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Relief

    “Shit man, I never thought about it that way,” Patrick says in a voice that would probably seem to a stranger or unobservant acquaintance to be genuinely interested but I know better. “So like, are y’all in love?” His southern accent is out of place when you look at him. His dark hair is long and wraps around the bottom of his thick neck in a perfect curl. Three tattoos peer out over the edge of his collar. His cheekbones wrap around his entire face, holding up his sunken eyes. I say they are sunken but they are not exhausted, they are alive in a way that only Patrick’s eyes can be.

The master of manipulation, Patrick always looks alive, no matter what. “If you show weakness,” he advised me once, “They’ll walk all over you.” The son of an alcoholic salesman and a verbally abusive mother, Patrick had a tough go of it really. He is always pretending via false confidence that he isn’t a carbon copy of his father; aggressive, and irrational. It convinces nearly everyone, including himself on most occasions. Right now, Patrick is practicing his confidence. He flew off the handle earlier this afternoon and everyone saw. What girl wouldn’t forgive a little aggression from a guy as complex and damaged as he is?

    By now Patrick is purely humoring her, leading her on to think she is the most interesting girl in the world, a manipulative charismatic mind game that I couldn’t stand to watch but did any way. I think how cruel it is to have to watch my best friend Kate be shamelessly flirted with by my boyfriend, just so he can get her to drive him to the gas station for more beer. She played along, quasi-unaware.

    “I mean, yeah, of course we are,” Kate defends herself with no hesitation at all. She pretends to be confident, just like Patrick. This may make you think they are similar, but they are far from it. I see her looking around the group, attempting to seem casual, her eyes desperately popping out of their sockets in hope that someone will jump in and take away her responsibility to defend herself. I know I am the only person around who knows that she doesn’t really think she loves anyone. How embarrassing, to have to defend yourself in a group full of people and have no one jump to your assistance. Silently, from my seat, I wonder why we are often our only advocate.

“Well, damn Katie,” Patrick squints, rearranging his mouth into a purposefully sexy pout, “I wish Sarah would have told me sooner. Now I’ve missed my chance.” Everyone looks toward me, waiting for something dramatic, a slap across the face, an argument, a blush-filled giggle.

   Instead I stand up roll my eyes and say, from the other side of the fire pit blazing between the group of ten or fifteen people, “God, this conversation is such a buzz-kill, guys.” I grab a half-empty giant bottle of Barefoot Sweet Red off the side table to my left and I think about how awful this night is and drink the rest. I think about what a horrible idea it was to leave my bed in order to watch Patrick practice his politics as I walk over to Kate and sit down on the arm of her deck chair.

Kate and I are best friends by happy accident, which I suppose is how all friendships come about. When we first met four years ago at our college orientation it was as if we were drawn to each other simply out of lack of interest in everyone else. Her short auburn hair bounces up and down playfully and she adjusts the red-checked scarf she’d bought when we were studying together in France. Kate is so pale that her skin literally glows in the firelight. She lets out a drunken shriek and wraps her arms around my waist. “Don’t worry, I don’t buy into this foolishness,” she says to me quietly before turning to continue her conversation with Patrick. Everyone turns to look at us and I hug her back, “You’re such an asshole, Patrick. Don’t you agree, Sarah?” After rolling her bright blue eyes in my direction, I raise an eyebrow and stare at her mascara, perfectly separated.

I think of how Kate and I are silently close, unspoken. How annoying of all the people who find it necessary to publicly profess their love and appreciation for another person as if it is the only thing that makes love real, as if that is the only thing it is worth to them; the appearance. The entire idea of making a paragraph long facebook status about you’re deep eternal devotion to your significant other, or “the sister that God forgot to give me” deprives love of realness; makes it less valuable, slowly peeling away layers of appreciation with each confession. I truly don’t know what I would do if God hadn’t put this crazy beautiful lady in my life. I hope that you appreciate this picture of her and I from that time she made me take three hundred selfies so she could have a new profile picture. I am trying to think of other reasons to love her but I forgot so how about everyone can just tell us how cute we are together now. The fact is that the level of a relationship’s importance diminishes with each person who knows that relationship exists. The opposite of what was intended in the first place. I think of posting a status every time Patrick breaks up with me, and then I remember that it’s nobodies business and move on with my life until next time.

    After too many more passive aggressive quips I hear only as if they are underwater, Patrick releases Kate from their discussion and walks over to me, still sitting on the arm of Kate’s chair, empty bottle in hand. He kisses me on the lips and says, “Hey baby” and I smile a tightlipped smile because I’m drunk and I don’t really want to make the effort to open my mouth. I look at Patrick and wonder how many other times I have ever looked at him. It must be at least one-hundred times, possibly two-hundred times, yet I cannot remember a single other time. I wonder what love really is because shouldn’t you treasure the times you see someone you love’s face? Don’t you subconsciously take a snapshot and store it in your brain somewhere and are then experiencing some sort of permanent existential euphoria? I have no euphoria. I see Patrick looking back at me and I just see Patrick looking back at me.

