It’s late, and my head still hurts from the fight I just had with Mom. I lay on my bed, chewing down hard on my bottom lip. My eyes scan the room for a hair band until I see one on my wrist. I don’t remember putting it there. I tie my hair up into a high ponytail that could use some work. I slip a couple of bobby pins into the back of it. My old mirror is cracked and shoved onto the top shelf of my closet, so it’ll have to do. I’m still demolishing my lip when I tip-toe to my bedroom door. One of the bobby pins is pulled from my ponytail into my hand by my slender fingers. I unlock my door.
I remember to glance back at my alarm clock and breathe a sigh of relief: It’s 3:00 a.m. My mother’s whispers have faded out completely; she must’ve hung up on Grandma. She’d been talking about me, I know. It was another long call; might’ve even broken their record. Everything about this night is familiar, but I don’t feel as upset as I did the first time. I’d still been reeling from the fight. This time, although my head is pounding, I’m not as affected.
I slide out the front door with the skill of someone who does it often. The night air is cold on my face and it’s just what I needed. I lift my head to the holes of light in the sky and exhale, and my skin prickles as if responding to all the possibilities.
My socks sink into the wet grass. It’s about a half-mile to the bridge, and since I know that no one particularly threatening will be outside tonight, I walk there. I didn't know that the first time, but our small town is pretty far from any danger. And my thoughts had made me delirious.
I can't wait to get there. I picture your soft face, the eyes that made me stop in my tracks, your words that covered me in a quilt I shouldn't have been able to afford. I feel myself softening already, under your gaze, under your touch. I catch myself smiling and try to look as upset as I did the first time. I want to reenact it perfectly.
I can't wait to see you. Tonight, I know, was the start of the rest of my life. A life-changing event.
I try not to picture you in your hospital bed, looking weaker by the second. I try not to picture the small stone on your grave, the one I've visited every day since your death.
Instead, I think of our first official date. I'll visit there next. If I keep visiting my memories with you in the past, I won't have to go back to the present and live without you.
We went to the diner. It had been around forever, and it was timeless, covered in neon lights, filled with red booths and plastic tables, and it always smelled like food for the soul. People stared at us; couples that would get married right out of high school, senior citizens that had never missed a cup of coffee in their lives, little toddlers that cocked their heads to the side curiously as we kissed. At first, they stared mostly at you. Some were just jealous of your tattoos (there isn't even a parlor around here), and some thought that you'd taken me from them (she was such a good girl).
I wanted to explain to you that I wasn't theirs in the first place. I had never fit in with a town packed tight with homophobes. I had never been their good girl. But I'm not sure you saw their stares. You looked right through everyone that wasn't worth your time. No one in that town was ever worth your time.
Well, except for me.
We used the money you'd gotten from your dad's will to get married in France. We were both 23. We'd both been waiting for the day. We'd thought it would be magical, the best day of both of our lives. We set out chairs in a semicircle with two short rows because we hadn't invited many people. We stood there for the longest time, making calls that went unanswered, hoping that they'd just forgotten, hoping that they'd wanted to come, hoping they'd at least used the airplane tickets we'd bought for them.
It rained on our wedding day. It poured. I stood there, ready to cry, ready to be done with it all until you started to laugh.
Your laugh is the best thing that ever happened to me. Your laugh tears down all the heaviness, your laugh rips out the weight in my chest. Your laugh is so beautiful, and so light, and so perfect. And suddenly, I was laughing too. I was letting go of my disappointment in a different way. I held out my hand to you and we started to dance. The rain ruined our professionally done hair. It felt good, to be soaked, to be spun around, to kick off our shoes and stain our feet.
I get to the bridge at the same time as the first time. You won't be here for a little while, so I walk to the ice cream parlor that's open 24/7. I sit on the bench outside the front window, waiting until you walk up to the bridge. I start to panic when I don't see you. I finish my ice cream and run over there. You should be here. You should be here.
The bubble of panic in my chest increases. I don't see you anywhere.
The tears fall easily. You are supposed to be here. You are supposed to be standing here, young and free and living and not old and trapped and dead. The bubble of panic pops when I sob and releases a wave of sorrow. I keep hoping that I've somehow missed you, but eventually, I have to go back to the present.
I return to the house we bought in France, in the present. It's felt so lonely with you not here. I walk the hallways filled with pictures of the years we spent together. Our first one, one of us at the diner that's now torn down, is worn out and fading. I take it down from the wall and hold it in my arms.
A couple more tears fall down my face. I walk to our bedroom. I remember our first kiss. I remember our wedding and our walks through Paris and the train to Versailles and the gardens there and all the memories that are everything to me.
When I lay down, I see the note you left there:
Honey, you have to live in the present.