“Where are we going?” Sean asked for the fiftieth time since we left this afternoon but I wasn't about to ruin my little surprise. He always went all out for holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries and this anniversary was a big one. Well, to us anyway. So I planned something special for him as a surprise.
It was a gorgeous summer night here in the middle of Kansas. The full moon was high and the stars dotted the night sky. I had already called the hotel to let them know we'd be checking in late. I smiled to myself as I realized I had almost pulled this thing off. We were celebrating three-years together---which is a pretty big deal when you're only eighteen.
“I told you, it's a surprise,” I said, unable to stop the huge grin from forming. He knew I hated surprises, but that didn't stop him from torturing me every time an opportunity presented itself, so I was enjoying having the shoe on the other foot for a change.
“Come on, Aria. Give me a hint,” he begged, and because I was a sucker, I couldn't resist.
“Oh, fine,” I said with an exasperated sigh. “Reach back there and grab my purse. Your hint is in the envelope.” I tried to pretend I was irritated but really, I was just too excited and impatient to keep the secret from him any longer.
He smiled at me like a child who was just given a cookie after being told he couldn't have any dessert. I smiled back as he unbuckled his seat belt and leaned back to reach my purse from where I'd set it behind my seat.
As he picked up the envelope he looked over at me and said, "You know I love you, right?"
“Yes, I do.”
One Year Later.....
I knew the moment that I decided to come here that I am a complete and total masochist. It's not like I knew what movie would be playing, but I should have known that, even miles away, the tiniest thing has the ability to trigger memories. Memories that intensify the ache in my chest, the one that never really goes away, and cause it to expand and crush my insides until there's nothing left but pulp.
There's no escaping that.
But what were the chances that they would be playing that movie? I wasn't expecting the latest blockbuster but I certainly wasn't expecting a movie that is several years old to be playing here tonight. I had been looking forward to this all week, since I first saw the flyer tacked to a telephone pole near my apartment.
Movies in the Park:
A contemporary version of the drive-in theater at a park.
Enjoy some of today's new releases and old favorites.
It's a wonderful way for the family to enjoy summer nights.
When I read the flyer a week ago, I thought it sounded so whimsical and fun—like something out of a movie—so I figured I would check it out and enjoy a much needed night outside of my lonely apartment where all there is to do is remember better days. But now that I'm here, I think I would have been better off staying in bed.
“I can't do this,” I mutter under my breath backing away from the large screen in the middle of the quaint little park. But just like a typical glutton for punishment, I can't tear my eyes away. All I can do is back away slowly with my eyes glued on the familiar opening credits. If I wasn't so wrapped up in my inner turmoil I would have remembered that despite how alone I may feel on a regular basis, the park is currently full of other movie-watchers and that I really need to pay attention to where I am going.
I back into what feels like a brick wall with an 'oomph' as the breath is knocked out of my chest and my Coke and extra-buttery popcorn spill down the front of my white blouse.
I make some really intelligent sound like, “Gah” as I turn to face the person I just so gracefully backed into.
“I'm sor--” My words are cut off by one of the most breathtaking smiles I have ever seen. Six feet tall, with wavy blonde hair that hangs casually over his eyes and the brightest blue eyes I've ever seen smile down at me, clearly amused by my disheveled appearance.
Or maybe it is the fact that he can clearly see through my soaked shirt.
“Well hello,” the stranger says.
“I'm, uh, sorry.”
“It's okay. You clearly were distracted,” he smiles kindly. “Not the chick flick you were hoping for?”
He gestures towards the large screen, reminding me why I was making my escape in the first place.
“Um, no, I just remembered I had something to do,” I stammer through the lie. “Sorry for bumping into you.”
“Don't be sorry, I never would've had the courage to talk to you otherwise.” The way he's smiling at me, laying it on real thick, makes it obvious that this guy has no trouble talking to the ladies. I roll my eyes and start walking past him.
“Wait!” He reaches for my hand to stop me and I immediately jerk it away as if he just shocked me.
It doesn't faze him for long and despite my staring up at him with wide-eye confusion like a crazy person, he tries again. This time, instead of reaching for my hand, he holds his out to me and says, “I'm Holden.”
I look down at his hand and then back up into those crystal blue eyes. I know the proper etiquette requires me to shake his hand and introduce myself in return but I can't get the words out. Then I hear the opening line from the movie behind him and, just like that, my world shifts. I forget how to breathe and suddenly I'm no longer standing here in the middle of the park. I'm fifteen again, sitting in a dark theater on my first real date. Sean smiling nervously at me, so embarrassed, as our hands brush up against each other in the large bucket of popcorn we were sharing.
