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It’s Not Insomnia
“He promised he’d come, promised.” I mutter under my breath. I don’t know what it is that makes me wait; sitting in this dump, on the hood of my car, at four in the morning. The gas station is long past closed and the street lamps shine onto the asphalt below. Darkness is the most peaceful time, the familiar faces of the stars basking in eerie colorless light and the foreboding line of the horizon. It’s been a long time, three years. Still how could anyone forget? I haven’t. I have lain awake every night thinking about the lifetime of secrets we shared, and the private smiles I received from across the room in grade school. I’m still not him; he could have forgotten me all together. A car whizzes by with an audible whooshing headlights passing over my body making my hand clenched around a box seem ghostly pale.
The first time I met him we were in preschool, when we were not even learning our ABC’s. I was sitting on the hill behind the small brick building that was our school watching as the children played tag in the yard. I wasn’t really one for interacting with people. I just wanted to watch. It saddened me though that no one came. A month into school and I had no friends. It occurred to me watching a girl in green overalls chasing another boy, that I desired to laugh like that. Like they were. Dustin found me though. My eyes were pooling. I had a childish concept that I was an alien, because I couldn’t bring myself to walk down the hill and as to join the game. I saw red sneakers step beside me and when I looked up there was a brown-haired boy smiling at me. He said some comment I can’t remember and it made me laugh. Then he sat beside me, even though we didn’t know each other that was it. We were friends.
We used to come to this gas station to get Otter Pops when we were little, walking down the few blocks from my house on summer days, laughing about whatever nonsense was available for our age. The counter was always sticky as we paid in quarters for our ice cream. Even when we entered junior high we used to pay in coins, just because we could. It was always funny to watch the cashier’s face turn red as we tediously counted out our assorted change. I still remember the smell the building would pick up in the summer’s hundred degree-days – a mix of salt, oil and ripe fruit that was in the bin for sixty-nine cents. We used to walk, jumping from crack to crack in the sidewalk. Making sure that if the legend was true both our mothers’ backs would be broken.
Those were not the best times though. The best times were the weekends when Dustin and I would lay on the tramp watching the sunset. It was a drag living in the middle of Utah but when the sun started to drop down below the orange sandstone tabletops everything would turn a deep yet bright red. You could swear that it was from some kind of twisted horror movie, the rocks were spiraling up into uncouth shapes and the sun was so bright. It could have been a picture on a postcard as well, it was that surreal. There are those moments in life that seem too beautiful to be real, but it was. The colors would get more pastel as the sun would sink leaching all the color out of the world and drawing stars into the shadows – small white falters on a black canvas and that splinter of a cold moon. We would lay our heads touching, my hair pooling around his face and talk. Tell each other everything that was going on in our lives and finally when our lips were far too numb to speak anymore we would sleep. Smelling the musk scent of sagebrush and dirt, I always fell into my dreams first sometimes leaving him awake, and he was always the first one up in the morning. It was like that from preschool until 8th grade, It was our routine. It was on one of these nights that I had my first kiss.
We were sitting crisscross talking and Dustin asked me in a gentle voice, “How come you never like anyone?” I looked at my small crisscrossed fingers. I couldn’t answer. I didn’t really know. Dustin leaned forward and touched my cheek. He had never really touched me before and suddenly I felt my senses numb and a pleasant shiver went ricocheting through my body. I was so shocked that I looked up at him bewildered. You would think that he would be the one to kiss me. He wasn’t. I leaned forward and pressed my lips against his briefly. My world spun for a half of a second and my heart pounded in arrhythmia. Dustin and I sat facing each other for a long time. Finally his eyes drooped and he looked more tired than I had ever seen him and he fell asleep, his breath steadily rising and falling. At first I thought it was just the nerves that kept me awake with no need for sleep at all. But it wasn’t just that night that I didn’t sleep. It’s been every night since. No I don’t mean the cliché tossing and turning. I can’t sleep, sleep. I never get tired. I never dream. I will lay in bed and try, closing my eyes and counting sheep. No matter how hard I try I just can’t manage to do it. Most nights I spend doing extra homework or just sitting in a trance. No matter how long or hard I run I feel no overpowering exhaustion. I just have the need to rest my legs for a while until my muscles stop burning and they regain the energy they need. How this happened I don’t know but what I do know is that was the one secret I kept from Dustin. I don’t buy into magic but the fact that nothing scientific can explain it is mystifying. It’s not like I didn’t move on from him. I mean in theory I did. Not really ever though. I’ve kissed other guys. Had boyfriends. They never last. Half of my waking thoughts rest on Dustin.
