issue twenty-one

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(2865 words)
E.A. Aymar
My Grand Romantic Gesture
I searched for my pants in a rush. My mind was a mess. I had accidentally fallen asleep, spent the night and woke up with Jim's long arms wrapped around me and his thin body cocooning mine and the intimacy made me all sorts of uncomfortable. And he was sweaty.

And then there was this: Adam was getting married today. I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I hate it when I can't control my thoughts.

"You're leaving?" Jim asked, lying in bed and watching me while I hopped in place to pull up my jeans.

"Aren't we finished?"

Jim lifted the sheets and peered down at himself. "I'm not. Where are you going?"

"Home," I lied. I didn't know where I was going.

"It's Saturday," Jim said, urgently. "Can't you stay?"

"A chick wants to leave first thing in the morning and you complain?" I picked up my purse and slung it over my shoulder. "I thought most guys would kill for that."

"I'm not most guys," Jim said, and now he both looked and sounded despondent. Depressing. Part of me wanted to give him a hug, but the other part thought it was best to give his erection a wide berth.

"I saw the new marks on your stomach," he went on. "I'm worried about you."

"Well, you should have turned me over."

Jim smiled. I didn't smile back.

All I could think about was Adam.

And I hated myself for that. Both for what it meant to Jim, and what it meant to me. I liked Jim, but not enough.

"Why'd you start again?" he asked.

"It's good to have hobbies?"

"Katey…" he said, dragging out my name.

"Jimmy," I said, and I rubbed my forehead. It felt like two hands were squeezing my brain from both sides while a finger tersely flicked my eyeball; in other words, I was minutes from a migraine. And the more I thought about Adam the worse I felt. Plus the smell of condom was thick in the air, or I imagined it was, and it grossed me out.

"I'll call you," I told him, and backed out of the bedroom. Jim started to climb out of bed, but I was down the stairs and under a fat warm Tucson sun before he could stop me. I looked back from the parking lot and saw him standing behind his door and peeking around it, presumably still naked, watching me with that sad expression men usually get when they find out they're not going to have sex or eat Pop Tarts for dinner or whatever else they want to do. But all I ended up doing was giving him a flimsy wave that made me feel like a total bitch as I climbed into my Jetta and drove to a drug store.


       The Excedrin worked but I got really depressed after my headache wore off. The nice thing about migraines is that you feel too much like suffocating yourself with a pillow to think about anything else, but now Adam's name was a constant drumbeat in my mind. I was almost tempted to reply to Jim's excited text message -- WE NEED 2 TALK PLEEZ!!! -- which I received about two minutes after driving away from his apartment, but instead I changed my mind and pulled into a parking lot and cried for a while. I wiped my eyes and opened the glove compartment and took out the small razor I kept in there. I lifted my shirt and pushed the edge of the razor into my stomach until I felt a drop of blood on my finger and then closed my eyes and gritted my teeth and pushed my head back into the headrest and dragged the razor over my stomach, inches above my belly button. A quick panic that I sliced too deep this time swam over me, complete with a vision of my intestines flying out and splashing all over the windshield, but that didn't happen. Stupid mind.

The tears dried and disappeared like they were drawn back into my eyes. Heat from the cut rushed to my head, then cooled. I stared down at my arm. It was still. Sometimes after I cut the release left me trembling, like legs after an exhausting run.

I started cutting my freshman year of high school after I watched some girl on an after-school special slice up her stomach. I copied her because I was so fucking original but mainly because I was so fucking depressed. My older brother Jamie, a cop up in Phoenix, had just been shot and killed by some drunk and things were unbelievably bleak. If this were a movie, the flashbacks of Jamie would show the perfect kid: high school quarterback, blond, smart, responsible, liked smiling. A boy so perfect that he could only be destined for fame or tragedy; we just never expected the latter. My stunned parents kept the house dark and spent their time in separate rooms and stayed stunned; they never really have recovered.

As for me, I can admit that I started cutting as a way to call attention to myself. Even as I sat on the closed toilet seat that very first time and nicked myself over and over with a razor (the smooth lines would come later, with practice), I imagined my mom pushing open the door to the bathroom and seeing what I had done and then driving me to the hospital or calling the cops or pulling me up into an embrace or taking me on some afternoon talk show for troubled teens. Because, yes, I was selfish enough to try and wrest my parents' attention back just one week after Jamie's face was blown apart.

