The morning light bent through the spaces between my blinds, casting a warm glow over my closed eyelids. Suddenly, the complex labyrinth of purple-green veins became illuminated, stretching like cracks in cement sidewalks over my tired eyes. I fumbled for my glasses on my bedside table, knocking over last night’s unfinished mug of chai. My scalp tingled as my glasses slid into place behind my ears, briefly stopping to wish good morning to the seven piercings who blocked in its smooth path.
Though it was nearly July, my winter comforter remained in its rightful place on my bed. It’s warmth consumed me, a feeling I would miss in the coming weeks. Only a few days ago I bought a one way ticket to Pula, Croatia with no intention of returning at a set date—even for my August 24th college orientation, and especially not my class of 2017 Brooklyn Tech reunion. When people tell you that nothing good comes out of high school—they’re right. I can’t believe I was so naïve to think that I would emerge on graduation day, clad in ribbons, blue cap and gown, beaming at the mosaic of faces around me that home is as much a place as it is a feeling, or person. Now that I’m actually here, all I’ve got is a nasty limp, a horrible attitude, a seriously concerning addiction to caffeine, and a debilitating hunger to see the world.
I rolled out of bed, stumbling to the corner outlet before my alarm screamed at me in Amy Winehouse to wake up. My flight was tonight and I was not nearly done packing, especially considering my Birkenstocks had gone M.I.A. last summer (though evidence points to certain suspects who would know where they went). I kneeled to inspect the size of my duffel, and just how many clothes I could get away with bringing all while dodging the extra fee. My nose turned at the layer of dead ants that had found their way to the old chocolate stash.
I had bought in southern Spain studying abroad. Carefully, I dragged the duffel to my backyard to shake out last year’s graveyard. Tienes miedo de las hormigas? My homestay family used to joke, gesturing to the small black critters that lurked their apartment. No me gusta cuando se arrastran sobre mi cuerpo! I would respond, shuttering at the thought of ants crawling on my sleeping body. Insects, heat and all, I missed Spain, and I missed traveling. Though this time around I would be going alone, I was excited to explore beyond the hedges of my small, Brooklyn neighborhood—even if it was on a tight budget in the company of only the rising sun and tables-for-one.
My phone dinged as I poured the remainder of the orange juice into my mason jar. Slowly, I rose from my place at my kitchen table, fearfully peering at its illuminated screen. Marcel.
“Hey, Paige, I know you’re leaving the country today and I just wanted to wish you safe travels. Maybe we can grab coffee or something when you get back. I’d love to hear all about your adventures.”
My eyes rolled before I could even register my own reaction. You’ve got to be kidding me. I bet my cats fertility that yoga freak Caitlyn told him to draft and send that so he “doesn’t burn any bridges,” and “leaves good vibes and righteous living in his wake.” That is so not the Marcel I knew. But then again, you never really know someone. I witnessed that firsthand, not only with him as my boyfriend, but between my parents. My dad, the soccer loving, creative thinking, dedicated father I thought he was turned out to be any other cheating asshole. And Marcel? He helped me through that time. But he went ahead and did it to me anyway. That’s why I got a place of my own.
Caitlin and I used to be best friends. We met freshman year playing soccer—we were the two fastest players on the team. Our similarities, though they brought us close in the beginning, quickly became a recipe for a beautiful disaster. We’re both athletes, blondes, coffee fanatics, and adventure junkies. We would spend our nights at that same corner table at the Connecticut Muffin around the corner from school sharing a heaping slice of red velvet cake, sipping iced lattes, pouring over our textbooks about who kissed who and what happened in DDP that day. Things started going south after I was accepted onto the A team, and her, the B. Also, she stole my boyfriend by pulling him into her inescapable web of manipulation and deception. I, for one, got out before I was eaten alive. Rumor has it she wants to rekindle our flame. Truth has it that I don’t.
I cleared the text from my queue and cleaned up last night’s take out. Outside, the neighborhood children began to take to the streets. Rainbow chalk in hands, the sidewalk was their canvas. I smiled from my kitchen window as I got to work on a soy sauce stain. If I didn’t have to worry about running into Marcel or my parents, I may just have stayed a few days longer in Brooklyn.
I returned to my room to finish packing. I grabbed the most colorful things my eyes could find, from denim skirts to yellow tanks to pinstripe red shirts. I didn’t even bother folding them. Throughout all of high school, I had grown so accustomed to wearing black. Maybe it was the people or my experiences, but a dull palette seemed fitting for a s***ty place.
