The first time I saw her...
Everything in my head went quiet.
All the tics, all the constantly refreshing images just disappeared.
When you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, you don’t really get quiet moments.
Even in bed, I’m thinking:
Did I lock the doors? Yes.
Did I wash my hands? Yes.
Did I lock the doors? Yes.
Did I wash my hands? Yes.
But when I saw her, the only thing I could think about was the hairpin curve of her lips..
Or the eyelash on her cheek—
the eyelash on her cheek—
the eyelash on her cheek.
I knew I had to talk to her.
I asked her out six times in thirty seconds.
She said yes after the third one, but none of them felt right, so I had to keep going.
On our first date, I spent more time organizing my meal by color than I did eating it, or fucking talking to her...
But she loved it.
She loved that I had to kiss her goodbye sixteen times or twenty-four times if it was Wednesday.
She loved that it took me forever to walk home because there are lots of cracks on our sidewalk.
When we moved in together, she said she felt safe, like no one would ever rob us because I definitely locked the door eighteen times.
I’d always watch her mouth when she talked—
when she talked—
when she talked—
when she talked
when she talked;
when she said she loved me, her mouth would curl up at the edges.
At night, she’d lay in bed and watch me turn all the lights off.. And on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off, and on, and off.
She’d close her eyes and imagine that the days and nights were passing in front of her.
Some mornings I’d start kissing her goodbye but she’d just leave cause I was
just making her late for work...
When I stopped in front of a crack in the sidewalk, she just kept walking...
When she said she loved me her mouth was a straight line.
She told me that I was taking up too much of her time.
Last week she started sleeping at her mother’s place.
She told me that she shouldn’t have let me get so attached to her; that this whole thing was a mistake, but...
How can it be a mistake that I don’t have to wash my hands after I touched her?
Love is not a mistake, and it’s killing me that she can run away from this and I just can’t.
I can’t – I can’t go out and find someone new because I always think of her.
Usually, when I obsess over things, I see germs sneaking into my skin.
I see myself crushed by an endless succession of cars...
And she was the first beautiful thing I ever got stuck on.
I want to wake up every morning thinking about the way she holds her steering wheel..
How she turns shower knobs like she's opening a safe.
How she blows out candles—
blows out candles—
blows out candles—
blows out candles—
blows out candles—
Now, I just think about who else is kissing her.
I can’t breathe because he only kisses her once — he doesn’t care if it’s perfect!
I want her back so bad...
I leave the door unlocked.
I leave the lights on
–Neil Hilborn , OCD from Our Numbered Days
5 notes · View notes
Metanoia with a Dead Star
“You wanted to accept everything. So accept madness too. Let the light of your madness shine, and it will suddenly dawn on you. Madness is not to be despised and not to be feared, but instead you should give it life...”
- C.G. Jung
The police car is hidden in the juniper, and Caroline does not notice it until she has already gone hurtling past, pedal-to-the-metal down the gritty, pothole-riddled highway toward Bassing. It peels off into the road, sirens blaring after her, and Jonathan smirks in the passenger seat.
I told you there was no rush, he says, somewhere behind her ear. You are in the void now, Caro. We have as much time as we will ever need.
The first pull-out is around the bend, on the other side of the road, but Caroline crosses into it anyway, the gravel crunching beneath her wheels as she slows and finally stops. The flashing lights of the police car whiz right past her.
Stupid pig, Jonathan sniggers behind her other ear this time, and Caroline can’t suppress a little smile, even as her heart pounds. She rolls down the window and waits several minutes with her hands on the wheel until the car comes screaming back her way, this time veering over to stop behind her. The officer is an older man, clean-shaven with white hair, and he gets out of his car with a hand poised on his taser, which amuses Jonathan to no end.
“I’m not going to ask you if you have any idea how fast you were going,” he says as he approaches her window, “since I don’t think anybody who goes that fast on a road like this has no idea.”
She sees him do a double-take when he looks at her and flashes him her prettiest smile.
