Four Years Ago
I should’ve known by her text message that something was wrong that day. How could I have predicted that my world, my hope, my future would be irrevocably changed in an instant? The truth was, I couldn’t have.
But, when I got a text from the girl I loved, saying she needed to speak with me, I was naive enough to think it was nothing.
I drove over to Dannie’s house with a smile on my face, so excited to see her even though we had only been apart for a day. What could I say? I was a fool for love, addicted in every sense of the word.
I looked over at the white rose I’d plucked from the bouquet I had bought for tonight.
Women love flowers, I thought to myself.
I wanted Dannie to feel that she was being treated well in all the ways she deserved.
In hindsight, I wished that I’d had a flashing neon sign, saying, Stop, you idiot! You’re going the wrong way! Or maybe a warning that I was headed off a cliff.
I had no expectations to take our relationship to a more physical level that night. I wanted to make it clear to her that I wanted a real relationship, that I was fully committed to her.
But it wasn’t until I pulled up to her house, when I saw that she was waiting for me at the top of the driveway, that I finally
started to worry. Did something happen with her family? Did her mother call? Either way, I wanted to be there for her however she needed me.
Little did I know…
I stepped out of the truck, holding the rose with a stupid smile. “Hey, beautiful.” I stopped right in front of her before slowly drawing her into a hug.
I had never seen the look on her face that I saw that day. It was vacant, slightly lost. It was hard to describe, but she looked like a shell of the Dannie I had seen only yesterday.
But, still, I had no idea…
After shrugging out of my arms, she stepped away and quietly said, “Hey, can we just sit in the truck for a minute? I want to talk to you real quick.”
Oh no, something is really wrong, isn’t it?
Whatever it was, in that moment, I felt like I could help her.
I was keenly aware that she was avoiding my eyes. But why? “Sure…are you okay, princess?” I tried to stay calm while my
blood slowly turned to ice in my body.
We silently sat in the truck before she whispered, “Yeah, of
course. I want to talk for a bit.” She paused right before she ripped out my heart. “I can’t see you anymore, Reed. This doesn’t seem to be working out…whatever this even is. We aren’t officially dating anyway. I wanted to be fair to you by telling you to your face that I want to go to college without any attachments. I think I took this too far for too long without considering the fact that I am leaving at the end of the summer. I’m not going to go to Sacramento State anymore. I’m going to be farther away, so there is no point in pursuing this thing between us. I’m sorry I let it go on for so long.”
And there it was. The hammer had fallen. The lightning had struck. My worst fear was realized. I’d held out my heart, only to have it rejected. She didn’t want me.
My mind hadn’t caught up to the words she had spoken. So, I did what any man would do. I tried to reason with her.
I was angry, freaked out, and scared. “What? Are you serious? What is really going on? This is bullshit, and you know it!”
By the look on her face, I knew she wasn’t telling me something, something pivotal that she didn’t trust me with, something that had changed everything.
Still avoiding my eyes, she continued, “I am serious. I don’t feel like we should drag this on anymore.”
That was absurd. I might have even believed her if she didn’t look so heartbroken, so empty.
Damn it, Dannie! Don’t do this!
“Too young? That’s ridiculous. Look me in the eyes and tell me you feel nothing for me.” I’d finally had it. I pulled her to me, holding her face and forcing her to see what she was doing to me. “Look at me. I love you, Dannie. I love you.”
She wasn’t going to leave me without a good and dirty fight. “Tell me you feel nothing.” I leaned in for a kiss.
She jerked back, as if I had hit her. “No! Reed, I’m sorry, but I
don’t love you. I don’t feel anything.” She looked like she was going to be sick.
Is she sick? What did I do to make her frightened of me? I would never hurt her. Doesn’t she know that?
It was then that I started panicking. This is really happening, isn’t it?
My throat started to burn, but my heart felt like it was dying in my chest. “What happened? What did I do, Dannie? I’m sorry. I won’t try to kiss you again. Tell me what I did wrong.” My voice finally broke.
Please listen. Please, Dannie, don’t do this.
As she slowly stepped out of the truck and turned to walk away, she paused with a cold reply, “You didn’t do anything, Reed. I just don’t love you.”
How can I believe that? How does someone stop loving you? Why?
I whispered the only thing running through my mind at that moment, “I don’t believe you.”
I wake up in a cold sweat at the memory of Dannie. How can a memory still haunt someone after so many years? I cover my eyes with my arm, willing my heart to slow down, but the look on her face is still there, and the ache in my chest won’t subside. I remember every detail as if it happened yesterday because I’ve replayed the memory in my mind a thousand times, and a thousand times I wondered what I did to make her leave? What could I have possibly done to cause her to run from me?
How could I have been so naive to believe she loved me the way I loved her?
Even as I think it the question rings false. As if somehow, deep down in my naive heart, I meant it when I said, “I don’t believe you.”
Chapter 1- Dannie
“What are you afraid of?”
I recollect the question Ms. Gee asked me this morning. It reverberates in my ears while I look out over the gray-blue water. I hold a warm cup of coffee in my hands, trying in vain to calm the slight tremble in my fingers.
What am I afraid of?
After all this time and four years of therapy with Ms. Gee, one might think I’d have come up with an answer to this particular question, but I haven’t. It’s probably because I have spent too much time distracting myself with my busy life, filled with an exuberant group of friends, and hiding behind my nonstop career as a stylist in a big city to really answer that tiny question.
