â€œTell me if youâ€™re game.â€ You leaned against your rusted-out Mustang wearing ripped jeans, a gray t-shirt, flip-flops, and a smirk. One thumb thrust in the direction of your passenger seat, your invitation. A wrecking ball loomed in the lot behind you like a prophecy.
I stood in the doorway, with my torn black nightie slipping off one shoulder, my feet in the bunny slippers youâ€™d given me as a joke for my birthday, frowning. I leaned against the heavy apartment door and gave you a long look. â€œI told you to be patient.â€
â€œGet in,â€ you said.
â€œLike this?â€ My voice broke as I pointed to my slippers with my free hand. I rolled my eyes and tried not to cry.
The street began waking up, kids gleeful for yet another sunrise shooting by between us on skateboards, shattering our universe with their screams. The sun glinted off your car and got in my eyes. All these signs of reality, and all I could focus on was the tool of destruction in the background. Construction workers silently sipped coffee at its haunches.
â€œWho will love you?â€ you asked.
â€œIâ€™ll be fine.â€ My tears broke their surface tension.
Unbidden memories replayed themselves in my blurred vision: Our first date, not a real date, just two hungry people eating, according to me. You sat across from me in our booth, singing me sad songs. Late-night drives out of town, you with only one hand on the wheel. Â Our Saturday afternoon beach habit, always followed by furtive sex on sandy towels in your backseat. Sunday morning sing-a-thons in the kitchen. And fighting. Everywhere, always, fighting. Laughing followed by fighting followed by make-up sex followed by more laughing. Relationships are complicated.
â€œYouâ€™re going to love California,â€ I said. Crying made my voice shrill.
â€œYouâ€™re crying,â€ you actually sounded surprised. For a moment I believed you; then, that smirk played on your lips. â€œWipe those tears off your face.â€ So quick with a joke.
Truth is, your love shredded me. Even from the start you undid me. You never knew your effect on me. Â Standing there on the front stoop, staring at the sunlight in your hair, something shifted inside me and self-preservation won out. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand.
â€œBe kind,â€ I told you with a sigh.
You shrugged and fussed with something inside the car.
Finally you finished and gave me a little salute before circling around to the driverâ€™s seat. I pretended to smile. My hand hurt where it had been pressed against the door. When I looked, chipped blue paint was stuck to my palm, the first sign of my mistake.
A couple hours later, you called me from the road and told me jokes until my stomach hurt from laughing. Good thing you couldnâ€™t see that I was crying at the same time.
â€œI love you,â€ you said as you hung up.
â€œI love you, too,â€ I whispered after you were gone.
After the first few weeks, you stopped calling.
I spent the rest of the summer lying around the depressingly bare apartment in my bunny slippers watching the wreckage unfold across the street and waiting for fall to come and start me over. I barely noticed the nausea until the new foundation was in across the street and the leaves began to pile up where your car had once been.