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Leave you First

by

Melissa Kreindel

 

 
     
   

 

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SOMEONE GAVE ME A MOTORCYCLE IN A DREAM LAST WEEK AND I HAVE RIDDEN IT IN EVERY DREAM SINCE. I have ridden it through crowded streets after a parade, slowly, weaving between people holding balloons and ice cream cones. I have ridden it through a zoo at dawn, the sun rising over the giraffes. I have ridden it west, toward California, at night, the cold air stinging my face, keeping me awake in the vast darkness of the plains as I’m leaving this quiet town.

In my future dreams, I wonder if I will always have this motorcycle.

You don’t think it means anything.

“You haven’t been on a motorcycle,” you tell me.

“Then how do I know how to ride?” I ask.

“It’s a dream. I had a dream once where I was flying a kite but I haven’t done that.”

I remember weekends in the summer when my dad took my sister and me to the park to fly his red and blue kite shaped like a bird. Once my dad got it into the air, he would hand us the spool of string and we would run across the brown grass with it, the bird flapping its wings in the wind. If I squinted my eyes slightly, the kite became a real bird.

“You’ve never flown a kite?” I ask.

“You’ve never been on a motorcycle?”

“Motorcycles are dangerous,” I say. “Kites aren’t. Tomorrow we should fly a kite.”

“Tomorrow there won’t be any wind,” you say, although there is always wind here.

“Why are you like this?” I ask.

“Like what?”

“Disheartening,” I say.

That night, while sleeping, I ride my motorcycle through a hurricane along the Gulf Coast of Florida. I ride in a straight line against the cyclone of wind. Kites of all colors lazily sway in the sky. Small birds, possibly hummingbirds, land on each one of my fingers like ornate rings, family heirlooms passed down from my grandmother on my father’s side.

You are not there even though you are next to me in the bed, your body pressed against my back, your breath warm against my neck. In my dreams, I don’t know you.

***

You have never told me that I’m pretty. One time you said I was sexy as I was sliding into my jeans in the morning. You wrapped your arms around me from behind, your chin resting on my left shoulder. You kissed my cheek and I could smell your deodorant, clean and bold, and the mint toothpaste on your breath. I remember that time because it exists, but we hardly knew each other then, that time so close after meeting, so far away from where we are now. Now, if you told me I was sexy, I would believe you. You know me, now.

Everyone thinks I am just settling with you. There is nothing to settle for, though, because you are leaving and we haven’t talked about it. If you were staying, I think I would be settling for something mediocre, for great moments that don’t come often enough. But if you were staying, I wonder if you wouldn’t be mediocre.

You don’t surprise me. I ordered sweet potato donuts all the way from Hell’s Kitchen in New York to give to you on a regular day, not a special day, because you told me about them and how they were dense, just sweet enough, and delicious. I wanted to do it. You were surprised and appreciative and I thought maybe that would have been the moment when you realized you wanted to hold on tighter.

You are leaving, but, really, I should leave you first.

***

If I had known you were going to leave, I would have sprinted from that bar, not stopping to catch my breath or ease up on the cramp that would have formed in my foot. You seemed to zero in on me that night as I was talking with my friends on the patio. When they left to get more beer, you held my hand before even saying hello.

I pulled my hand away. “What are you doing?”

“Your hand looks cold,” you said.

“It’s eighty degrees out,” I said.

“My mistake.” You smiled and reached for my hand again.

We talked the rest of the night. You told me that you loved strawberries. I told you that I liked cover songs, especially Joan Jett’s “Crimson and Clover.” “I don’t hardly know her, but I think I could love her,” you said, speaking the opening lyrics of the song without any hint of a melody. Your voice was slow and confident.  I also told you that I liked rare hamburgers with bacon and board games because I was competitive. You challenged me to a game of Twister. You liked fantasy football, waking up early to watch the sunrise, and spontaneous road trips. I suggested we drive through Texas’s Hill Country to see bluebonnets blooming.

You stuck out your arm. There was a long scar on the inside of your forearm, pale white, parallel with your veins. “Shark bite,” you said, smiling.

