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Haunted By Katrina
My mind was a blur as my car careened around the corner; a rush of thoughts like the bitter February night air. Images and thoughts slipped through my grasp like the rubber on the glassy pavement. I didn’t know what was next, but I knew what was coming. I didn’t stop myself. The rush of thoughts didn’t cease, not even when the car collided into the snow bank, jerking us up and over, back tires spinning in the air.
I didn’t think. I don’t even think I breathed. I was a silent motion picture, going through the motions. Were they even the right motions?
I was pinned on the left side, the right my only way out. I found myself hobbling over, shoving open the passenger side door, landing in cold, swampy water, soaking my feet to the bone. I climbed over the banking, trembling – from cold? – and inspected the car from the road. An old, weathered cross was stuck to the tree in front of the car. I imagined some young driver careening around that corner, too fast for the iced road, much like me. I pictured the car slipping, skidding, rolling over and over into the swamp.
He was at my side, pulling me to his chest, whispering my name over and over. He pushed away, inspected me. “Are you okay?” I just noticed his car, just a few yards behind mine. I had forgotten he was behind me, driving home.
I pulled away. I was nauseous. How did this happen? I pulled the zipper to my coat tight to my chin, refusing to look at him. He pulled me to him again, putting his hat on my head. “Wear it, you’re cold.”
We seemed frozen in time, him and I, together, staring at the car in the swamp. My mind still rushing from the moment we left the barn. I replayed the moment over and over, trying to make sense of it.
I remembered his lips pressing against mine, the sweet smell of alcohol caressing my face. His hands were warm against my cheeks. His moustache scratched my upper lip – I had never been kissed by someone with facial hair before. He smelled wonderful. His cologne was comforting, and for a moment, I forgot that our lips were still pressing tighter together. I pulled away, but I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t feel at all, except for a turning in my stomach, a nervous fluttering in my chest. I didn’t know how to feel. Hurt? Upset? Angry? That’s what I should have felt, but I didn’t. I tried to. I tried to run away. I tried to pretend it didn’t happen, but it chased me along those dark, February roads, twisting and turning through farmland and trees. It continued to chase me to the swamp, to the road when I climbed out, and even to today; a constant shadow lurking behind me, haunting me.
We were supposed to be friends. Not once had I imagined anything more. He was the big brother I never had. He was family. Friends with my parents despite the fact that they could be his parents. Friends with my brother and I – the role model we looked up to when we were kids.
And suddenly, we were more than that. No longer friends. We crossed the line into an unknown world, and there was no turning back.
But that night, I couldn’t ignore the haunting presence of – happiness? No, it couldn’t be happiness. But it wasn’t anger. It wasn’t sadness, it wasn’t rage. It wasn’t what I was supposed to feel, and it scared me. What was going to happen next? What did this mean? Could I trust him? I wanted to. But I was afraid to. Yet, I couldn’t fight the sudden urge to kiss him again. It was wrong. It made me sick. I felt dirty, used – a cheap whore. How could I let those thoughts in? I felt disgusting. I wanted to puke. I wanted to fall to the ground, my legs suddenly feeling so weak. I wanted to sleep with my face against the ice. I wanted to stay there until it all went away. I wanted to wake up like it never happened.
But it did. There was no turning back now. I was left facing a dark, icy road, stretching on and on, but too dark to see where it led. I was uncertain of what this meant. What would be next. How long it would last. My mind raced through all the possibilities. And then, suddenly, do I tell anyone?
No. Of course not. I couldn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to deal with the stress, the drama, the hurt and anger. I was left to deal with this myself, alone. Maybe nothing more would happen. Maybe we could ignore it and move on with our lives.
Of course we couldn’t. We wouldn’t. This would forever haunt us. A hug would no longer be must a hug. A caring kiss on the forehead would no longer be just a brotherly type of a kiss. Forever, I would always question what his actions meant. What was he thinking? Did he want more? Was he afraid, too?
We stood side by side, neither daring to move. The night swallowed us whole, suffocating us in its claustrophobic grasp. The trees stretched their bare arms toward the star studded sky, begging for life to return to them. Why? They whispered in the wind. Why? Why? Why?
