Do you miss me?
“I wish you would just leave me alone,”
Kaylie tells Dan in her dreams when he shows up there, because only in her dreams, does she deem it safe to grace his remarks with a reply.
“Since I left you, I found the world so new…”
It catches her on her morning walk, head high, earbuds in, blasting The Avalanches, and the breeze rustling her shoulder-length hair, twisting the strawberry ribbons around her face in fiery harmony with the hues of the leaves in the bright autumn sun.
“You know their other album is better, Kaybae,” says the familiar voice beside her. But she turns her back on the crooked smile that has appeared and walks the other way.
It catches her as she steps outside the bar for some fresh air, leaving the warm glow and the gentle hum of company inside. He is there waiting for her, slouched casually against the side of the brick building in the green jacket that was always way too big for him and the purple beanie she’d knitted him when they’d first started dating. He gives her a sidewise look, grins, and lights a cigarette. Noticing him, she turns to go back inside but calls after her
“Hey, stay out here with me a bit! Thought you’d wanna listen to the new St. Vincent release together, ah?” The cigarette bobs up and down between his lips as he speaks. He has a point, she would have loved to be lying upside down with him on her couch, blasting music; but Kaylie ignores him and rejoins her friends inside the bar.
It has her as she brushes her teeth. There are two sinks in her bathroom and he stands at the other one. She knows that he has started to brush his tongue and has stuck the toothbrush too far back because she hears him retch and spit into the sink from the other side of the room. Compulsively, she gags too as the brush scratches over her own tongue. She never used to do this before she met him, and she’d almost stopped after they’d broken up.
“Sorry Kaybae, gotta make sure that tongue is clean,” he says, whipping his mouth on the back of his sleeve, “Otherwise you won’t be happy with my breath in the morning,” But she just walks from the bathroom.
“Won’t you please let me go? These words lie inside, they hurt me so –”
The cassette tape aux chord that he gave her last Christmas breaks on her way home one day. It doesn’t just stop working but goes out with a shrill, sad, piercing assault on the ears. Kaylie fumbles with the chord and the tape and her phone in an attempt to return the sound to music but eventually gives up and angrily hits eject. The player spits out the cassette in a bulk of dismembered, tangled black ribbon and she tosses her last reminder of Dan into the pile of discarded soda cans and crumpled Wendy’s drive through bags that clutter the passenger side floor. She feels his hurt at her abandonment of his gift, the air crackles with his intent to speak but she is out of the car before he can materialize a word.
The next morning, Kaylie notices he is not there in the mirror to ogle at and comment on her ass. She is relieved. On her drive to work, he doesn’t complain when she changes the radio channel when Justin Beiber’s Sorry comes on. At lunch, he’s not there to saunter over to her table, plop his plate down, and tell her about his day, chewing with his mouth wide open and spraying crumbs everywhere. On her way home, she takes the route that passes his house for the first time since The Incident three months ago. But his red coup is not in the driveway and she bites back the rising anxiety that makes her stomach turn.
When she gets home, he is not on her couch, asking her which ‘indie’ video game she wants to play with him next. Journey or Broken Age? He is not there to remind her to go to the supermarket together to get groceries before it closes and so she doesn’t eat dinner that night or breakfast the next morning. He’s not there to grab her hands, to twirl her up into dancing around on the bed like a goof with him as Animal Collective’s Floridada comes on her Spotify.
“Remember when you used to tell me AnCo was annoying? Now here you are spamming their songs on your own! What would you have done if I hadn’t shown them to you?” his voice would laugh gleefully. And he would be right after all, Dan was the only one whose love for the band paralleled her own.
He is still not there the morning after that, or that afternoon or night and she realizes that she is starting to look for him. She looks for him in every curly-haired man drifting down the sidewalk, in every group of people standing outside the bars for cigarettes, in every bright red, dinged up car she passes on the street.
When she gets home, the house is silent. She knocks on her roommates’ doors, asking them to hang out, to distract her from what she is sure is her screaming insanity. But she realizes with growing panic as they sit together in her living room, that it isn’t their company that she craves. ‘No one understands crazy like crazy!’ the real Dan had once said to her, affectionately bumping their temples together. And she is horrified that his absence constricts her heart so that her whole chest aches. Even surrounded by her friends, her world is unraveling itself into a vast emptiness into which she is being floated away, and there is not a single solid thing in sight to grab hold of, to keep her feet on the ground.
On the third day, Kaylie is sitting alone in her car in silence. She is tired of the radio blaring top 40 all day long and her aux chord is gone…The aux chord! She dives her hands into the pile of trash in her driver’s seat, rummaging through it until she finds the aux cassette. It is beat-up and dismembered, tape pouring from it like a gutted animal but she holds it in her hands like a sacred artifact. She is disgusted with herself at the relief she feels upon holding it, but she smooths the black surface over with her thumb, brushing the dirt from the plastic.
