By David Karp
The road that went over the two big hills was foggy at night: something that it always seemed to be, even when she had driven up the same road hundreds of times just two years ago. The streetlights with the pink tints reflected off the fog, giving a sensation of being lost even to someone who had driven around the area before.
Before, it had looked magical to her, a perfect segway to an evening with the love of her life.
Tonight, it looked like an aftermath. An epilogue.
Every other house seemed to have some sign of life in it, whether it was a few lights on in the window, a tv that could be seen on through the glass, or an open garage door. And then some looked empty; vacant. Passing the time.
She drove through the fog and shadows and ghosts, making her way just over the second hill. At the very top, you could see the big lake at the bottom, reflecting the moonlight. The surrounding trees danced every so slightly in the light, spring wind that whispered through the little country neighborhood.
As she looked out at the lake, she thought about the little bar on the water that they would always go to. The first time she met him there, she had gotten lost. She missed the turn and continued down the road which, to her panic, turned into pure woods and a small thin dirt road, encased in the darkness of the night. It took her a few tries to do a K turn once she realized that something was wrong. She eventually had turned herself around, and retracing her path, she ended up finding a small road that snaked its way steeply down a hill and onto the water, with the bar right next to it.
It was a small tavern with a red roof that seemed to only be one room. The bar took up most of it, with wooden chairs surrounding it so patrons could have their fill from the wells.
They ended up staying there for about three hours talking, laughing, singing: enjoying the simple fact of being alive.
At the end of the night, after last call, they were the last to leave.
She had kissed him in the parking lot, under the summer moon.
God, it had been their first kiss. It led to so many more.
Many moons ago.
She snapped out of it, back in the car within the fog, and continued down the hill. His street was about halfway down this particular slope. It took her some thinking to remember if it was the first right or the second, after a roundabout.
It was the second. How could she forget?
She turned onto Lorelei Street and watched the houses on her left. One with a tarp over the roof. Probably needed work. The second with all the lights on; two friends talking in the doorway, laughing.The third was dark. No cars in the driveway, no lights on, and the yard empty.
And then came his house.
The white picket fence was still there, the one that made her think of “Somewhere That’s Green” from the movie Little Shop of Horrors, where Audrey, one of the main characters, pictures herself in the perfect suburban life, with a green yard that has been freshly cut, surrounded by a white picket fence. Living with the love of her life; a cliche happiness.
She chuckled at the thought of it. She chuckled because, somewhere buried in her static loneliness that the journey with him left her in, she could almost admit to herself that she had the same aspirations as Audrey did in the movie at one point in their time together.
How cliche, she thought.
She pulled over to the right and put the car in park, across the street from his house. Yes, the fence was still there. And the firepit. And the green grass. But now, there was a different scattered mess of lawn chairs. She could see one with a beer still in the cup holder built into the arm of the blue chair.
Further on, she looked over to the single floor white house itself. The front door was still blue, but was missing a reef. He had one for every season.
There was a tan pickup truck and a blue BMW in the driveway. No Black Subaru Forester, the car he was so in love with.
They spent so much time in the van, driving through mountain roads, getting lost whenever they could because, well…they could. They loved the thrill of the travel, the seductive possibilities of the unknown. They used to drive for hours on end, especially at night as if the nighttime would last forever.
On one such journey, they were about a half hour in on a mountainous road (there was no way she could remember the name of the road itself) when, all of a sudden, the streetlights just disappeared. They could sense their adrenaline going up, and after a short, dark, incline, the light of the moon overtook them, and they found the road making its way through a wide, open field. The mountains, black lumps in the moonlight, towered over the field like titans. It was beautiful and green and it was as if, besides the road, no one had yet to discover it. And the moon just shined down from the sky like a lantern in the night, guiding them in all its beauty.
They looked at the time. Five A.M. That was normal for them. They decided to pull over into a little alcove in the field near a lone tree which stood like a watchtower to this new world around them. The sun was going to be up soon, and they decided to park with the back of the van towards the east, put the back seats down, and crawl in together to cuddle and watch the eventual sunrise.
She felt so comfortable in his arms as they watched the moon and the stars slowly but surely travel through the sky above them. Everything was so clear; so perfect.
Alas, they ended up falling asleep about twenty minutes into it, and woke up five hours later, with the sun already up but the field just as empty. They laughed in their awakening state, and shared a small but passionate kiss before getting back into the front.
Such a beautiful memory, still lingering inside her whether she wanted to admit it or not.
But she didn’t think that he lived here anymore. It had only been two years, but once he was out of her life, he was out for good. No contact from him, no clue of where his life would take him. Not even the comfort of speculation.
It was what it was.
She wasn’t necessarily planning on getting out of the car, but some dark urge made her. A possession of memory. A curiosity even she knew could never lead anywhere. Nevertheless, she was just so curious.
She shut her door gently and looked out at the house. The fog was too encasing the house, making it look dreamlike yet gloomy and uninterested in the world around it. The same pine trees were towering on either side of it, poking their bushy heads out of the fog here and there.
Now what?, she thought. She wasn’t even sure who lived there anymore. There was nothing to see really. Nothing but memories.
She spent so much time in that house. They had cooked there, slept there, made love there; had hundreds of movie nights there, had so many talks and dreams and revelations.