Did he love me? More than a friend or sister? Is that why he did it?
The wind stretched a cold arm to me, pulling me from the night’s cold grasp, back into reality.
He was just drunk. He had a few. No big deal.
My hand reached into my pocket, pulled out my cell. My stiff fingers pressed the seven numbers they knew so well.
Of course it was a big deal.
“Dad? Dad, I’m stuck in a swamp.”
He wasn’t that drunk. He knew what he was doing.
“I everything okay over here? I have a rope in the back, let me try to help you folks.”
Why did he do it? What was he thinking? How does he feel?
“Dad’s on his way, too.”
Does he love me?
The tires kicked up mud as the big red pickup huffed and puffed with all its might, the man with the rope behind the wheel.
Do I love him?
The car rocked back and forth on the banking for a moment, back and forth, indecisive, until the back tires touched pavement.
Of course not. We’re just friends. It was a mistake.
The two men shook hands. I saw him pass the man a twenty dollar bill. The man refused, but he shoved it further until he accepted.
It was wonderful.
Dad’s SUV appeared around the corner.
Disgusting. Slut. Whore. Dirty piece of shit. How dare you think these things.
Everything was fine. No damage done. But no one noticed me.
I can’t help it.
I love him.
I felt confident with him. Safe. Special. We’d drive around together, stop at a convenient store – he always bought me a Hershey Bar along with his pack of Marlboros. Hershey. I told him everything – about boyfriends, ex boyfriends, best friends, high school – he always listened.
I’d stand with him outside in the dead of winter as he smoked a cig. He’d keep me company while I tacked Karin, leaning on her strong back, despite her disapproving snorts. He even watched me ride, leaning coolly against the rotted barn frame. No one ever watched me ride, besides Mom. I could feel his eyes on me as I cantered around the ring. Half seat. Stick that ass out, my instructor would remind me. I suddenly felt aware of his presence and aware of my jeans, just a size too tight, digging into my stomach. I knew the only reason I wore them was because they showed off my ass. And I knew he would be there. Over the jump. I shouldn’t have worn a thong.
I loved his boots best. His old, dirty, scuffed up, torn up boots. He almost always wore a plaid shirt, or some t-shirt with writing on the chest. He had a rip in his jeans, at the knee. A personal rip that held a memory. I wondered about those memories. I barely knew of his past, except for his illegitimate daughter. He was kicked out of college, only eighteen years old.
I couldn’t picture him at eighteen. I couldn’t picture me at eighteen, despite the fact that it was only a year away. And yet, he never treated me like a child. Maybe twelve years ago, he felt the same way. Lost, confused, insignificant.
I never met his daughter. I always hoped I would. I imagined I should feel very important if he introduced us. I imagined us becoming close. I’d bring her shopping; we’d go to the movies. Did ten year olds enjoy those things? Did she?
We used to text until twelve, one, sometimes two o’clock in the morning. “goodnight sweetheart,” he’d text. I felt special. Important. Happy.
Months had passed since that February night. Winter melted into spring, spring boiled into summer, and summer was slowly fading into fall. The nights were still warm, but high schoolers hung on desperately to the last two weeks of summer vacation.
I didn’t feel like being home. I had texted a few friends in search of someone to hang out with. Chris was that someone. “I’ll come get you,” he texted back. As I waited, he texted. We had slowly begun to talk again, putting that February night behind us. “Wanna go for a drive?”
“Meet me at dunks,” I replied. Chris’s car came around the corner.
“Can you drop me off at Dunks, actually?” I asked. He raised an eyebrow at me. “Sorry.”
“Sure,” he shrugged. “We’re not hanging out?”
“No, I’m meeting a friend.”
Well I’m a dick, I thought. He drove all the way over and now we’re not hanging out.
I didn’t feel guilty for long. At Dunks, we leaned against the BMW until I saw his familiar car pull into the parking lot. I introduced him to Chris, then got into his car and we drove off.
We spent the majority of the night driving aimlessly, listening to music and discussing whatever random thought popped into our heads.
“Did you know it’s illegal for us to drive into another state together?” he said.