I’d rather not think about it, Ms. Gee.
I’ve kept my life in constant motion without allowing myself a moment to really think about whom I have been leaving behind and why—or more importantly, whom I have been running from.
I close my eyes, letting the sea breeze calm my cloudy thoughts. It’s a foggy day in San Fran, but even on the rocky shoreline, I can hear the bustle of the city waking up around me. The café is welcoming their early regulars, the joggers are pushing themselves an extra mile, and the career-minded individuals are trying to make every minute count as they rush to be the first in the office.
I am in love with this city. Its people and culture flow in my veins and straight through to my soul, and I am thankful for the anonymity it provides when I need it the most. This city gives me a sense of freedom—even if it is short-lived, even if it is a false sense of security.
What am I afraid of?
Ms. Gee’s question will continue to nag at me until I somehow find the answer.
I left my home, my family, and my friends four years ago to escape from these thoughts and the overwhelming fear that lingers around everything back there. It’s better that I walked away even if none of them see why. It’s better for me to have space and time to figure out how to live with the past. It’s better for the family I hold at a distance and most definitely for the family I’ve found because the truth can have a thousand implications, all of which are burdensome. I could leave because I knew the two people who unconditionally loved me most would forgive me even if they weren’t aware of all the reasons.
A pair of dark green eyes flashes in my mind as a deep sense of loss invades my aching heart. I left Reed because it was the right thing to do and because he deserved better than the broken, damaged woman I became after that summer.
I open my eyes as a welcome visitor settles next to me. Melody sits in silence, waiting for my explanation for leaving the house so early this morning after an exhausting, sleepless night.
“It’s time,” I finally manage to say what I know in my heart is the truth.
It’s time I go back home. It’s time I stop avoiding my past. It’s time I find the courage to pick up the pieces of my old life and find a way to live again.
Melody rests her head on my shoulder. “Are you sure?”
Not so much.
She continues gently, “I know you have come so far since we moved here, but I sometimes still hear you at night…” She trails off, knowing she doesn’t need to say the words out loud.
A night like last night.
Nights filled with terror and torment and waking up, only to realize the truth in them. The nightmares have never gone away, but they have gotten better over time. Either way, I have learned to manage the aftermath of my past, and I’m tired of letting it dictate my life.
“I will learn to live with it,” I respond with more courage than I feel. “I can’t, however, forget the things that I want, and I can’t pretend anymore that I don’t want to go to college, no matter how much I love living here with you.”
I feel her silent nod of acceptance.
We moved to San Francisco together four years ago. Two girls in an exciting big city, we have been inseparable ever since. I will miss Melody like a missing piece of my own heart, but I also miss the girl I left behind when we moved here. I owe it to that girl to go back and reclaim the life she wanted before all hell broke loose.
Before my mother gave me a letter telling me to leave and never come home.
Before my stepfather told me I was dead in his eyes. Before I lost any and all hope.
And before graduation night.
“I just want you to be happy again, Dannie.”
I don’t respond at all because I’m frozen in thought.
“Dannie? What are you thinking about?” Melody’s voice finally cuts through the thick fog that momentarily surrounded me.
“Oh, you know…everything. The past, my family, all my craziness.” I shoulder-bump her in quiet thanks to her genuine concern while trying to lighten the mood.
Melody doesn’t let up. “Are you going to see your family when you get back?”
Hopefully not. “I have no idea.”
“You should think about it, Dannie. I know your dad misses you.”
I wasn’t referring to my dad.
When I left four years ago, I left behind the people who loved me. I just haven’t figured out how to let the ones I love back into my life without letting the ones who hurt me in, too.
I stand up, brushing off the sand sticking to my legs and backside, cutting off the direction of her questioning. My family is a complicated mess I’d like to avoid discussing on the beach. My beach spot happens to be my place of solace, my place of reprieve, from all things dark and menacing. I don’t want to ruin my last memory of this place with talk of a family I don’t fit into anymore and a life I’d rather forget.
I turn the tables on Melody. “So, is your boyfriend going to take the plunge and move in now that our bachelorette pad is down one bachelorette?”
Melody gives me a silent nod of her head, knowing that I disapprove of her choice of boyfriends and that he is in fact moving in, despite my prior objections. She encompasses all things sweet and pure of heart, yet she finds herself in relationships of the worst kind. Her high school boyfriend, Jay, was a cheater, a drunk, and an all-around sleaze, but Damien is no better. If I were to be more brutally honest, I’d say he was worse. Controlling is the word I would use to describe the man. Tall, dark, and handsome, for sure, but he is also calculating in a way that Jay never was. He has a sharp eye, demanding nature, and a fierce temper, which is a volatile combination when wrapped in a charming package.
I can’t seem to shake the feeling that Damien is somehow…wrong.
Unfortunately, Melody doesn’t see it. Needless to say, I don’t want to isolate my friend by hating on her boyfriend and make the dangerous mistake of giving her nowhere to run but into his arms. I’ve been down the road of destructive relationships before, and I don’t see a clean way out of this situation.
I look over at the face of my friend and wrap an arm around her shoulders, giving her an apologetic squeeze, knowing that words will do no good in a moment like this. When everything is said and done, I can only hope that we can find a way to survive the storm.
We’ve survived so much already.