This is the second story that I worked on throughout my Narrative Writing course. I don’t think it’s completely finished, but this is what I submitted as my final draft for the course.
I met Alondra through my friend Dan at a party near Mountain View. Dan told me that she was kind of an awkward prude, and that if anyone could crack her it would be me. I sat on a couch with her and talked all night. She was one of the sweetest people I’d ever met, and I couldn’t help but ask her to come home with me. After we ended up at my place she told me that she didn’t have sex with people she didn’t know. I said we should get to know each other. She told me that she was usually really shy, but there was something about me that just got her to open up.
She was born in Guadalajara and came to the US with her mom when she was six. They were running from her abusive dad, and once they were here her mom remarried and had more kids. She loved her step dad: he’d been the perfect husband and father in her eyes, he was a santo sent to care for them. She wanted to find a man as good as him to settle down with. I didn’t know what she saw in me. She asked me about my favorite memory of my parents. I told her that I’d suffered from insomnia my whole life. I had serious nightmares that kept me up, so when I was younger my mom would sit with me until I fell asleep. She would open the curtains in the room and tell me the moon would keep me company after she was gone. I started to hum my mom’s lullaby to her. She fell asleep holding my hand. I stayed on the floor next to my bed and caressed her back. Eventually I fell asleep too, and slept soundly for the first time in weeks.
Over the next two days I cut off all of the women I’d been fucking. I sent them all personalized texts that said the same thing more or less: I found someone that I can actually see myself settling down with. It was kind of short sighted when I’d known Alondra less than 48 hours at the time, but I wanted to be the guy that was good enough to remind her of her step dad. I knew I could do it, and she was the innocent type that I could bring home to mom’s. Hell, even dad would approve of a güerita as nice as Alondra.
I actually asked her if she wanted to visit home with me after just two weeks of knowing her. That’s the clingy shit that I’ve dumped other women for, but I wanted to show mom that I was good enough to be with a woman she’d approve of. Alondra was super excited that I asked her. We made the drive down to Monterey on a Sunday morning, and got there in time to join my parents for noon mass. I’d never been a good Católico, but Alondra was more than happy to join my parents. I just wanted to impress her with them and them with her. After mass I drove us all back to my parents’ house and we made carne asada in the backyard. Alondra awkwardly shared stories about Mexico with dad. He was excited that she’d grown up in the same city as him and kept talking while she nodded her head. Mom was better at getting her to be comfortable and they bonded about teaching. Dad took me to a bench under his old pear tree and told me that he was glad I’d found a good güerita and hadn’t settled down with any of the indias I’d been seeing. He told me to hold onto this one. Before we left, mom pulled me aside and said, “Treat her right, hijo. Make sure you’re happy too.”
On the drive back to San Jose Alondra said, “Your parents seem nice. I’m glad you invited me.” They really liked you, I told her. “I really liked them too,” she responded. “You don’t talk about your dad much, but he’s such a nice man.”
“My dad is an ass,” I said too defensively. I had so many memories of him abusing mom and me. He’d gotten better over the years, and I tried hard to love him. In my college years I understood him better, I forgave him for almost everything. I saw so much of his machismo in myself and the way I treated women though. Deep down I blamed him for every relationship that had gone to hell. “Sorry. He’s just… We didn’t have the best relationship when I was a kid.” I stared ahead at the road. She stared at me. There was an expectant silence. “He’s fine,” I said before putting on some music. We drove the rest of the way in silence.
Alondra and I started seeing each other more after that. I picked her up from work at the Saint Leo School on my way home from the Mercury News offices, and we made dinner together at my place. It was nice: we’d just sit together and talk or listen to music. She introduced me to Ed Sheeran’s music and told me if I didn’t love it we wouldn’t work out. One night we were cuddled up listening to an album of his,and she started singing along, “maybe you should learn to love her, like the way you want to be loved.” I asked her how she wanted to be loved. She looked at me and caressed my face before kissing me lightly. “I guess… I want a man that really cares. I want someone who wants to be a good father, someone to build a family with.” I didn’t tell her that that wasn’t what I wanted: I wasn’t ready for a family. I wanted to find someone to have fun with and to grow with. I couldn’t tell her that though. I told her that sounded like a good way to be loved and kissed her long and hard.
