She drove me to the airport in her dad’s battered truck, stinking of his tobacco and wrong doing. I was on my way to a new job in Illinois with more responsibilities and better pay. A better, happier future? Maybe, but how could I leave her? I didn’t know anyone there and had visited once for the interview. Maybe that was the appeal, an offer to grow in a field I love, and to begin anew. We drove in silence up to the departure drop off lane. I was shaking, feeling uncomfortable in my skin. I didn’t know if I would ever see her again. Would she come with me if I asked her? Would it matter if I revealed…? What did I have to lose? I couldn’t just switch off my feelings as Chloë could with such acumen.
Then, with no warning, it burst out of me, a premature explosion:
“I love you,” I said with raw resolve, itching to get the hell out of her dad’s wretched stinking truck. How I loathe that man for what he did to you.
My brief eruption of withheld anger towards her father was quickly replaced with a blinding white light. What the hell? Chloë’s forehead struck mine with such force that the back of my head impacted the window to my right, leaving spider marks in the shatterproof glass. At first I thought a car had hit us, violently hurling her towards me. I was wrong. She was attacking me, first the head butt, followed by her inner palms boxing my ears, a move she had learned in self-defense class. I reached for the door handle, opening the truck door seemingly in slow motion; my right foot somehow found the pavement below. I grabbed my backpack, clumsily navigating towards the automatic doors of the airport entrance. I turned around quickly, seeking her face, her cold blue eyes, for some clue about her attack. There was none. Her face, as lovely as it is, was expressionless, almost serene. Her eyes seemed to be fixed on a distant target. I guess she won’t be joining me in Illinois. Glimpsing the “Kiss and Ride” sign at the curb, which almost sent me face first onto the pavement, I had to laugh at myself. I got my Kiss all right; it’s just a matter of definition. An egg-sized pinkish lump already formed on my forehead, and my red ears throbbed along with a sickening deep bass hum.
Incoming travelers must have thought I had just been mugged, perhaps by a desperate unlicensed taxi driver. But I was not the victim. I was the criminal here. My crime was far worse than thievery. I had uttered the same words used by her dad just before he ….. Sorry, I can’t say it. It was a twisted ritual that the other Chloë had endured one too many times. Sometimes she would unleash her anger towards him by fighting back, but it was never a deterrent; if anything, it may have egged him on. Chloë, I am not your father. I really do want what’s best for you. Good thing I’d didn’t actually say those words to her, lest I take another brutal beating.
Settled in my new apartment weeks later, I didn’t feel anger towards Chloë. Who could blame her for trying to defend herself? I was disappointed in myself, for my impulsiveness, my inability to understand her perspective, her pain. Love can be unbelievably selfish sometimes. What was I thinking? That my simpleton expression of my love for her would sweep her off her feet? That she would reciprocate such naïve love, devote herself to me?
I felt liberated, lonely, burgeoning with hope. One morning I unlocked my tiny mailbox slot to reveal an envelope unmistakably adorned by Chloë’s writing, an adorable script tilted to the right, each y curling back forming a tiny ink trail frown. I could tell her body position from the ink’s angle on paper, whether on her belly or sitting erect, gleaned from memories of thousands of homework assignments we did together as schoolmates. Some days I would study her more carefully than our assignments. Her letter casually removed, modular mailbox door locked, I bolted up the three flights of stairs itching to read. Rip. Trifold opened, her lovely scroll revealed, I gently touched the yellow lined paper touched by her, yielding only a sterile aroma of office paper tablets, no perfume, no apple shampoo. How I miss you, Chloë. To be the pen that penned your thoughts. Slender fingers gently guiding me.
Hungry for her words, I read:
A moment after the door of my dad’s truck slammed shut, as you slung your bag over your shoulder and headed off to the realities of a new job and the future, an axe slammed into my chest and laid it open. ….
Her “Kiss And Ride” rushed back, red hot, toxic, burning, beautiful. It could have been different. The door handle on her father’s truck had opened to a future that I faced alone, an escape, but it didn’t have to be so. I could have grabbed her by the shoulders, kissing her hard, pressing her pain, our pain, into passion. But in that moment, fight or flight trumped hearts. I couldn’t read the rest of her letter. I won’t. I left it on my kitchen table, scattered with catalogues and grocery store receipts. Each morning, her letter beckons me, promising secrets, fantasies, happiness, a paper siren singing songs. I could see her by the open bay windows in her apartment, eyes closed, breathing in early morning air, a private moment of joy. Her letter became a wafer thin comforting companion. Weeks later, I picked it up, pressed it to my lips and slipped it into the recycling pile. “Goodbye, Chloë.”