January 17, 2008
By kate bristol, Fort Collins, CO

It started with my heart breaking.

It was shattering my insides, climbing up my throat and spilling out my eyes. My emotions were humming crystal and the air was cold; every minute I felt the ice and melancholy aching at my spine. But I couldn’t show that I was straining. I couldn’t show that this boy’s name was at the edge of my blood and soaked into my skin. I had to transform but I was wrapped tight in this picture of him and a blue-tinted future without him, days and hours blinking from dark to darker, grey to black. I needed his face but couldn’t reach far enough to get it. I had to being to let him go, pour acid on my memories of him and wait for them to dissolve between the cracks.

So to pass the time I walked slick, icy streets for hours with my best friend Connor. He was tall, reliable, and he knew me better than anyone else. He held my hand and I held his and we kept each other up, running our gloved fingers along frosty-etched windows and balancing our boots inside anti-lock brake tire tracks. He told me about his parents who were disintegrating right in front of him, leaving him to watch and hope for change. We grieved the winter out together, past Christmas, past blizzards and New Years parties. It stretched on and the days of January and February froze, slowed and almost stopped as we waited for them to end. Connor and I began to look into the future with a certain careless abandon. We started smoking cigarettes together, a small act to fit in with our emotions that grated harsh against out morale. He bought me Camels and Pall Malls because I wasn’t old enough yet and we smoked them outside of coffee houses and movie theaters and in our cars with the windows down, tapping ashes onto old and polluted snow. My hands were always cold and my throat was always chafed. I got over the boy in theory but the feeling of dread, loss of hoping and longevity of days held tight. I spent nights away from home, smoking with Connor, shivering on front porches with lighters in my pockets and glassy dissatisfaction radiating from my lips. There were dying sparks where my eyes used to be.

We never felt like we had to do anything for anyone else, and we could have left the degrading world of typical teenage behavior behind if we wanted to, but we were reckless. What we did, we did together. We got high in his sister’s car for the first time and he leaned his head on my shoulder, slow and unsure, and I had panic attacks inside my head, trying to see straight in hazes of smoke. I shakily lit a cigarette and I got introspective and thought about my life, too much of everything at once. Connor closed his eyes on my left shoulder and I ran my fingers along the dripping, foggy window on my right. I couldn’t focus on it and I thought about the past few months, the helpless phase I was dragging myself through, thought about how I ended up here, in Abby’s car, never knowing how to feel about Connor and his soft bloodshot eyes casting glimmers across my face.

That night I took his hand and pulled him from the torn plush seats and we walked, tearing through frozen air, our minds feeling newly and strangely disassembled. We weren’t used to other influence, everything altered. We found an old house off a bright street and laid down in the snow and stared at the stars and they writhed in my vision. I looked over and saw him, my best friend, watching me, and his eyes were hooded and different, but so were mine. We had small, useless conversations and the snow soaked into my jeans and bit the skin on my legs. Connor told me, whispering in my ear in that foreign atmosphere, that he wanted things to change. His hope, our hope, had sunk under the dirt and been frozen over, our ambition had been melted under the ends of cigarettes and under basement stairs. We needed it back, we needed to feel completion again, gentle gliding of happiness over sleeping and waking up and living. And then he told me he wanted to hold my hand and for it to spark meaning, to watch my eyes and not have to stop or pretend not to feel for me. Because he felt for me.

It looked like too much of a fairytale but when he took my hand I squeezed it back and there were sparks falling and sizzling holes into the snow.