    After wandering away from the group for five slow and silent minutes, we are leaning over a railing of a very tall porch that overlooks the most beautiful view I have ever seen outside of the internet. Patrick finally turns away from me, his arms crossed on the railing, and gazes out over the mountain. He leans forward slightly and looks to the rocks and trees below him. The only sign of other human life at all is the sound of faint giggles coming from the other side of the cabin’s large wrap-around porch. I hear Kate let out a flirty yelp and continue giggling, finally relaxed, her actual confidence restored. The sun already set over the trees in the distance. They reach out down into a valley for longer than the length of a football field. Bats litter the sky.

    I look over at Patrick and he doesn’t even notice me. He is probably thinking about sex. Or something that I did wrong two years ago, or how I’m immature for a long list of irrational reasons. It was only hours ago that we were standing in the driveway, arguing over me, over something I did. I wore the wrong outfit, or tried to change the radio station. I really don’t remember.

    “I’m sorry about earlier,” he says to me, still looking out into the distance, “How about I take you out. We could go to that really expensive sushi place next to your apartment? The one that you always want to go to?”  When I don’t respond for an awkward period of time, he finally turns his face to me and looks me in the eyes. His charisma washes away and his eyebrows furrow, a pathetic transformation that I have seen too many times before. His cheeks twitch, now due to nerves as opposed to suaveness. I turn away. I do not want to get sucked in. “I’m trying to apologize and you’re just being a bitch,” he says in a tone of voice more confident than the apology itself.

    “Okay, yeah. That sounds like a good idea,” I manage, hoping it satisfies whatever it is he is looking for from me. He sighs and angrily focuses his attention towards his phone, another manipulation.
Still holding the empty bottle, I peer over the edge of the porch too. The rocks and dirt slowly get more and more steep as they blend in with the trees and the bushes and into the valley. Without even thinking about it first, as if it is a reflex, an accident, I throw the bottle over the railing. Red speckles fling around as the bottle seamlessly floats through the balmy summer air, glittering in the moonlight, it crashes amongst the rocks so far away that I can’t even hear it shatter.

   Patrick sees my movement and leans forward. Farther. I wonder if it would be just as thoughtless and simple to throw him over the edge of the railing. A reflex. He is always talking about reflexes anyway, using them as justification for everything he does. I think back to a month ago, a year ago. He may be standing over the sink brushing his teeth laughing at our misadventures of any particular evening, and then he comes to the room, lays down next to me and says something like, “If you died right now the only thing I would feel is relief,” and I say “huh?” and he says “get out of my house” and I don’t move until he pushes me off the bed. I walk out of the house with every intention of leaving until I hear him yelling from behind me that he’s sorry and he didn’t mean it. “I don’t know what came over me. I can’t help it. It’s just who I am.” He breaks down in tears asking me if he will be a monster forever until I turn around, wrap my arms around him and put his head on my shoulder, thinking that the answer is probably yes. But I don’t leave. We go back inside and order pizza.

So I remember these nights, of which there are many, and I think about how I too believe in reflexes and relief, and he leans forward farther.
The railing wobbles. Patrick leans forward. I wrap my foot around the wobbling post and pull it towards myself. In only a second the railing is gone, and so is Patrick.

There is a movie with Jake Gyllenhaal called Donnie Darko, which ends with a scene informing us all that the entire movie was a lie. As I collapse into a numb heap on the porch, I wonder which part of my movie is a lie. In my movie, this scene is shot in complete silence; I fall to the floor in slow motion, and some sort of classically heartbreaking ambient music plays over an otherwise silent background. In this movie, everyone sees what I have done. When I realize there is no relief, I rearrange the movie. Everyone offers me relief.

It’s like when you have so much tension in your body that you can’t breathe, or speak, or even see with your eyes wide open. All the little pieces of your body which complete this scientific puzzle that is function are so hyperactive that they can’t even imagine working together to grant you sight. They are only individual pieces, mindless, functionless pieces. You’re dizzy and you want to take your skin and rip it off until you’re free, finally free and finally relieved. But we will never ever be relieved. There is one “learning lesson” after another and we must always be unable to feel relieved. Unless, of course, we create our own relief.

I had always been pretty great at masking my emotions when I had a motive to. But there is no part of my brain functioning at a level high enough to even understand what it means to mask an emotion. I have officially lost it, reverted back to the time when you lay down on your back and kick the door of your locked bedroom for two hours screaming for attention because you already started. You can’t stop now. I start, and commit, “He fell. He fell down,” I wail. No one even questions me. No one suspects me. But then again no one even asks me. I lie down on the deck in the fetal position and try to breathe as a crew of blurry faces surround me and stare at the broken railing in silence.

_____________________________

   I am lying in bed after waking up from a weekend long nap, and Laurie, (who everyone else refers to as my best friend, I guess, to empathize with me, but she is really just my roommate) walks into my room without knocking, unannounced, to inform me that I had some “crazy important” event to attend and that I could under no circumstances remain in bed “even one second longer.”

     “Katie called, dude. She’s on her way over.”

