Broken Wristwatches and Peppermint
I wish you were dead. I would rather you had just died than abandoned me. Things would be so much easier knowing that there was no possible way to get you back. But you’re just out of reach, and it tears me apart, ripping out all of the sloppy stitches that pierce my sun-damaged skin. Stitches that you had sewn in yourself. I can hear them, feel them, as they snap, lashingbitingtearing at my skin. Broken wristwatches—pop!—and peppermint—snap!
I stand in front of the grave I dug for you myself. Clutched in my arms are the things that we shared and cherished, the things that remind me of you. Here they are in that old mildewed crate we found in The Barn. I still go there sometimes. Reverently, I cast down the empty bottle of cologne, the kind that smelled faintly of chocolate with a hint of spice, but mostly of you. A plethora of memories follow your scent.
You and I, we sit there in the rain. I’m sobbing without sound, my tears obscured by the downpour. Only my gnarled expression shows signs of my anguish. You squeeze me so tightly, crushing my ribs, too tight to be comforting but all the same just barely holding me together. I don’t remember what I was crying about. I only remember rain, soaking me to the bone. I remember the unrelenting clutches of the frigid air, squeezing my asthma-choked lungs. But I also remember warmth, an overwhelming sense of it. That was you, making sure I didn’t explode, shatter into a million pieces, or simply crack in half like a marble statue fallen from its pedestal.
There was a time when I would call you with a full battery, and then have to hang up because my overused flip phone was going to die any second. Sometimes, it died in the middle of our conversations, so I had to call you on my home phone, just to say goodnight and hang up again. There was a time when those foreverphonecalls cost me hours of sleep and unfinished homework, and come to think of it, possibly a D or two. But I was happy. Euphoric, even. High off of you. Cliché, isn’t it?
Do you remember those times you spent the night when my parents were away? You always slept on the living room couch, me in my room, because you were a bad boy desperate to please a good girl. But I let your wicked ways get to me, they seeped in through the cracks of the crumbling brick wall that was my willpower. I remember staring at you sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette. Beautiful was the only word that came to my mind as I watched the tendrils of white smoke curl and dissolve into nothingness. We drank from the locked liquor cabinet (you were very handy with a hairpin) and discussed politics and literature and those whispered issues some people talk about only when they’re drunk. We laughed so hard that I threw up, and you comforted me as I lay shivering on the floor, breathless and still giggling a little.
I can’t help but to think of The Barn. We discovered it when I ran away. It was late December. Snow flurries danced around us, minute ballerinas carried by the wind. Our footsteps crunching in the snow slowed then came to a stop as we stared up at it. You dropped your backpack in the snow, and shuffled toward the towering structure like you were possessed. I heaved your bag onto my shoulder as I hurried to catch up to you. I watched, fascinated, as you skimmed your calloused fingertips over the peeling paint of the door and the rusty hinges, barely clinging to the doorframe, fingers on the brink of slipping off the edge, the doors left dangling over a precipice of disaster. We opened the doors, and the deafening creak shattered the fragile silence. We half-believed that they would fall at the slightest touch, but they held on. The musty smell of hay and horses infiltrated my nose, overwhelming my senses, making my eyes water. Still entranced, you were oblivious to the aroma: strong, but not unpleasant. The inside was spacious and open. Free. I was content to crunch on the peppermints from your backpack that you always seemed to have, while you explored every stall, climbed the ladder to the loft, and balanced on every rafter. I feared you would fall, but that’s not your style. You only fly.
That Barn became our solace, our escape. It was also our secret. It made us feel safe when the world was against us. The Barn was where you discovered your latent talent for art. You decorated the interior with your brilliance, staining the walls with your tears and blood, fears and passion: devastatingly beautiful depictions of landscapes, and surreal images from your own head. I contributed with a sharpie, documenting our lives. How it was always 4:21 because your old wristwatch was broken and you refused to replace it. How listening to Iron & Wine made you cry. Your favorite line was: “mother I made it up from the bruise on the floor of this prison.” The Barn was the only place I had ever seen you break down. This place, our haven, gave us whole new lives; it was like nothing had existed before this, before us.
We found that old crate in The Barn too. We stored our peppermint wrappers in my old jewelry box tucked into the corner, covered by the blankets and the Polaroid camera, the well-worn titles of Conrad and Nabokov, and every other thing that meant nothing to anyone else but meant everything to us. I never understood why you kept the peppermint wrappers. I never asked, so you never could answer. We stored that crate on the loft covered by hay. We were certain that no one else would find The Barn, but hiding our lives made us feel safer.
It was at The Barn you asked me if I could live without you, because you said you didn’t know if you could live without me. I laughed, sort of confused, until I realized it wasn’t a joke. When I didn’t answer, the soft silence settled between us. That’s when you said you were going away. It wasn’t going to be like the time you went to California for the summer. I knew this was coming. I knew that someday you would have to leave. But not like this. I asked you where and you said it didn’t matter. You said it was your parents’ decision. I didn’t understand. You said you had to get on a plane and you weren’t coming back. I should have guessed you would leave on a plane. Because flying is your style.
That fall, you packed up your bags and dumped them into the bed of your father’s rusty pickup truck. Your parents drove you to my house. I didn’t invite you inside as you stood in the rain, water trickling down your jaw. For a while, we just stared at each other, saying nothing. There were no words to be said. Your blue eyes screamed everything so loudly that my head ached and my glass heart fractured and my fragile stitches snapped. You leaned in to kiss my forehead and then turned around and walked into the rain. I leaned on the doorway for support, watching as your yellow headlights disappeared around the corner. My asthmatic lungs struggled to find air, expanding, compressing my damaged heart until it shattered completely.
So here I stand, staring into the two foot hole that is your grave, containing only your cologne. I take a cigarette out of the nearly empty pack you left behind and light it. I never was one for smoking, but I take a drag anyway. Exhaled smoke blends with cloudy breath in the late December wind. I let the cigarette burn down a little between my chapped, shaking hands. You weren’t there to remind me to bring a pair of gloves. I look around, all of the different shades of white blending and blurring together: an impressionist’s painting, or maybe one of yours. I dump the contents of the crate and the old thing itself into the grave, stopping the assault of the memories. I stomp on the crate to make it fit. It dissipates under my foot, part of the earth itself. I bury our tangible memories and look one more time at the old red barn behind me. I strike a match, ready to let go at last, to watch our last bond go up in smoke. But I can’t bring myself to do it. To burn down our haven. I blow out the tiny flame. Doubts shadow me and I begin to wonder if I ever really knew you at all. As I start back down the narrow path, I glimpse a black stripe in the snow. The leather band of your old watch. I guiltily shove it in my pocket.