L     O     S     S 

 

You see it like a dream: the man falls down on the slick pavement. You almost expect a splash but there is none, only the pounding of the sky. He turns from a human into a huddled mass, a hardly decipherable lump in the dark, wet night. Streetlights glance off the shining road, looking like a watercolor painting abandoned by an expressionist suddenly struck by another idea. Did the artist intend to paint this man? This man, standing? This man, mouth opened in a silent scream? This man, taking long unsteady gaits on shaking legs? This man, falling to the ground? And not getting up again. He doesn’t get up again.

You see it like a dream: the man crumpled on the ground. It is only moments after that you realize a car could hit him, destroy him, make sure of what you don’t yet know. You freeze and remember who and what you are: twenty-three, black, a girl, alone. You imagine yourself stopping the car, getting out, running to his side in the rain. You think of how small and thin you are, how weak. You imagine the man opening his eyes and grabbing you by the arm and then you stop imagining because you don’t know what happens next. People are so deceptive; it could be so foolish to help—what would your mother say?

Keep driving. And so you do. But before you press the gas you see a hooded figure through the rain. It runs from the sidewalk toward the huddled mass that may or may not be a dead man. You see the figure raise its arms, stopping the onslaught of cars coming toward him. You’re relieved. You watch the figure doing what you could not, and you want to close your eyes, but you’re supposed to be driving. You move the car forward, glance in your mirror and see the man, still not moving, and the figure, another man, leaning down, and you’re thankful there was someone else there—thankful it wasn’t up to you—because what would you have done?

Once you get home you call 911 and the woman says they’ve already gotten a call, and they’re already on the way. She hangs up. You sigh. What if the other man had not been on the sidewalk? What if you were the only one who saw the man falling? What if you drove on, and let the cars come? You think of the last time it rained this hard. You remember yourself, head aching and eyes streaming, curled in a ball on your bed wondering where it all went wrong and how you could ever move forward. You stop remembering. You see the man collapse, again and again. What would your mother have said? Keep driving. What did you mother say? You did the right thing. What did you say? What if no one else had been there? And your mother says, Thank God someone was. And you thank God someone was. And for a moment you hate yourself. You hate that you are a small black girl afraid of what could have happened if you helped.

You see it like a dream as you drive the road that leads home, and you try to see the man in the street in your rearview, there and gone in seconds, disappearing into the rain-washed scene. And you keep going because you have to, and the further you move away the more you realize you’ll never know whether or not you saw someone die.

1.

 

This is my favorite memory of you.

Urth

Your mother is driving down the 101 or the 10 or the 405. I am seventeen, you are eighteen and we are heading into L.A. All the streets merge into one as we speed down the howling freeway and the sun follows us as if it’s tethered to the car, dancing above us like a blinding balloon. Spring is blazing into summer and outside the air is rising in waves. We are wearing sundresses, but you look prettier in yours, and each man we pass will say so in his way. Your mother pulls into a parking garage and we rise to the top, breaking through the dank, shadowed levels into the striking sunshine. We park and your mother reminds us to keep our purses close to our bodies.

The fashion district breathes claustrophobic. We’ve woven in and out of shops where sparkling jewelry hung on hooks and the store clerks watched you because you were with me. I bought a topaz clip for my hair; you bought nothing. Your mother waited outside.  We turn a corner into an alley where vendors flourish on either side. They call to us in Spanish, beckoning us inside their shops where glittering dresses stand draped over mannequins and heels encrusted with faux diamonds gleam in the windows. Inside one of the boutiques your mother haggles with the woman in rapid Spanish, wearing down the price of two clutch purses that would match our prom dresses. Inside another, we try on straw sunhats and giggle at each other. A man tells your mother you are beautiful. He doesn’t look at me; he knows I am not hers.

Back on the freeway, the sun has dipped in the sky, slanting the car’s shadow. In twenty minutes, we’re in Pasadena. The air is cooler, but only just, and we climb the steps out of the parking garage onto Paseo Colorado. We shop for shoes, but we don’t find anything. Your mother asks if we’re hungry. Back in the car, you call to order a pizza. In fifteen minutes we’ll be back at the house and we can eat, she tells us. She asks if we’re sad high school is ending and we say yes and no and she asks if there’s anyone we’re worried we won’t see again and we say yes, but not each other—we aren’t worried about each other. Your mother glances at me in the rear-view mirror, her eyebrows raised. She says you’re terrible at staying in touch. I’m taken aback, but I tell her I’m not worried and she tells me I should be; that I’ll see. She doesn’t laugh and I shake my head and I look at you and you’re laughing but you don’t say anything.

2.

 

This is my favorite memory of you.

I’m sitting on your bed when there’s a knock at your door. Your mother doesn’t know I’m over, and it’s been awhile since she’s seen me. She walks in, already speaking to you, and she stops when she sees me. She doesn’t smile right away, even though I do, and her eyes rake my head. She doesn’t look at me the same since I cut my hair. It’s been nearly a year but she still tells me she’s not used to it. She smiles as she says it, eyes boring into my curls, but I can hear something else: why would you do it? Your hair was so pretty. It was so long. She doesn’t say these things, but I hear them, can almost see them racing across her mind. Am I being paranoid? You stand aside with your eyes down until she addresses you, finally remembering whatever it was she came in to say in the first place.  Before she leaves us, she says again she can’t believe I cut it. She says it's so different. She asks if I like it like this. I say that I do, and she looks at me kindly, but like she doesn’t understand. I look at you and laugh, trying to break the tension. You respond by telling me it’s nice, that it suits me, that you really like it. You smile. But I can’t help feeling like you don’t quite look either.

