by Lorena Rositas.
I took the same familiar drive I’ve taken hundreds of times before. Past the houses that lined Wilson Avenue, empty and alone during the day while the parents are off at work and the children, whose laughter echo through their hallways, are at school. Down Hermosa Avenue past the trees, whose leaves were changing with the transition of the seasons; some trees bare and vulnerable to the winter winds, some not quite ready to make that change, their leaves still green. The sky was heavy with clouds, white and gray clusters that hid the sun. The same bitter cold left goose bumps where the circulating air kissed my bare skin. A right turn onto Baseline Avenue, past the Taco Bell that sat on the corner, the same Taco Bell where Javi would stop to pick up a quick lunch to bring me while I was at work. And as I drove past the Rite-Aid, the retirement homes and a slew of cars, he was all that was on my mind.
The last year and a half I spent with him collected into tears that fell while I continued down the road. My heart sped up and slowed down so intensely I felt it would burst out of my chest, leaving a million shattered little pieces across my windshield. I came upon Vineyard Avenue, made a left and found myself at Red Hill Park. I pulled into my usual parking spot, the last one the park had to offer adjacent to a small pond. The same parking space I’d sat in over a year ago, in a little black Jetta, in the arms of a lover when he asked me to be his girlfriend. The same spot where months later he broke up with me because he was young and didn’t know what he wanted. Where I cried until I couldn’t catch my breath and when I finally did, I cried some more.
I sat and stared at the tree in front of me, its almost white bark broken in places to reveal a slightly darker color beneath, its leaves nearly all gone, scattered on the ground, broken and withering. This spot where just a month and a half ago, I came to meet the lover I hadn’t seen in four months because we broke up and he “moved on.” He moved on that is until he realized that something was missing…me.
He held me, kissed me, looked at me that night like he loved me. Many of our meetings after that were secretive, because I vowed to never speak to him again, a vow I always broke, and because he still had a girlfriend.
The first weekend I’d spent with him, the fact that I was the “other woman” never crossed my mind. I was a love struck Juliet and I’d just gotten my Romeo back. It wasn’t until the Tuesday that followed when he brought me lunch and a sweater because I was cold that it had even come up. We sat in a quiet spot on our school campus, one of our many go-to places to be alone. We sat at a lone, round, blue table which had been written on by countless students who’d occupied it before us.
Every time we came back to this table, there was something different, a phone number, a philosophical quote or random penis drawing. And every time we sat there we entertained ourselves with what we’d find. As I picked at my lunch from Flame Broiler and he read off various table writings, I realized: any one could see us, his girlfriend, her friends, any of the countless bitchy girls who disliked me for one reason or another.
“Won’t your girlfriend be mad if she knows you’re with me?” I asked still picking at and mixing my food.
“Probably,” he said with a shrug.
“You know things can’t stay like this. Eventually she’ll find out.”
And she did, almost a month later. Her friend saw us together, walking seemingly innocently side by side. Laughing. Happy. Days like that, the sun seemed to shine a little bit brighter as clichéd as it may sound. His smile, his laughter, the happiness that would radiate in the way he spoke made so many ordinary days sublime.
But the same way fall sneakily changes to winter, Javi and I changed. The easy carefree days where we just wanted to be together began to fade. As the passion faded, my insecurities began to set in and with the insecurities came suspicion, a cycle I was all too familiar with. A few searches and a couple of clicks of a mouse revealed a few pictures of him with other girls. It wasn’t enough to say he was doing anything wrong, mostly because he wasn’t mine, but it was enough to tell me where I stood in his life. And instantly I shattered. All of the “I care about you” and “You don’t know what you mean to me” meant nothing. Again, I wasn’t good enough to make him want to stay. Not enough to keep him from wanting me and every other girl at the same time. I lay in bed and cried. I cried because I wanted to forget, to erase what I knew. I cried until the next thing I knew it was 7 a.m. and I was waking up. The day went by in a blur, until about 5 p.m. when Javi stopped by while I was working, the way he did every Tuesday. He walked in and smiled like nothing was wrong, I smiled back because he still had my heart.
He handed me the necklace I’d left at his house days before and asked if I could take my break. I walked with him to a table behind the health science building, one of the first places I’d talked to him. We sat and he told me about his day. I stared up at the side of the building, analyzing the pattern of bricks and cement that made up the wall.
“Where is this going Javi?” I heard myself say.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know what we’re doing. Us. Where is this going?”
“It has to go somewhere?”
“Well yeah, kinda.”
“I don’t know what you want.”
“The same thing I’ve always wanted,” I looked over at him.
“We can’t be that any more. Things aren’t the same, they never will be.”
“You say that like it’s my fault.” After everything, I refused to be at fault for his decisions. Then the arguing commenced. The past thrown around back and forth until I got up and walked away.
“What?” he called after me.
“Nothing, I’m done,” I managed between sobs. I went back to work, pushed through the night, knowing I probably just let go of my closest friend. During the drive home the memories began to suffocate me. Glimpses of our past flashed in and out of my thoughts. Our first kiss, the night he said “I love you” for the first time, falling asleep while he whispered how much he loved me, the time we slow danced at a family wedding, fights, arguments, each time we’d walked away and come back for reasons to this day I don’t understand. I pulled into my driveway, went straight to my bed and held my pillow close to me. I turned on my “The Killers” playlist on Pandora and fate would have it that “When You Were Young” would by the first song to play.
“You sit there in your heartache, waiting on some beautiful boy to save you from your old ways”
I closed my eyes and the music became background noise, songs played one after the other and before I drifted off to sleep I heard “I’m standing here, sweat on my skin and this love that I’ve cradled is wearing thin. But I’m standing here and you’re too late. Your shockwave whisper has sealed your fate”
I woke up the next morning, prepared myself for class and work. I made my daily drive to Chaffey College. I parked my car and sat in the parking lot. I stared at the sky for a long while and finally decided against going to class. I drove to Red Hill Park and as I sat in my car in front of a tree, I thought to myself, “This poor tree.” I looked closer, its leaves nearly gone, some barely hanging on by some invisible line and some still green, holding on. Its branches twisted, some withering, ready to let go while pieces of its bark were peeling and flaking. How many seasons had this tree seen? How many bitter winters? And here it is, still standing. Still strong. I thought about all the times Javi had left, how parts of me felt so broken and here I was, still living and finding reasons to smile.
The cold seasons never really last. Eventually I knew I’d be okay and I’d be strong. I smiled to myself, took in a deep breath and reached to my back seat for my notebook. I searched my backpack for a pen and after scribbling with it to make sure it worked, I began to write:
“I took that same familiar drive I’ve taken hundreds of times before…”