisted in the oppressive dark. At 3:30, I got out of bed to find you.
“I can’t sleep,” I said. You didn’t look at me as you rummaged through some plastic baggies, then handed me two white pills. “What’s my charge?” I joked. When you didn’t look up or say anything, I took the pills and went to bed. This time, I fell fast.
. . .
We were in a field, somewhere behind the strip. I could see the Stratosphere pointing to the sky, as small as a toy. We were the only ones there. Huge cracks sounded as someone began throwing disco balls off the top of the casinos. Glass crunched as it hit the earth. I covered my ears and screamed. You searched through your bag, then ripped open all your little baggies. They blew away. I kept screaming for you, but you wouldn’t look at me. The sky started falling. Huge bands of gold and sea green light crashed into the ground, blowing up chunks of the desert.
If I’m going to die, I want to hold hands with someone I love. I tried to get your attention, but you just chased your baggies around. I don’t want to go alone. I picked up a cell phone, built like a brick from the 1980’s. I wanted to search through my contacts but it hadn’t a screen. I tried to remember my mother’s number, but I couldn’t. Then suddenly, I couldn’t remember her face. After a while, I couldn’t remember if I had a mother.
I screamed for you. “James!” I looked back and saw you lying, face down, with baggies floating around you. I heard nothing but the scrapping of metal and breaking of glass. “James!” I screamed again, but you disappeared before I got to you.
. . .
When I awoke you were there with that concerned look. “Were you having a nightmare, babe?” You slid your hand down my wet cheek. I had been crying. Was it real—the sky crashing to earth, the end? I had seen it all, I was there. We were over.
I looked into your eyes, trying to find our perfect world where I trusted you. The world where I could trust myself.
“Kim,” you said, exasperated. “What happened, what’s wrong?” But I couldn’t hear you. I was someplace else, watching us marry in a church; watching our children grow up in a suburb outside Seattle. I watched as I called my mom and talked to her about a Christmas visit.
“Where are your pills?” You slipped away and the perfect world was lost. I pointed to the bottle on the nightstand. You checked to see how many little white balls were left. The correct amount I knew, because I’d been flushing one down the toilet every morning.
You slept on the couch.
. . .
Tomorrow I will leave. I will take my white Mercedes, in all of its glory, and drive north. The sunshine will be too bright, I’ll have to squint until I stop at a gas station and buy ten-dollar sunglasses that cover half my face. The people in the gas station won’t know about you and me. They will think I’m perfectly all right—and I will start to believe them. I’ll spend hours singing Ben Harper and Sublime, my tinted windows rolled down. I’ll drive to Seattle, to the Space Needle. It will be genuine—not a replica, and a lot bigger than the Stratosphere. I’ll buy a house where I can see the water. From my bay window I’ll watch the waves dip and ebb—so unlike the stagnant land of desert.
You will live free of me, and me of you. I’ll find a nice man who has a respectable job. He’ll want children. I’ll raise them up nice and right. The girls will have straight black hair that will brush their shoulders, and the boys will wear suits to Sunday mass. I’ll visit my mom. She’ll finally love me as much as she loves my brother. I’ll clean my house, have a bank account, and a credit card. I will live near tall buildings without ridiculous names like The Cosmopolitan, Luxor or Caesar’s Palace.
But what if people think my dresses are too short, my face too sunken, my shopping habits strange? They might think I’ve come to infiltrate them with my Brand of Crazy—psychotic, bi-polar, paranoid—maladies that suck normal people into the drama of an unstable mind. They might discover my sleeves are long to cover up the scars of me trying to end it all.
What if my husband wants to be sober all the time? What if I miss the glittering night-lights, the constant jingle of winning, and the free bottles of Grey Goose? What if my thoughts can’t be quieted by anyone but you?
. . .
No, tomorrow I won’t go anywhere. Tomorrow I will sit and get high and wait for you to return home from your little outings when you are fucking a bunch of other girls. I’ll touch myself for a while and imagine I am them.
You will come home and tell me you love me. I’ll know you’re lying. Why won’t you go away? I will say, I know you want to leave me. You’ll promise you will never leave me alone, but I won’t believe you. I’ll look at the picture I snapped of Loraine on the couch with my iPhone. I’ll envy her because she is perfectly normal and I am not. You’ll say I’m drunk and having another episode and that maybe we should go see Dr. Ramone. I’ll yell when you try to catch my arm and I’ll try to bite your ear, but I’ll be distracted by the phone ringing.
It will be my mother. I’ll scream at you to not answer, but you’ll grab the phone before I can smash it. You’ll shove the phone at me. She loves my brother Benjamin better than me, but she’ll ask me to visit for Christmas. I know she doesn’t really want me to come home, so I’ll say no. We’ll talk for a couple of minutes, but I will rush through the questions. She will say she loves me and I will say that I don’t believe her. I will let her cry at the other end of the line. She’ll ask to talk to you, because she likes you more than me, even though she knows what you do for a living.
. . .
No. Instead, I dig through your desk drawers and go through all your little baggies. I pick the ones that look most interesting: twelve perfectly round, blue pills. I get in the old Buick that is kept behind the garage and race through the city on the freeway, passing billboard after billboard of glitter. I hear someone winning millions on the floor of the Cosmopolitan. I see someone cheating on his wife in a Flamingo hotel room. I smell the alcohol flowing through people’s veins as they convince themselves that, truly, anything they do here in the city of sin is permissible. I feel you kissing someone else, her hands sliding over your bare ass.
But soon I am free of that and into the desert. I hide the car behind the rock that looks like a ship. My eyes slide across the velvety sheet of earth, searching for something I know is there. All the stuff in the baggies is gone. The west sky glows silver as balls of glitter crash into the ground and split into thousands of scattered lights. I run and run and run while the thin streams of green and gold begin to vibrate all around me. I am tired, but I keep going until I see us. I was right—we are still here. My brownish hair looks as greasy as yours. I watch us for hours. Rolling in the magic, making love in the energy, sleeping amongst the stars. I fall asleep to us singing “Here Comes the Sun.”
They don’t find my body for three days.