Getting my duffel closed was a workout in and of itself that I used to leave to my mother. She was always so prepared for traveling. Even the smallest of excursions mounted the most complex preparations. For Amtrak trips upstate to visit my Nanna, we would arrive at the platform two hours early, noshing on bagels and iced coffee in a heat-exhausted station. For Long Beach days, we would perch on coolers at the faraway Jamaica station, racing to see who got to the beach chair first. My father, however, was the polar opposite of my mother when it came to punctuality. I guess that’s one thing my dad and I have in common, considering I was supposed to be in a cab roughly twenty-two minutes ago.
I sat on my stoop finishing Keurig-made iced coffee from a red solo cup, clicking my heels together as my Uber drove circles around blocks that were not my own. Once he arrived, I watched him grimace as he lifted my duffel into the trunk of his small Volvo.
“I’m going to JFK!” I piped from the backseat, shuddering at the familiar sent of cars, and carsickness. I popped a stick of gum into my mouth and immediately rolled down the windows. This was going to be a long ride for a motion-sensitive girl.
After several vomit scares, my Uber pulled up in front of my destination. I tipped as much as the coin jar on the floor of my apartment allowed me to, yanked my luggage from the back, and I was on my way. The feeling was all too familiar, but this would be the first time I would be embarking on this solo. Dragging my cargo behind me, I pushed through the revolving doors of the airport into comforting embrace of an overly air conditioned terminal.
It was time for me to throw-up—my airport ritual. The line for security wound around the barriers six times through, and after traffic and my natural lateness, I ran the risk of missing my flight. I surveyed the room to make sure all eyes were elsewhere, and slid my imperfectly manicured index finger down my throat. I gagged once, twice, and dramatically ran for the trash can to hurl.
“Ma’am! Ma’am! Are you alright?” An official pressed, worry gathering between her eyebrows. “What can I do to help? Water? Gum? A rag? Twizzlers?”
I shuddered at the scent of my vomit in the trashcan below me as I wiped a false tear away from my the crease of my eye. So much for wearing my expensive mascara.
“I’m feeling awful, but this trip means so much to me I just couldn’t miss it for anything. I’m so sorry for inconveniencing you,” I explained, grabbing my stomach in pain.
“One second ma’am. We’re gonna take care of you,” she sympathized as she rubbed my left shoulder. “Richard! RICHARD! Get this young lady a wheelchair. There’s no way this sick baby is standing in line for security.”
“Thank you so much, I appreciate it,” I whimpered, my voice saturated with gratuity.
The woman smiled. “Are you expecting?” she whispered, nudging me with her elbow.
“Actually, I am! I haven’t told my boyfriend yet. He just moved back to Croatia two weeks ago. That’s why this flight is so important to me.” I mumbled sheepishly, rubbing my stomach that was, in reality, bloated from my period and the bagels I ate this morning for breakfast.
“Richard! Do we have any upgrades left of the 9:55 pm flight to Pula? This woman is pregnant and sitting in economy! Poor baby. I’m gonna take care of you honey.”
Sometimes I wonder why I am going to college to major in Diplomacy and Spanish. I should really reconsider acting.
I squinted at the gold plated label on her chest. Katherine Lacey. She wheeled me through the express line, and I was in and out of security in minutes while the line crawled slowly by. Ms. Lacey left me at my gate, and I left her with a generous tip. It’s the least I can do for cheating my way through airport protocol.
I boarded the plane not pregnant, with an iced tea in hand, a stash of snacks in my carryon, in the comfort of a business class upgrade. I retrieved my neck pillow, turned on Aladdin and flew east into what I hoped would be the best summer of my life.
I awoke in the entranceway of a building that I do not live in. I sat up, wiped the sleep from my eyes, and paused to assess my surroundings. The room was small and dusty, with cobwebs and masking tape lining the doorframe. A mangled barbie doll sat propped against the wall opposite me, and in the corner, a stack of old beach towels. In the distance, a single bird called eerily into the morning fog. Where the hell am I?
The sunrise warmed the back of my neck as I stumbled through the doorway into the empty streets of an unrecognizable city. My feet, caked in dirt, hit the cobblestone clad pavement, arching at its unforgivable, cold hardness. Pearls of sweat traced my hairline as I shrugged out of my winter coat for the air was warm and thick.. My mind became saturated with confusion as I jogged my memory of the night before. How did I end up here? Where did everyone go? And who am I? What’s my name?
Though my vision blurred at the edges, I remained stable as I navigated the colorful streets. The city’s framework was nothing I had ever seen before: victorian style buildings standing three-four stories high, terraces adorned in summer flowers, and friendly store fronts beckoning travelers in. The city was beginning to awake.