“How is that illegal?”
“You’re a minor, and I’m not. I’m technically not supposed to drive into Mass with you in the car with me.”
“Uh, are you on crack? My parents do all the time.”
“They’re your parents. Duh.”
I rolled my eyes and leaned against the seat. Def Leappard played on the radio, and I bobbed my head slightly to the beat. I began to whisper the lyrics under my breath, only to sing louder when he joined in, until we were both air drumming and air guitaring at a stop light.
“I just realized what they mean by ‘You’ve got the peaches, I’ve got the cream.’”
“Seriously?” How could he just realize that?
“You’re dumb.” I laughed.
“You’re dumb!” he shot back.
“You are so mature.”
“I know.” He gave me a wink. The light turned green and we continued onward to no where in particular.
The time on the dashboard read eleven thirty.
“I gotta work in the morning,” he said.
“Getting rid of me already?”
“My parents think I’m sleeping over a friend’s house.” I pulled out my phone and scrolled through its contacts. Where could I crash tonight?
After sending a few texts and receiving no responses, I decided it might just be best to go home. I’d say I felt sick or something.
“Well, my exit is right here, you can just crash at my place for the night.”
His place? “Okay.” The words seemed to tumble out of my mouth without second thought. His place? In the deepest and darkest depths of my mind, a tiny red flag sprang up, only to be quickly trampled down at the thought of seeing his house. The only thing I ever got to see of his life outside of us was his car and the random items that rolled around in the backseat or stayed for months in his trunk. The only thing I knew about his house was that he lived with his mother, and there was a room for his daughter, who visited on weekends.
I felt a rush as we took the exit that lead to his house. His personal life seemed such a mystery to me, as if he kept it that way, and now, he was allowing me in. I couldn’t count all the times he had been to my house, of course, never in the middle of the night, and always to share a beer with my dad.
Dad would always sit in the corner of the couch, his long legs stretched out under the coffee table. Even though there were two couches and a chair in the living room, he would sit on the floor, leaning his back against the chair, beer between his legs. They would discuss and chat and laugh, taking swigs of beer in between conversations, content on whatever was on tv. Some sit com. I, too, sat on the floor, leaning against the couch and listening to them converse. I loved the way he laughed. Mom and I always teased him about it. Everyone did. It would start as a short chuckle, but if something was really funny, it would escalate into a hehe. The more he laughed his high pitched hehehe laugh, the more we would laugh, until our faces were red and we were out of breath.
Suddenly, I felt us moving backwards, jerking me out of my thoughts. I looked out the window to see us backing into a driveway. The lights of the busy street and neighboring stores were enough for me to make out where we were. It was a small house; a ranch, like mine, though probably smaller.
We got out of the car and I followed him to the door. His hand found mine and he lead me through the house, not daring to turn a light on. I could see just enough, though. We were in the kitchen. It was small. There was a table in the middle. Was that a computer against the back wall? And the living room was to the left. We walked between the couch and the table, just shadows in the already dark house.
Down the hall way. It was short – not more than ten or twenty feet. There was a room on the left, which I assumed to be his daughter’s. Another room, the door closed, further down and on the right – his mother’s? – and across from that, the bathroom. At the end, he opened the door. His room.
It was so unlike anything I had imagined, but, I didn’t even know how to imagine his room. After flicking on a light, I saw that the walls were a dark blue. An Irish flag hung on the wall across from his bed, to the right of the door, and below that, a small tv atop a stand. His bed was across from that, against the back corner. A professional picture of him and his daughter hung to the left of the door. He wore a blue button down shirt with a tie. I had never seen him wear anything like that, and it felt odd to see him like that in the picture.
He fumbled with the drawers of his dresser, next to his bed, where I decided to sit.
“Make yourself comfy,” he said. “I’m just gonna change.”
I felt strange – certainly not like making myself comfortable. I kicked off my flip flops, threw my hair in a pony tail with the hair tie that was around my wrist, and sat cross-legged on the bed, taking in my surroundings, until he came back.
