I couldn’t stay. Every memory of us littered the streets of the city, playing out like the scenes of a movie. I couldn’t even walk past corner store where we’d buy off-brand Oreos and use them as spoons for the pints of ice cream we’d go through in a weekend. Just entering the local coffee shop brought tears to my eyes and made my hands tremble. That was the coffee shop where I’d write and you’d read, with a silence that fit perfectly, just like the sweater you bought me for our first Christmas. I saw a “for sale” sign outside the old run down movie theater that only showed one film every week. Sometimes we’d go over and over again and never get tired of the same thing. I never thought we would, until one day, I guess one of us did.
I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t donate the sweater you gave me, with its hole in the left sleeve and its peeling letters now spelling out “liz navida.” I couldn’t bear to go to a new coffee shop where the baristas didn’t see me and immediately know I was ordering a large black coffee and the girliest drink on the menu, knowing fully well that the coffee was for me. The silence as I wrote wasn’t fitting. It was so loud that it was deafening. I ducked when I saw your silhouette outside the corner store, tucking my head further into your old hat, hoping you didn’t know that was me crying on the curb. That week, I watched the same movie seven days in a row, hoping you’d show up with the ice cream to go with the Oreos I brought. I couldn’t leave.
I couldn’t stay. I could leave. Paralyzed by the memories and plagued by the fear of having to change, I froze. I froze, and I fell, and I eventually sunk. Sitting in the heartache, I was sinking in the quicksand of darkness. I silently hoped no beam of light would ever reach my eyes again. Days passed, and none did. Weeks passed, and still, I sat. Everyone told me it would get better, that all I had to do was let go and move forward. My hole was comforting—I had built it myself with the memories, the pain, and the things I couldn’t bear to say goodbye to. Yet I wanted to leave. I couldn’t stay.
With trembling legs, I stood. I stood and looked around at the darkness, expecting rubble, ruin, and clouds scattered along the horizon. There was none. The monsters I built up were just shadows, and their growls registered now to me as branches rustling in the wind. I reached up to my face to wipe my tears and found something hard, something plastic, like glasses or goggles. I used my fingers as wipers to wipe away a thick bed of grim that covered the lenses. The word got a little brighter. Taking in a breath, I pulled the glasses off to reveal an unseen world. This new world I would face for the first time, alone, sunny and full of fresh air. I was never stuck by heartache or some evil happenstance. All I had to do, the entire time, was look.