The moon’s rays flitter through the window, casting an ethereal glow on the woman next to me. I stare at her for a long moment, familiarity and unease coursing through my body like a river churning and breaking ice for the new spring. I reach my hand out to her, feeling how cool her skin is, but it was coarse as if I were stroking the desert sand itself. My thumb traced from her cheek, brushing over the bridge of her nose, then down to the swell of her lips. I pressed the pad of my thumb against her lips, watching as they began to crumble around my finger, the sand trickling into my palm before she began to fall into herself, grains of sand falling to the center, sucked into her abyss. I pull my hand away, letting the grains of sand that reside in my hand be sucked back to her. Then I close my eyes, rubbing them hard with my fists and when I look back at her nothing remained aside from the moonlight illuminating the empty space next to me.
I close my eyes again as if that would bring her back, but when I reopen them she was still gone. With a soft sigh, I run my hands through my hair, tousling it and then running them through once more to smooth what I had tousled. It is time to get up anyways. I stand, the mix of moonlight and streetlight casts a shadow of my figure onto the floor, and the rest of the room basks in the pale light. The clock reads 2:47 am and after rubbing my eyes thoroughly once more, a minute had passed. My feet remain rooted to the ground until I force them to carry me out of my room. My home is empty, I know it to be empty as I’ve lived alone ever since she passed. I’m never lonely, there’s no reason to be, she remains with me in spirit, in dream, and in vision. Even if I want to be rid of her, she remains, except on those cold nights when the moon shines through my window and shakes her visage from my eyes.
I pat my button-up shirt to fruitlessly smooth out the wrinkles that made themselves present from my short and restless sleep. The lines are too ingrained to do much without washing or ironing it, and I certainly am not going to pull out the ironing board at this hour. My pants are in a better state as denim doesn’t wrinkle easily, or maybe my legs don’t move very much during my sleep, either way, it doesn’t matter. I take my wallet from the couch and the flowers that I had purchased during the day from the counter. I always brought tulips, yellow and pink ones, those were her favorite colors, but she never really liked flowers, so I always bought the ones I liked in the colors she adored. I didn’t take my phone or keys, I know myself well enough to know they would only serve as a distraction and that any distraction would take away what I am supposed to be doing. Once more, I run my unoccupied hand through my hair, trying to smooth it down again. I leave my home and take a deep breath as the stale night air presses itself into my lungs. It’s soothing in a way, to feel as if I don’t have the choice to breathe anymore, rather the air will force itself in and out of me. My feet begin moving and my body reluctantly follows as I begin walking from my home to the sidewalk. How many times has it been now? Five? Seven? Ten? The more I think about it, the worse I feel. In the three years she has been gone, I only managed to make this trip a small number of times. My face burns with a hot flush of shame at the thought. I know the path by memory, but every night I do this always feels like the first. Every time the moon’s wide eye gazes at me I cannot help but be compelled to baptize myself in the light with her memory. The neighborhood is silent aside from the soft sounds of my shoes hitting the concrete, almost as if the moon’s glare has pushed pause on the entire world around me, leaving me as the sole actor in some melodramatic play. I squeeze the stems of the flowers in my hand just to hear any noise, even if it was the crinkle of the plastic that surrounded them. I force my lips to part to take a deep breath and it went in, but out shakier than I would have ever imagined.
The path I travel is a familiar one. Starting in high school, she and I would walk together every day using this route, not because we wanted to, but because we were neighbors who happened to both go to the closest high school around. She didn’t like me at first, or at second, or at third, I think she probably hated me for at least a year because I had made some remark that I couldn’t even remember about some band she liked. I don’t know what it was about her, but even after our rocky start I still liked her, or maybe I liked how much she hated me. It was hard to tell back then.
I make it out of my neighborhood by now and stop at a newly renovated playground. It is empty, which is to be expected at these hours of the night, but I feel like even if someone was here they’d be stuck in some time loop, frozen like everything else. This is where I first kissed her. Not this exact playground, as it is relatively new, but when this playground used to be a couple of sets of swings and a simple play structure made out of metal. I remember it so clearly. It was a night similar to this, but the moon’s gaze was accompanied by crying raindrops that pelted us vigorously.
It was our sophomore year of high school and she had run away for the second time that year, infuriated with her mother for one reason or another. She was sitting on the left-most swing and kicking angrily at the ground as if the earth itself was responsible for what she was feeling. It was raining that night but I could tell she was crying from the soft hitches of her voice and the way her bottom lip trembled when she yelled at me to leave. I had given her my soaked jacket to help cover her from the rain and she had told me it wouldn’t do anything to help her but kept it on regardless of that. That was the first night she had ever spoken to me truly. I never was sure as to why, whether it was because she actually took an interest in me, or if it was because she was just so lonely and I happened to be the only person willing to lend an ear. She told me how she wanted to run away and how this town was driving her crazy to the point that if she couldn’t get out she would die here. I didn’t know what to say to her at that time, so I just sat there and listened until her crying had calmed and the harsh rain had turned into a drizzle. Afterward, we talked for a few hours longer and I even managed to make her laugh. Before she went back home for the night she hugged me and I thought it was going to lead to a kiss, so I kissed her and she slapped me.
