Leaving by Melissa Nunez
CW: mentions of abuse
It was St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and the San Antonio Spurs were facing off against the Boston Celtics. The stairways, bridges, and cobbled pathways of the River Walk were overrun with green: jerseys, festive headgear, and blinking beads. They even dyed the water. Our hotel opened up onto the paved riverbank, and we spent our day drifting among bars and restaurants—a picnic on foot. You scored us free drinks with your celebratory banter: “So long, freedom. We locked it down!”
We decided to cap the night at Mad Dog’s. The small pub tucked into a bend of the river, a two-minute walk from our hotel, brimmed with buzzing people. A live band played covers from your prime, channeling the vibe of Oasis and The Cranberries. You surprised me by consenting to dance among the standing patrons thronged up close to the stage.
We weren’t putting on a show but attracted the attention of the table nearest us. One of the guys sloshed his beer in our direction, a long-distance salute, and called out, “You better take care of her.” He gave a frothy laugh. You chuckled in return, but I felt your arm tighten around my waist, your fist a knob pressed into the small of my back. Familiar as the one that bruises when you barricade me in, keep me from leaving once I tire of asking you to stay. “Take real good care of her.”
Then the only swirl and sway was in the finishing of our drinks. As we walked back to the hotel that smile-for-show vanished from your face. “What the fuck was that,” you asked while gripping hold of my wrist. “The fuck did he mean by that?”
I find you in the unexpected shadows that haunt daytime hours in sporadic flashes. In the reek of anger that rustles in the room, stalks along my skin, before anyone else knows it’s there—uninvited imaginary friend. You are the mucus clinging to my throat as I try to hock it up, sticking to the walls, sliding back and settling into my windpipe like home.
At midnight I awakened to a smell I associate with pulsing bodies and flashing lights, but our room was dark. The bed next to me, vacant. I felt a breeze and turned toward the open window. There I saw you; the lights of the river behind you. Your body all umbra in the halo of smoke. The pack of cigarettes next to you as jarring as the smell.
“Just to calm the nerves,” you told me. Like it was natural. Something you did every night. The smoke drifting out the window, dissipating over the water.
With you it has always been a vanishing in stages.
I feel you in the agony of waiting for something I should already be holding. The sheets turned quicksand upon waking, swallowing me back to dreams of things long past. You are the nest of nymphs that worry in my womb, feeding on the shame unborn.
You used to lie stretched out on the floor, your head in my lap, as I plucked out all the hairs that didn’t know how to exit your skin. Shrinking back from the trauma of the razor, they curled back into you, cushioned by a pillow of puss. I peeled back the top layer of skin to expose and purge the offending follicle. When I was done, we would lament the fact that however clean and tidy I could get your neckline, it wouldn’t take the roots long to reproduce.
Leaving you has been a dry drowning—my body long since broke the surface of the water, but somehow it still finds me, oozing up from within my own pores. Why is it I still wonder whether I should have tried harder, waited longer, loved better for you. I had to leave the ocean while I could still see the shore, before your words came upon me like a riptide. My feet hit sand, but I find fault lapping at my heels. Just like the words you used to justify your hands entering the argument: a girl who fights back was always asking for the fight.
Maybe I am the trick, the reason we couldn’t coexist because, look: I’m gone. It was every week I had to say this can’t be what you wanted; there’s no breathe in the breaking. Your laughter said you never wanted anything at all. As if I wasn’t asking you to make room for me in the prow of you. My words silt lost in the shoal. I walked out of the water. And now it always feels like a joke unfinished. A great vanishing act performed to no applause.
Melissa Nunez is a writer from the Rio Grande Valley. She loves coffee, conchas, and cuentos. Her essays have appeared in eucalyptus & rose, Yellow Arrow Journal, and others.