I could feel the moment my skidding tires almost sent me into a guard rail as they crunched over the gravel, just like I could feel the very moment my heart restarted. I’d careened violently over the train tracks, way outside of town, my hands vibrating against the wheel, my breaths shaky as I tried to stopper the tears in my throat. Turn after turn, whipping carelessly through the night, I’d continued on my reckless drive with no destination in mind. Just go. It was exactly as I’d always thought. Those two words. JUST GO.
The drive was not unfamiliar. It was the same drive I’d taken more than a dozen times in the last few years. Out of town, into the maze of country roads whose names I’ll never know, my lungs and throat raw with the fiery breaths I’d forced through them with every relit clove between my teeth.
The echo in my chest was almost brutal as my heart seemed to recount the moment the windshield had burst before me. The look in his widened eyes when they’d connected with mine, with the unhinged fury surging through me and the shock of what I’d done.
I barreled on through those graveled roads with watery vision and mascara-stained cheeks, counting the beats inside me as they pummeled against my ribs, until I came sliding to a halt at a sudden dead end and tried to swallow the tears still creeping up on me.
FUCK! My palms hammered at the wheel. Of course I couldn’t leave. Of course not. Just like I could never leave him. Those heavy trails still on my cheeks were finally wet again as I silently shook and let the crushing weight of the last two years settle over me.
What is it… what is it about this night?! I could’ve screamed if I’d had much of a voice left at all.
That night was not unlike others, really… and yet it was.
Something had eaten at me throughout that strange and muggy shift of delivering food across my college town. Something had pricked at my skin and nestled itself deep in my veins. And with it came this decisive feeling that I’d had enough. That I should let everything fall from me, even if it all crashed to the ground in a brutal mess. But it was even more. It was this far-off feeling like I had lost out on something. Like he’d stolen precious time from me.
The moment the door clicked closed, I reached for him—Trevor, the guy I’d been dating for the past two years. The sun had just fallen below the tree line, casting us in shadow behind the shop as I leaned his way.
So much had changed between Trevor and me since we’d plunged into a destructive relationship that left me reeling with every whiplash change of heart he’d had. Meddling with emotions seemed like a sport to him, and though I had often thought of removing myself from his grasp, somehow I’d become more and more malleable to him. I was soft enough, I was pliant in his hands. A gutless shell of myself I’d allowed to be muted.
Though it was typical for Trevor to mess with my mind and shake off any affection I offered his way, nothing of me on that evening was typical. I couldn’t let him go as he always did. I couldn’t let him write me off and walk away.
The words of kindness that slipped from my mouth repulsed me. Still, I said them and waited for reciprocal affection that only ever appeared when he chose to grace me with it. “Nobody’s here to see. Kiss me goodbye and I’ll see you tomorrow.” They were foolish words, pathetic words reflecting my cowardice. Trevor never wanted anyone at work to know we were dating, so I continued to appease his desire to keep me a secret. His strange little secret—the weird girl.
He rolled his eyes as he started for his car.
Perhaps I broke that night. I don’t know. Everything seemed to happen without my having to think. My movements were strangely automatic as my shoulders squared, blocking the path to his car. “Why do you treat me like this?” I blurted out while he glared at me, surprised by my body language, the words that seemed to leave my lips of their own accord. It was the first time I’d truly questioned him. I held my ground and waited for an answer.
Time seems to slow in surprising ways, as if, in certain moments, we must see the detailed reality of what is happening to us.
I tipped my chin up in his direction and my eyes closed and opened once while all else around me slowed. I recall feeling the ticking in my ears, the time bomb of my heart. At the corner of my eye, I could see a hand slicing through the air, hurtling toward me so quickly, yet so slowly, that I could make out the echoed blur of its outline in each stage of its trail.
His hand came out like a flash of light, clamping down and wrenching at my arm, tossing me violently, like a rag doll, to the ground at his feet. “Trevor.” I gasped the word out through shallow, shocked breaths. I tried to right myself, placing my hand on his leg before he turned once more and shoved hard at my shoulders until I was pressed into the pavement.