Alondra didn’t like me partying with Dan. She thought he was too much of a pothead, and didn’t want me to do drugs with him. Instead she started to invite over friends to my place. Her parties consisted of dinner, wine, and small talk; it was a lot classier than anything I’d ever done. The first time we did that Alondra took her friends up to my room to show off the drawer of stuff that she had in there. It was like she was domesticating me and showing off the tricks that she’d taught me.
On those tipsy nights I started trying to be more physical in bed. I craved the intimacy and passion, but she was uncomfortable with it. Before her I was with women who craved sex as much as I did; Emma, the beautiful Uruguayan, was so good that my roommates didn’t get any sleep on nights she came over. I asked Alondra if we could start to be physical with each other, and she said we weren’t ready for that. She wasn’t sure about her feelings for me. Things were moving too fast for her. I’d given up my lifestyle to try to be good enough for her, and she couldn’t even decide how she felt about me. Fuck that shit. I wasn’t ready for a boda or an esposa, I just wanted to have a good night.
One night after we got back to my place from a show at the Shark Tank she jumped on me. I was a little drunk, so she easily pushed me onto my bed and tossed my clothes away. Alondra took off her clothes and laid down. I cautiously inched my hands across her body. She was blushing and refused to make eye contact. I slowly turned her towards me and kissed her. I should have been all over her, but in that moment I couldn’t. It felt wrong to touch her and see her squirm. When I touched her breast she flinched back and grimaced. I pulled my hand away, but she grabbed it and pressed it against her chest. She still looked so uncomfortable. I wanted her to be enjoy it, but she was forcing herself through it.
“Keep going,” she said while she pulled me close. She reached down between my legs and grabbed my dick too roughly. I gasped in pain, but she was too focused to notice. I pushed her hand off of me and started to put it in myself. “It’s my first time. Can you go slow,” she asked. She closed her eyes and turned away from me. I tried to back off, but she said, “This is what you’ve wanted. Just go slow.” I pushed into her slowly, but she started crying. “It hurts.” I stopped and got away from her. I asked her how she was feeling, but she didn’t respond. She pulled her clothes back on and whimpered out, “why do people like sex?”
“It feels good if you do it more. It’ll stop hurting.” I caressed her back and kissed her forehead. She shouldn’t hate her first time so much. Her first time should have been special at least, and now she might hate sex entirely because of me. “I’m sorry I hurt you. Maybe we can try again some other time?”
“I only did it because you’re the sweetest guy I’ve ever been with, and I know you’ve wanted to. I don’t think I like it.” I sat on the floor next to her. I asked her how she was feeling again and offered to get her something. She didn’t say anything. I felt like an asshole. I didn’t deserve Alondra: she’d given so much, and I kept pushing for more.
The next night I partied with my old group of friends because Alondra said she was sick. She wanted me to go out and have a good time, and I was in the mood to take that for what it was worth. I called up Dan and he got me crossed before I even finished telling him about the last few weeks. Bruh, you’re whipped, he said. You managed to get into that prude’s pants, and I’m just trying to help you get some good pussy while you’re free.
We ended up at a party near Downtown that was bumpin, even by my standards. It was some basement turned club shit going on. I found Kim, a woman I’d been interested in before Alondra, on the dance floor. I knew I shouldn’t do anything with her (or anyone), but I wanted to feel someone’s body (anyone’s) next to mine. I wanted to feel her quiver with pleasure at my touch. I asked her to dance with me. She just kind of smiled and pulled me close. She started to grind up against me and bit her lip when she looked up at me. She kept dancing on me, and then went in for a kiss. I obliged. It was fun, but I started to think about Alondra. I knew it was wrong. Then she tiptoed and said, “Let’s get out of here.” She didn’t have to tell me twice.
When we were half way to my place, she suddenly turned me to her, pulled my face down, kissed me hard, and rubbed one of her hands over my crotch. Just as quickly, she pushed me away and walked on while I stood there licking my lips for the leftover taste of her.
We got to my place and I led her up to my room. My roommates’ doors were closed and their lights were off, better that no one knew it wasn’t Alondra coming home with me. We got into my room and I looked Kim up and down: she was a small woman, no taller than five foot four, and beautiful. She was about the same skin tone as I am, and I’m pretty moreno. She had long dark hair and her smile was a burst of white that broke out from her dark face.You sure about this, I asked her. “No shit”, she responded and pulled me back down to her.