We got up and walked and searched for his sister’s car in the dark parking lot it used to be in, but it was gone and I could smell the masses of leftover exhaust and careless abandonment. While Connor searched his pockets for his phone to call a cab I realized how cold I was and I hunched into myself in consuming shivers. My breath was coming out in agitated layers and disappearing somewhere in the air and I watched Connor stab at buttons and press his dented phone to his ear. I thought about him while I watched his face and I remembered that he was, finally, as it should be, mine. The way he glanced at me was careful, his eyes sweeping my face and calculating my expression. His eyes were infested with concentrated awareness and I tried to imagine what he was thinking, how he saw me, if it was different then it had always been. He hung up the phone and walked ten steps over to me and took me and held me tight, not even trying to kiss me or move his hands anywhere but my back. I leaned my head on his shoulder and felt heat from his neck on my cheek. I closed my eyes and soaked up the seconds into the folds of my memory. He held me and we didn’t make a sound until a bright yellow cab pulled cautiously up and we climbed into the fortress of blasting heating vents, Connor never letting go of my hand. Minutes passed and we ended up in front of my house and as I let go of his hand I left my heart in his palm.

Spring comes and my days begin to shimmer. Here was something different, something that had always been there, a renewal. Connor took me on a picnic in the morning before the sun came up and we laid on a thick checkered blanket in the middle of muddy grass and he told me that this love he was falling in was so soft. We still smoked but it seemed gentler against my throat, warming continually like the air. I told him my breath became delicate when I was in his arms.

I realized with a small part of me that I was letting reality pass under my feet as the time passed but I frantically pushed the thought away before the full extent of it took effect on me. I was living in a yellow-hazed state of mind and I was too comfortable to think about moving. I watched ice drip from the corners of gutters and snow melt onto the sidewalks and thought about Connor, saw his face in every reflection of the world I ran across.

There was one day that was cold and hopeless and I called him and it was his voice that smoothed me over and evened me out, lulled me like a child and convinced me to keep holding on to something. I drove to his house at three in the morning to comfort him in the dark as his mother cried in the other room and his father drove off to somewhere smoky and poorly lit. His hold on me was tighter than I had ever felt, long-lasting and containing my entire world. I heard from people, girls I barely knew, that I was investing too much of myself into one person, that I was too young and it was too cliché for it too last. I was going to crash and burn, worse than last time, when it all ended. I couldn’t dream of it. So I didn’t try.

Summer came and it was hot, hot enough for me to keep ignoring the pulsing truth deep somewhere in my brain. We sweated together under porch umbrellas and in the front seats of our cars, the air conditioning on the highest setting and music dripping red from the speakers. I couldn’t change anything without it hurting so I left everything as it was, relishing in the moments Connor was around me and always keeping him at the edge of my thoughts. On the Fourth of July he kissed me under the fireworks and I fizzled in his arms. When they were over we walked around brightly-lit neighborhoods and watched private firework shows, drinking beer offered by college students and holding each other’s hands. Nothing, he told me, could ever make him want to forget this night. I was rocketing, I was whirling, I was everywhere at once. Nothing, I told him, could ever make me want to forget him. He looked down on me with his summer-tinted eyes and it was enough to set me off again.

I asked him, weeks later, what would happen if it ended. He hooded his eyes with denial and told me it wouldn’t.

It was fall. Old feelings of oppressiveness and unpromising crawled up my backbones and sat themselves on my shoulders, weighing me down and chilling my ears with its breath. Connor kept me sane but we were distancing by the week, by choice of mine and his own. I loved him, I couldn’t go a day without hearing his voice, but my harsh-hold reality that I had smothered was making appearances again and I didn’t have the energy to make it disappear. The leaves outside were fragrant and fragile and they burnt my cheeks to red, red without meaning and red with edge. I crystallized my emotions and clawed for meaning in my life, using Connor as a backdrop to everything. I was most fearful of the moment, the sound of, it’s over, it’s done, we’ve had enough coming from his mouth. I built myself up for it, threw down cushions for me to fall back on. I told myself that I was prepared for an excruciating separation.

He called me and told me to meet him in a field at the park. He was there with a thick checkered blanket in middle of yellow, brittle grass. We laid down on it together, side by side, sharing breathing patterns and a silence that nicked my skin. My heart was already loosening its grip on him.

He turned to me, balance shifted. He took my hand and I breathlessly expected to see my heart returned to me, beating and brightly fading. But it was his. His words fell out of his mouth and they were coated with sincerity.

He told me, slow and cherished, that he could never let me go and he would never try.

It ended with my heart exploding.

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