I always remember how it ends.
I think it was sometime around midnight, but it’s hard to tell because we had been driving for the entire day. I stood barefoot in my driveway, holding a plastic cup of seashells that we had collected together at the beach barely 12 hours before. I watched your taillights turn the corner as you pulled into the night and out of my life. That cup sat on my kitchen counter for months — a subtle reminder of a time that I sometimes wanted to remember, but mostly I couldn’t forget. I threw it away when I moved out of the apartment that you, had, once upon a time, sporadically made into your home.
There’s a common theme in the leaving. There’s always a car. Maybe it’s because escaping on foot is never quick enough. Or maybe the pounding of the pavement hurts after a while, and everyone seems to have shin splints, or knee problems, or bad backs. Maybe because it’s hard to carry the weight of what you’re doing alone, and it’s easier if you toss your problems in the trunk with the bags of clothes you’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill for 3 months, and that old pair of sneakers, and the dirty picnic blanket, and those 4 empty beer cans. The trunk is meant for the leftovers of your life that can be dealt with later, when it’s more convenient.
The first time someone left, there was so much fire and rage I could feel the would-be arsonist inside of them burst into flame and set my house on fire from 30 miles away. An atomic bomb of a person, I tried to diffuse the situation only to set it off. They moved out of state, blaming me. I can’t be around you anymore. I can’t drive by your house. I can’t know I’m near you. The embers of this one still burn. They catch me by surprise and cut deep — like I’m standing outside a bar, drunk off life, when a stranger burns me with a cigarette. Pressing, pressing it into my skin until I’m scarred. They know they’re doing it, they just don’t care. That is how it felt – how it continues to feel – with the first one. I see a ‘94 Dodge Spirit and it feels like I’m about to spontaneously combust.
After that, it became such a pattern I thought there was something wrong with me.
I can still remember the night you told me she was pregnant, the shadows dancing across your dashboard. I don’t remember if I slammed the door, but I know I wanted to.
I can still remember the night I picked you up, cinnamon whiskey on your tongue. I kissed your bloody lips and bruised knuckles, only to drop you off at your car the next morning, so you could go back home and fix what you had broken.
I can still remember the half-awake 5am, standing on the street. You had to make a 3 hour drive on no sleep. 3,000 miles and two coasts later, there was not enough left of me to make you want to come back.
I can still remember driving out to see the stars and holding you in the dark. You told me you had bought a ring and that it wasn’t for me. The next week we did the same thing, but there were no secrets, there were no stars. When I dropped you off it was raining too hard for me to see the front porch of the house that held the ring. You told me it would hurt us both too much if you kissed me goodbye.
A collection of numbers grew in my phone that would go straight to voicemail, blue texts that would turn green within minutes. And somewhere along this line, everything changed. The walls I put up grew bigger, the habits I formed more destructive. I had grown tired of investing everything I had in other people; I was worn out and emotionally exhausted from trying my hardest to not only be a good person, but to see the good in people who had clearly not been worth my time.
I started to create relationships with people, out of friendship or boredom or genuine feelings. Then when they became too serious I would get scared and feel the need to retreat into a car or a bottle or anything that would help me feel like I was escaping the situation. Bars and road trips became a solace. I had been drinking and I had been driving since 16, those were familiar habits. Comforting. Easy patterns to fall into. Confronting my fears was terrifying, uncharted territory.
As the fears grew, I understood why everyone left me before: it’s easier to disappear. It’s easier to say goodbye, or to go without saying anything at all, than it is to give in to what you might really want.
So I started leaving.
I can still remember you falling asleep on my chest, but waking up to find you on the bathroom floor. I helped you back to bed sometime in the early morning. You had offered to take me, but we were both still so drunk that I crept out the door and drove myself to the airport.
I can still remember your voice echoing through the speakers of my car, saying I was selfish; all you wanted to do was take care of me. Your words were a punch in my already twisting gut. I yelled at you, even though I never yell. I could barely see through my tears as I kept going over the hill.
I can still remember the reflections from the puddles outside the hotel. I don’t know why they stand out in my mind as much as shutting the door in your face does, but I had to drive through another state, try passing through the seasons, in an attempt to outrace my thoughts.
I can still remember the night you confronted me about leaving: the first person to bring it to the surface. You had whispered you loved me, the first time in any recent memory I had heard those words, and I waited for you to ask me to stay, because I would have, for you. Instead, you said: “go”.
I am thinking about leaving again.
Being the one to leave doesn’t hurt any less, but it’s a different kind of hurt. There isn’t the surprise of being left behind, and I can only blame myself for the pain. It is my fault that I am causing the endings. It is my fault that I am doing this to another person and to myself. There is no second-guessing what I could have done wrong, or if things could have gone differently. It doesn’t matter if my number is blocked or if my messages go unanswered, because I know that I am the one with all of the fault.
And when I leave I can blanket myself with those feelings, wrap them around me like a sweater and wear them to all my new destinations. I can put them in the back of my closet and bring them out when I need to feel warm again. I can pack them away to take to Goodwill and leave them in my trunk for a few more months, letting them collect dust with too many empty beer cans and the suitcases of things I have already packed to bring to my next life.
Leaving is scary, but staying is scarier.
Or maybe the scariest thing of all is not knowing what you want.