Kim knew what she was doing. She tore our clothes off and pulled me onto my bed. Our mouths were too busy to do any talking, and our hands followed suit. I used my mouth on her perky breasts, and she asked me to finger her. I worked my way down and started eating her out. I asked her what kinds of things she liked, and she moaned out, “I don’t even care. This is amazing.” She put both hands on the back of my head and pushed me straight onto her. She asked me to get a condom. I thought of Alondra, but I got a condom anyway. We fucked hard until I ran out of condoms.
That morning I woke up, saw her next to me, and cuddled up with her. She told me she had to go, so I started making out with her again. She asked, “Is this your way of saying ‘Don’t go.’?” I just kept kissing her. She left without any of my roommates seeing her.
At noon I took Alondra some medicine and tissues. She didn’t seem to be very sick, so I sat with her for a bit and told her parts about the night before. I mentioned getting real crossed and that my friends and I were in some high school mood and played spin the bottle before heading off to a party. I joked about one of my guy friends feeling me up and kissing on my neck to explain the hicky I had. She took it all in with laughs and a few playful slaps on the hand. She kept mentioning how crazy I was, and in the next breath how nice I was for trying to help her feel better. I left as soon as she told me I could go.
I sent Kim a text after that. I asked her if she wanted to talk about what happened. She replied saying that she had a good time but wasn’t looking for anything serious. I playfully replied that she was great company and let the conversation die off.
I called my mom up that night. She told me about abuela and how she couldn’t work anymore. She’d had another surgery. Mom asked about Alondra. I told her she wasn’t feeling well. She said to take care of her. That was mom’s go to when I talked about relationships. She told me stories of dad treating her like shit when I was younger. He was the type to chase after sucias; to hurt mom in one moment and claim he loved her in the next. I’d hated him for it my whole life. I wanted to be better than he had ever been. Mom said, “Cuidala. She’s a good one,” then hung up.
That night I had my first nightmare since meeting Alondra. I was sitting alone in a dark room. The twin sized bed I was in felt huge. Outside the window a darkness spread across the sky and absorbed every trace of moonlight. A huge tree was swaying back and forth in the storm. I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. The tree’s limbs molded themselves into a face, a smile. Lightning crisscrossed the sky. I jumped backwards and ran for the door. I beat on it with all my might, but my tiny arms didn’t even make a dent. The darkness outside started to come in through the window. I put the door to my back and watched the shadows cross the room slowly behind. The tree started laughing and said, Real men don’t hurt, they aren’t so emotional. It continued to laugh. The room faded almost completely into darkness. A flash of lightning revealed hands reaching out towards me. I woke up in a fetal position with tears on my face and my pillow soaked. I turned on the light and tried to go back to sleep. I just watched my room’s window until dawn light streamed in.
The next day I finished up writing an article and went straight to Alondra’s from the Mercury. Her face lit up when I walked in. She started brushing at her hair with her hands, saying that she knew she looked terrible. I stood by the door and didn’t take off my coat. I knew I wouldn’t be staying long. I told her I fucked up. I told her another woman spent the night on Saturday. I waited for her to yell at me, to throw something, to call me a sucio; she just kept smiling at me.
“I’m not mad,” she said. “I told you we’re not really dating.” She waited a second, then asked, “Nothing actually happened, right?” Her eyes flashed with momentary sadness – a vulnerability that betrayed her feelings despite saying she wasn’t sure – when she said the last part. She wanted this, she wanted me. I wasn’t sure that we could make it work, but I couldn’t hurt her. I lied to her. I told her that we hadn’t done more than kiss. She thought on it for a second, then she said, “That’s fine. We haven’t figured this out.” She reached out for my hand. I pulled back.
I saw an out. I could play this out and end things without being the bad guy. I didn’t want to tell her the whole truth, but I would if it came to that. I just needed her to be mad at me for being an idiot.
“What are we doing, Alondra?”
“I’m not sure. I’m not mad because I want to make this work… but I’m not sure that you do. What do you want, Damian?”
“I made a mistake, Alondra.” In my mind I saw her repeatedly flinching away from me. Imagined the feeling of that night after night. Of never feeling wanted. “I don’t want to hurt you anymore. We’ll do whatever you want. I’ll try to make this work if you want to, but if not I can leave you alone.”
“I need time to think. Maybe we can make this work. I just need a bit of space for now. ”
“That’s fine.” I wasn’t sure what I wanted her to decide. I knew that I cared about her, but I didn’t know if I wasn’t what she wanted. I didn’t want to do anything to hurt her or end up alone again. I didn’t want to end things myself. She could do so much better than me. She just had to realize that.