“Do you miss me?” He says from her passenger seat. It has been ninety-seven days since The Incident and Kaylie ignores how she hates the way his voice has become distorted with her fading memory of it.
She closes her eyes, sticks the cassette in her purse, and heads inside. Only every single day. She doesn’t dare say the words out loud, but she knows he hears anyway.
“Where are you going!? Wait! Talk to me!”
Dan stomps past Kaylie without a word, eyes fixed on some invisible target in the distance, mumbles something about her being a shitty friend now, and a shitty girlfriend while they were still together. He is carrying baskets of his clothes in his arms and loading them angrily into his car. The laundry that she was so kind to let him use her washing machine, her dryer and her electricity to clean. It’s three in the morning, he is drunk, and was supposed to be staying on the couch for the night.
Kaylie calls after him, begging him to talk to her, tell her what’s wrong, so she can fix it. Always trying to fix it. But he just ignores her. Just like every goddamn argument we’ve ever had. He knows he’s still got his claws in me, even though we’re not together. She shadows him, she must get him to look at her, to stop, to hit pause. Her head is just filling, filling and blooming with shit; bad shit; shit that makes her want to twist and scream and vomit and punch holes in walls. But since she can do none of that, her organs do it instead; wrings the blood from her liver and intestines like dirty rags, suffocates her lungs so that her chest will not inflate all the way….and her heart… She watches the same battle fighting itself behind his darkening eyes too as he makes a second trip from her house to his car, loading his belongings.
He yanks open the driver’s side door to his red Chevy coup and she scrambles around him and plants herself on the seat.
“You can’t leave, Danny—Dan, please come back inside, let’s just talk about this!”
Finally, he thrusts his belligerent gaze at her and the two lock eyes in a stare-down that would’ve turned a weaker opponent to stone.
“Get out of the way, Kay, I’m not your boyfriend anymore, you can’t do shit like this to me anymore,”
Then he is screaming, wailing. Shrill, and ringing, the tinnitus in her ears. Calling her crazy, calling her a bitch,
“Why can’t you ever just fucking leave me alone!? What do I have to do to get away from you!?”
She raises desperate hands, palms facing the ground and pumps them frantically up and down, Ssshhh! Quiet! The neighbors –hands are around her throat and she there are sickening, pathetic gargling noises bubbling out her mouth. She is flailing, gasping for air, choking, just like that time months ago when she’d choked on candy and he’d wrapped his warm, secure arms around her diaphragm to help.... And then she is on the ground; hard, wind forced from her lungs in a violent gust; and she is seeing red. Their relationship had been rocky and filled with viscious words but never, never had it turned violent. Back onto her feet, ripping the dirt from her hands, lunging back to the car seat where he is still trying hysterically to start the car with shaking fingers.
“How dare you think you can treat me that way!?” She sends her body smashing against his and she cringes at its familiarity. It is the same body that has been there to haunt her every night after she falls asleep since the breakup, taunting her to chase after, always leaving her chasing. The body that she once hugged tight and flush against her, snuggled into, took the time to learn every inch of. The body that is now throwing its fists and feet into her body, leaving big blue bruises on her ribs and her stomach and her nose, all the rage and hatred of their two years spraying cannon fire out of his fists. The body that she has somehow found herself thrashing her own clenched hands against now, doing anything in her power to cause damage. Her hands are coming down over his face, again and again, across the skin she once caressed so dearly.
Behind the haze that has settled over her vision, she is vaguely aware of his fingers, taught with nails bared, clawing their way towards her eyes. She raises her head, teeth exposed like a frantic animal to meet the fingers…just like those times they used to spend wrestling in bed, knotted up in blankets. They’d play the game where she’d try to kiss him and he’d try to stop her, pushing his hands and the sheet up against her face to keep her lips at bay. And she’d clack her teeth together at him, a playful threat…
Back in her own room, Kaylie has the door locked and the lights off. She considers crying but it seems in the past few months that her eyes have bled themselves dry. There is an overwhelming impulse to pick up her phone and text him, because he is the one she would always text in a situation like this, but she knows that she can no longer do that; that she cannot do that ever again. She realizes too that the last memory she will have of his face will be the hateful eyes and contorted snarl that has branded itself upon the backs of her eyelids as he screamed profanities at her. It hurts beyond hurt and she can’t stand it; she can’t stand it.
I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry… Words that will never reach him, that will never be able to set this right.
Then she realizes with growing fear she can still hear his voice. It isn’t screaming at her now but whispering, soft like he used to when they were still together, and he used to try and coax her out of her depression, out of her bed, to get up, eat, take a shower...
Kaybae, it had to be this way. You may not understand now but we would never have been free of each other any other way.
Then his face is there in her head and all around her room, smiling the smile that he reserved always just for her. She thinks to scream, to call her roommates, the police, but it dawns on her that, where they can keep her safe from Dan coming to see her again, they cannot protect her from what lurks inside her own head. All the “never again”s and “last time”s contort her heart and she thinks;
This can’t be right.