You told me to touch it, and I let my fingertips trace its length. I expected you to try to scare me, growl or say, “Boo,” but you kept your arm steady and I kept my hand there.

“How about you?” you asked.

“I fell out of a tree when I was little. I have a scar on my back where my skin scraped the bark,” I said.

“Let me see,” you whispered into my ear, your voice buzzing, your hand on my hip.

“No,” I laughed. “Not yet.”

“But soon,” you said.

You asked if I would go with you to the gas station across the street where you bought a Kit-Kat. On the way back, you stopped on the median and told me I smelled good as cars whooshed by. The air smelled like exhaust, manure, and a hint of rain that wouldn’t fall. I smelled like cheap beer, but, despite your lie, you still leaned down and kissed me. One car honked loudly, making me jump, and our noses hit each other.

“Hurting me already,” you said.

When we crossed the street, you took my hand and led me to your black truck. Your hands were suddenly in my hair. My hands were holding your shoulder blades, and you were kissing me again. You didn’t tell me that from the first moment you saw me across the smoky bar you wanted to kiss me, but leaning against your truck with your bitter mouth and soft lips, you couldn’t have wanted anything else.

***

Months after that night, in the spring, we were sitting in the car driving west. My hair was floating from the slightly cracked windows and your hand was on my leg. You squeezed my knee every time the guitar sound intensified, your fingers tapping to the beat of the drums.

I liked seeing you that way: singing in a high-pitched voice, pausing the song every now and then to repeat lyrics you thought were pretty, touching my leg. We were both exhausted, but you weren’t showing it as much as I was. I could easily have been lulled to sleep from the car vibrations, but I forced myself to stay awake. If I were the one driving, I wouldn’t want my passenger to pass out on me. We were talking about our fear of death. You said you didn’t have one, that when your time comes, you’ll know you had a good life.

“But do you worry about what happens after? Like, the rest of the world goes on and you’re just not there anymore,” I said.

“That’s what life’s all about,” you said.

I told you that sometimes, for no reason, the thought of dying would overwhelm me. When I was younger and I had these thoughts, I cried in the shower so no one would hear me, and my tears could disappear down the drain. I hadn’t told that to anyone before.

“Don’t think about it,” you said. “If you do, you’ll miss the good stuff.”

The good stuff: We saw each other all the time. We snuck beer and turkey sandwiches into the movie theater. I went grocery shopping with you. On the weekends, you’d make coffee in the morning and we’d watch episodes of Texas Country Reporter saying we had to go visit these small towns just to say that we did—stone carving in Florence, repair shop fried chicken in Leakey, Billy the Kid Museum in Hico. When you got sick, I brought you vitamin C and cans of chicken soup and you fell asleep in my lap, holding my hand the whole time as your fever radiated against my skin. That night I watched two movies and all three periods of a hockey game, only moving when I needed to take a deep breath or shake the pins and needles from my arm as it rubbed your back. I had just met your best friends in Dallas and I had almost met your mother, but things didn’t work out and we couldn’t make it to the Mexican restaurant. On the phone, you had called me your lady friend and I didn’t know what that meant, where it fit on the spectrum between girlfriend and friend.

I wanted to ask you then what was going to happen to us when, at the end of the year, you would be moving back to Dallas, your hometown, for a better job, to settle down in a place where grass grew because it wanted to, a place that you liked enough to want to put effort into maintaining a yard. “Things grow in east Texas,” you’d told me. “You forget, being out here, what colors look like.” The ground and the sky seemed to blend into each other in west Texas, a brown fog blanketing the landscape, swirling dust and wind. Everything was dry, especially my skin.

I should have asked you, but I was afraid we’d have the exact same conversation about dying, and I wanted you to keep singing and squeezing my leg with the music as I willed my eyes to stay open, watching the barren plains race by outside the window, so I didn’t say anything.

We had taken our bluebonnet road trip, but we never did get around to Twister.

“I’m in love with this music,” you said, beating the steering wheel drum with one hand and the skin of my thigh with the other.