There was a door which I assumed lead to a closet next to the picture. Under the tv was a shelf with a collection of DVDs. A window behind his dresser faced the street. Headlights from the passing by cars moved across the walls. Another window, at the foot of the bed, looked out towards his neighbor’s house.
“Do you want to put something more comfortable on?” he asked me when he returned, pointing at my jeans.
“I don’t have anything else.”
“You can wear something of mine if you want.” He threw a pair of boxers at me. I held them between finger and thumb, arm stretched out in front of me, inspecting them, before directing my gaze back at him.
“Oh, come on, they’re clean!”
I shrugged. No use spending all night in my jeans. I took off my belt, narrowing my eyes at him. He smiled and turned around. I quickly took off the jeans and put on his boxers. “K.”
“I want the outside, push over.”
“Oh, you want the outside, huh?” I tried to make it sound like a joke.
“Would you be more comfortable if I slept on the floor?”
“No, this is your bed, I don’t care.” I scooted over, trying to play it cool.
“Wanna watch a movie?”
“Sure, whatta ya got?”
“Um,” he sorted through some DVDs. “Napoleon Dynamite.” Eh. “Dodge ball.” I saw that once. Wasn’t it funny?
He put the DVD in, turned off the light, set his alarm, and joined me on the bed. I leaned against the pillow as the screen flickered in front of us. We laughed at the appropriate scenes and shared thoughts until I felt my eyes start to get heavy. I slowly curled into a ball, getting comfortable on the bed. Sleep hovered just out of reach, not allowing me to grasp it just yet. I heard the tv shut off and felt my glasses being lifted off my face. I had no idea what time it was or how much time had passed. I tried not to move – tried to pretend to be asleep. Did he buy it?
I felt his fingers in my hair. They fumbled with the pony tail holder until it came loose. I kept my eyes closed. His fingers returned, intertwining within my hair. I could feel his gaze on me. I felt a familiar fluttering in my chest, a churning in my stomach. I remembered his lips pressing against mine. I dared to open an eye, then the other.
“What are you doing?” I whispered. I was afraid to look at him, but I couldn’t look away. He said nothing. I suddenly realized how close his face was to mine. I could feel his warm breath gently caress my cheeks. Before I had time to think, his lips were against mine, and this time, I pressed back.
We felt stiff at first. I pulled back for a moment and went in again, planting another kiss on hips lips. We went back and forth like this for a while, testing the waters. His hands moved along my body, from my hair to my face, sliding along my neck, down my arms, tracing the curve of my hips, and back up to my hair again, where his fingers stayed to dance in my locks.
Our mouths parted and our tongues finally met. A fire was ignited inside of us, and our innocent kisses turned into a passionate dance. I let my hands caress his body and pull at his hair. I slid my hands under his shirt, and before I knew it, his shirt was on the floor across the room. My hands played along his warm chest. He turned onto his back and I leaned on top, pressing closer to him. His arms wrapped around me and he kissed harder. We rolled back onto our sides, intertwining our legs. But something felt different.
Quickly, I realized what had happened; a natural occurrence to any man who was turned on. He was hard. I suddenly felt very aware at what was happening. The twisting returned to my stomach, the fluttering back to my chest. I felt him move closer to me, thrusting slightly. I pulled away.
“I can’t.” My eyes met his.
“No, no. Don’t be. No. I’m sorry.”
He laughed. “You have nothing to be sorry about.”
“It – This is just getting kind of intense.”
“I know. I’ll stop. I’m sorry.”
But I didn’t want to stop. Not the kissing, at least. I leaned towards him and our lips connected once more. His hands played in my hair again and I kept mine on his chest, sliding them to his head and back again.
I don’t remember how long we stayed like that, intertwined in each other’s arms. We didn’t keep track of time. We didn’t pull away – we got closer with each kiss. Our hands played the curves of our bodies, tracing the shapes gently. Our lips never strayed from our lips, our hands never found sacred territory. We just were, together, and I didn’t think about anything else. The room around us seemed nonexistent. Nothing existed. There was nothing but us.
It wasn’t long before the sunrise peaked through the blinds. At some point during the night, our lips finally detached. My head lay comfortably on his chest. I couldn’t remember how we got to this point; when exactly did we stop? Did we fall asleep? I rolled over onto my side, squinting at the red LED lights across the room. Five? Six something? I couldn’t tell.