But the bathroom door didn't budge. I opened it, pressed my hand against the small cuts over my stomach and limped, for some reason, down the hall. I went to my bedroom and sat by the open window, nervously lit a cigarette and blew out a stream of smoke. That was my second straight year of smoking and I was worried I'd become the youngest addict ever, but I didn't want another cigarette. The pain from my cut was still present, a gentle throb that made me feel better. No longer alone.

Some people feel like they're born lonely and that loneliness will never leave. I have and have had girlfriends, even the occasional group of girlfriends, but I always felt on the outside of the group. A couple of high school boyfriends came and went and my college relationships were a little longer and a little more serious, but the cutting and the relief it brought stayed with me. I hate to admit that I cut less when I was in a relationship, because that sounds needy and weak, but that's what happened and I was. Especially when it came to Adam.


       I pulled out some Kleenex from the glovebox, wiped the razor, held the tissue over my stomach and lowered the visor mirror. No makeup, my hair was all over the place and my eyes were puffed like I had a peanut allergy. Plus I hadn't turned on the AC and my skin was simmering. I tied up my hair and checked myself again and now I just looked like a sad fish.

I pushed up the visor and thought about driving home but home was all the way on the other side of Tucson. And then I would have to shower and change and that would take me at least another twenty minutes and by the time I got back to this part of town, Adam would be married. He was probably already at the church getting pictures with Pete, his dumbass best friend since seventh grade. The thought of going to see Adam on the day he was getting married made me feel really weird inside, like it would be one of the worst things I had ever done, a before/after moment in my life, but I started my car and drove to the church anyway.

Adam and I met three years ago. We dated the first, friend-fucked through the second, and spent this last one out of touch, although I stalked him online. He wasn't the type to do social media, but his friends did, and I would occasionally see him in their pictures, that distant smile always on his face. I hated that I loved his smile. There was something behind it, a horizon I wanted to explore, something unreachable…yeah, I liked Adam's smile, and his cheerfulness, and how he was in law school and wore an expensive watch and all that type of stuff, but also how he cared for me. Deeply, surprisingly so.

Like when Adam saw the scars crisscrossing my stomach.

"I didn't think people did this anymore," he said, his fingers tracing the thin lines.

"Are you saying I'm not hip?"

We were lying in bed, my shirt and his pants off, which sounds weird but is appropriate for the clumsy way you fool around when you're younger, and he had been kissing my breasts when he saw the scars. Everything stopped.

"Do you still do it?"

"It's been a while," I said, truthfully.

"Tell me about it."

Relief in talking. I had told people before -- a couple of boyfriends who couldn't wait to give me advice, girlfriends who hugged me and then confided about their eating disorders. I didn't like that my confession to Adam felt rehearsed, but it was nice to talk to someone who wasn't just waiting for me to finish.

"You can't do it anymore," he told me.

"Okay," I said, and I believed I wouldn't.

Adam looked away. "I hate the thought of you hurting yourself."

But I didn't stop, mainly because sometimes Adam was a dick. He could be incredibly sweet and then, for the sake of something he found funny, rude as hell. Like one time we were in a store and I was trying on a cute skirt and Adam jokingly called out through the dressing room door, "Go ahead, Katey, try and fit one leg in." And I stormed out and went home and my stomach looked like a street map by the time I was done with it.

But there were better moments. The countless times my old Jeep broke down and Adam drove anywhere to pick me up. When I went to the first poetry workshop of my MFA program and stayed outside the room, too scared to walk through the door until he called and talked my nerves down. The times he surprised me with an embrace. When he came back after leaving me.

In the end, Adam drew a line with the cutting and I stomped all over it after a rejection from some tiny publisher for my chapbook Jamie, Redux and I cut myself so badly that I ended up stumbling into the emergency room, the bottom of my shirt liquid red with blood and my body white and the eyes of every nurse and patient turned toward me. And Adam came and found me and stayed with me and then left. That time, for good.

And now, less than a year later, he's engaged.