***

You like chocolate and mint together in all forms: peppermint bark, peppermint mochas, the Starlight mints swirled green and brown. You don’t like straws. You take your coffee with a little bit of Sweet N Low and cream—not too sweet or too light. Your parents divorced when you were young and your dad moved back to Miami and you’d visit him during the summers when the humidity was so thick it felt like you were swimming through the air. One summer he took you and your brother on a trip through New Mexico. On the way back, in Las Cruces, you got in a fight with your stepmom, a woman you never liked, and you started walking east from the Burger King parking lot down the road surrounded by desert. When your father chased after you and bribed you with another Dr. Pepper, you went back to the car and didn’t speak to your stepmom the rest of the trip or really ever again unless it was absolutely necessary, like when she congratulated you at your college graduation, and you simply said, “Thank you.”

Your girlfriend in high school, whom you loved even though you didn’t know you could be in love that young, started using drugs, and when you were broken up, you still tried to help her get her life back together. You wrote her a poem once, the only poem you claim you’ve ever written, and I know you never want to feel like you did during that time, consumed, so involved with someone else that you forget where she ends and you begin.

Your favorite songs are love songs where the male singer, usually with a raspy voice that tells of experience, sings about not wanting to lose his girl. You trust me. You know I wouldn’t lie to you or cheat on you or ever pretend with you because it’s true. You trust me, but you don’t love me. I don’t know if it’s just a matter of time, if, for you, love is like taking a stroll instead of a sprint, or if it’s something else, something that will never exist like el chupacabra or pigs flying.

I also like chocolate and mint. I am indifferent about straws although the ones with loops make me crave soda from a fountain. I like my coffee sweeter and lighter than yours. My parents also divorced when I was young, but my mother moved away and my sister and I used to see her on the weekends until one day she just stopped showing up. I had dinner with her years ago and hardly recognized her when I pulled up to the restaurant. We made small talk over American bistro cuisine. She gave me a poor attempt at a hug when we said goodbye. She said we should do this again, but we both knew we wouldn’t.

The only true thing my last boyfriend ever told me was his name. I know this is true because I looked up his criminal record after he left and there were a list of charges, some pending, some closed. He opened two credit cards in my name, ran up over ten thousand dollars of purchases and disappeared once I found out, leaving me to pay the bills with money I didn’t have. I saw him a year later leaning against the wall outside of a grocery store and holding up a junk bicycle with a bent wheel. If I had been brave, I would have given him a right hook across the face. He would have deserved more, but a single punch would have been enough for me. I also never want to feel like that again, lost, forgetful of the girl who used to make good decisions. He turned me into a girl who had bad credit and who felt dumb that I hadn’t known. When I tell myself I didn’t know, I’m lying; I didn’t want to know.

I like love songs because they give me hope that someone else has been in my situation before, that someone else knows how I am feeling and has written it down as a guide. I love you, but I don’t know if I trust you. I don’t know if I will ever be able to trust someone again.

We are either perfect for each other or we should run as far away from each other as we can.

***

“Do you want to see the mountains of Colorado?” you ask me.

“Sure,” I say. “I’ve never been there.”

“Let’s go,” you say. “It will only take us eight hours. You would love it.”

When you say things like that, I want to believe that you think about me when I’m not around.

“But when? You’re leaving soon.”

“This weekend,” you say, after thinking for only a second.

You are suddenly excited by your idea. You are smiling and you get up from the couch and scan the books on your shelf until you find a Colorado travel guide. You flip to the pictures of mountains with snow-capped peaks, rolling sand dune hills, and alpine lakes, tapping on each landscape, showing me what we could be seeing in a few days.

“There’s also a waterfall near here,” you tell me, pointing at the Great Sand Dunes. “You wouldn’t think those two things would ever belong together, but they do.”

“Why do you want to go away with me?” I ask.

You look at me and tilt your head. You weren’t expecting this.

“We have a good time together,” you say.

“What happens when you’re gone?” Once I ask you this, I exhale, and my ribs and lungs ache. It feels as if I’ve been holding my breath since the moment we met.

“I won’t just disappear,” you say. “But relationships are hard. Long distance makes it harder.”

“But not impossible,” I say.

“For me, I don’t think it’s possible.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?” I ask.