I don’t sit up immediately but instead keep my eyes closed for a minute and pretend to still be sleeping. I try to guess what time it is by listening to the noise outside my window but I can’t hear anything but distant buzzing over my ceiling fan on high and Laurie’s incessant, vapid rambling. I’ve decided it doesn’t matter what time it is or what she is saying or where I am going, I am not moving. Then Laurie stops talking for long enough that I forget she is even there and that I had decided not to move. So I sit up in my disheveled double bed and open my swollen eyes.

    Laurie is sitting at the end of my bed looking at the doorway. She left the door open and she knows I would prefer my door to be closed. My walls are white and littered with a collage of frames of old photos with me and Patrick that I haven’t replaced partly because I have no photos to replace them with but mostly because I can’t function. Laurie doesn’t notice me sitting up right away but it’s already too late to try and avoid her a second time.

    “What time is it?” I ask her.

    “Oh, just like nine or something. I don’t really know.” she says stupidly. I think how she is always saying things stupidly, but I like that I know how stupid she is and will never tell her and that I will never care. Her ignorance has always given me the upper hand. I look at the pile of books at the foot of my bed and remember the work I still have to do for tomorrow. It causes me anxiety and I can’t breathe and my head pounds so I pull my comforter over my head and curl up into my covers without saying another word.

    Laurie stands up, I assume, because I can’t see anything but orange light peaking through the tiny featherless gaps in the blanket. The orange gaps and the comforter are gone. Laurie has ripped the comforter off of my bed, off of me. Down feathers are scattering everywhere like little dusty snowflakes as the comforter lands on the floor beneath my bed. Papers scurry around my room, displaced.

    “What the fuck,” I blurt, hostile because she knows I don’t even want her to be here right now. Shit is scattered everywhere, books still slowly tilting over the edge of my bed. I hear them clunking to the floor.

    “I said we have to go,” she explains like she was justified to wake me up, like she was doing me a favor by inconveniencing me, “We’re going to be late.”

    I stand up and walk slowly to my closet and find a pair of jeans that don’t really smell like they’re dirty or look like they’re dirty so I pull them on. I hear Laurie in the background, whining that I have been “locked away in this dungeon room” so much that she “like totally” hasn’t seen me in a week. I button my pants and think that she has seen me in a week because she often comes to my room to check on me because we live in the same fucking apartment and share the same bathroom and eat the same dinner and watch the same stupid television shows and she’s just trying to be dramatic because that’s who she is and all she knows. I don’t even have energy to roll my eyes.

    I find a faded dirty t-shirt on the floor. I put it on without thinking and realize it’s too big and along with a giant screenprint of Jim Morrison’s face, unidentifiable stains, it’s Patrick’s. I think how my stealing this shirt has fueled many fiery arguments. I take another look at the stains and decide that I will wear it and I won’t wash it. I will probably never wash because we will never argue again.

    “I called him last night and he still won’t answer me,” I say, looking down at the face. I don’t turn around but I can feel Laura looking at me, her eyes wide and confused.

    My hair is too long to wear down in the southern summer heat so I put it up in a ponytail. I go through all of this getting ready before I realize that I don’t even know where we are going and that I might be able to wear yoga pants if I want to.

    I always want to.

    I ask her.

    When she doesn’t answer me I get irritated, “Hello? Where are we going?” I yell, “If you want me to go somewhere you should at least tell me where we are going,” I whip around angrily. Laurie is staring at me, horrified. “What?” I say.

    My room is large enough that I can walk around the comforter without having to bend over and pick it up and move it out of the way which I think is something that Laurie should be responsible for considering she is the one who stormed in here and destroyed everything. I look in the mirror attached to my vanity and see my reflection. My eyes are swollen and a little black with smeared makeup and my skin looks a little green but I am neither pleased nor displeased so I just turn the light off. On my vanity there is a framed photo of Kate and me in the front row at a local concert with dark makeup and basically no clothes on.

   It’s now almost pitch black in my room even though it’s “nine or something” because the shade is down and my curtains are drawn. I hear Laurie sigh because not only is she stupid, she is also confused. I wonder if I can still tell stories about Patrick. I wonder if we were going to get married and move into an apartment like this one and wear shirts with musician’s faces to the bar. I wonder if I would have invited Laurie because Patrick never liked her, or Kate because he used to like her a lot extra. He said the only way to possibly describe Laurie was that she was a “stupid bitch” and I never argued because he was right. I decide not to reminisce and take my watch off and throw it at the dark void where I think my vanity probably is and take off my jeans.

    Laurie is still standing there staring at the photos on my wall, of which there are very few of her so the only reason she’d be interested is to judge me, that is until she starts getting anxious and looks at her feet. She grabs the end of her hair and starts playing with it impatiently while I bend over and pick up the comforter for her because I am not a bitch. I wrap it around my body and crawl into bed like a baby into the corner between the top of the bed where all my pillows are and the wall. I am facing the wall because it’s time for Laurie to leave but she hasn’t figured that out yet.

    She looks up from her hair twirling, sees me back in bed and numbly says “something black,” and walks away, annoyed and confused. She leaves the door open. I hear her, exasperated, from down the hallway, “just put on something black.”

 

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