Because of the hideous ringing between my ears, I’m sure I couldn’t have heard her correctly.
“You’re moving where?”
“I said I’m moving to Michigan.”
I’m vaguely aware that my lungs must be gradually filling up with acid. That’s the only logical explanation I can come up with as to why I’m suddenly having trouble breathing. She’s never physically hit me but, I would much rather a swift kick in the teeth than what she’s doing to me right now.
“Why... would you move to Michigan? What’s in Michigan?”
“A better paying job. They’ve offered me an entry level position earning double what I make here.”
“You’re leaving me... for more money?”
“Not necessarily, Addi. It’s only two years tops. I get the experience and then I come back to California qualified for a higher position.”
Oh, just two years? Is that all? Two years is the exact amount of time we’ve been together. Did I mention? She’s telling me this on our two year anniversary. I can feel my ribs liquefy, one at a time.
“You never told me you were applying for out-of-state jobs.”
“I’m sorry, honey. I just put my resume out there to test the waters. This is an excellent opportunity.”
“Cam, I was just promoted. I can’t leave now.”
“I know. That’s why we need to talk. I think you should see other people for a while.”
And there it is, ladies and gents, what you all came for. The volume of my entire world decreased until I could barely hear the cacophony in my head, my lungs inching closer to full capacity, each one of my ribs lazily dissolving into searing ichor. Somewhere in the back of my mind, like a primal instinct, I’m conscious of the countdown to detonation of my own life.
“I leave tomorrow.”
I feel the explosion before I hear it. My lungs burst like a piñata stuffed with hundreds of acidic treats, leaving piles of steaming, popping, sick meat in their wake. My brain takes its sweet time convulsing to a melody of nails on a chalkboard, babies crying, bones snapping, and tires screeching while my ribs drip their own secret recipe of revolting fluids all over my insides causing everything it touches to shrivel and die.
I wake up in my bed. The sun in the midst of its decision: to rise or not to rise. I’d like to think its hesitation is on account of the death glare I issued after I spot the folded piece of paper wrapped in the necklace I gave Cam for our one year anniversary. I reach for the note, think better of it, and scramble for the bathroom. I easily glide over the sheets strewn along the floor only to land on a stray pair of tennis shoes, sending me careening straight into the bathroom door. I very narrowly attain my target in time to vomit the entire contents of my stomach. After lavishing in the feel of cold tile meeting clammy flesh, I limp back towards the bed. I free the note from its noose, it reads:
For what it's worth, I've always admired and believed in you.
You seem like such a large part of my life and my heart.
I would be lying to say that things would never get rough.
I could stay here all night trying to persuade you
and all this cliché motivation would never be enough.
I will never forget you or our time together, Addison.
Love Always, Cameron
I stare at the note; painstakingly examine it for a hidden code I should be deciphering. Something telling me Cam is in the witness protection program and her identity has been uncovered or maybe that she’s running from the law. I would accept either; they would make her award winning disappearing act understandable. After forty-five minutes I have no such luck.
The sun has made its decision, and it’s the wrong one. I scream at it through the window to go away, get out of my face, and leave me the hell alone. Of course, it doesn’t obey my commands and when I realize I’ve just been shouting at a star who knows how many light years away; I do the second most logical thing and move to close the curtains. In a flurry I close the curtains too quickly, snapping them off. The curtains and curtain rod clatter to the ground. I glare down at the heap of fabric and damn them all to hell. While undressing, a small black box spills from a pocket, and bounces on the floor.
Every ounce of air was stolen from me once my brain registered what exactly that little box was. I fall to the floor, gasping for breath, reach out, and grasp the engagement ring I was going to propose to Cam with the night before.
8 months later…
My phone is ringing. It seems so far away in my semi-conscious state. I can’t recall the last time I was truly asleep, one hundred percent unconscious, dead to the world. It’s astounding the things you become aware of in an apartment complex when your brain refuses to shut off at night.
If I hadn’t been clutching the little phone like it was my oxygen, I doubt the excruciatingly high pitched jingle would’ve possessed the strength to coerce me from the fluffy confines of my beloved bed. However it lay mere inches away from my face causing my precious half-sleep to become only a memory.
“Hi, honey. Did I wake you?”
I roll my head to the left. 5:13 am. Dear lord.
“I just want to hear your voice for a little while. I have an exceptionally difficult schedule waiting for me at the office today.”
I roll my head all the way back to the right. My suspicions are confirmed. A nondescript body sprawled across the other side of the mattress.
“So, how have you been Cam?”