I felt the bed shift. I rolled back around and saw him stretch, getting out of the bed.
“Did you get any sleep?” he asked.
“I don’t think so.” I forced a half laugh out. “Heh.” He gave me one of his crooked smiles.
“Me neither. I gotta get ready for work. I’m already running late.” He disappeared into the hall way. I quickly took off the boxers and threw on my jeans. I found my glasses on the dresser and shoved them on my face. I examined the room around me; how different things looked in the daylight. I curled up in the bed, exhausted. I struggled to keep my eyes open, expecting the room, now in day light.
I began to notice things I didn’t notice before. Little knick knacks on his dresser, smaller picture frames on a shelf. The shirt he took off last night still lay on the floor. Stripes of sunlight and shadow decorated the floor from the window by the bed.
“Don’t fall asleep on me.” He was back in the bedroom. He leaned over the bed and kissed me.
“I’m not,” I said, mid yawn. I followed him out of the house and back into his car. The ride home was quiet; awkward. I replayed the night in my head, watching the trees on the side of the high way pass in a green blur. Was he thinking about last night, too?
Before I knew it, we had pulled up in front of my house. Do I kiss him goodbye?
“Thanks for letting me crash at your place.”
I pulled the door handle towards me and pushed it open. “Have fun at work,” I joked. “Don’t fall asleep.” He groaned. I got out, closing the door behind me, and hurried into the house.
While my classmates spent their last two weeks of summer in a desperate attempt to reclaim what had been lost, I was lost in my own world. We spent almost every night together, driving around the sleeping city, singing and laughing and kissing. Everything felt right. I felt happy. It was perfect. Nothing could go wrong.
But isn’t that how it always is? In stories, in movies. Life is good. Everything’s going swell. And just like the movies, we hit a bump in the road. After climbing higher and higher, our lives climaxing together, we suddenly dropped, a ninety degree drop into an unknown abyss. Once again, the darkness swallowed me whole, like on that fateful February night, except this time, there was no one there to pull me out. I was alone, lost in my own world, left to suffer with only my thoughts to comfort me.
I didn’t think it would end up so badly. In fact, I didn’t think it could get any better. But after a cool September night, it all changed.
We sat side by side, just yards away from our friends and family. Their shadows from the flickering campfire melted into the dark of night.
“I hate being eighteen,” I said.
“Eighteen, nineteen – they just seem like awkward ages. By law, I’m an adult, but no one seems to care. No one regards me as an adult. No one takes me seriously. I feel like I’m still a ‘teen’, you know?” He shrugged.
“Maybe when I get out of the ‘teen’ numbers, it’ll be different. I can’t wait until I’m twenty.”
“Why? I don’t care about drinking. Legally, at least.”
“No, not just drinking. I think twenty-one is a better age. I think at that point, people will look at you more as an adult. Then you can do more, and it won’t be a big deal.”
“You think so?” I can do more. I can be with him. We won’t have to hide anymore.
“Yeah. Wait ‘til you’re twenty-one.”
He’ll wait for me, too. Twenty-one. Just three more years.
He didn’t speak to me for over a year after that. I desperately clung to what he said, reading between the lines, hoping I wasn’t making up what he implied in our talk. Every time we saw each other, he avoided me. Our texting ceased. He didn’t lean casually against the barn door, watching me ride. He didn’t keep me company when I tacked Karin. It was as if I no longer existed in his life. He looked right through me, a ghost haunting a world where I once belonged. I was stuck to watch life go on without me. People passed and melted together in hurried blurs, voices echoing of things unsaid.
I love you.
He would wait for me. And then, on my twenty-first birthday, he’d reappear into my life. It would be dramatic. It would be passionate. It would be for the whole world to see. We were in love. He would wait.
Idiot. Dumb fucking idiot. He’s not going to wait. He’s not going to fuck up his whole life for you.
But what about my life? He’s not the only one –
Grow the fuck up. He used you. You’re a dumb dirty cunt. You’re worthless.
