Held Back

Love. Three years with old whatshername had done little to give me insight into what that meant. After she cheated on me with old whatshisname, I hadn’t wanted to give her up out of embarrassment as much as anything else. Alba was a small school. Everybody knew what was what, but Slim didn’t care. She believed in a lot of things, but she did not believe in ghosts. She believed in opening up to the future like a giant sunflower facing the sun.

We finally fell asleep, waking with dew on our faces, the damp sleeping bag. She was red and I was blue and we were zippered together in Pine River Park where no camping was allowed. Then we lived happily ever after….

I was back in Warren for Christmas break when one of my hippie housemates called me with the bad news. I drove straight back up to school, me and Mudboy in my old Satellite. I took the back roads so I wouldn’t have to pass the spot of the accident, though I wasn’t sure exactly where that was. Snow blew over the flat straight back roads of mid-Michigan as if no roads existed at all. I was crying, Mudboy licking my face as if he understood human grief. If only licking each other’s faces was enough, but it truly was not.

She believed in a lot of things, but she did not believe in ghosts. She believed in opening up to the future like a giant sunflower facing the sun.

When I finally get to Alba, first thing I do is find Gina and we fall into ragged grief together. I just changed tenses, I know, but I’m suddenly there now. Gina’s short, maybe 5’4”. I’m hugging her and crying down into her hair and staring forward into the space where Kim’s face should be. I know that sounds stupid. It was the first time I felt like a piece of the world was missing forever.

Here’s where I should offer redemption. To suggest she didn’t die in vain, that I became a stronger person, that I dedicated myself to trying to live a life she would’ve been proud of. But I was an amateur at grief. The coach should have left me on the bench and told me to watch and try and learn a thing or two. Not standing at the free throw stripe with the game on the line.

Gina and I spent that night together. Yeah, and we had sex too. Fast, wild sex. And then again. But all I felt was one sharp pain. Like a blackboard not being erased, but being blown up into a thousand brittle black pieces. I let Mudboy outside and forgot about him. When I left the next morning, Gina pulled me to her and whispered softly, “Don’t ever come back,” and I think I understood. She kissed a tear from my cheek and sent me out the door.

When I walked out into the cold on the grayest, cloudiest morning in the history of the world, Alba, Michigan version, Mudboy was gone, but when I got back to my house, he was waiting on the front stoop, wagging his little butt off. Dumb dog knew his own way home, trusted me to return.

Charles did tell Robin to fuck off, but she wouldn’t come to the door, so he had to yell it from the street. Which was okay back in Warren, yelling from the street. Slim got away from the yelling because of the financial generosity of a grandmother who painted watercolors in her basement. Slim was going to be a teacher of little kids in her soft candle voice. Her smile would light up a generation or two. Would have lit up. Maybe/would/could have. If she could’ve passed that one math class. If that community college class would’ve transferred. If a full moon lit up the river on graduation night. If she’d believed in ghosts. If she had simply lived.

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