I know that inquiry will keep her busy for a bit while I attempt to distinguish this body from the others. Numbers race through my mind. I settle on ten or eleven. Yes, this girl must be number ten or eleven, one of the few I extend repeat bedroom privileges to. At this point, it’s easier for me to administer numbers rather than names. You wouldn’t believe the amount of Michelle’s in this town.
21 months after she left…
My friends inform me that the numerous girls I’ve been parading through my bedroom might be unhealthy. In turn, I inform my friends that, during the few hours I spend with these girls, the seizing in my chest is alleviated.
My friends tell me that the countless packs of cigarettes I’ve inhaled in the last year have become a harmful crutch. I feel this is a good time to clue them in. “Dearest friends,” I say, “when the smoke enters my mouth, only half trickles down to my lungs.” The bewildered looks on their faces push me to conclude my explanation. “Yes, some carcinogens travel south and begin the process of covering my sweet lungs in tar, removing years from my life, but the rest, ah the other precious half; it climbs north and clouds my brain in a thick fog. I’ve grown fond of this fog, you see, for it enables the jumbled string of letters floating around my mind to fulfill their dreams of becoming words and sentences. These sentences ease the convulsing noodles of my brain by helping me make sense of the world.” My friends faces are blank, gone are all coherent thoughts and muscle movement. “The cigarettes enable me to think clearly when I can’t make sense of the world.” I clarify. “Ohhh,” They all chant at once.
Finally, my friends feel they must notify me that, in the 21 months since Cam left, I appear to have misplaced quite a few pounds, my skin color could pass for a vampire's, and the circles under my eyes are as black as the sludge, affectionately known to me as coffee, passing through my lips.
I assure my comrades that, if they wish to locate the lost weight, it can be found in a sewer somewhere. I describe how my stomach has heaved the burden away into the toilet or sink of its choice via my throat and mouth.
I remind them that a person’s skin should be expected to lose color when said person begins working from home and harboring a grudge against the sun for starting every day far too early and without permission.
"What excuses have you for the dark circles under your eyes, Addison? You look like you haven't slept a wink since she moved." They declare.
"Oh, that's simple. I've found that my work is accomplished much quicker if i forego sleep. You wouldn't believe the things you can find out about your neighbors at night, either. Honestly, who would close their eyes long enough to be berated by nightmares when there's such good programming on television?"
23 months after she left…
It’s my favorite kind of day; icy and drenched in countless drops of water begging to freeze up, be launched toward the pavement, and put out of their misery. That damned sun is cowering behind a mass of clouds, obviously afraid to show its face for fear of ruining this wonderful day for me and being forced to face my wrath.
There is no girl hidden in my bed this afternoon. Last night I decided to neglect the bar and continue my love affair with documents and reports. I’m savoring the sludge leisurely gliding over my tongue and down my throat when the phone rings. I tear my hazy eyes away from the glowing screen permanently fixed to my lap and reach for the small square making such a commotion.
“Hello, Addison. Have you any time to talk?”
I feel like my entire body fell asleep and is now waking up. Every nerve I own is agonizingly tingling.
“Of course, I do. What’s up?”
“Well, you know I was only supposed to be here for two years, right?”
Oh god. I promptly recognize she must be calling to tell me she’s never coming back or that even if she does, she won’t want to see me. I think I’m drowning.
“Yes, I remember.”
“Well, honey, I think we should discuss what’s going to happen next month.”
She’s still speaking. I can hardly hear her over the roaring waves crashing over me. I look down, my ankles are tied to a brick with the words “Love Always, Cameron” scrawled in black ink. I look up; I can see her necklace and engagement ring floating above me, just out of reach.
“Addison, are you listening to me? I said I want to come back to you. I’ve missed you so much. I can barely breathe on my own.”
I can see her face leaning over the water, arms outstretched. Is she reaching for me? Her mouth is moving. Is she calling my name? I reach down and find that I could have easily untied myself and let the brick sink on its own. I release the rope from my ankles and rush to the surface with an urgency bordering on hysteria, collecting her necklace and ring on the way.
“You want to come back to me? You still want to be with me?”
“Yes, Addi. I love you as much as I always have. You’ve always been the one. Say you’ll still have me.”
I feel myself breach the surface and her arms dragging me over the ledge. She lays me down, I sputter and cough. A set of warm arms surround me. I open my eyes and there she is; the cause of all this pain, the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
“Of course, I’ll still have you Cameron. You’re everything I will ever need.”
I draw in a deep breath. The familiar scent of black cherries fills my nose. I’m home. This is where I’m supposed to be; in her arms, looking up at those stunning blue eyes. I’m safe, I’ve made it. I can relax and breathe.