“What did I tell you, Elizabeth?!” He shouted, turning toward his car.
What did I tell you? It echoed in my ears as I hunched over my bloodied knees, straining to steady myself for what must have only been seconds but felt like several minutes, before my mind took hold of itself once more.
A pulsing anger tore into me in my pause, snuffing out any flame of fear I’d ever had of him. My veins throbbed as I ran his way, anger welling in my throat. I slapped aside his outstretched fist, rushing to plant myself on the hood of his car. The wind whipped soundlessly around my shoulders, and I got to my knees as he slid inside, turned the key, and stepped on the pedal. The old engine beneath me rattled as it revved, but I held on. His rage couldn’t shake me anymore.
In a single moment, the tiny world around me snapped into focus. Everything before my wide and watering eyes accelerated. The breeze took hold of me, swallowing up my arms in a horrible gust. My voice rang out in that empty alley in a string of disjointed, furious words, daring him to hurt me again, striving to pierce through the glass between us.
But I’d never be heard.
His hand reached for a knob and the radio blared until the sound was a muddled mess. The bass vibrated the frame of the car I now clung to. My heart thudded harder.
He wouldn’t listen, but he would knock me down and break me as he pleased.
I closed my pointy fist and hammered as hard as I could on his window, yelling, “You’ve kept me a secret and been cold to me for too long! You’ve taken so much TIME from me and you have nothing to say? Do you even know what it is to feel?! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?!”
His reply boomed through the windshield at me. “I’ll knock your teeth out if you break my window.” As he spoke, his face was nearly empty. Though anger carried his words, I could swear to this day he was entirely hollow. He was just someone whose rage had devoured his being, leaving almost nothing in its wake.
Unsettling as it may sound, his statement didn’t shock me; I’d heard him use similar words before, but until that night, I hadn’t ever believed them.
Trevor knew exactly how to hurt me, how to make me feel weird and unwanted, and it had destroyed us. In the time I was his, I spent too many days in a miserable defeat and too many evenings bathing in my own tears. What I thought was a sliver of a crack became an obvious chasm in my self-esteem; a fault in my structure, there for him to contaminate with the worst of himself, and that he did.
What I’d felt for him at the start was new and... interesting. Things were good for a while and at one point I knew he truly cared for me. But it all had changed. He’d caught on to little things that made me me, and soon I was nothing but someone to warm his bed and be ashamed of.
And the truth was, I knew I was off. I knew as much as everyone else did. But it was hard to say why. Sometimes it was the crawling in my skin, strange sensations I couldn’t understand. Asking a friend if they ever count their heartbeats or trace the flow of blood in their veins. “Yeah, I can feel it… where its pumping the hardest. You can’t?” It was a deafening reminder that I will always be on the outside looking in. That in some undefined way, I don’t belong anywhere.
I shifted forward on my knees, perched upon the car, and felt the hot stream of tears fall from my jaw. “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?” I shouted through the glass.
He didn’t look at me, maybe didn’t even hear me from within his frigid, empty mind. It didn’t matter, though, because in that second, as the car began to jolt with his foot against the gas pedal, and I saw his hand pulling on the shifter, everything I’d held on to for those two years surfaced.
Or at least... that’s what I thought happened.
Tears stung my lower lids, threatening to spill, but I kept my focus on his chest; the empty cavity that was supposed to house whatever remained of his heart. I wanted him to see me, to see my pain, to give me any tiny belief that these years had meant something to him. But there was nothing in the look he gave me. Nothing but anger and coldness.
And so I reached for something different. Deep in my heart, I sought something dark and damaging—for everything within him to break. For the pain of our past to fill the void of his heart and rupture it. I felt the damage in my own chest as my eyes narrowed to center their view on his. My veins seized violently within my arms, my ears rang with a terrible pitch, angering me further, I bit down on my lip, and in a motion I’d only wanted to imagine, my arm flashed backward, then pierced the air in front of me as a single, heavy thump resounded from within my chest.
