I’m technically homeless when I pull into the Taco Bell drive-thru, the one in the strip mall with the decent TJ Maxx and the hit-or-miss Blockbuster. I’ll take stock of my life here, take shelter from my own poor choices.
Welcome to the Border. May I take your order?
Yes, a Baja Beef Chalupa, Soft Taco Supreme. And a Mountain Dew: Code Red.
It’s Halloween. I’ve returned to Sarasota. I’ve quit my job at the cable company in Orlando because my boss can’t decide if he wants to return to his family or keep fucking me. Weeks ago, he begged me over bar food to break my lease and shack up, but now he’s ready to do what’s right and that includes kicking me to the curb. He can’t say if it’s forever, so I tell him I’ll wait. This time, though, I’ll bide my time a hundred miles away, some place where we don’t work in the same office or keep fusing our bodies together behind locked doors during business hours. I cash my last paycheck. Head back to college.
Welcome to the Border. May I please take your order?
Yes, a wife and two toddlers who tolerate a twenty-three year old, who understand the strange, enigmatic pulls of the heart. Extra reassurance that indecision eventually rewards the young and well-intentioned. Oh, and a Mountain Dew: Code Red.
If you’d like to pull around to the next window, please.
I’d rather not pull around. I’d rather stay put. Quit breaking out in hives. Watch for signs and wait, wait, wait. Or better yet: abandon my tacos, and this plan, hop on I-75 and coast down I-4 straight into the hellmouth of downtown Orlando to spend one more night with him. Just one. I mean, I know the one after my work goodbye party when we got blitzed at the bar and he pinned me against his pickup, moaning into my mouth—when he wasn’t busy consuming it —how this wasn’t forever, how he just needed time. Or the one where we moved all my belongings into storage before he hauled me back to the site of my eviction, tied me to the mattress we’d recently bought and arranged me like I belonged there. Or the one when we declared it our last night, for real, slow dancing until sunrise to MOR hits of the ‘80s, whiskey and Vicodin making us warm and sentimental.
No, I’ll pull around. I’m ready for the next window. Ready to sleep on dorm room floors and apply for retail jobs at the swanky mall nearby since I’m still not sure what to do with the Literature/Gender Studies degree I earned months ago. Life is more about seeking the beauty in the mundane than striving toward anything remotely ambitious, right? Stopgaps are natural at this age. It’s all part of the process. Journey, not destination, and all that.
In an empty parking lot, I idle under a lonely beam of moth-ridden light. It’s only 10 pm but the stores loom in shadow like acolytes of some capitalist death cult. Everyone else is trick-or-treating, getting drunk or both. It’s just me, my Nissan Sentra, and my fast food feast inhabiting the suburban void. I often conflate moments like this with genuine poetry. The radio plays one of our songs, the keyboard-driven one about infidelity’s inevitability, and I weep. We are a debauched epic of romance, screwing against balcony railings after too many margaritas, impassioned overtures during movie theater matinees, long nights of caretaking his gray-damp body as he kicks Oxys for the dozenth time. No one ever is to blame.
Tonight I’ll stand in the courtyard of my alma mater, dance to Outkast, and try not to mention his name. I won’t ask how long I can stay but I’ll plan to crash until Thanksgiving. Among generous friends finishing up their overdue theses, there’s the tacit understanding that this is temporary. Everything is. Under the palm trees quaking with booty bass, we’ll shake off our futures and reminisce about the recent past, prolonging the party until we run out of shared anecdotes and inside jokes, until we each come down to occupy our own isolated present, dull yet unknowable.
Tomorrow, after brushing my teeth in the communal bathroom, I’ll send an innocuous email, forthright in its passion but composed in its desire. He’ll have no choice but to reply. Around noon, I’ll check to see if he’s on messenger. And he will be, so I’ll shoot a How are you? and await his curt reply, his obvious pretense of mature hesitation. My nails will hover above the keys, anticipating the instant I’ll follow the trail of his ellipsis to its natural but satisfying climax, panting and pulsing with dopamine in the milliseconds before “I miss you” flashes within the within the box we’ve created. I’ll sigh and I’ll smile and I’ll say every vulnerable thing I’ve said before as if confessing it for the first time. That’s when I’ll know for certain that nothing is forever. I’ll survive the next few weeks, days, hours before he changes his mind again because he’ll always change it back. After all, everything is temporary.
I collect myself and my slop-infested wrappers, crumpling my paper bag passenger into a meat-scented sphere. I turn the radio up and the engine over, and complete a sharp and hurried U-turn back to campus. My greasy hands sliding round the steering wheel. My eyes spilling memories they’ve tried to contain. My turn is too abrupt and the world swerves and jostles before eventually righting itself, fetid contents oozing and rolling beneath my feet.
I pull into campus, park away from the festivities. I wish I’d worn a costume, I hope for steady work, I pray for my inbox to bear his name. I startle. Feel something slippery on my skin, something uncontained. Sticky crimson streaking my thighs in the streetlight glare. An overturned and empty paper cup. Code Red dribbing between my legs.
Jillian Luft is a Florida native currently residing in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Booth, Hobart, JMWW, and The Forge Literary Magazine, among other publications. You can find her on Twitter @JillianLuft and read more of her work at jillianluft.com.