by: Addison Bell
I said things like “I’m going to open up a lemonade stand,” and “Hideaway in Disneyworld and dress in rags and pretend to be a peasant from The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and “Write stories.” Everyone laughed and I laughed; we were laughing together, but I was only laughing to keep from crying.
I walked across the stage to get my diploma. There was a brief moment when I made eye contact with the important man who delivered it into my hands. My look said, “What does this mean? What do I now?” And we smiled and someone took our picture, and I walked away, but I wanted to turn around and give him the diploma back and say, “Actually, I don’t want this. I want to stay. Please let me stay.” My parents and my family and my friends were watching. I wonder what they would have done if I denied graduation, and I wonder if they noticed that my face was getting wet as I was walking back to seat.
The day after—the day I left the city—I drove to the campus, because I wanted to say goodbye. No, I didn’t want to but I knew I had to. Over there, where the curb meets the street, is where I tripped as I was carrying bowls of food for an event. Right in front of it on the sidewalk was where I landed and hummus splattered all over my face. And here, right here on my overturned wrists, are the scars from where the concrete peeled off my skin. Over there in that building, in that classroom that you can see through the window, is where I broke down and cried because I couldn’t handle my chemistry and biology classes. Right behind the door is where I decided to not be perfect and study English. In that dorm, the one on the quad, are the three rooms that used to be mine. I won’t tell you what happened in them, but I will tell you that those rooms made me. In the alley behind that parking garage, in front of the dead-green electric box is where my first and I would go after fooling around and sit and smoke and enjoy the comfortable silences and read each other’s minds with our lips. If I try hard enough—and I do every time—I can still pick up his phantom scent. It smells like chamomile and the world on fire. And even though that I played back all of those memories in my head, each painfully sweet memory, I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye. But you don’t have to say it to know that it’s gone.
I never unpacked. Everything stayed in their boxes and crates and reusable bags. I stayed up until four in the morning every night reading; I woke up at four in the afternoon when my eyes stopped burning. Some nights, I would lie on my back and stare at an ocean of stars. I counted them all, but it was a number too big for me to remember, but it was smaller than all of the thoughts in my head. One night I fell asleep in a field and woke up when the sun was rising. I watched the blazing pink come over the horizon filled with trees, and all of the leaves flamed, and the orange engulfed the blue, and the colors kept me alive. I sat up and I saw a handful of deer yards away. The sun bloomed and seared and screamed. I said to the deer, “Tell me, how can something so beautiful be so sad?” The deer said, “You don’t belong here.” And the sun smoldered and the light died.
The artery connecting two boys was severed. As I was bleeding out, I said, “I don’t love you. I’m sorry.” But the boy’s capillaries had already been tangling in the bodies of others, so it didn’t matter anyway. It didn’t matter because my heart was mine and was never his, and there was—is—nothing to be broken. And yet, it was like when you step outside and forget that it’s so, so, so cold and the air makes you become painfully aware that you have a body; or that one time when I was a kid and my brother threw a snowball in my face and time stopped; or when I was skating and fell through the ice and my legs and arms grew numb, and the numbness spread everywhere like a cancer and hasn’t left since; or when I had the accident and my mom rushed me to the hospital and I woke up unable to remember what happened, just my mom telling my brother, “Don’t let him fall asleep, don’t let him fall asleep.” That’s what it felt like when he tried to saw through my ribs and carve out the organ that they protect. And had he reached it, I would have looked up at him and, smiling, said, “It’s made out of metal. There’s nothing to take.” And years later, men would undress me and see a scar and they would stroke it with their fingers and their lips and their tongues. They would ask, “What’s this?” And I would say, “It’s everything that I don’t want in a person.”
I went back to the buildings, the concrete, the electric box; the city of unhinged rails, forgotten dreams, glass shards of the past. People asked me about the future. I said, “I’m not a seer. But I’ll hold your palm just for the comfort.” I walked everywhere because I didn’t know where I wanted to be. Sometimes I would ride the train for hours reading a book and reading people. A man boarded the train and said, “Please. Everybody please. Help me. I’m going crazy. My father gets mean when he drinks and he drinks a lot and his drinking is just a constant reminder of the piece of shit that I am. I don’t have a home. I’ve been sleeping on the Blue Line with the other pieces of shit. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t live this life anymore. I can’t live inside of this head. Please. Please help me.” And I wanted to stand up and say, “Marry me. We’ll runaway to Disneyworld. You’ll be the Fox and I’ll be the Hound. We’ll ruin each other’s lives.” But a man gave him a box of leftovers and I hated him because he had something to give and all I had were words.
I visited home. My mom was driving me back to train station. The moon was hiding behind the trees, and I thought it was amazing how easily trees let go of things. And then I realized that my life is a book of pressed leaves. My mom said, “You’re going to find love. I know it. Just be yourself. Be confident. Don’t take just anyone. And stop being sad.” I turned my head to the window so she wouldn’t see the moonlight striking the pools on my face. I said, “No one wants a sad person. How do you be the opposite of sad?” And I could see her thinking about it. Then she said, “You’re not a sad person. You are you. And somebody is going to love everything that makes you who you are.”
I can see it. I’ll be riding the El and we’ll be reading the same book; or I’ll be wearing my orange sweater and watching the lake turn to ice, and the air will hurt but I’ll feel warm because he’ll be sitting on the bench next to mine, and we’ll smile to each other and he’ll start singing Ruby lips above the water, Blowing bubbles, soft and fine, But, alas, I was no swimmer, So I lost my Clementine; or I’ll be at a party and I’ll look up and see him walking towards me from across the room and I’ll know that everything will be okay. Hands will be held. We will read books in bed and fill our heads with beautiful, sad things. I’ll wake up in the mornings to his grinning eyes. Records will be played, wine will be consumed, we will laugh and laugh and laugh. Dancing slowly, dancing madly, collapsing on the floor, soft kisses turning into aggressive kisses. Taking baths and sculpting shapes out of bubbles and him washing all of the numbness away. We will talk about the lives we have lived and the lives that never even had a chance to be lived, about all of the possibility of the future, about the possibility of us. People will come and go but we will stay. Things will die but we will survive. Our bodies will be on fire but we won’t get burned. We will take off our clothes and he’ll see all of my scars, even the invisible ones, and kiss every single one. We will weep. He’ll place his hand on my naked chest and the electricity will shoot through his fingers; there will be silence, and then the sound of a faint, strong beating human heart.
And the sun will burst alive.
Addison Bell is a recent graduate of DePaul University. He lives in Chicago where he spends most of his time trying to figure out life.