“Well, look at you,” he says. “License.” She hands it to him, and he glances it over before holding it up against her face. “Now I have no doubt you’ve got yourself a perfect little sweetheart waiting for you, Caroline, and you don’t want to keep him waiting too much longer. But you listen to me: you hit yourself one of those potholes at that kind of speed, and he’ll be seeing you next in the hospital. And that’s if you’re lucky.”
Caroline puts on her best hang-dog face. “I know,” she says bashfully. “I just forgot something very important at home this morning.” She indicates the silver and turquoise choker at her neck, which Michael bought her in Santa Barbara six months ago. “It was my mother’s. I just...it means so much to me. And I wanted to feel like...like she was with me today, you know? And now I’m running late, and I can’t even get a signal out here, and I’d just hate it for Michael to worry, you know?” She smiles again, “But you are right, officer. I wasn’t thinking.”
Beside her, Jonathan is howling with laughter. You sly bitch! There’s the girl I loved, he whoops from somewhere in her gut.
The cop smiles back at her and returns her license. “Well, I get it,” he says. “Believe it or not, I was young and reckless once myself. But there’s nothing like a car accident to get your priorities sorted out, let me tell you. Now, Caroline, I am going to let you off with a warning because I appreciate that you waited and you cooperated, and I would sure hate to make a lady later than she needs to be for her own wedding. But you be smart on that road, you hear?”
“Of course, officer. Thank you for the warning. I will be sure to be more careful the rest of the way.”
“All right. You have a good day there, Caroline. And congratulations.”
She waits until he is gone to pull back out onto the road. Now just take it easy, Jonathan says in the ball of her foot as she gently pushes the gas. No one is coming after us. They’ll never figure you’ve gone this far.
The Bassing town council made Fergus Dunne put up a barbed wire fence around the wind farm after what happened with Jonathan, but Caroline is slender enough to roll under. The sharp bits snag the veil off her head, and her white dress is covered in red dirt when she gets to her feet on the other side, but she herself is unscathed. She snatches her veil, leaving a scrap of white mesh flapping against the ground in the wind, and looks down at her dress. The entire thing has taken on a rusty tint, and it is ripped in several places, front and - she pats her thighs - back. Good.
It has been long enough that she cannot quite remember which one it was, but she knows it was out around the edge by the western bluffs because she remembers watching the sun set behind them. It is a much longer walk than she recalls and so much louder.
That’s the one, Jonathan says, pointing from her heart. She looks up. God, it really was so tall. Two-hundred and twelve feet. She’s always known that. It is burned into her brain. But memory is no substitute for the visceral height of it. The blades are enormous, over a hundred feet long, and their shadows are swooping over her like great birds in a nightmare, circling sideways, north to south to north again, as if waiting for the sun itself to give into death so they might make a feast of it.
You always were so poetic, Jonathan whispers tenderly in her fingertips. The ladder is retracted off the ground, but she is able to jump, grab the lowest rung, and pull herself up. After all, the muscles remember, too. It is a long climb, and her calves are burning by the time she reaches the top. Caroline yanks off her veil and wipes the sweat from her forehead with it. The sun is beating down on her, and the strenuous ascent has left her skin burning. Reaching behind her, she finds the zipper on her dress.
Oh? Jonathan speaks from a rather indecent place as she draws it down and pulls her arms out of the sleeves before allowing the dress to fall around her ankles. The wind’s impact is cool against her sweat. One by one, she pulls the pins from her hair and flings them over the edge, watching them fall and disappear. She knows it is farther down than it looks. Vast expanses of land warp perception, making the ground seem closer when, in fact, it simply yields no strong point of reference.
Jump, says a little voice inside her. It is not Jonathan’s voice this time, but the one he told her about once.
“The call of the void,” he had said, standing in exactly this spot. “That’s what the existentialists called it. When you look down and you have that urge to jump. It’s the moment we realize that we are totally free. But we’re also not really free because we are afraid of our own freedom. Sick, right?”
