It started that stupid night you convinced me to walk with you over the bridge and along the river. I shouldn't have done that and I knew it—even before we left, I knew it—and I thought to myself, I shouldn't be doing this, because I was with this guy who treated me well and I thought I’d try to see a good life through, but you were here and he was there and you had that look I liked, that I sit around my living room, smoking in my boxers look, that and I cut my hair in front of the bathroom mirror look, that unrefined and impure look, and Christ, did I like it.
The guy I was with was reason enough for me not to go with you because, like I said, he was good, with this bulb of soft brown curls and sometimes he called me Nubalub, on account of my bulbous nose, which he said only endeared me more to him. He was soft in the way I’d always wanted softness: he dressed in oatmeal sweaters and shoveled the snow from the roof of my car and he could do all the things I’d always wanted to do myself, like file his own taxes and run long distances and cook fancy, gourmet meals: rosemary pork chops with a mustard-wine reduction, and teriyaki tofu with peas, and this incredible soup in a spicy broth that always did the trick when I was all stuffed up and feverish, and he was a thousand miles away now, okay, but so what? He’d visit me sometime. He was going to visit me like three weeks from that night, but you were like, Seriously, come with me for a walk, it will only be a walk, and I trusted you though I shouldn't have.
I shouldn’t have, because the only places I ever saw you were street corners and park benches, always with that bed-head look, always smoking shitty menthols or cigarettes you’d rolled yourself, or else bars or restaurants late at night when it was too late to order food. Okay, I said, but this is just a walk, and I’m not sure even I believed it, but still I said it and I went. And at first, a walk was all it was—you kept up that end of the bargain, I mean, you didn’t lie about that—but first we stopped for Gatorades at the corner convenience store because we’d been out drinking the night before. Neither one of us had eaten all day and it was the first thing you said when you saw me—you said, I can't hold down a thing, can you? and I was like, Oh my god, no, what in the world were we thinking?—but here’s what I was thinking: youyouyouyouyou,
I know just the route, you said, so we started heading towards the shitty Mexican place that puts potatoes and zucchinis in their burritos. I’ve always hated them so much for that, and I even said, Ugh, the smell is making me nauseous, and Me too, you said, me too. I put my hand up and pinched my nose but it was the second week of October and already it was freezing, so after a moment I took it down. We crossed one street and then another and then two blocks and then another five, and before I knew it we were along the river, and you were talking, Blah blah blah, something about ice floes or some dumb shit, some girl you’d been with who broke your heart—you said, she broke my absolute heart—and I felt sorry for you for a moment even though I knew you probably had it coming.
Look at this, you said, leaning up against the bridge’s railing. You put one foot in the grooves and hoisted yourself up, and I started to panic, thinking you were going to jump or maybe worse, throw me over, for example, because you were the first person I’d ever met where I could never figure out what you were thinking, even what you were feeling, where one thought never suggested another, but instead you only laughed and said, It's okay, it's alright, just come here, Jesus, would you? and I moved closer and you pulled me in and pointed to how some of the river was already freezing, like all along the banks and whatever, and all I could think was fuck, because I was close and getting closer. Would you look at that? you said, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: that already things were freezing in this godforsaken place. Let's keep moving, I said, because I was cold, my fingers like bricks inside my pockets, and alright, yeah, you said, motioning me forward. We walked to the end of the bridge and then up one block and then another and suddenly we were in this weird little neighborhood that smelled like kielbasa or cabbage or something spicy. I didn't know this even existed, I said, and you laughed and said, Yeah, but I hear they don't deliver pizza out here—not anymore. It looks nice, but it's still dangerous, so we kept moving and I walked even closer because that kind of freaked me out—I mean, I’d never heard of pizza guys who wouldn’t go somewhere, not once, not ever.
Here we go, you said when finally we reached it, the place you’d told me about, this cutesy little neighborhood where all the houses had big, rooted trees growing in their front yards, tire swings hanging from their thickest limbs. These homes cost half a million dollars, you told me, and I realized you meant that that was a lot, so I nodded and faked amazement. Jesus, I said, and you were like, Yeah, who spends that kind of money?, because you’d grown up in some Podunk little town where the creeks, you told me, the creeks were always orange and hubcaps just settled in the mud. I’d been raised in a Podunk town, too, but you were always making your home sound different, like it was another country altogether, and I imagined your whole childhood spent in nubby pajamas in front of the TV, eating Velveeta and avoiding chain smoke, so I just nodded and said Jesus. I didn’t resent these people, but you did, so I kept quiet and did not to mention that half a million dollars for a beautiful home within walking distance to a city is actually pretty reasonable.
They're gorgeous though, you said after a minute, and then I thought that maybe I was seeing you all wrong—I mean, maybe you weren’t all just smoke and bars and mocking people for this way that they lived that was nothing like the way you lived. Maybe I'm wrong, I thought, and then I thought about sneaking through their brass fence posts to sit on the bench swing, kiss you like maybe it could be innocent—not smoke or sex at all but a feeling like We are connected in this moment—and maybe I’d lean into you as we rose up or I’d squeal or some dumb shit, and you’d put your hand in mine, because Christ, I wanted your hand—more than your hand, really—and I thought, We are capable of this, maybe, but then you said, Still, half a million is a lot of fucking money, so I was like, Yeah, no, definitely. I picked a cattail from one of the house’s flowerbeds and made a show of running it through my fingers and I said, sure. I said, It is.