I didn’t realize I spent so long at the playground so I urge myself to move faster. I can’t do this with other people around, I can only do this in the dead of night under the watchful gaze of the moon. My path continues further and I am far away from my neighborhood and a fair amount away from the high school we used to attend. My travels are often halted by me waiting for the crosswalk sign at intersections with no cars, but I would not cross the road without one. I remember once she pulled me across the street, telling me it would be fine, and nearly got us both run over. She was always one to pull me along into her shenanigans and adventures, while I would always tepidly follow her. I wondered for a long time if I was the reason she stayed in this town she hated with the people she hated even more. I walk past a gas station that is normally open 24 hours a day, all day, every day, but it closed down years ago.
I used to come by here almost every night for months with her because she had a difficult time sleeping and liked to walk around outside, while I would follow because I didn’t want her to be alone. This place used to always be open and we would mainly stop by during the middle of the night to use the restroom or buy snacks. There was one time we came by and it was closed due to some sort of maintenance they were doing. We sat on the curb together and looked up at the stars that night. That was during our senior year of high school and that was the night she told me she loved me. She admitted to wanting to leave for a long while and she had even made up her mind to leave as soon as she graduated, but that night she held my face and looked into my eyes, and told me she couldn’t live without me. She told me how she wanted to leave but didn’t have money, then she finally relented and told me that even if she did have money, she didn’t know how she was supposed to make it somewhere on her own without me. At that time I had gotten accepted into the local university and had no plans of moving anytime soon when my life was barely starting to kick off here. I had just reassured her that things were going to be okay and that she should just apply to university so we could live together. Sometimes I still wonder what would have happened if I told her to go and that she could make it without me. I wonder how things would have changed. I shake myself back into reality, realizing that I have been staring at the dark gas station window for longer than is really necessary. I continue to stare though, compelled by a force much stronger than me, a shiver runs down my spine as I began to see her in the window, eyes blank, white, and glowing. She is staring at me, her head half-cocked to the side as more visions of her began to crowd into the window, all of their starry eyes pierce me in a way that makes me feel nauseous.
I tear my gaze away and look back, seeing that she was gone. My heart hammers in my chest and I realize my hands are clammy. I wipe them on my jeans, tousle my hair, then pat it down. I rub my fists into my eyes and keep walking, trying to get that nauseous feeling to go away. The silence of the night is ringing loudly in my ears and I feel as if I’m choking on the air, suffocating as I try to keep breathing in and out. I am sure my lungs aren’t working anymore. Maybe my entire body is failing. I have to keep pressing on.
For a long while, I thought she was getting better. I thought the hatred she held, that the feelings of hate for this place that burned so deeply in her heart were finally quelling. We lived together, and we were happy. We had a house, a cat, seven potted plants, and plans to get a dog, a big German Shepherd, all of which are gone now. We were in our senior year of college when she asked me to marry her. She had told me that she genuinely could not imagine her life without me. She wanted to move far away and she wanted me to come with her, and that we could take our little family we were building here with us as well. She wanted to mix her life with mine and lay our futures down together. I remember she had pulled over the car on a desolate road and told me to get out, only to lead me on an impromptu hike. I remember I felt like I was about to pass out by the time we made it to the top of a small mountain, completely obscured from the road and overlooking the city. The moon had beamed down on us that night, smiling in celebration of our love. She proposed to me there and I said yes. She took my hand and told me she wanted to lay together to commemorate our love and we had sex on the grass, everything else forgotten aside from each other.
I hold my stomach as I walk, feeling ill and having to lurch over to the side to throw up in a patch of grass instead of on the sidewalk. I wipe my mouth with my sleeve. No matter what I want to believe, I know I was the nail in her coffin. She stayed because of me, I forced her to have a life here because things were going well for me. I had a high-paying job and supported her entirely, I thought I was being kind to her when I told her she didn’t have to work or do things herself. I made her believe she couldn’t do it without me. I wanted her so badly that it made her want me. My feet stopped and knew I was outside the graveyard where she was buried. I slowly open the gate that I have spent many hours standing next to, just staring at the place where she was buried and never daring to move closer. Tonight I know I have to go to her. The feeling under my skin will not subside, her voice in my head condemns me for my cowardice, I must see her now. I must make amends. The moon casts a bright glow on her tombstone, illuminating the stone enough for me to see the engravings clearly. It has her name, her birth date, and her death date on it in a cordial manner. Underneath that the words “God Bless” and “taken too soon” are there and I can’t help but snort at how dry it sounds. She would’ve hated that to have been written on her tombstone. I sink to my knees, letting the flowers fall out of my hands with an unceremonious crinkling thump. I sit and stare at the tombstone for what feels like hours, maybe days, maybe years, without the sun ever passing over me, sitting in the cold wash of the night. I close my eyes and contemplate. I should speak to her, but I cannot force an utterance to escape my lips. I feel her embrace around me, her lips against my ear as she whispers to me in tune with the whistling wind soothing melodies that calm my aching soul. I never speak a word, letting the coursing river of emotions run through me, and once my heart settles I stand and turn around, heading back to where I had come.
I stand in front of my home, breathing out a sigh I did not know was inside of me, the weight of the night finally lifting off of me. I feel lighter. I enter my house, realizing how sad and desolate a place this has become. She would have hated it. Maybe it’s time to do something she would have liked. I grab my keys from the counter and go to my car, climbing inside and revving the engine before departing. I drive down the street, and I keep driving as the sun begins to rise, basking me in a golden glow. It is time to be spontaneous, a little more like her. I want to live as she did, or as she would have. I’ll just have to figure out things along the way, with her as my guide.