“I think I get that sometimes,” Caroline had said. “Not, like, to jump. I don’t want to jump. But sometimes I think, like: holy shit, I could get in my car right now and just...go. Like I realize that whatever is going on here, in my life, that is making me angry or sad or stressed - I’m not really trapped with it. I could just go and never look back if I wanted to. But I don’t. Because I guess I don’t really want to.”
Jonathan grinned. “You should do it. But invite me along when you do, okay?”
You did it, Jonathan says now. She thinks she can feel him somewhere between her shoulders, where the tension is gathering. Look at you, Caro. The void called, and you answered. Now it’s calling you again. What do you have to say to it this time?
“No,” Caroline says out loud. “No way. He wins if I jump. He should jump.” Then she laughs. People like Michael did not die from jumping off of wind turbines. People like Michael died of benzo overdoses in penthouses.
Oh, let him go, Jonathan says in her brain.
“I can’t. I’m going to have to see him again. I can’t go on like this forever. No, any minute now, I’m going to come to my senses, and then I will have to drive home and clean up this mess that I’ve made.”
Only if you want to, Jonathan says behind her eyes.
The night is warm, and Caroline wants to wait until the stars come out. She has hung her dress from the railing, and it billows violently in the wind, the fabric snapping deafeningly against itself with each gust. The sun is just sinking behind the bluffs, the sky smeared blood-red above it, blackening at the zenith, when Caroline hears shouting down below. She cannot make out the words over the wind, but she can make out the white beard of Fergus Dunne, his hand forming a visor above his eyes as he looks up at her, yelling unintelligibly.
“Hi, Fergus!” she calls, waving since he probably can’t hear her either. He is walking away now, probably back to his house to call the cops. Caroline turns back to the sunset, pulling her knees into her chest. Soon, the stars begin to glitter into view.
“You know a bunch of them are dead, right?” Jonathan had said to her that night.
“No,” she replied. “I didn’t know stars died.”
“All stars die,” he said, his back to her as he leaned against the railing, gazing out into the scintillating field of the western sky. “Stars fuse hydrogen in their cores. It’s why they burn. But at some point, they run out of fuel. Then they start to expand. They get so big that they collapse into themselves, and then they just sit there in space, all cold. Dead. They don’t have any energy anymore. They disappear out of the sky forever.”
“So there are bunch of dead ones up there that we can’t see right now?”
“Yes,” said Jonathan, “but also a lot of the ones that we do see. They are so far away that their light takes thousands of years to get to us. So we know a bunch of them are probably dead. But we don’t know which ones. We have no way to know.”
“Does it really matter, though?” Caroline asked.
“No,” said Jonathan. “I don’t think it really does.”
There are lights on the horizon now. Not from houses out in town. No, they are red and blue, flashing and getting closer. Caroline sighs. She had hoped at least it would be totally dark by the time they came for her. Minutes later, two squad cars pull over to the side of the road, and she can just make out the silhouettes of four officers emerging, noiselessly slamming their doors two-hundred and twelve feet below her. Squinting, she watches Fergus walk out to meet them, pointing toward her.
She turns her attention back to the darkening sky, even as she hears the clanging footfalls of someone ascending the ladder behind her. Then there is a voice at her back.
“I’m not going to jump,” she says, turning to see the man’s head poking over the platform. He shines a flashlight on her, his own face illuminated in the beam’s periphery. I know him, she realizes, just as he says, “Holy shit! Caroline?”
“Hey, Rick,” she says flatly. Rick pulls himself up onto the platform and walks over to sit cross-legged beside her, angling his flashlight out of her eyes.
“I thought you were in California or something? When did you get back into town?”
“Few hours ago.”
His light shines over to the dress, still whipping in the air along the railing.
Rick takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Listen, Caroline. What do you say you get dressed and come back down with me and-”
“Okay,” he says slowly. “Then would it be all right if I stayed up here with you for a little while?”
Caroline shrugs. “Suit yourself.”
“Do you want to put on your clothes?”
“Maybe if you want to bring me a potato sack or something, but there’s no way I’m putting that fucking dress back on.”
Rick sighs. “If I offer you my jacket, will you put that on?”