I caught my reflection in the display window of a voodoo shop. I leveled my gaze with the girl who looked back at me. Her hair was matted, her makeup—smudged, her cheeks—tearstained. Her knees were bruised and her dress was tattered. Who is she?
After what felt like an eternity of wandering unfamiliar streets, the fatigue began to spread through my legs. I collapsed, frustrated, onto a stoop. I felt the weight of my head, heavy with pain, stuffed with cotton, in course embrace of my palms. My toes gripped the edges of the stairs as seconds turned into minutes. My mind remained blocked, protecting me from last night’s nightmares. What could’ve happened?
I watched women clutching coffee with perfectly manicured fingers, tourists clad in Hawaiian shirts and expensive cameras, and children embellished in mardi gras beads rush by in a blur of colors, shouts and business conversations.
“Excuse me,” I gasped, reaching towards a group of young girls waiting at the curb for the light. “Where am I?”
They scoffed, pausing to marvel at the mess that sat before them. Even though I didn’t remember my name, where I was, or how I got here—one things for certain: teenage girls, especially in a group, will never cease to be judgmental.
The girls cracked their gum, folded their arms, and eye gestured to the one who appeared to be the alpha of the pack.
With a voice dripping in a southern accent and attitude, “New Orleans,” she scoffed.
I felt my eyes widen. How the hell did I end up in the south?
“And what day is today?” I whimpered.
“Friday, July 10th.” The girls ran giggling across the street, looking back to shoot patronizing glances. I rose, plagued with hunger and drowsiness.
“Are you okay?” asked a concerned voice behind me. The deepness of his voice was saturated with familiarity.
I spun around. “Marcel?
I picked at my chipped matte black nail polish as I sat alone at a small, wooden table in the corner of a crowded cafe. My eyelids hung heavy over my tired eyes as I attempted to wipe off the remainder of my smudged mascara.
“One cappuccino for the girl,” Marcel smiled as he nudged a light blue mug towards me and slid into his seat across from me.
“How are you so calm?” I demanded, wrapping my ring clad fingers around the handle of my coffee.
“Repression. I learned it in Psychology 101 back when I was studying at UC Boulder. You don’t remember the past week, do you Paige?”
“Oh f*** you with your repression crap. This is exactly why we’re not dating anymore,” I shouted as heads turned and red lipstick pouts hushed me.
Marcel’s mood collapsed, his smile disintegrating into tight line setting everything straight between us.
“Repression is when an individual experiences immense trauma, and avoids confrontation with the memory by subduing it deep into the unconscious. That’s why you have no recollection of what happened, Paige,” Marcel sighed.
“Are you an idiot, Marcel? I’m a f***ing girl. Do you understand how easy it is to be date raped and have no idea it happened?”
“Paige, you’re okay.”
“No I’m f***ing not you asswipe. Look at my clothes. Look at me. I flew to Croatia, and now I'm in New Orleans? Don’t tell me I’m okay. Tell me what f***ing happened.”
“I can’t tell you, but I can show you, Paige. Do you trust me?”
“Can I trust you though, Marcel? I sure as hell shouldn’t have when you said Caitlyn was just a friend.”
I studied Marcel as a wave of pain washed over unshaved face. Here we were, after months of not talking, emoting in a cafe in Louisiana.
“F*** your trust crap. I’m going to figure out what s*** that crazy airport official put in my tea,” I concluded, aggressively scooting my chair backwards, spilling my untouched coffee foam on the table.
“Paige, please,” Marcel begged, grabbing my forearm. “Please let me in. I need to teach you.”
“Goodbye, Marcel. It looks like your date is here, “ I scoffed, gesturing through the window to Caitlin standing across the street.
The bells atop the door rang as I angrily turned the corner. I fished into my pocket for my phone, its screen lit up with hundreds of numbers I did not recognize and the names of people I have never met. I paused to read the text from someone named Alexandra.
“Rest in paradise, Paige. We miss your smiley face in Brooklyn.”
I stopped dead in my treks, literally. What? I thought to myself as I frantically pinched at my skin for a nerve response. Nothing.
The world around me spun in a confusing wave of fear, nausea, and helplessness. But I spoke to people. I felt them. I saw them, and they saw me.
I ran as fast as my dead legs allowed me too, clenching my fists as my feet pounded against the rough pavement back to the coffee shop where I had pretended to drink coffee with Enzo. I halted in front of the store, paralyzed, while the world continued around me. All at once, I was a statue, unable to grasp the stark contrast to reality of my death. Marcel’s eyes raised to meet my own through the unwashed glass of the storefront. Without a word, he lifted his mug to his lips and nodded, his face pained with sorrow and hollowness.