You Have to Cross the City Limits Before You’re Free, Darling
I woke up that Saturday to rain steadily pouring itself all over the November shaded leaves on the ground. My Austin city apartment smelled faintly of my 3 AM coffee cloaked in cloves and mortar-ground nutmeg. The robin’s egg blue mug sat on the wooden coffee table by my feet. I was sprawled across the floor on the gray plush rug I had bought from IKEA the month before. Sitting up and stretching I hear my bones creak and pop and crack like the thunder outside my apartment. I could feel the creases in my fleshy cheeks and the cracking of my moisture lusting lips. I ran my tongue over them, giving them a brief sort of relief before even worse dryness took hold. I lean back onto the floor and let my body stretch one last time before pulling myself to my sock-clad feet.
A wave of dizziness took over my body. I closed my eyes and swayed, waiting for the moment to pass. And it did a few moments later. It had always made fear crackle through my body like electricity when the blackness took over my eyes and blinded me, even if it was only for a minuet or two.
Today was the day.
Today was the day where I was going to be spontaneous. I would take life by the reins and I would just go. The though made me feel a bit more awake, even if the rain made me want to just stumble into my bedroom and curl up under the comforter and burrow into my kingdom of overstuffed pillows.
God, that sounds like heaven.
I could hear the steady hum of cars over the rain. As I pull off my shorts and search for clean smelling jeans I wander over to the window in the living and dining and whatever else it can be room of the apartment. The windows foggy, the result of an equation where I added and cool outside to a warm inside.
I needed to remember to turn down the thermostat before I left today. I wouldn’t be home for a while.
After finally finding the clean clothes from places that weren’t backpacks I go back to the kitchen. I brew a cup of coffee and put two slices of bread in the toaster. The last two perishable items in the apartment. Bread. I grab the last of the nutmeg I ground up from last night-this morning- and add it to the coffee. The bread is golden brown when it pops up from the toaster. I fumble with snapping the lid to the mug on, shoving the toast into my mouth, and stumbling to the front door. My clumsy hands search for the backpack. All that I would bring on my trip.
And then I was gone. Locking the door, I fled down the steps. I could feel excitement blooming in my stomach.
It was finally happening. I was here.
My all too eager fingers drummed on the steering wheels while I hummed along to All Those Pretty Lights. I was on a long stretch of straight road in the middle of no where. But I was on the way to somewhere. And in that somewhere I would find something. I wasn’t sure what then. Not then. I just knew that if this long stretch of nothing was as long as Google maps said it was then I was going to have to pull over to pee on the side of the road pretty soon.
I groaned and drummed on the steering wheel a little while longer before making my first monumental decision on this trip. One can’t live the last few months of their lives with a bladder infection. Or at least that’s what I decided. And with that decision all locked away I pulled over to the side of the barren road. There hadn’t been another car for the last two hours, and I doubted there would be one anytime soon, but just to be sure I waited a little while before getting down to business.
All I could think about was how vulnerable and how murder-able I was in that moment. Five minuets later I was back on the road; the bladder infection had been successfully avoided.
I arrived in Lubbock after another hour and a half of driving. In my wallet was everything I ever earned in my twenty-four years of life and I was going to spend four crinkled dollars of it on coffee and it was going to be a fantastic coffee.
When I was seventeen I was at a nice restaurant with my parents. The waiter was handsy in kind of way that made me want to burrow into myself, make myself a shield out of the table-ware. I was wearing a thick cotton sweater but I swear I could feel his handprint on my shoulder. On my upper arm. I could feel the outline of his fingers. I could feel the pulse from his heartbeat pumping blood through his veins in his wrist.
On my lower back.
I smiled because that’s what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t supposed to make a scene, even if he was significantly shorter than me and there was a pretty good possibility that I could snap him like a toothpick. I smiled and tried to make it harder for him to touch me the entire dinner. I felt relief when he was between my mother and my younger sister rather than behind me, with his hands on my back. The sweater had never felt so suffocating. It choked my cries that would have sounded a lot like this is my body, not yours. Or maybe it would have been more like what in the world do you think you’re doing.