I talked to Dan and Flor about Alondra over lunch at Pizza my Heart. Alondra and I had sex on Friday night, she was a virgin. Then I cheated on her with Kim on Saturday, I told them. Bruh, Dan asked, really? You fucked Alondra and Kim? You’re such a legend, he exclaimed while reaching out for a high five. Flor was pissed.
“You’re such a pendejo,” she started. “I thought you were better than that, Damian.” She slapped me. I started to say something, but she slapped me again. “Don’t say shit. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dad did something like this. Sorry,” she said to Dan before continuing (he just nodded his head and smiled). “You though. You’ve talked about being better, about finding something real. You’re just like the rest though. You’re just like your dad.”
I remembered all the times that dad beat me. He would get home angry from work. I don’t remember him ever hitting mom. He’d yell at her, but he never touched her. She’d still cry to me about the things he said, and I’d cry to her when he hit me. Mom told me once that she would have left him if not for me, and that I was the best part of her life. All I heard was that her suffering was because of me. Everything that he had done to her was my fault. I was his son, and just by existing I hurt people I cared about.
“Flor, I felt like an asshole the night we had sex. I tried to back off, and she told me she knew it was what I wanted. I was going to be an asshole no matter what I did: either I take her virginity or I stop her advances after months of pushing for it. The next night I just wanted to feel wanted. I wanted someone to want me to touch them. I tried to make it right too. I told Alondra about Kim and she wasn’t even mad. She said we’re not really dating.”
Flor looked confused for a second before looking even more mad. “That doesn’t change anything. You still fucked up. You did. Not her. She tried to give you what you wanted. Poor girl probably thought that it would keep you around.” I tried to say something, but Flor was on a roll. “You always do this. You jump head first into something and then you decide you don’t really want it. You find something – anything – that is even a little wrong, and you blow it up in your head. You find a reason to run away.” Flor knows me well enough to understand how I act. I’ve told her that my greatest fear in life is to end up completely alone. Everyone I know will eventually figure out that I’m an asshole that should be alone. When I feel particularly alone I have the same nightmares I had as a kid. When I’m in relationships I don’t feel so alone, so I deal with the loneliness by keeping someone around. I find a woman, I start something, I find a reason to run away, I feel lonely, and I repeat. Women help me build a flame to ward off my demons, but I never really give them my all.
I already knew that I had fucked up, but Flor was the person that kept me grounded. I knew that I’d really made a mistake when she was upset with me. “I know you’re hurting, but I’m not sorry. You’re an hombre, but you’re a good hombre. I’m hard on you because we both know you’re better than this,” Flor said while collecting her things from the table. She left without saying another word, and Dan chased after her. I finished my lunch alone.
The next couple of days were hard. The nightmares were consistent again.
That Friday I met up with Dan to go to an SJ Improv comedy show. I saw Flor standing by the main entrance with another woman. She introduced us, saying that her friend’s name was Iris. She was a short and cute negrita. I made an effort to try to talk to her, but Flor kept glaring at me. As we walked into the show Dan whispered to me, I’ll keep Flor busy. Do you, bruh.
Iris sat with me, and asked what I did for a living. I’m a reporter at the Mercury News, I told her. “You’re a writer,” she asked excitedly before telling me about her love of literature. She told me that she thought about stories while writing code for software and spent her free time writing out her ideas in an old notebook. I told her about my attempts to write fiction, and we bonded over how tiring the editing process is. The comedian took the stage just as she was telling me about her favorite books.
The show was funny enough. I appreciated the comedians sense of humor; he made a lot of jokes similar to shows I’d seen from George Lopez. Most of his act had to do with Mexican parents: he joked about getting beat as a kid, about machismo and men always cheating, and about the expectations that Mexican mom’s put on their kids. Iris was laughing just as much as I was. At one point she leaned over and said something to me in Spanish. I didn’t even hear her, but the fact that it was Spanish got me going crazy.
After the comedy show I walked towards the bus stop with them. Say what you will about New York and LA, but San Jose is beautiful at night in a way neither of those cities ever could be. Downtown has a way of looking traditional with pieces of Spanish architecture and modern with its skyscrapers. On the same street you have a taste of history and the future. New York is too busy running into the future that it’s selling to everyone to have a history, and LA would much rather toke up on Venice Beach than deal with its problems. San Jose is a city that feels like home to an educated Chicano.