He takes it off and drapes it around her shoulders. “Do you have a cigarette?” Caroline asks as she pulls her arms through the sleeves and zips it halfway up.
“In the pocket,” Rick says. She reaches in and pulls out the carton. “Do you want one?”
“Sure, why not.” He pulls a lighter out of his pants pocket.
He accepts the cigarette from her and lights it before passing the lighter to her. Caroline lights her own and breathes deeply before exhaling a cloud of smoke that rapidly dissipates in the wind.
“Look,” she says, pointing out into the northern sky. “I want to show you something before we go down.”
Rick turns. “Where am I looking?”
“You see the Polaris?” She points to the Northern Star, bright above the horizon.
“Do you see Draco?”
“Which one’s Draco?”
“It’s the one that looks like a big snake, sort of wrapping itself around the Little Dipper. There.” Caroline traces it with her finger.
“Yeah, I see it.”
“Now in between them,” Caroline moves her finger up, “There, near Draco’s tail, just to the side of the Big Dipper. Can you see that little smudge?”
“Okay, well just take my word. It’s there. Whether you see it or not,” Caroline says. “Right where I am pointing - that’s the Cigar Galaxy. It is twelve million light years away. A few years ago, a star in there died. Stars die all the time. They run out of fuel, and they turn cold and dim and disappear. But that one didn’t. It exploded. It went supernova. When it happened, it was so bright that you could actually see it with a good set of binoculars. Twelve million light years away. Do you have any idea how far away that is? It was so bright it outshone its entire galaxy.”
She looks at Rick. He is still looking up, squinting into the sky. “That’s crazy,” he murmurs.
“But that’s not the craziest part,” Caroline continues. “Twelve million light years away means when we first saw it from here just a few years ago, what we were actually seeing was twelve million-year old light. That star had been dead for literally millions of years by the time we saw it explode. The supernova isn’t there anymore. It hasn’t been there for a long time. Do you know what’s there now?”
“No. Well, sort of. But no. The kind of star that goes supernova is huge. It’s so massive that it can only explode for so long before its own gravity sucks it back in. It can explode for a million years, but at the end, it all collapses in less than a second. A black hole. A single point with so much gravity that it sucks in everything around it, even light.”
Rick looks at her. “How do you know all this?”
“Jonathan told me.”
He looks away and doesn't say anything. He just exhales deeply.
"Yeah, he knew a lot of stuff," she says. "I know you guys all thought he was stupid, but he was fucking smart. He just didn't care about things that weren't interesting to him. He had more books than most of my professors in college, and he actually read most of them. I promise you the professors didn't."
"I never thought he was stupid," Rick says.
"Yes, you did."
"No. I didn't!" His voice rises for a moment, but then he speaks again, more calmly. "I actually thought you guys were pretty cool. I just...I figured you wouldn't want anything to do with a Sheriff's kid, so I kept to my own way. And my dad—"
"Hated Jonathan," she finishes for him.
"Don't worry. He hated your dad, too."
"My dad didn't hate Jonathan. He was just always on my ass about my future. And he thought you guys were, you know, burnouts. Everybody did. I don't mean that to be rude. It's what you wanted everyone to think. But you weren't. My dad's head just about exploded when you got into Stanford."
"Yes, well, appearances can be deceiving, can't they."
"I mean, we still don't even know how you did it. It's not like you played sports or were the president of the student council."
Caroline snorts. "What student council? You mean the party-planning committee? Screw that. You know what I was doing? I was at the community college taking classes about things I actually gave a shit about. I had an associate's degree in the natural sciences by the time I graduated high school because I took so many astronomy and physics classes. Because Jonathan made me interested in learning more about the world around me. So tell that your dad to stick that in his pipe and smoke it."
Rick is silent for a moment. "He's dead."
Caroline pulls out another cigarette. "Well, shit. Now I feel like a big asshole."
Rick shrugs. "Your feelings shouldn't change about someone just because they're dead. He wasn't cool to you, I get that."
