2020 began with something raw and beautiful. Hot, wild sex with a woman out of my league in the Alabama June heat. Our minds operated on the same wavelength, and we were horny for each other. And those were the only things that mattered, not even the pandemic the rest of the country tried painfully to ignore. We laid in bed beside each other after another naked marathon, out of breath, sweating. I was kissing the side of her neck.
Sarah smiled at the ceiling, her fake blonde hair shrouded around her face, her neck blotched red where she begged me to choke her (“Daddy!”). We’d been wrapped up together five weekends in a row this summer, laughing and going out for nice dinners Sarah never counted as dates. Then, she said the one thing I hoped I’d never hear.
“This is the last time,” said Sarah.
She repeated herself and added, “I—I met someone. Someone else.”
The thought didn’t register completely in my mind. Someone…else. I closed my eyes, crest fallen.
“We were two sex starved people who needed a release.” said Sarah. “What did you think this was?”
I fell for her the moment I saw her in a slippery blue dress that came off a little too easily. When we went to the movies for the first date, I hoped we would be more than simply sex buddies who occasionally shared popcorn.
“You know we were just having sex until we found someone, right?” she said. “Are you even listening to me?”
I was not. I was still hung up on the someone else. How could she have found someone so soon? Sarah showed me a picture on her phone of Jake, the guy she was going out with the next Saturday. He was nineteen, annoyingly young for her, long hair and a face I couldn’t believe could grow a beard at all. I never had the deepest loathing for anyone in my life than I did for that kid smiling toothily on the screen.
“He looks like a prick I beat up in high school,” I said.
Sarah locked the phone, blacking it out. We got out of bed and dressed to go out to eat. As I drove us to the nearest steak place, I said, “You can pay for your own food.”
I took her home and on the way back my disappointment turned to anger. I punched the roof of my already beat up car and tore the sun shade off its hinge. What was wrong with me that Sarah would want someone else? For months, I purposely overlooked certain things I hated about Sarah because I wanted to be with her and no one else.
Sarah and her mother shared a bank account. Sarah went to the hair salon every other week though she didn’t make enough money to live that kind of lifestyle. She was terrified of driving along busy highways because she just got her driver’s license last year at the age of twenty-three. Sarah claimed she was moving out of her parents’ house but then paid for materials for her daddy to retile her room. How could I have been such an idiot?
I was an adult with a job who paid bills and was growing his bank account. My car was paid off, and I was saving for a house next. Was it possible to do all the right things in life and yet still not have the thing that mattered most? My self worth plummeted.
Sarah’s date that Saturday went well, but I wish she didn’t give me a blow-by-blow replay of her date over dinner. From mudding in the back country to fishing at the reservoir. But all through the next week, Jake never messaged her back for a second date or at all after that. Sarah cried as she deleted his number from her phone after another week of no contact. I put my arm around her and rubbed her shoulder. Here I was, rushing to help her, to be someone she could trust never to leave her. But all she did was crack a wry smile.
I knew right then, Sarah would never sleep beside me again.
Sarah decided the best thing was to distance herself from me. Two days later, I blew up over the phone and called her a worthless sack of shit after I caught her trying to text my best friend and roommate.
“You’re just mad I don’t want to have sex with you anymore,” Sarah said.
“No,” I cried. “He is my friend, not yours. He’s basically my brother.”
“He didn’t text back anyway.”
“Yeah. Because I threatened to move out if I did. At least he has a shred of respect for me. You know what? Fuck you. Get out of my life!”
That was the first and last time I thought about murder.
I was done with Alabama politics and especially Alabama women. There was nothing for me here anymore. But where would I go? I browsed a map and my finger drifted to Chicago, the big city, the land of opportunity and wealth. Successful people lived in Chicago in tall high rise apartments. I wanted to be worldly, to live alongside the rich and famous. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I’d use every penny to get as far from Sarah as I could.
As I drove out of town, I didn’t glance at my surroundings. I wanted to forget everything about where I came from. Two decades of painful memories, of not quite belonging, of trying my best and getting nowhere. But the best thing I was leaving was the devil in the little blue dress I used to goggle at.
I arrived in Chicago on New Year’s Day in a snow storm. A foot of snow layered the ground and all over my car. The battery on my car finally gave out after six hundred miles of pushing its limits. I rented a drafty studio with old, creaky floors. I had no furniture except for a small table to prop my laptop and a mattress which I spread in a corner of the living room. But it was my drafty studio.
As I sat on the old wooden floor and taking in my new surroundings, I realized things would never have worked out between me and Sarah. We were as different as a porcupine and a chameleon. 2021 hadn’t started off well, but it was better than what I was leaving and that counted for something.