I didn’t say anything. I felt violated, but I felt also like it was nothing. It was just his fingers. On my back. My back covered in a fat, fluffy, cozy sweater that I wore less after that. To a place I don’t go anymore.
He probably didn’t mean it. To make me feel like a stranger in my own skin. Like this body was something to be owned, by someone other than the person who feeds it, nourishes it, keeps it soft with sharp edges.
You should have said something, Erin, if you wanted him to back the heck off.
But I didn’t say anything, so I shouldn’t worry about it.
One friend said to email the manager asking for the staff to be brief on sexual misconduct. Another said that all men are pig- that boys will be boys.
Three years later I was diagnosed terminal. I didn’t say anything to the staff, and I had already lost a piece of myself that I didn’t know I had. It was the part of me that told people who was going to touch me when, and where.
I walked out of the coffee show with coffee soaked mocha and milk and by all that is holy is was the best drink I had ever poured down my throat. The rain had followed me from home to here. I guess there are something I just can’t leave behind no matter how much I desperately wanted to.
That makes me think about the succulents lining the walls of my apartment I forgot to ask anyone to water. I hope they will be buried with me, in my casket shrouded with sunflowers and uncut pearls.
The gentle rain was hurriedly becoming faster and harder. It ran down my face, and instead of running away from it, I turned my face to the sky and opened my mouth. I let the water run through me. I felt it running down my throat and blessing my internal organs.
I halfway hoped that it was find its way to my heart and fix me. But then I remembered that twelve days ago I accepted that I was going to die. So then I wished for it to taste better than the coffee and mocha and milk.
A man walked up beside me and offered me his umbrella. It was bright green. He had shaggy brown hair and soft grey eyes. He was wearing a band t-shirt. I remember smiling at the shirt and him tilting his head. People were never this nice at home. You just walked with your head down on the way to the farmer’s market.
I turned down his umbrella, and I didn’t give him my name when he asked. I said my name was Penelope, and that I was going to be an actress. This was just a stop. I told him I couldn’t resist the rain. I twirled to signify my point. Lightning cracked across the sky and I had a strong urge to kiss him.
So I kissed his light pink, plush lips and he kissed me back. He was expressionless when I pulled away but his eyes were a little darker. The umbrella was still open above his head. I told him I’d see him on the other side.
He didn’t need to know that none of that was true, or that he tasted like peppermints and lattes. He didn’t need to know that the other side wouldn’t turn me away when I was called back.
My ballet flats got soaked when I walked back to my car. I turned around to look at him again, to give him a Broadway-worthy smile, but he was already gone. Probably inside the coffee shop to take shelter from the downpour.
That was okay. I was on my way too. I just didn’t know where yet.
I stopped at a gas station. The sign read a dollar forty-seven a gallon. My car took seven gallons. I saw the umbrella-boy crossing the street when I pulled out from the gas station. My red flats were soaked with the gasoline I had accidentally stepped in. I shoved my stuff to the left back side of the car and rolled down the right window. The seat got soaked but at least the car didn’t smell quite as ignition worthy.
The rain was still pouring outside. The coffee mocha milk was cold now, and it sat in the cup holder alone. Country songs crooned my thoughts to silence. I listened to the singer’s hum lull and lalala about the way sunshine feels, and moonshine taste, and the loves that they had loved and the loves that they had lost. I hummed along to the ones I knew and I though about the color of the umbrella.
Hum hum huuummm.
When I was eight-teen a boy told me that he was in love with me. The following week he promptly told me that he understands that I don’t want to have sex until I’m married- I though it was strange how he emphasized me and not us- but he would really appreciate a blow job now and then. Or a hand job. He was flexible and amenable. He told me that he loved me and that if I loved him I would help him be happy. I didn’t understand how you could love someone but hold sexual satisfaction over their heads like a noose. I felt the rope tighten until love left bruises on my neck that looked a lot like fingers that were made to play the piano. But he was my executioner and I though I loved him, so I nodded and let him tell me what he wanted, and I gave it to him.
