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She was here and then gone again, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that it didn’t matter. It never actually mattered.
She was the kind of girl that I would search for on counts of endless days -- because when do days ever truly end? -- and I did search for her. Dallas, Houston, to Wichita Falls, into the panhandle and down again, dipping into Corpus Christi and flying through San Antonio. Sweetwater, Abilene, San Angelo, and into Brownfield towards Lubbock. Her existence plagued these cities, these ever-tiny towns, and it was obvious, too. Sitting in the gutter, an old Polaroid picture would float downstream and poke my side; it would be a photo of her, flying and dancing in that old, battered sun dress. In that motel, a knock would sound from the door’s direction, and by the time I was up, decent, and opening the door, the knocker would be long gone and my mind would stress and tug on itself, telling me that she used to love doing that. Sitting in the diner by the lake -- a lake, here? Here? -- the waitress pulled her hair back with nervous fingers that acted as a makeshift pony-tail; she used to do this, a long time ago. A long, long time ago. Except, my girl did not have arthritis in her knuckles, like that waitress -- she was young, she was young, she was young.
I can’t help but wonder why my mind stretches so painfully over that word.
But it was a true word, to use in a definition of my girl.
Because she was my girl -- in a kingdom by the sea -- and she had always been my girl. I know that it is a strange way to explain what she is to me, and I am aware of the pointlessly disdainful glances that people think I miss when I call her that, but it is nonetheless true, and it is real, and she was young.
I loved her in a way that didn’t make sense. She was my sister, and I was as protective of her as sisters were in a sisterhood, but she was also my daughter, because no boy could ever be good enough for her, and she was just a beautiful child, and sometimes I got a little teary-eyed when I thought about how much she’d grown over the years and weeks and short little endless days of her life. She was like family, and because of that, I did not love her like her boyfriend could; because that would be incestual.
Sadly, though, that’s what people saw. The people thought that we were sinners, and sinful, and we would go to Hell, we had to go, it was wrong what we felt. But they were the ones who were wrong. She was my sister -- oh, she was my sister, a thought to smile upon -- and she was my daughter, and I loved her in that way. I love her, in that way. That was not a sin. What people think of me is none of my business, I know; but sometimes, it’s so hard to stay out of their conversations.
“What a sinful child,” I would overhear. “Pitiable, really. Always barefoot, always wearing sundresses so that my poor hormonal boy has too much to look at. Did you know, you know, that she sneaks into that farmer’s field and disappears under the grass with that girl? Sickening. I hope they don’t get caught so I don’t have to hear of what it is they do there, hidden like they are.”
Under the sun, the comfortably blistering sun, we would lay on our backs next to each other and point at the small wisps of clouds. The towering grass above our faces would shield the sun from our eyes, and a cute little garden snake would pass by every now and then, hissing its casual hello. Crickets would use our lightly-clothed bellies as launch pads and we would laugh as the day flew past. The summers of our youth. They told tales of endless days spent hidden away within that tall grass, sleeping and giggling beneath a lovely sun and letting the ants tickle our dainty toes.
They were endless days, during that summer, and we would fall asleep before we had to watch the sun disappear behind the yellow horizon. When we awoke, we’d panic about our mothers scolding us for being out so late and laugh as we did, and when we would arrive home, we’d be grounded for the following day. On those days, we’d wrap cords around ourselves and our fingers, smiling into the receiver and knowing she could hear it, knowing we’d be running off for the field again tomorrow with bare feet and dresses billowing, waiting until we awoke to the night sky to run home again. The cycle would repeat, and repeat, and repeat, until the summer gave way to autumn and she would leave for Idaho Falls, and I’d stay behind and get a job at the grocery. Next summer, we’d have money enough for a train ride out, towards bigger, beautiful cities -- if we didn’t, we’d waste what we did have on carnival rides and funnel cakes, running to the farmer’s field when we ran out.