When we got to the bus stop Flor told us that she and Iris were headed home. Dan told them, Damian and I are headed to a party a few streets down. Iris smiled at me and said, “I think I’m gonna go with them, Flor. I’ll see you later?” They hugged and then Flor gave me a hug. She whispered, “Don’t you even dare.” I smiled at her, raised my eyebrows, and bit my lower lip as I turned to walk away.
We found the house easily enough, and made our way inside. There was a decent group of people, and Dan made his way to who I assumed was the host. I sat next to Iris on a couch. Dan made us some weird mix drinks and took hits from a bong that he passed us. Iris and I talked about dorky shit, but she was more open, probably due to the alcohol and weed. At some point she told me we should head out. I wasn’t going to argue. We laughed at how evidently high both of us were in only the way two very high people can. We heard someone talking in Russian and she got really excited. She told me that she’d studied Russian back in college, and she tried to translate for me. The Russians were drunk, otherwise they might have taken offense to our actions. Instead they turned around, exclaimed something to her, and then offered us a swig of the tequila they had.
Somehow we made it back to her place in one piece. We sat on the stoop in front of her building and kept talking.
“Flor told me to stay away from you. You don’t seem like that much of a pendejo though,” she said with a smile.
“Flor has just known me a long time. Old friends are really judgemental, ya’know?” I was trying to focus and not slur my words.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to call you a pendejo. You were telling me about you favorite book?”
I told her that To Kill a Mockingbid was my go to classic favorite. She said that hers was Middlesex. “It could help you with the story about your grandma and mom that you’re working on,” she told me. Then we just kind of spiraled into a billion different ideas that we both had. Neither of us could keep track of the conversation and we kept forgetting what we were talking about and moving on. It didn’t matter: even a conversation about Superman vs. Batman (Which I hated. Batman obviously wins, he’s fucking Batman) would have been enjoyable. The only thing that got me was her habit of apologizing for things incessantly. I told her she didn’t have to be sorry for everything. “Sorry, I’ll stop being sorry,” she responded.
At about four in the morning she told me that she needed to go to sleep. I didn’t want to push things too much, so I asked if it would be too forward to ask for a kiss goodnight. She told me it would. She gave me a hug, smiled at me for a moment, and then went up to her apartment. I stood staring at the door for longer than I’m willing to admit. I was hoping she’d come back out and it could just continue. She didn’t, it didn’t, I left. There were no nightmares that night. I dreamt of her.
The next night I went out to party again. It wasn’t anything special. I was thinking of Iris, so I stayed away from any woman I wasn’t friends with. At one in the morning I got a text from Alondra. I want to see you. It took me all of three minutes to get my things and leave. I rushed to her place. When I got there I waited for my breath to come under control and I knocked. She was drunk. She invited me in and we went straight to her room. She’d changed her decorations again: every time she was upset she changed the pictures in the frames on the nightstand. The ones of us had been replaced by pictures of her and her siblings at the beach.
She sat me at the foot of her bed and she went to her pillows. I knew I shouldn’t be there, and she knew it too. We talked for a while like nothing had changed. We were friendly in that moment. She made note of how high I was. I told her I was fine, but she insisted that I had overdone it.
We didn’t talk about us. The topic would have ruined the comfort we’d both reclaimed with each other. We just pretended nothing had changed. It got to be late, really late. I knew I had to leave, but she kept saying I was in no condition to leave. I told her it was fine and that I could take care of myself. She started crying then, “I don’t want you to go.” I’ve never been able to ignore a woman’s tears. I held mom’s hand through the nights that she’d actually broken down into tears. I couldn’t leave then. I took her in my arms and let her cry onto my chest. I kissed her on the forehead. “I love you,” she looked up at me. I lied and said I loved her too.
I slept with her in my arms. She was drunk, and I was high. That was no way to build love. Even if she was sleeping next to me, I was still alone. I tried to sleep, but I woke up shaking. I still felt the hands on me. My legs felt bruised and tired. I heard the tree’s laugh echoing in the dark room. I cried until my eyes were dry. After that I just sat with her in my arms. I cursed myself for being my father’s son.
When she woke up she stared at me and caressed my face. “You didn’t sleep.”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
I considered telling her everything. Telling her that I was sorry. Begging her to work through it all with me. “I just couldn’t sleep,” I said.