6.

  

This is my favorite memory of you.

You parked in front of my house. Mid-September, LA heatwave, windows down. The sun was already setting, and the sky was pearlescent blue, the color that turns all the trees to shadows and birds to phantoms. You have to go home soon, you say, but neither of us move. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, and the day’s gone by too fast.

My mother pulls into the driveway, home from work; she smiles at us as, surprised and pleased to see you. She gets out and makes her way over. You get out of the car, hesitant, and go hug her and she says how happy she is to see you—how long it’s been. She glances at me. She’s remembering our frequent conversations about how you’d disappear, how it seemed like you never had time, how I’d wait until you had time again, because you always came back around again. You were around again. I sit in the passenger seat and watch you hug my mother and I smile and she tells me hello before heading into the house. She tells us to take our time, and so we sit a little longer.

After you’ve left, I sit with my mother in the house. She says you look sad, that you’ve looked sad each of the few times she’s seen you lately. I say I think you are. She says she worries about you. I say that I do too. She asks if I’m feeling better. I say that I am. She says she knows how much I’ve missed you. I say I know.

7.

 

This is my worst memory of you.

Rain

It was raining. I’d been waiting for it all morning, a little annoyed because we were going to a friend’s show. My friend, not yours, but you were coming. We were going to get dinner, exchange Christmas presents. The rain didn’t change anything for me, not really. It was inconvenient at most, but that was all. I was waiting for the rain all morning, but you’d been out in it, driving around out past Pasadena, past LA where the storm had already started. Back home the wind was high, kicking the trees around, loosing twigs and thin branches, sending them careening through the gray sky, but no rain yet. I was at home, waiting to hear from you, waiting to know what to do. We were going to see each other; your Christmas present sat on my floor against my bookshelf, the biggest bag in the pile. We’d been planning it, this, today—finally spending time. We’d seen each other a few days before. You later asked if that wasn’t enough for me. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if it hadn’t been so long. Maybe I wouldn’t have tried so hard to make it happen if I didn’t feel so much distance. Maybe if we hadn’t already planned it.  Maybe if so many previous plans hadn’t fallen through, always falling through. Maybe if there hadn’t been so many days and nights when you were busy. Maybe if understanding didn’t also mean it was okay—I understood you were busy, always busy, but it didn’t make me feel any better. It didn’t make me miss you any less. Maybe I was selfish.

My mother asked what time I was going to see you. I said I didn’t know yet know. You said you didn’t know. We waited. We waited. You said the rain was bad. You said the rain was so bad; that we shouldn’t go far. I suggested staying close to home as the rain, finally arrived, pounded against my window. I suggested staying in. Pizza. A movie. Anything. You were only minutes away from me; I could meet you at your house. I could bring movies. We could just talk. You said you didn’t think it was a good idea. I asked what wasn’t a good idea. You said all of it, none of it. I suddenly wanted to get back in bed, go to sleep. You said you’d let me know for sure later. I said okay.

My mother asked me to come with her to run errands, so I went. You weren’t home yet, or maybe you were. I didn’t know. I hadn’t heard from you. I bundled up but the rain had calmed down to a drizzle. It was windy, still, but we didn’t need our umbrellas. While I waited for my mother, I sent you another message. What were we doing. How were you feeling. What was the plan. When you responded, all you said was that you’d drop off my gift. The rain, the rain, the rain. You didn’t want to be out in it. Frustrated, I pointed out that you had been out in it just the week before, with your boyfriend. We’d been planning to see each other today for ages. I missed you. You said you’d just stop by quickly, drop off my present. You were tired. You were short; I could feel tension growing, so I told you never mind. I told you never mind, that we could do it later when the weather was better, when you were less busy. I was thinking we’d have more time; I just wanted more time. I told my mother it wasn’t happening. She said she was sorry. I shrugged, put my phone away.

An hour later it started. The levee inside of you—the one so often sensed but never seen, the one so often felt, pulsing just beneath the surface—broke.

You said I was pushy. That I didn’t understand. That I was unfair. Passive aggressive. You said I had to make things so hard, so hard. You said I expected too much from you—demanded too much. You said, you said, you said. Was it a coincidence the rain started up again, pounding the roof, the windows, the walls? There was so much water—in my eyes, in the sky, washing over me as you spilled every drop that the levee had ever held. I tried to explain, and explain, and explain, and I should’ve stopped. But I didn’t stop. Because I wanted you to hear me. I wanted you to understand. But you didn’t hear me. Maybe you couldn’t hear anything.

After midnight, phone no longer lighting up with your words, your spilled water, I lay against my pillow, tears falling into my hair. I wondered if you were crying too. Maybe. Maybe not. I held my phone against my chest, warm. I felt my heart hammering against my ribs, felt like I had just finished running. I tried not to think of the last things you said or what you meant, or how I felt them. I thought about intention, and how mine didn’t seem to matter to you, and how yours was all that mattered to me. I thought about how it wasn’t enough.

The next morning it was dry, cold. Every part of me ached. It looked like rain.

 

~ A F T E R W O R D ~