The day Dustin left was the last day of summer. I had been gone to my aunt’s house in Michigan for two weeks and it was my first time seeing Dustin since I left. I was still getting used to pretending to go to sleep around my family. I always blame myself for him leaving. That it was the fact that I couldn’t sleep – moreover that I kept that secret from him that drove him away. Maybe it was the kiss. Either way it was my fault. He walked into my house that day and asked me to go for a walk with him. My mom dismissed us with a wave of her hand all too used to us going everywhere together. We strolled down the burning grey sidewalk where tiny sprouts grew up in the cracks to the Gulp-n-Go gas station where I dug into my pocket for the change I needed for otter pops. Maybe it was my imagination but that day it smelled stale in the gas station, the cashier was obviously new with her “Trainee” Gulp-n-Go nametag and starched pink shirt. She smiled at us as I paid for our two-dollar Otter Pops in eighty-five pennies twenty-one nickels and a single dime. That day was all backwards. I didn’t care so much then but then I wasn’t running the whole thing a thousand times in my head trying to find a deeper meaning. No, I was with Dustin – and with Dustin, who at the time was my only friend – everything was good. As we sucked on our popsicles I started laughing for no reason. That’s when I realized that Dustin wasn’t his usual self; he wasn’t making his usual sarcastic comments and challenging everything.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. He squinted out at the sun shining into his eyes and looked blank. All the nerves I had before Dustin came to pick up came fluttering back like an overdose on caffeine.
“Nothing’s the matter,” he answered and relief started to fight back at the ragged butterflies in my stomach. Then he added one word, “…Really.” There is a large difference between ‘nothing’s the matter’ and ‘nothings the matter really.’ So with that the butterflies bit back hard.
“So what…?” I probed gulping before I could finish.
“I just have to leave.” I watched his deep brown eyes scan the pavement tracing the cracks.
“Have to?” My eyebrows rose. Dustin still didn’t lift his head to meet my eyes. I never got to see those brown eyes one final time.
“Yeah, I have to go.”
“Wait! No!” I pleaded and panic kicked in, I tried to reach for his hand, to beg maybe. Anything. He couldn’t leave me.
I didn’t get it and I stood too shocked to cry or run after him. Or maybe I just…wanted to let him go, let him do what he needed to. Looking back it seems as if he was trying to be like some hero in a fantasy book. Who was he kidding?
Dustin had just walked into the desert. Why I didn’t stop him I don’t know. It was just like watching tag from the hill in preschool, except this time he didn’t come for me and I did cry.
When we were in 6th grade we made the oath. It was a few days before Christmas. The sky was grey for once, threatening to snow and give us a perfect Christmas. We wrote each other confessions in shiny purple pen sitting at opposite ends of the room and when we were finally finished I put them into the deep brown oak box my grandmother had given me before she died. We wrote our names on the outside of the folded lined paper, and closed the top with a satisfying “thwap”. When we were done Dustin turned to me, “Promise me Kate. Promise that 6 years from now we will meet at the Gulp n’ go and you will give me your confession.” he told me smiling wryly. I always thought that was what we would do. He was the one who asked me to promise. So I thought he would come back for me despite him walking off into the sunset like a bad cliché.
I thought he would return until now. I wait another hour, a single tear streaking down my cheek and then I throw the box at the window watching, satisfied, as the glass pours down. I get off the hood of my car, open the door and start to drive until I reach home. I decided then that there was no room for Dustin in my head anymore. It didn’t matter that every moment we shared was a sensual experience, which maybe the reason that I never liked anyone that I have never been able to create a lasting relationship is that the most dominant part of me is in love with him. I reach my house pulling into the drive and tiptoe up the stairs. I sit on my bed and close my eyes. I can’t sleep but I can think. I can will all of myself to stop thinking about him altogether. It doesn’t surprise me that he forgot me. I’m easy to forget, just another face in the crowd.
The next day manage to snag a spot in the parking lot and not three blocks away from school. I walk into the hallway and make my way through the throng of people and to my locker where I can catch some air and gather my books before heading to AP English. Taking a moment to observe the place around me I note the withered posters for the next school dance, the buzz of conversation streaming past my ear and the green rows of lockers encasing the schools confining walls. I amble into classroom 301 and spot Cassie across the room.
“Kate! Welcome back!” she calls and I swivel through the desks to reach the chair next to her.
“Hi,” I answer and give her a weak smile. A man saunters into the room he is a dull, pink-faced, chubby guy who proceeds to stand at the front of the room. He is also known as Mr. Sans.
“Now. I know that most of you have had me before,” he says in a soft southern drawl. “For the rest of you, this class is tough. Expect lots of homework and know that late homework does not do anything for me. As far as I know late homework is homework that isn’t turned in. Okay…”
After school, I toddle up the cracked drive to my front door fumbling with my keys. I notice the box sitting on the steps. I pick up the familiar cool wooden edges and unhook the lock wondering why it is here. It feels like a bad nightmare. I take the new piece of paper folded in a neat square in the center of the box. I have changed a lot since eight grade but my heart still leaps as I unfold the warm faded piece of paper.
I’m sorry. I know how much I have put you through and how much it has affected you. I know you well enough to recognize you blame yourself for my leaving and please trust that it was not your fault. We told each other everything and…well while you were in Michigan that summer my mom died. I didn’t want to upset you but it really messed me up. I couldn’t handle it anymore and when I left I went to live with my Uncle. I didn’t disappear. I just had to get away for a while. A while tuned into three years, I meant to meet you last night but by the time I got to the station you were gone. So yet again I have something to apologize for.
I found our box.
I took something from you once upon a time.
Your sleep is enclosed in this package. I’m sorry. I stole it with a kiss.
Which isn’t the reason I kissed you back.