She continued staring in silence. “I need time to think.” I told her that was alright.
I went home. Everything was dull. Feelings from the past two nights swirled into a mess. The world was in greyscale. I wanted to sleep, not because I was tired, because I didn’t want to be conscious. I knew I was hurting, but it didn’t seem that important. Nothing did. I just wanted to lay in bed and ignore the world. What I felt in that moment was not sadness, it was a contradiction to every worthy aspect of life. The darkness crept into my room. It came through the window, and inched across the room towards me. I told myself I’d wake up eventually, but I was awake. I cut at my arm with the pocket knife on my keys. I tried to cut deep. I wanted to feel the pain. I wanted to punish myself for all the harm I’d done. Pain was the only feeling I deserved. It covered up the loneliness, sent it away, and with it the darkness receded into the corners of the room. The pain kept me grounded. It reminded me that I was alive.
A few days later I made Iris dinner in my aparment. We both laughed at the vague memories from the last time we were together. “I don’t remember much, it’s like Will Smith used a neuralyzer on me,” she professed. I asked if that meant I was in the clear for being so forward. With a bite on her lower lip she said, “I remember that.” She looked away from me. I couldn’t stop staring at her, but she seemed suddenly uncomfortable. She looked away from me.
“That’s a fancy bottle of tequila,” she said in reference to the unopened bottle of Don Julio.
“My dad gave it to me on my 21st birthday. It’s just been sitting there for five years.”
“Does tequila age well?”
“It doesn’t really change at all. I just have some bad memories associated with that kind.”
“Crazy nights in college,” she asked with a laugh.
“No,” the bottle was clear and held a gold liquid. It was one of the fancier bottles as far as tequila went. It even had a cork instead of a cap. It was dad’s favorite kind of tequila. “My dad used to drink it a lot. I used to look forward to him getting drunk on it. He only had it when he was in a good mood, and then he’d be drunk and super loving. He’d forcefully tuck me in when he said it was my bed time, then he’d just sit on my bed and tell me stories. It was the only time he told me he loved me. I’ve just never wanted to drink something that made my dad so weird.”
There was a moment of silence. I’d said too much. Iris would think that I was too emotional. I was going to scare her away. Instead, Iris smiled at me. “I understand. Thanks for sharing that with me.” I felt confused and relieved, but most of all just happy. I smiled back at her.
We got back into the rhythm of things. I told her I’d been reading a lot of Junot Diaz lately. I pulled out my phone to show her pieces of writing I’d really liked. She read one and just said, “Damn”. She handed back my phone and we talked on about something else. Then she stopped me.
“Seriously though. Like, damn. That line is beautiful, and real, and I just can’t get over it.”
“I know. I wish I was that good.”
“Well this is why you’re a journalist and he’s teaching at MIT,” she said with a playful laugh.
“Damn. That was harsh,” I said smiling back at her.
“Sorry. I’m sure you’re good at other things.” She winked at me.
Iris was smart and funny, and I really enjoyed her company. I hadn’t felt that comfortable with someone in a long time. There was just this back and forth between us that made me feel like I could be me and she actually enjoyed my company as much as I did hers. With Alondra I’d had to force so much.
I walked her home again. When we got to her apartment there was a moment of awkward expectation. I asked if I could give her a kiss good night. She looked away for a moment.
“Ok. So here’s the thing. I’m in an open relationship. I don’t really know how this is supposed to work.” She wasn’t quite rejecting me, but I didn’t know how I felt about being involved with someone in an open relationship. I was still traditional in some ways, but I didn’t want to give up the happiness I felt around her. I apologized for being so forward and said that I was sorry if I made her uncomfortable. She asked for a hug, and then I left.
We kept talking after that. Over text we said what we couldn’t in person: I liked her, and she liked me. There was room in her relationship for something between us. Our conversations were fun. One time we continually sent each other stupid memes. After a whole day of that I responded to her image of Admiral Ackbar with a message that read I love you. I know, she responded.
I kept having nightmares despite getting closer with Iris. I still felt alone. We might act like a couple with each other, but she had someone else. I was just consolation while she was away from her boyfriend; that thought ate away at my happiness. Each night I was dragged further into the dark. I took to rubbing my arm when I felt the edges of reality start to blur. I could feel myself on the brink of tears each time. One moment I’d be sitting at my desk trying to finish up a work email, the next I would be shaking. My breathing would quicken, my heart would race, my leg would jump uncontrollably. If I looked away from the monitor I could barely see the room around me. At that point I closed my eyes and gripped my left arm with all the strength I could manage. The raised lines of blood on my otherwise smooth skin reminded me of pain. I controlled my breathing, I forced down my leg, I took control. It didn’t put me back in a good place, but it got me out of a bad place. That was enough. The only objective was to survive, happiness could be dealt with later.