When he moaned a mixture of my names and Catholic prayers, Our Father, I didn’t feel happy. I wondered if this was really love. But he assured me it was, and that he loved me too, and so I believed him.
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death. Amen.
The boy who loved me told me to swallow, even if I had to throw it up after, so I swallowed. I swallowed him like I swallowed his cries of love. I wanted to be wanted more that I could bear on my own. So he shouldered my desire for me and he wrapped his arms around me. He wrapped his body around mine at night and made me coffee with nutmeg in the morning when I couldn’t bear to get out of bed because sickness was sweeping my body. That boy wore me like his own skin. He let me soak the pillows in salt water and held the bucket for me when I threw up.
He took me to see the doctor when my skin began to turn yellow, and my eyes lost their whiteness and their clarity.
When I told him I needed to be alone for a year or two he left me red sneakers on the porch of my apartment steps. They sat thee alone for two days until I had enough emotional strength to get out of my bed and walk to the door. The box smelled like sunshine and sadness. All I could think about was the feel of him in my mouth, and the way his fingers felt in my hair, and the way he said my same when he climaxed.
I think he really did love me.
I miss his muddy eyes and his cries of love. I miss the coffee I didn’t have to make myself. I miss a body being wrapped around mine. I miss him saying that he understood, even though I know he didn’t. Not really. I miss the way he was mine.
The rain has finally stopped and the coffee cup from the bar in the Lubbock is now lying on the floorboard of the passenger side. Where it used to sit now has a granola bar and a couple nickels from the corner market.
I’m drumming my fingers on the wheel again but this time I really can’t seem to stop.
Don’t stop bel-iev-ing.
I can make my life a Journey song.
Midnight train going a-ny-where.
On the sides of the highway are tires that I guess fell off of cars. I never really understood how the car could keep going if it lost something as vital as a tire. Though, I guess I should consider how they would be able to stop when the cars around it are going seventy miles per hour at the slowest.
So maybe it’s a spare.
In the other cup holder my phone lets out a ping. It seems to vibrate through the car. I look down before I dart my eyes back to the road.
I’ll look at it when I stop.
I never understood how someone could slouch when they’re driving. I sit up straight and ridged. I don’t feel prepared unless my muscles ache when the car finally slows to a stop. I think I live my life like this; I live my life like some great tragedy is just around the corner. Maybe, I believed this and acted like it was so much that I made it true.
The text was one sentence from my sister: Where the ever-living hell are you, Erin? We were supposed to have coffee at Bruno’s today. Don’t you dare bail on me.
I don’t respond until I reach the coast of Galveston.
One time, when a hurricane washed through the coast it rose so high and so fast that the fish didn’t know where to go. The got stuck in the chain-linked fences on the townspeople’s properties. Some rotted when the home owners didn’t return. The rest were plucked out as a community service effort.
Not many people own chain link fences anymore down there. And the one’s that do, I swear they do, remember the time when the town was swarmed with dead sea creatures flopping in the salty air like flags in the wind.
My sister asked if mermaids were real on that trip down. She was eleven and I was turning fifteen. I didn’t answer her then either.
I suppose anything is possible. If you really want it to be, I mean. We know more about outer space than we do the ocean, and the ocean is in the backyard way more than the galaxy is. We treat constellations like their worth is greater than something we swim in daily. Their glamour shines like a foreign beacon for all to see.
I parked the car a little while ago and changed out of my jeans and into some blue capris. I still wore my red sneakers and my long-sleeved shirt. My shoes still smelled like gasoline and my hair was beginning to smell like mildew. I was clutching a new cup of coffee in my hands. I stared out into the sea. I wet my chapped lips with a flick of my tongue and wondered what it was like to be healthy. To wake up in the morning and not have to crush white and pink pills into my morning bowl of yogurt. To not fall asleep after swallowing bright blue tablets whole. To not be dragged to sleep by pain etched bone-deep.
I took a sip of coffee and threw my pills away before I got back to the car. I wasn’t going to be needing them soon, anyways.
I could count the hours now, if I wanted too. But I’ll save that for another sunrise.
all my love,