"Well, I'm sorry anyway. I'm sorry your dad's dead. It doesn't matter whether I liked him. He was your dad." She passes him her cigarette and lights herself another. They smoke in silence for a few minutes before Rick speaks again. "So what exactly have you been doing anyway? I bet you got a PhD in astrophysics by now or something."
Caroline laughs. "Bachelors in finance, actually."
"Well, that's a big change. What made you want to do that?"
"I didn't. I sort of...let myself get pushed into it. I minored in planetary science. That was what I really wanted to do. But," — she pauses — "it just didn't pan out, I guess. Wasn't practical and all that."
"I don't mean to be an asshole, but I've never really known practical types to sit naked on top of wind turbines."
"Mostly naked," she corrects him. "And I'm not a practical type."
There is another moment of silence, and then Caroline says, "Going back to what I said earlier. The supernova." She points again to its spot in the sky.
"Well, I can see it. Right now, with my plain eyes, I can see it up there. I don't care what the scientists say. It's so bright, Rick. It's brighter than any other star in the whole sky. How can none of you see it up there?"
He doesn't seem to have an answer. After gazing into the sky for a few more minutes (it's so bright), Caroline says, "Okay. I'm ready. I'm ready to go back down now." She realizes she has not heard from Jonathan for hours.
She calls Michael from the jail while Rick is off speaking to Fergus.
“Caroline?” Michael says, forcefully, before she has even spoken a word. “Is that you? Where the fuck are you?”
“Bassing,” she responds flatly.
He is silent for a moment. Then, “Bassing? You cannot be fucking serious.”
“Do you know how much that wedding cost my parents, Caroline? Do you have any fucking idea?” He is furious, and she wants to laugh.
“I’m in jail.”
Now he is apoplectic, and it is hilarious. “In jail? You know what, Caroline? You are too fucking much. You have made me look like a complete ass—”
“I don’t love you anymore.”
“What—” and she hangs up.
She waits outside the impound lot while Rick retrieves her car, Fergus having informed him that he would not be pressing charges for the trespassing once he learned who Caroline was. The sun is coming up, a red pool forming over the peaks of distant mountains. Caroline does not need to take her eyes off of it to feel Jonathan walk up beside her, lean against the wrought iron fence, and join her in gazing at the gilded horizon.
“Thanks for the ride, Caro,” he says. “I should probably be getting home now, though.”
She feels his shoulder brush against hers as he stands up straight, both hands brushing at the front of his denim jacket in that way he always used to do.
Caroline feels tears biting the corners of her eyes. “No, thank you, Jonathan,” she says. “Thank you for being my friend.”
He turns to her and smiles that broad smile of his, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “A friend in need is a friend indeed. Catch you some day, Caro.”
And he walks away, hands in the pockets of his jacket, out toward the horizon and the red fan of the sunrise and the gilded mountaintops. The tears are on her cheeks now, and she thinks for a moment she may fall to her knees and sob, but instead she cries out, “Wait!”
Halfway across the parking lot, he stops and turns.
“I want to know,” she says. “I want to know why, Jonathan! Tell me why.”
His face, gently shadowed by the dawn, is suddenly sad. “I’m sorry, Caro,” he calls. “You’ll never know.” He turns as if to leave but pauses, looking back over his shoulder. “But know this: I’m proud of you.” And then he is gone, swallowed into the golden body of the emerging sun.
And Caroline does fall to her knees and sob.
She is wiping the last of her tears on the sleeve of Rick’s coat when he pulls up in her car.
“Everything all right?” he asks.
“No,” she says. Then, “yes.” She sniffles, breathes in deeply. “I feel good. I feel...free.”
“Okay,” Rick nods his head. “Okay, that’s good. Free is good.” For a moment, he is quiet, and his eyes drop to the ground. After a moment, he looks up at her again, and his words seem to rush from his mouth. “Suns coming up already. Crazy night, huh? You wanna maybe get some breakfast or something? I know a diner that’ll be open by now. Amazing eggs.”
“You know what?” Caroline says, smiling. “I think I’d like that. Let’s get some eggs.”
1 note · View note