For a couple of weeks I spent as much time as I could alone. Iris left on a short vacation to see her boyfriend across the country, so I couldn’t see her even if I wanted to. I still talked to her just as much, but I was focusing on me. On weekdays I spent my free time lifting or reading. The pain of lifting was different than taking a knife to myself, but it was more than enough to keep me grounded. It was the first step: I had to remind myself that I wasn’t dead yet. Shit could still hurt, and putting 315 pounds on my back was an easy way to make that very clear. On weekends I stopped going out so much. I started to go on runs and hikes again. That was the kind of solitary thing that made me feel like I wasn’t just isolating myself. I went out into the redwoods in Santa Cruz, or into the hills around Hollister. I would just run until I found a spot that was quiet in the way of people, but loud in the ways of nature. Then I would sit and listen. Maybe I was going crazy, maybe I’d always been crazy.
I could hear the wind whispering. Some days it was louder, a jovial child messing up my hair and throwing loose flowers my way. It would carry the smell of mountain lilies to me. I could sit in the same spot and smell every flower on those damn mountains. I could see it running from patch to patch, carrying with it the pollen that would make the mountain bright next Spring. When the wind was less energetic I could still feel the caress of the Earth. It was stable below me and offered unwavering support. I could trust it to catch me. Only thing that mattered then was that days got easier; I could taste life with every breath.
Alondra called me three weeks after our last meeting. It was a Friday night and she wanted to come over. I wanted to salvage our relationship, to be everything for someone. I told her I’d be waiting, and an hour later she was sitting with me in my room. “I thought of you tonight. I miss you,” she reached out for my hand. I was glad to see her. I took her hand in mine. We talked for a while and then she wanted to play Mario Kart. She wasn’t very good at it, but she loved swinging the Wii controls around. When she won games she would jump up on my bed and cheer out as if she’d just opened a pack of Magic and found a Black Lotus. Those were the moments that made me fall for her in the first place.
She asked to stay the night. I should have asked her to leave, but I had hope that we could fix this. She said she just wanted to sleep, but we ended up having sex for the second time ever that night. It was was just as awkward for both of us. As soon as we finished she pulled her clothes back on and got in bed.
“Why did we have sex instead of sleeping,” she asked me when I got in bed with her. I thought you wanted to, I replied. “I did, but we could have just slept.” Things hadn’t changed. We still wanted different things. I held her tight. I got myself to sleep. I didn’t have nightmares.
I woke up early and left for a run without waking Alondra. I found the high I was looking for, and I ignored the passing city blocks. I ran towards the mountains that are constant companions in a valley. They’re always so close and so far. I just picked one and ran at it while I thought. I regretted how the night with Alondra had gone, but I saw a chance to make things better. I had one last opportunity to be good enough for her. I needed to be better starting now.
Alondra was gone when I got back to my apartment. My bed was done and on top of it was a note. It read:
I’m sorry about last night. I just needed to see you one last time. I decided that we can’t see each other anymore. We’re not good for each other. We want different things. Maybe I was trying to convince myself it could work last night, but it can’t. We both know that. Please, don’t call me anymore.
I wasn’t surprised that she decided to be done with me. I checked her drawer. It was empty. This is what I had pushed her towards, but it still hurt. I dug my teeth into lower lip. I tasted iron and salt. I cut my lip, it’s okay to cry. I ran out the door and kept going until I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. I slept like a borracho that night.
I called mom at the end of that week. We talked for a while. She told me that her third graders were getting really good with their multiplications. They’d struggled for a while to even understand the concept, but her students had trouble every year. Many of them were immigrants, and mom had to teach them English while she taught them everything standardized tests expected of them. It was hard, but no one knew how to make children comfortable the way mom did. She had a way of letting you know that you’d made a mistake without making you feel like it reflected on you. She told me how she had to work her way from explaining the basic concept to having her children get advanced scores on the district tests. She was so proud.