He didn’t use me.
Used you like a whore.
How could I let this happen?
You’re just like all the other attention seeking dumb sluts.
I’m a slut.
Even they wouldn’t go as low as you did.
What did I do? How did this happen? Why?
I was alone, lost in my own world, left to suffer with my thoughts to destroy me.
In the familiar glow of the fire, we sat side by side, watching the drinking and laughing around us. Bottles were passed around the circle like cheap whores, like me. Just being passed along. A one night stand. Then stood up, tossed aside, forgotten. Used. Dirty. Unwanted. Stories were exchanged of some crazy night long ago. It was a moment I was used to and once enjoyed, but it had been over a year since we last spoke. I felt strange sitting next to him. We were quiet. Thoughts sped through my mind, weaving in and out between each other, causing a sour mixture of emotions to settle in my stomach.
I watched from the corner of my eye as he peeled a banana, broke of a piece, and popped it in his mouth. He broke off another and offered it to me. My eyes met his for a brief moment. Shrugging, I took the piece. “Thanks.”
“How’s life?” he asked. How’s life? How’s life?!
“Fine,” I mumbled.
After over a year of ignoring me, does he really think it’s okay to just talk to me again?
“…but I don’t think he…”
Maybe he’s just trying to make things better.
“…I told her, but she…”
Why can’t he just apologize? Why did he have to avoid me? How can he think I’m okay with that?
“…and they said that…”
He can’t just pretend this didn’t happen. He can’t expect me to just move on from this. He fucked me up. How does he not realize that?
“You look tired.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, I think I’ll head to bed.”
After spending the next week going back and forth between my thoughts, I decided I needed to step up for myself. I found his Facebook page and began to compose a message.
I’m not a drama queen, and I know you’ll think I am after reading this, but it’s time I stand up for myself. I can’t deal with this anymore. You can’t avoid me for over a year and then think it’s okay to just talk to me again…
My mouse hovered over the send button. My heart raced in my chest. How would he respond to this? Should I even send it? Maybe I should try to make things better. No, I can’t let this fuck me up even more. I have to stand up for myself. He can’t use me like this.
“Your message has been sent.”
It was over a month before he replied.
“…I know that you asked me not to contact you again, but I need to tell you this. I am very sorry for what happened two years ago. I am very sorry for hurting you. I am sorry that I did not pull you aside afterwards and apologize... I owed you that. I do not expect you to write back and tell me that it’s ok. It is not ok. I really wish that I did not hurt you and I wish that I could have been more mature about the situation. I will not bother you again.”
I never replied. I wanted to. The message haunted me for two years. I saw it every day, reread it over and over. I composed replies, deleted, and ignored, but still that message sat, torturing me.
When we saw each other, he looked right past me. He spoke to my parents, he chatted with my brother, but I was the Ghost of Mistakes Passed and he shoved me aside without a second thought.
Maybe he was just respecting my wishes, but I expected he would at least acknowledge me, or apologize. Something. Anything.
I hated him so much. I was so angry at what he had done to me. I wanted nothing to do with him, ever again. But I couldn’t get him off my mind. Every night before I fell asleep, he was my last thought. And every morning, I awoke with his name on my lips. My mother had to wake me up in the middle of the night because I was crying “I love you” in my sleep, but she had no idea why, or what it meant.
I was disgusted with myself. Whenever he crossed my mind, I found myself rushing to the bathroom, vomiting out the morning’s breakfast, crying pathetically into the toilet bowl. I would scream at the dirtied toilet bowl, shouting vulgarities at it, demanding it go away.
But the toilet bowl waited for me, every day, awaiting my puked up gifts.
For four years, I traveled down a dark, icy road, with no idea of where I was going, or what lay ahead. The uncertainty stretched on and on, and I was left to face it alone, with only my thoughts to accompany me, a constant reminder of what a fuck up I am – for letting this happen, for letting him get the best of me, for letting it destroy me. For letting it hold me back. For letting this keep me from moving on.
Maybe being strong isn’t moving on, but moving forward.
Even if it means waking in the middle of the night to the sound of my voice, whispering those words I never got to say.