I'd never met her but knew what she looked like because I saw her once, by accident, at the movie theater when she and Adam were sitting with a group of people up front and I was in back with someone, probably Jim. I needed a break from staring into anthologies and I wanted to get away from my apartment and out of my head and, of all the dumb stupid luck, I saw them. Still, I made Jim (probably Jim) wait as the credits rolled so I could see her when she left and she was shorter and thinner than I am, although most women are, and blond and super cute and she made me feel sick, and I went to the restroom and pulled a razor out of my purse and played tic-tac-toe over my stomach.

I pulled into a parking lot across the street from the church, a couple of hours before the ceremony, watching the front and side doors like a spy. Red and blue balloons were tied to the railing on the steps leading to big, open, wooden double doors, and I could see the squat headstones of a cemetery curving around the other side. Some people I didn't know with smiles and suits were heading in, but otherwise everything was quiet until the side door opened and Pete walked out. He wore a tuxedo minus the jacket and sat on the top step and lit a cigarette. I pushed open my car door and hurried across the street.

Pete squinted as I approached the bottom of the stairs.

"Jesus Christ, Katey," he said. "What are you doing here? You look awful."

"I need to see Adam. Also, thanks."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"Of course it's not a good idea," I snapped. "But I still need to see him."

Pete slowly shook his head. "Katey," he said. "Adam's getting married today."

"Pete, you still say the most obvious shit. Can you just tell him I'm out here?"

He kept shaking his head. "Not a good idea."

"If you don't get Adam right now, then I'm going to stand out here and scream his name over and over until he comes out. And then everybody's going to know I'm here and it's going to ruin this day for all of them. So you can either ruin this for everyone or go and get Adam right now."

"You wouldn't do that."

I opened my mouth and that was all it took. Pete scrambled to his feet and darted inside.

I suddenly felt dizzy, a "what am I doing here" moment that hit me so hard I actually took a few quick steps back to my car. I tried to calm down. I reminded myself that no matter what happened this would be good for my poetry, but that didn't help. I really wanted to be in my apartment watching terrible TV or dumping Jim for the eleventh or twelfth time or begging for an extension for whatever I had to turn in or, Christ, tracing figure eights on my ribs, and I even reached into my purse and fingered the metal nail file I kept in there, but then let it go.

I heard Adam ask, "Katey?"

I turned and saw him and almost wished I hadn't. Adam looked really good standing on top of the steps, fucking heartbreakingly handsome in his tux with polished black shoes and not a brown hair on his head out of place. The blue in his eyes even looked shined. He seemed so different from the person I had loved, back when his hair was longer and he wore loose clothes and always had a sleepy dreamy expression on his face and an arm slung over my shoulders.

"What are you doing here?" Adam asked.

"Adam," I said, and saying his name like I was starting a speech but then I figured, Fuck it, Katey, just say it, "I need you to know something. Something I've thought about for a long time now, and it'll kill me if I don't tell you."


"Adam, it's over."

He blinked. "What is?"

"You and me. Us. I want you to know that I'm ending things with you."

"Um, Katie," Adam began, mildly, "are you okay?"

"Things didn't work out. You weren't the one for me."

Adam looked behind himself, and then to his right and left before turning back toward me and asking, "Is there a camera here?"

"No camera. I want you to know I'm saying goodbye."

He took a step down the stairs toward me. "We broke up, like, a year ago."

"You broke up with me," I reminded him. "I didn't break up with you. And it wasn't that long ago."

His voice was hushed. "Do you think you've been… still dating me? This entire time?"

"No," I said, and I almost smiled. "I'm not crazy."

Adam glanced behind himself again, and he seemed so confused that it was endearing, and everything inside me hurt, and I had to steel myself to keep pressing forward. "Maybe we should talk about this some other time," Adam said, his voice urgent, probably worried about his bride coming out and finding me. "Sometime after the wedding. We could get coffee or something."

I shook my head. "I'm sorry."

I turned and walked back to my car. My hands felt awkward at my side, so I crossed them over my chest. I didn't look back, even though I had to stand awkwardly at the corner waiting for the light to change and it felt like forever. I could feel his gaze on my back as I left Adam and the church and the cemetery behind. The light changed, and a song I recognized but couldn't name strummed enigmatically inside of me, like a loop of music repeating itself endlessly after the world has ended.


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This work is copyrighted by the author, E.A. Aymar. All rights reserved.