At the first lull in conversation she asked me how Alondra and I were doing. She left me, I told her. I explained about the last few weeks. I told her that we’d been having problems, that I cheated, and that Alondra decided we couldn’t work. I started crying. I told her I was sorry. “Did you apologize to Alondra?” I’d been too busy being mad at myself for being my father. “You didn’t hurt me. You hurt her. Did you apologize?” I told her I hadn’t. I told her that she hadn’t been mad at first, and then it was too late. “You were mad at yourself for breaking her trust, for cheating. You should have apologized instead of expecting her to be mad at you. She’s not your mother.” I just kept crying. Mom asked me to drive home to see her.
The drive was relaxing. I drove to Santa Cruz first and then made my way down the coast. I stopped on the beach to watch the sun set. I must have been somewhere north of Moss Landing. The strip of beach was completely abandoned. The sky was somewhat overcast and the wind was picking up the way it always is on the Central Coast. The dark waves crashed onto the shore and I just watched. They slowly ate away the bright sand. The oncoming tide came closer and closer to where I sat, each time taking more. I wondered how long the comfort of the Earth would last there. I considered just walking into the ocean and letting it take me. I grabbed my left arm tightly. I didn’t know how to continue. Then the moon came out from behind a cloud and set a light over the ocean. I could see the sand, the waves, and the coast that stretched on. I walked back to my car and drove on.
Mom had a plate of food for me when I got home. Her and dad were sitting at the table and watching the news while they ate. I sat down with them and listened to dad talk about his day. Work was picking up because of the field workers coming back. He was mad that all these pendejos were asking him to show them how to fix their cars themselves like he was stupid enough to lose business by teaching them. He asked me what was wrong. I didn’t realize he’d stopped talking about himself. I was staring at the pear tree in the backyard through the glass door. He tapped me on the arm and asked again. I told him about Alondra. I told him that I’d cheated. He told me that I needed to move on from my mistake. I couldn’t just let it eat at me. He stood to give me a hug. I didn’t return it. He held me close and gave me a kiss on the forehead before heading to his room.
Mom walked into the backyard and asked me to come with her. She sat at a bench at the foot of dad’s pear tree. I sat down next to her. She leaned back in her seat and looked up at the sky.
“You made a mistake, Damian. That’s not who you are though. You’re better than this. You know that, hijo.”
“I’m not though, mom. I always manage to screw things up. I always get scared and run away from it all.”
“You just need to grow from your mistakes. You’re my son, and we both know you’re capable of so much more.” I started to cry. In a moment I was out of breath and shaking. “Mom. I’m just as bad as the stories you used to tell me about dad. I’m don’t deserve anything but loneliness.” Mom pulled me close and held me tight. She was crying now too.
“You’re not your father. You need to forgive him. I did a long time ago, but I think you’re holding on to that pain still. He’s made mistakes, but he’s always tried his best for you and me. You can’t move on and be really happy if you constantly feel like he’s looming over you. Like were looming over you. You need to find something that makes you happy.” She stood up and kissed me on the cheek, and turned to go inside.
“Mom. I love you.” She stopped at those words. The last time I’d said them to her I was nine years old. That was before the night that my dad beat me for being too emotional and told me that real men didn’t hurt. She turned back to me, her crying renewed. She gave me a hug and went inside. I sat under that tree for a long time just holding my arm. The moon kept me company until I decided to go inside.
At some point I went inside. Mom and dad were asleep, so I sat at the foot of their bed trying not to wake them. I wanted to hear the familiar sound of their snoring playing off each other into the best lullaby I’d ever had. I wanted to lay between them in the crook of both their arms and know that I was safe. Even in the pitch black of their room, with the two of them around me I was safe. I stood and walked to dad’s side of the bed. I leaned over him and gave him a hug. He stirred and in his half asleep state hugged me back. He told me he loved me then rolled to face mom. I couldn’t remember the last time he’d said those words to me. I stood up and mumbled out how much of a shit he was. I walked to my room. The curtain’s were open, and outside I could see the pear tree framing the full moon. It was beautiful.
The next morning I went back to San Jose. I went on a run into the hills to clear my head. It wasn’t as hard to deal with losing Alondra after the initial pain passed. I’d been pushing her away for so long, so I had no right to be upset. I’d made so many mistakes and played with her feelings when I couldn’t figure out my own; I needed to move on, and let her do the same.
I drove towards the airport to pick up Iris. For the first time in months, I could say that life was good.
I was working towards being happy.