POP. The glass between us erupted in a shower of shimmering slivers, covering us both. I never touched the windshield, but it shattered as my fist cut that space before me to slam into his chest. A laugh escaped my lips while the shower of shards seemed to carry on in slow, tinkling waves. And when I saw his shocked face, more laughter poured from me like I’d unstoppered a bottle that kept this frenzied anger contained. “DON’T YOU FEEL THAT?!” I finally screamed, my palm against his chest while the glass still skittered from the dash and fell into his lap, “THAT. IS. YOUR. HEART!”
I pulled my hand from him and slid to the ground, my ears pounding with the harsh sound of my own heart, my veins still twitching angrily within my arms. The moment my shoes touched the pavement, his tires squealed behind me and he was gone.
And so began my familiar drive; out of the city, away from sound and light and reality, into the hypnotizing maze of nameless dirt roads, shrouded further by the smoke of endless cigarettes.
I cut the engine off, back beside my house, my lungs still working overtime through the anger quaking within me.
Tears passed quickly down my cheeks and fell across the hem of my hoodie. Tears of confusion, of frustration, of anger at myself for all the time I’d wasted.
With hurried fingers, I sent out a text, the last I’d ever send him, snapped my phone closed and put it in my center console. I was closing the phone like I was closing the door to this part of my life, and now I was done. A pang in my stomach made me swallow against the pain. Done. And just like some great tragedy, it struck me, right there in that car. I was done and I would mourn the time I’d lost—the death of two years; the slow death of my heart, which I could swear made up ninety percent of who I was.
The years I’d spent with Trevor had left me hollow and defeated. And through it—through those years of being carved out and tamped down—being devoid of feeling had become my safe-haven. After all, life is so much safer when we feel nothing.
But this nothingness… it was nothing I’d ever known before him.
I had never once felt so empty, though I’d always felt so alone. I can remember instances of wanting to burst out of my skin as a child. Times where all I could hear was the ticking deep inside me, a metronome growing louder as I grew older. An incessant vibration that couldn’t be shut off. The heartbeat pumping restlessly through every corner of my body. Driving me, holding me. I could feel it just as I could always feel this constant stream of emotion. A strike of lightning to my chest, right there behind my ribs. The tumultuous beats echoing angrier by the day; a cavernous bass drum as the tempo of my life. A flame being fanned inside my soul, simmering through my veins and rising to the surface to tell me something.
I was feeling everything for a reason. And now I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was meant to listen to my heart as it cried out from within me:
Through my thundering pulse, I could feel something calling to me as I hurried up the steps to my apartment. The blood in my veins was billowing, boiling up within me, hitting me square in the chest the moment I started tugging out my suitcase and tossing things into boxes.
I could have dug my heels in and let the anxiety of change overtake me, then, but the blood rushing through my arms wouldn’t allow them to settle. It was thirsting for something, this steady stream inside my veins. It needed something more than this. More than college and shitty boyfriends and nine-to-fives. It was telling me how much more there was out there that would make me feel alive. I needed to believe there was something more in this life for me.
And so, with frantic hands taping boxes closed, I was suddenly questioning how much time I actually had lost. Years and other lifetimes floated through my head while my fingers shook against a scrap of notepaper. Memories of childhood and feeling strange and out of place tore at my thoughts as I tried desperately to leave a note behind—an apology and a goodbye to my parents.
The ink smeared across the side of my hand and I sucked in the tears still stinging my eyes.
Please take my boxes home and I’ll get them when I can. Goodbye for now and sorry for never finishing school. I need something more than this. I love you.
I left the paper and slipped into the bathroom one last time, taking in a truly depressing version of myself. The thick and mussed up brown waves of navel-length hair framed my frail, shadowed face. The color of my eyes was now muted, a hazed-over sea bordered by a web of fiery veins.
What a mess.
I killed the light and walked away, knowing in my heart of hearts better things were coming. That the ticking within me was resetting my soul.
The stairs flew beneath me on my final trip down, the door shutting hard in my trail, and in an instant, the house was no longer my home. I jumped into my Taurus, slid a cassette tape in the deck, and pressed play. And as I drove away, I granted myself one last look at my little house at the corner of Cedar and Pearl and a goodbye to Kalamazoo.
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