“Jesus Jess just what does it fucking say?” Jessica inhaled and let a sigh slip. She wanted him to feel the air. “I’m not sure, hold on,” she said.
“I just don't understand what is hard about it, Never Eat Soggy Wheaties–they still taught you that right?” How inspired.
“Yes, Will” this was annoying. In her head, she thought, actually, no. I’m not 60 years old. I have never had Wheaties and I have never used anything but my phone to direct me somewhere. And also don’t fucking swear at me, but she didn’t say that. She’s not sure when she started letting him talk to her like this. When their dialogue became something she had to keep a secret. She used to wear their love like a favorite t-shirt. The tears and stains used to make her feel at home, but now they made her feel used, unwanted, and dirty. Will’s sarcasm used to make him seem smart. Turn her on. Now it just made her smaller and smaller. It seemed that he was the only one that ever laughed.
They were headed upstate for his job interview. She didn’t know what he did for a living–but not for a lack of asking. Will assumed it would go over her head so he brushed it off. He did this with a lot of things, it didn't seem odd to her anymore. There were things she was supposed to know and things she wasn’t.
The weeks leading up to this trip were wearying. It seemed like all he could talk about were all the places he could go, the places that wouldn’t have her in them. She was scared to ask if she was a part of his plan because she knew the answer. She knew if it came down to it, he would miss his apartment more than her. She could never understand why he always stayed when it would be so easy for him to walk away. There were millions of young girls he could direct his resentment towards, she wasn’t anybody special to him, she knew that. She wished her choice was as simple as his.
“The last time maps were practical I was in the backseat of my parent's car on the way to Disney. I wasn’t paying attention, I’m sorry I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to listen to my parents arguing over a big piece of paper.” Jess didn’t know if she was letting her attitude slip out more and more in their conversations, or if he was the reason for its existence entirely. Had she used to be so snippy? Short-tempered? Sarcastic? Has she ever been someone likable? She wondered if maybe she deserved to be treated poorly from time to time.
She tried to snap out of this bad mood because, despite all the things she hadn’t learned yet, she did know that time was something you couldn’t get back. The thought was haunting. It stung to realize that if the situation was reversed there would be no coming back for him. If Will decided to be angry, everyone was going to feel it. Because why wouldn’t the world revolve around him?
He took a sip of his hot coffee. A couple rest stops ago they stopped on the turnpike. Will wanted coffee and she wanted food, so they both got coffee. A win-win for Jessica really because he got what he wanted and she didn’t have to hear him complain. It was always so much easier to give in to him. She seemed to have a never-ending supply of herself to give away. She thought about a world where men couldn’t yell, and how life would be very different. Better.
She used to worry she was too emotional but knew now that it was him. She used to say he acted like a little girl, but she couldn’t remember ever complaining so much.
Of all the things that have gone wrong on this trip, she knows there’s a lot to be thankful for. She knows to be grateful they didn’t get a flat tire because she knows Will wouldn’t know what to do, and happy it didn’t snow because a preoccupied Will was dangerous. Because even when the universe is at fault he always wants someone to blame. She wonders why he’s so angry and why he used to be good at letting it just float away. The world used to be a lot lighter. What about their love made him so angry? So empty, resentful, and tired. Or maybe it fueled him.
She imagined what it would be like if they were driving to meet her parents right now. Would he have still made jokes about her music taste and asked “is that what you’re wearing?” Or would he be the same and discreetly wipe the tears under her eyes with a kiss before stepping up to the door. All better.
She wasn’t even sure he was so bad. Maybe she was angry at something else. He held her at night and answered her calls. He brought her ice cream when she was sad. But he never hung out with her friends or picked her favorite restaurant, and loving her seemed to exhaust him over time. She wanted him to be her world, but he wouldn’t even step inside of it. He didn’t care who she was when he wasn’t around.
He always plays the music he wants and thinks he’s being kind by making a huge deal about picking a song to play for her. Like he deserves a reward for memorizing her as if he is going against his instincts to run away. She wanted him to want her and had no idea what he wanted. What went through his head, sports? Dinner? When all that goes on in hers is him. Those extra parts feel like a habit or chore when everything centers around him. Life doesn’t even come easy anymore. Oh how much simpler it would have been if the love had gone first. To be a broken person but still have your favorite television shows and wildflowers.
Has it always been like this? The two of them, seeming so far apart. Was she getting younger, was she frozen? Understanding your problems is hard when you’re not sure how long you’ve had them, or how much longer until it implodes. Maybe life would be simpler if it was a bomb strapped to your chest. She used to think that she could make the best decisions for herself, but the truth is that sometimes life doesn’t even tell you when it is getting bad. She wished life would have whispered to her the answers. But she didn’t even call herself an adult yet, and the man she loved was mad at her for not growing up in a world 10 years earlier.
Sometimes she thinks she could live like this forever, but the thought of feeding excuses to kids stops her from planning a life together. “Sorry kids, he’s just tired.” “Don’t worry he’s just having a bad day.” “I’ll let you play your song later, I’m sorry.” A lifetime spent apologizing. They could never create something great together, he would hate a part of it–the part that is her. The part that cries when he raises his voice or wears short dresses to lunch. The part that watches reality TV and doesn’t have dinner completely ready by the time he is home. But he would adore the part that puts him on a pedestal.
She couldn’t understand how it was so easy to forget how you got bruised, where did this pain come from? You hit your knee or bump your arm and you don’t even know it was hard enough to leave a mark. You don’t realize how much something can affect you when it doesn’t make noise. Over years and then in just an instant. You look out the car window and realize how badly you wish you were in your bedroom, or mother’s arms, or the office, or a grocery store, even asleep. You love something and don’t realize that it doesn’t love you back. You wish you never got hurt so you wouldn’t have to stare at a bruise.
She wanted him to listen to songs and think of her, not just about how they could be better. She wanted him to take pictures of her when she wasn’t looking because he thought she looked pretty. She wanted him to stop analyzing the world for a moment so she didn’t feel so tiny in it. She wanted him to be something he wasn’t and knew it was her fault for expecting a love like in the movies. She looked in all the wrong places, and for a moment, thought she had found it. She used to be so smart.
She looked at Will and thought about their first months together. He took her to fancy restaurants and told her to wear dresses. He always drank fine wines and would laugh at her cheap beers. He was sophisticated and sexy. He knew where to touch her and called his mom just to talk about his day. He made her sure that growing up was becoming more sure of yourself. It took her time to realize why she would leave their nights and mornings together feeling heavy. It’s draining to spend so much time with someone who makes you fight for their acceptance. She couldn’t tell what he wanted. He acted like he hated her for being young, but he wouldn’t have touched her if she were much older. He liked that he thought he knew more than her, even if it was just a longer list of presidents, or how to read a road map. She couldn’t read a map but she was pretty sure she understood the world much more than him, now. She just wished love couldn’t mean so many things, maybe then she wouldn’t have stayed.
“You’re going to take the next exit, it’s on the right,” she felt calm.
“Okay, thanks, Jess.” He put his hand on her thigh as he said it.