My heart constricts painfully as I snap back into reality. I can't be here anymore. I have to get out of here. It's just too much.
Why did it have to be that movie? Why couldn't I just have one night where my thoughts weren't absorbed in painful recollections?
And then the guilt comes crashing down on me for even wishing that it didn't hurt so much---of course it hurt. I should hurt. It's my fault he isn't here anymore. I should feel this pain every day for the rest of my life. I deserve it.
With one last look at Holden's outstretched hand, I walk away throwing the now empty cup and bucket in the trash. My skin feels sticky from the soda and butter that has soaked through my shirt—I should have just stayed in tonight.
As I unlock my bike from around the old maple tree that I'd tied it up to not even twenty minutes ago, I can't help but look back at where I left Holden hanging. He is staring at me, confusion written all over his face. He probably isn't used to girls being so rude to him. I feel bad for brushing him off, but I can't stand to be at this park any longer. It's not like I'm ever going to see him again anyway. I pedal quickly on the way home and my legs burn in protest but I make it back to my one bedroom apartment within minutes. There isn't a bike rack available and no trees nearby so I carry my bike up the two flights of stairs to my apartment like I have every day for the last month. Yes, I've been here an entire month and the first time I try to do something semi-social I regret it. I'm thinking that's a sign.
I lean my bike against the wall in the doorway. The apartment is boring with plain white walls and tan carpet. There is one large window in the living room overlooking the parking lot below and another small window above the kitchen sink. There's one tiny bathroom in the short hallway between the living room and my bedroom. There's another window in my bedroom but that is it as far as natural lighting goes which, I suppose, is why the walls are white—a sad attempt to make the place seem brighter than it is. It isn't anything fancy—which upset my mother more than I thought it should—but it is the closest complex to the campus which is of more importance to me since I don't drive. I haven't driven in over a year now and I'm not sure if I ever will feel comfortable getting behind the wheel again. Not after what happened....
I close my eyes and will myself to stop reliving that night over and over. I strip my clothes off leaving them scattered behind me on the floor as I head down the hall to my tiny bathroom, turning the water all the way on hot. The scalding water burns away all feeling on the outside of my body but does nothing for the pain I still feel on the inside, the kind of pain that settles in your chest and makes a home there.
I remain in the shower until the water runs cold and even then I can't seem to make myself get out. Something about the water pounding down on me makes it easier to breathe.
It's not until my fingertips are wilted and my hands are turning blue when I finally feel numb enough to force myself to turn off the water. I dry off and instead of putting on pajamas like a normal person would, I pull his shirt off of one of my hangers. I'm careful not to look at the guitar or that damn cardboard box with the words 'pieces of us' written in black marker that rest on the floor of my closet.
I shoved them both as far out of my view as I could manage in the tiny closet when I moved in, because I know I can't go there yet. So the box remains unopened, and the guitar untouched, and they both continue to taunt me. I quickly push the closet door shut to further hide them from my view. I don't want either of them here but my mom insisted that I bring the box and my dad insisted I bring the guitar. I think he is still hoping that some day I'll change my mind and play for him again. I don't want to disappoint him, but at the same time, I never knew it was possible to hate inanimate objects this much.
I lift the collar of his shirt up to my nose only to be disappointed that it's starting to smell less like him and more like me. I cross the room and open the drawer to my nightstand, frantically pushing everything aside to find what I'm looking for. I locate and pull out the half-empty bottle of his favorite cologne. I'll have to get some more soon. I spritz it generously all over his shirt, finally inhaling the comforting yet heart-breaking scent before curling up on my side under the covers.
As I lay there inhaling the clean crisp scent of him, I think to myself that yes, I really am a masochist, torturing myself like this but it's the only piece of him I have left.
I set the alarm on my cell phone and notice a text message and a couple of missed calls—all from my mom. I don't respond. I can't deal with her right now. She'll want to talk about it and that's something I'm still not ready to do. The psychologist in her reminds me daily that talking about what happened is a crucial part in the grieving process—blah, blah, blah.
I didn't want to think about The Five Stages of Grief and how I'd been stuck on stage four for much longer than mom thought was healthy. I just didn't want to hear any more about it from her.
Tomorrow I start my freshman year of college—a year later than I was supposed to and all alone. I still can't believe how different my life is turning out than I was expecting. Sean should be here with me. But he isn't. All I have left is an old faded t-shirt and a box containing memories of the boy I love on the floor of my closet I can't bear to look at.