There was one summer, though, when I sprinted to the station in a summer dress I’d made the night before to see her train pull in, ready for her to tackle me in a hug before we’d bolt off towards my house, ready to irresponsibly leave her and her mom’s luggage for our mothers to carry -- and as the train pulled in and unloaded, she did not appear. Every train that pulled in that day and the weeks to follow did not carry her home, here.
Just like that, and she was gone.
I stopped attending the carnivals, and took a year-round, no-summers-off job at the grocery, and eventually I had enough money to leave and live on my own. I did leave, but I lived on the road, and I suppose saying I lived somewhere was not completely false. I packed up all my t-shirts and jeans, and every sundress I had made, into one bag and took off on an early-morning train. I didn’t say goodbye to my mother -- I would call her a week later, and once a week after that, because I was irresponsible, and I was young.
Just not as young as my girl.
Maybe that made it all okay, maybe it made it worse. Why? I’m not sure if I’ll ever understand, even after this point.
Eventually, the train and bus and truck rides all over my own state made me see that of course she wouldn’t be in Texas, she’d be in Idaho Falls, where she came from.
I stayed there, in her city, for a year, realizing that every sign of her I’d seen in Texas were just farces, just my imagination crumbling in on itself. It was a large city, and by the time everyone was drinking and kissing on a new year’s midnight, I had seen every inch of it -- except for her. My girl had always belonged to this city.
It made me sob, one night in a motel, when I realized that she had never belonged to that field -- our field -- in Texas. She didn’t belong with me at the carnival, she didn’t belong to the state…
…and suddenly she didn’t belong to me.
Years later, in my own apartment in Missouri, as the summer was fading and the endless days began to look more and more like endless months of rent due and get-to-work-on-time, my mind finally decided to recall that phone ringing, and my voice answering, and both me and the person on the other line breaking down into tears. I finally remembered that phone call from the night before she disappeared, the night before my journey to find her began.
She was never my girl.
But she was my girl.
There’s something about the thought of an endless day that makes you blind, and makes you say, that life is endless before we wash away, and death is but a door, it is not a maze to play, where you find your way out at the end of the day, because days are endless as endless are days, and death is but a door we go knocking on to play, and we play with death, at the end of our days, and he drags us home, back to endless days, only something is different, something is sad, because a sister is lost back when times went bad, and she searches for you, and with her, life plays. Life plays, and plays, and it tosses her out; it scrambles her mind, and suddenly she’s lost reality.
On her way back, she finds you locked behind the doors of death.
If my life were a song...
My girl was chilled and killed, in a kingdom by the sea.
On an endless day.
She’s dead. I hated to have the thought pass my mind, but it is nonetheless true, and it is real, and she was young -- too young, to have disease decay her so quickly and send her to her death.
I’d been searching for her, but I never looked up, only around.
In the years after that, I would have left my apartment behind, packed up my sun dresses and my t-shirts and jeans, and got on that train again, rolling towards cities and towns. I’d find myself more often than not by the ocean in California, laying in a field of grass by the beach and sleeping under an afternoon sun. Nobody would find me there, because I would be hidden, and when I would awaken, I’d panic and laugh and run towards the train station.
I find her in the sunlight one day, in the middle of a lost field in Texas. She’s smiling, and she makes me laugh, and she tackles me in a hug. She’s telling me she’s proud of me for finally letting go, and doing all the things we had saved up for, those summers once upon a time. She’s leaving me, sleeping in the middle of that field, and when I wake up and she’s gone, I’m running towards the train station once again, and I meet this man, who, once upon a time, was never a good enough boyfriend for my daughter.
I feel old, and he admits that he does too.
She was here, and she’s gone again, and I’m realizing that it’s always been that way. She will appear in my dreams for the remaining endless days to come, and she’ll be gone when I wake up. That’s why it doesn’t matter -- why it’s never mattered, because she always reappears, and I can expect that. It’s never mattered, because we were created to laugh, even if it’s not us laughing together, in that field hidden from the world back in Texas, where it’s not our business to know what people say about us.
It doesn’t matter, because we feel joy like we were meant to, and endless days will always turn into an eternity, someday.