“I wanted to just enjoy my time here. With you.”

“Are you just biding your time here? With me?”

“Not at all,” you say, shaking your head.

In this moment, I love you more, but now I understand. Maybe I have known that this would end, that we would eventually separate and add time and distance between us. My dreams have known; my motorcycle takes me everywhere you are not. I have driven the Brooklyn Bridge, the Pacific Coast Highway, and along the jagged edge of the Grand Canyon, alone. In two months, when winter has settled in and it gets darker earlier, you will go back to Dallas where there is more humidity and less wind. We will not singlehandedly erase maps of you being there and me being here, the whole distance equation from existence. We will keep in touch for a while, only telling each other the necessary things. We will keep it light and impersonal until one night when one of us has had too much to drink and you will call or I will call and we will say that we miss each other. After that, the phone calls will be filled with the same distance until they eventually stop, and, at that point, whenever I smell strawberries, I will be reminded of you, your favorite fruit, the first time we met.

“Ok,” I say. “Let’s go to Colorado.”

“Really?” you ask.

I nod. “And this weekend is a good time to go. Before it gets too cold.”

You find the picture of the waterfall you were telling me about. “It’s beautiful,” you assure me.

“I trust you,” I say, and I realize that this is true. You could have lied to me. You could have told me what you thought I wanted to hear, but instead you told me the truth. You smile and put your hand over mine as we keep flipping through pages.

***

I don’t tell anyone about our trip. Not because I’m not happy, but because I don’t want to explain myself or tell anyone what I realized about you and me and the rest of our time together. I don’t need to convince anyone that I will be okay because I will be okay. I can stop thinking about what’s going to happen because I know what’s going to happen.

We will go to Colorado and you will threaten to throw me into the freezing cold water when I make fun of you for tripping over a broken branch. We will hike Pike’s Peak, and after drinking a bottle of red wine, we will fall asleep on the hotel bed, exhausted, drunk, and fully clothed. After Colorado, we will go to that drive-in movie theater that neither of us has been to. We will try to pop a perfect bag of popcorn in your microwave to take with us. We will continue to drink coffee and watch the Texas Country Reporter for the few weekends we have left, but we won’t say we need to visit the towns anymore. I will help you pack up your apartment and load up your truck. On your last night here, most likely the last time I will see you, I will wear a dress even if the wind is cold against my bare legs. You will open the car door for me and we will eat at one of the nicer restaurants with cloth napkins. We will laugh and flirt with each other through dinner, our feet touching under the table. We will start to watch a movie, but not even halfway through, we will be kissing on the couch, pulling at each other’s clothes, stumbling to get to the empty bedroom, not wanting to lose contact between lips, hands, bodies. We will fall asleep after, at first pressing against each other, but eventually finding our way to opposite sides of the bed. When I wake up in the morning alone, practice for all the days to follow, you will be making waffles. You left the waffle iron out on purpose. After one last check of the apartment, you will have everything you need. You will leave behind a flowered couch, your bed, a birch bookshelf, the living room rug, and me. We will walk outside and I will say something like, “So this is it.” After that, I don’t know what we will say, but we will hug each other too hard and kiss each other too quickly. We will say goodbye. We will get into our separate cars and drive. I will drive for ten minutes; you will drive for six hours.

That day, when I am home and you are on the road creating distance, I will tell someone the truth. I will say we were fireworks—a beautiful flash of colors that fall and fade against the black night sky, brightness, lingering smoke, the smell of burning, and then nothing. Someone will say you are a jerk even though you aren’t, but I will agree because it will feel better, for a moment, to pretend that you are. That night I will sleep alone. I will place a carton of fresh strawberries on my nightstand. In the morning, I will throw them away.

 

 

     

Melissa Kreindel

Melissa Kreindel currently lives in Lubbock, Texas, but originally is from South Florida. She is a second-year masters student in Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. After being a high school Chemistry teacher for a few years, she decided to go back to school to pursue short fiction writing. She has been writing since she was young, attempting to sell short stories with hand-drawn illustrations and stapled spines from her friend's garage. This is Melissa's first publication.

 

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