And then all of a sudden I felt all sorts of tired, like tired as all hell, and I kind of just wanted to go home, take a hot bath, get in my bed—or get in your bed, I mean, I kind of wanted to get in your bed—so I said, Now what, and you were like, Well, I said we’d just take a walk, and I’d better keep my promise, and I was kind of disappointed but I didn’t want to show it, so instead I laughed and said, Okay, and you turned around and scratched your head. But now we've got to walk home anyway, right? you joked, and I laughed and said, Yeah, I don't want to stay out here alone—who knows, maybe I'll want a pizza later, and you laughed and I remember really liking it—not just your voice and how it rose, but the fact that I was the one who made it go, I mean, that I had made you laugh. We took a different bridge on the way back, because the river was full of them—lots of ways to connect one piece of land to another—and you were like, The ice isn't frozen here, and I was like, No, without even looking, because I was really tired by then, I mean, I wouldn’t have stayed in your bed even if you’d asked me.
Do you like this place? you asked, and it was the first time you’d ever really asked me anything—all along, I’d just been following behind you in the dark, close, listening to the sound of you. Yeah, I said, I mean, it’s only been a couple of weeks, but yeah, I like it okay, and you said, Good, because I hated it for a year straight, and I said, Really? A whole year? and you said, Yeah, twelve fucking months, I straight up literally wanted to die. And all I remember thinking was how a year is a real long time. I’d wanted to die before too, of course, but only ever for a few days at time, and even that loneliness made me feel crazy, and not the good kind of crazy, but I mean crazy, like, crazy crazy.
Well, here we are, you said when we were back in front of the Mexican restaurant, except by now they’d closed up shop and the doors were locked and the lights were off even. Okay, I said, well, this was nice, hey, thanks for the walk, and you were like, No problem, that was fun, and I said, Yeah, and I think you said, Yeah too but it was so quiet I wasn’t sure. And then you did that thing that attracted me to you in the first place, that thing where you half-smiled and it made me feel all sorts of crazy, but only the good kind again, and you raised your hand in a little wave and with your Podunk drawl, said, Well, g'night—and that's just how you said it, too, rolling your ‘G’ into your ‘night’—and I was like, Goodnight, because that’s all I could think to do. What was I going to say? Do you want to go make out hard against that toolshed? Do you want to take me to your bed? What if I say please? Because I was with that awesome guy, remember? And also because: crazy.
I really liked that, you texted as soon as we said goodbye, and I turned around like I was half-expecting to see you, like you were following just behind me, like maybe you were the one that was spooked, crazy, dreaming of hiking up a full-length, floral dress I didn’t even own, except you were really gone—it was only just a walk—so I just wrote back, me too and I bit my lip and I felt so dumb.
Me too. I thought about it all night as I lay in bed—how it was such a flippant, dumb response—and I half-expected you to show up at my front door with a pizza just to tell me so, to say, That was really pretty dumb, because I knew you knew where I lived. That would be really cute, I kept thinking, like something they’d do in a movie, except we weren’t in a movie, right? We were in this shitty little town that you’d hated for so goddamn long and the river was already freezing and I knew I was going to hate it here because of you and all you’d mean: how for many months, I’d done so much for myself—I’d worked so goddamn hard—making promises to my work and making promises to that guy and making promises to myself that I’d try to see this good life through. And of course it would all go to shit. I wasn’t dumb enough not to know this.
I really liked that.
It stayed with me for days and oh god, come on, that’s like the simplest fucking thing you could say, and when I couldn’t get it out of my head—that that that—I convinced myself to dump that awesome guy and try to push you against cinderblocks or exposed beams or whatever we could find, and for a little while, we did: we pushed and we pushed and pushed, but never against barns or sheds or anything organic or even rustic but always on your bed, in your sheets that smelled like cinnamon, and on my futon and my kitchen counter and even once against my refrigerator, because the truth is that even when you were behind me—pushing your flesh right into mine, pressing your jaw into my shoulder—I never thought you’d hurt me. I didn’t think you’d really do it. I just wanted to love you: take whatever pain was in your throat and try to will it away for good. And sure, okay, maybe I wanted a little of your pain but still, a bridge is a stupid fucking place to take a girl, and I shouldn’t have been surprised when you kept smoking your shitty menthols and hanging out late into the night and making friends with all these Asian girls who took grainy photos in Midwestern fields wearing almost nearly nothing, their faces overexposed and faded, and later, after we’d push, I’d make you popcorn or make you pasta because it’s all I knew to do—shrimp with garlic or broccoli, or chicken sautéed with sage—and you’d just move it around your plate, mumble, excuse yourself halfway through to go out and sit on my front stoop, and Can I join you, I was always asking, and Sure, you always said, but it was clear to me even then that it wasn’t a cigarette you needed.
What the fuck, I’d think, sitting in my kitchen all alone, your smoke wafting in through the open windows, surrounding the framed photos of my family and a statue my grandma gave me, but then you’d come back inside, and then you’d come back a few days later, and then finally you call it quits because it had turned into something more than a walk on an old, arched structure and it was making you, you said, “nervous.”
Okay, I said, but I didn't mean it, and that’s when the dreams began, and in them, I’m always trying to push you to down, trying to roll around in your dirt, getting sick on whatever made you. I’d wake and you wouldn’t be there and I’d long to be beside you, in your sheets, a part of you, so I’d walk by your place and note the light—or perhaps the absence of the light—or I’d walk home or I’d walk around or I’d trace the river as it bent. I began to feel spooked, and I feel spooked even now, and I remained haunted by those bridges and those old neighborhoods and every home—not because of their vastness, but because of the trees in each front yard: how their roots are always knotted deep into something terrible, but honest.