I had a plan for a while.
My trip ended suddenly and terribly. My blog lay fallow. I couldn’t post something else, I told myself, until I told the final story: the end of more than just a floating trip up and down Route 1. I had pealed back years of my life in see what was underneath. I felt naked and frightened by the ants I saw rushing their larvae away to be hidden somewhere else to fester another day.
By my own reckoning, I had to finish that story. And it was a hard one to tell, let alone think about. But I think I’m ready for it.
There was an inherent lie in my post.
I wrote as if I was alone. Which, in a manner of speaking, was true. But since my apprehension was so amorphous, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Let alone externalize it.
I put her in my pictures, subtly. There she is, walking in the frame:
There she is again, leading the way, up into the horrific light of a city I didn’t recognize:
This was a relationship which defined years of my life and thousands of miles of literal road. Intrigue, discord, mental illness, cosmic import, isolation, Dreams, adventure, a marriage proposal. It was all there. After the most recent year of an on-again-off-again long distance, the poor communication was really coming to a head. Like I had always feared, being over a thousand miles away couldn’t be overcome by cute texts or daily phone calls. I had broken under the weight of despair and ended it once. I had tried to do it again, not due to unhappiness, but because her acceptance in the Stanford Ph.D. program was the most important thing in either of our lives. She saw it as finality. I saw it as the next step of our shared lives. It didn’t change what I felt, or what I wanted. But it didn’t go anywhere good.
She’d come back to Albuquerque for her birthday as well as Christmas, and I couldn’t’ve been more excited to see her, but for her, it was too painful, too difficult. “So close, and yet, so far” was the appropriate platitude as I wretched about in emotional pain, screaming “why” to no one, feeling vaguely worthless, among many other things. After torrential emails back and forth between us, it seemed like we’d shaken it all hard enough to finally dislodge all the unspoken dust and grime. We understood each other. Suddenly, we talked everyday. It seemed perfect.
Spring Break approached. She texted me late one night asking me if I had plans. I had already visited her at school and explored the surrounding area six months before– before everything started to blow. I told her I’d love to visit her again, but I was apprehensive about it.
<You want to come visit me? That’s wonderful!> read her texted surprise.
<Of course.> I replied.
Lengthy, crafted texts began: I articulated my fears that it would be weird, that all her anxieties about us and me would cause more harm than good. How intimate were we “allowed” to be? A full nine days seemed like a long time with so many uncertainties.
It won’t be weird, she assured me. It won’t be weird.
I was not convinced. I asked again if she was sure. That all my instincts and experience with her pointed to things unsaid and more creepingly volatile than anything else.
It won’t be weird, she repeated. It won’t be weird.
So I relented. I did want to see her so badly. Plus, adventure. It’s all I really ever want.
But upon arrival, immediately it felt wrong. Not enough for me to be conscious of it. I was so happy to be back, to see her, to explore. But her anxieties were bad, secondary symptoms worse than before. She talked about her excitement and stability, but also the stress and pressure of being a Stanford Ph.D. student. And it wasn’t like I hadn’t seen her suffer and writhe in the disquiet of her meds and their bodily consequences. Just support her, love her, focus on the best things from my angle. Let her know I understood. That it was all that was needed.
Things steadily got worse. Yosemite was terrible. San Fran was worse. Not just because I was so in my head and spending my time being hypersensitive to all the overwhelming sensory information. Maybe that was the result from it all. An ugly gloom was hovering over everything we did or said, and I knew it was there. I just didn’t know what it was.
So as we drove home from San Fran that St. Patrick’s Night, I finally broke and asked what was really going on.
“I don’t think I want to be with you anymore. And it’s stressing me out.”
The next two days were, to use a coined phrase, really fucking bizarre. We would talk long and hard about how awful and weird the situation was. I was so stiff and soft-spoken, my rage so far beyond screaming at the top of my lungs that it entered into something new.
Why had she allowed me to spend hundreds of dollars I didn’t really have and fly a thousand miles just to twist the knife in person? Especially after I’d asked again and again if it was going be weird.
“I didn’t want it be weird,” she said. “I guess I didn’t think about it. I’m sorry.”
Conversations drifts about, but only to places dark and ugly. My brutal directness snapped hard on the words I needed to express the sickly sensation deepening in my body. She hated it. There were more “why” discussions. She said some pretty awful things I am having trouble forgetting. Things not meant to be insulting or hurtful, but repugnant and honest all the time. Somehow in the twisting flow of the hours gone, I managed to say at one point how happy and proud I was that she was getting her Ph.D. at Stanford and that I supported her no matter what.
“Well. Thank you. Though I feel awful since I haven’t done the same for you.”
Then, after the hours long talks of crushing emotions and dark revelations of things unsaid, we would have sex. Weird, passionate, desperate sex. It didn’t seem to bother her. Maybe she wasn’t thinking about it. But the foul emptiness and emotional rankness that filled me during and after only spread. And it kept happening. She’d act relatively normal during the day, half-pretending it was alright. I’d say little, my head swimming with it all. There’d be lulls before we’d talk seriously again. More creepy revelations. More dark sex. Again and again.
Why were we still doing this?
I numbly stared over her nakedness in silent shock and horror. The last night I spent there, we had sex for the last time. I remember, deadened, in a single, intimate moment, bringing her to climax and watching her body quake with ecstasy. I remember her laying back, and giving a small, private smile.
“You always did know how to touch me,” she cooed softly.
My mind swam with images and memories and experiences we’d shared. And the exhale of a moment, there and then, with us together, her words echoing like thunder. She’d always had a huge problem with her memory, a combination of her illness and drugs. Details, conversations, anything, everything. All I could think at that very moment was that she would never remember this. And that it would haunt me forever.
I always said that she would just forget me completely one day.
She hated it when I said it.
The next day, I left. I changed my ticket to the first plane out and took it. As she drove me to the airport in utter silence, the numbness was gone, replaced with bubbling rage. My mind raced with all the things I wanted to scream until the car shook. But I didn’t. And in fact, I began to think about what I wanted my last thing ever to be to her. Cutting anger didn’t seem to do it. No. Honesty. Love. That was what I wanted for my legacy.
I got out of the car with my bag over my shoulder. I bent down into the cabin.
“I hope you find what you need to be happy,” I said, and meant it.
She averted her eyes, and mumbled something awkwardly that I couldn’t hear. I don’t know what it was.
I still don’t know.