She slowly crossed the street and approached the door on the fence that was just off center on the left. No security lights came on, and as she looked a little more in the window, she could see that the kitchen light was on, but it looked empty and lonely.
From what she could see, not much had changed in the kitchen but a slew of new shelving. Could have been his for all she knew, but she had that gut feeling that he wasn’t there anymore.
She couldn’t explain it exactly, but she could swear that, whenever he was around, she could feel his energy. Even when she least expected it, she felt something in the air. Maybe that intuition changed since the breakup, but she could remember the feeling very vividly. It was like feeling high or drunk. It was like stepping into a daydream, and a rush would hit her bloodstream every time she saw him. It was more than bliss. It was magic.
Magic that had now vanished without any sort of explanation. They were in that very kitchen the last time they ever saw each other. She could tell that something was up; he was acting different as they ate dinner together. It was almost like fear. He was worried she was going to leave him. It came out of nowhere….
…Talk about a magician…
…and it came hard. And she knew her heart so, so well. She would never do a thing like that to him. Her heart didn’t work that way. And it was funny, because there were times she would feel that way about him too. In those younger times (not greatly, but two years can teach you a lot of things), she listened, with a more personal heart, to the criticisms that came into her life from the outside world.
Never pretty enough. Never cool enough. Never normal enough. Always less than.
But he reassured her, and she tried to listen. She did as best she could.
Does this whole thing mean she was right to have those thoughts, after all is said and done, standing here at the gates of her past?
The white picket fence of her past…
She came back from her thoughts. She knew she was a stronger person now, despite her occasional dark nights of anxiety, such as tonight.
She forgave herself since then.
She walked past the fence and to the front of the driveway.
She could see the window at the end of the driveway that was his room. Looking a little harder, she could see white curtains hanging there. His were red, and she remembers how they used to fall down every few weeks. He really could never figure out how to put them up properly. She gave it a go a few times, and they would stay up longer than when he did it, but they always seemed to find a way onto the bed in the middle of the night, sometimes startling them away.
Awake. As if she ever slept. As if she ever let herself drift away peacefully in his arms.
As she focused closely onto the window, she realized that it may have been her one regret about the time they had together. She wished she told him how hard it was to sleep there sometimes. Not because of the temperature of the room or that the bed was uncomfortable. It was the fact that it was a new bed. Not of her own. In a room not of her own.
Pathetic as she thought it was of herself, at the age of twenty five, it was honestly the first time she ever slept next to someone she loved. Before they met, her dating life became a self-fulfilling prophecy. She hated her body, her mind and her life so much; her depression had taken her over for so long, that she never gave anyone a chance in fear that they would leave without a trace. Find something better.
For years, the words she described herself were dark and ugly. The thoughts; the voice telling her she wanted love but wasn’t going to be good enough for it…not deserving. She was too weird.
It was those thoughts that took her over back then sometimes.
She had loved and been loved before, but they always ended unfairly. There was always a catch. There was always sadness. It’s how she learned to hate herself back then. But with him, she felt like the underdog.
But sometimes, even that kept her awake in his bed at night.
Sometimes, she would watch him sleep, lost in the feeling of how lucky she was to be next to him. How new this kind of love was in her life, like a foreigner who has moved to a new home in another country. He always slept so peacefully, even when the TV blasted or the construction near his house started before the sun rose.
Sometimes, she would lay there staring at the ceiling, thinking of all the things in her head she wanted to tell him; wish she could tell him. He wasn’t very fond of talking about emotions, which was a red flag she knew she should have seen early on and confronted truthfully instead of making up excuses to not.
Sometimes, she was afraid he would leave in the middle of the night. Leave like everyone seemed to do in her story, without warning or reason. She had not, at the time, disconnected the act of everyone leaving from her undeserved guilt. So she would stand guard, like a dog, hoping it wouldn’t happen again, though unfortunately for her always having the feeling of expecting it.
God, those were times. God, how she wishes she was wrong, at least to some extent.
God, that was so long ago.
And as long ago as it was, there is a small part of her that wishes she could turn over in his bed again and watch him sleep so peacefully, holding her hand on the best of nights until the sun broke the sky.
So long ago…
There was no sign of life now. No sign or whispers or scenes from her past. Only the shell. Only the name of the chapter in her story. The setting remained, but it wasn’t hers anymore and it could never be again.
But that was the consequence of playing a losing hand. That’s what happens when you lose the bet. You pay the price, whatever the price may be.
And that was that.
There was nothing more to see, but she was glad she could see it one last time. That was the whole reason she was here. She could feel the epilogue coming to an end. She was ready to start a new book; a new life. New bets, new memories, new ways to cope with the demons inside her.
Two years may have passed on this earth since she last saw him, but she noticed the demons were a little more quiet as time went on.
And for the first time in a long time, with her memories there right in front of her, she smiled. Hopeful.
There was nothing more to see. She finally found the nerve to see the house again, and only once more. This was the funeral for her past. This was it.
And as she walked back to her car and opened the door, ready to drive down that road one last time, she turned once more to the house and, in the dark window of the living room, she could see the silhouette of a man; a mere shadow.
She stared at it for a while, being able to tell it was not his. But she gave it a little wave, regardless.
She couldn’t tell if he waved back or not.
And with that, she started her engine, made another awkward K-turn, and drove down the street one last time.
Writing Exercise: “The Upside-Down Bird: Hybridizing Memory, Place and Invention” by Maria Flook