“I cannot help you understand. In the realm of the ultimate, each person must figure out things for themselves.”
-Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
I came back to Biloxi in time for the Christmas party. I’d been assigned a Secret Santa in my short day between the road and the flight to Peckham, and accordingly presented a blonde NCCC girl named Cammie the crumpled flowers I’d picked in England. I don’t think she appreciated them, but Bicycle Ben laughed.
I decided to spend four more days in Mississippi, to wait and road trip back north with a number of my friends that were making an organized expedition. I heard from Evelyn now and then, she e-mailing me about the Middle East and myself relaying the loose plans of the coming days. I told Cora and Suzanne all about Evelyn, and hiking in the countryside, about how I hoped it would all work out. Erim, who at this point was herself slinking toward Christmas and mostly hiding out in her trailer, smiled hard at the success of my trip. Love hero, love hero. I shrugged and said we’d see how it all worked out.
I did some work over the next few days on Eddie’s crews, and then did the Pub thing by night. I was careful; a few people knew that Evelyn had taken me back contingent on taking a break, so at first I tried to drink Cokes. I couldn’t help feeling out of place with this plan though, so my solution was to just not drink as much. And then get off of it once I caught up with her over Christmas; there was no way I would continue while I was with her. So when people asked, I just affirmed a commitment to slowing things down, taking it easy. I was on my way to getting things together. I was winning at life. I hooked up with one of Becca’s friends in my van sometime while I was back; it was ok though, because again, I would leave these incidents behind once Evelyn and I finalized our great romance, when she got back to the States.
Finally, the day came when seven of us departed in four different vehicles, headed to the Northeast for Christmas. We left at around 6:30 at night, planning on driving through and getting to Eddie’s dad’s house in Great Falls, Virginia the next afternoon. Eddie started out as a passenger in my vehicle, and we lit a joint once we got past Mobile. It was a little much for me— I suddenly realized I was driving way too slow on the Interstate, and elected to take a nap two hours in. Eddie wanted none of that, but he didn’t have a driver’s license. He hopped into another car and I slept.
I woke up early the next morning and started driving; now that I was eight hours behind the caravan, I felt a little more comfortable buying beers to drink along the way. I was, after all, a great, great driver. Once I crossed into Tennessee, I got it in my head to call Dally. She had been writing me and texting me, and I hadn’t even bothered to let her know I was alive after we spoke in Barstow.
She picked up; she had been stranded at the Charleston airport for a day or so, waiting for weather to clear up to fly home to Denver for Christmas. She was rightfully angry that she hadn’t heard from me for weeks. And more angry once I explained that I hadn’t felt right staying in contact with her because I’d run off to London to get back the girl I’d dated before I met her. I offered an apology, which she didn’t accept very easily. I asked if we could still be friends, and she said she’d have to think about it. Then she wished me a happy holiday and hung up the phone.
I drove on up familiar I-81, this time cruise controlling the speed limit, almost exactly a year to the day that I got that 90+ mph speeding ticket with Lydia and Sadie. I wondered what had ever come of them. Of so many people. I mused, listened to music, made phone calls now and then to Karissa, to Kristen, to anyone I could think of. After many hours, I pulled into Mr. Sherman’s driveway in Virginia. The rest of the road trip was already there; I’d made sure to stop sipping a couple hours before and buy Listerine so nobody would suspect. And I thought about not drinking while I was at the Shermans, sticking with Eddie and his soda. But instead, I drank wine and conducted a disaster response draft in the basement with my friends, laughing and chatting it up with Boon until 4 in the morning. The next day we smoked pot with Eddie’s neighbor, and then Helicopter and I left for home at my parents’ house.
More so than ever in my entire life, even after college, or even in December 2005, I felt completely, completely foreign at home. It was more than an emptiness this time; it welled up in me as a primal despise of the simple falseness of life. My stomach turned as I watched them interact, the way they complained in their strained marriage, their lack of friends, the pretense of holiday, the invention of “family traditions” to make us seem like a functional family. We had a Christmas party that I barely attended. My grandfather descended into the basement at one point, and I just said I didn’t feel like entertaining. He said I didn’t seem myself. I said I wasn’t sure what that was anymore.
I mused. During the day I drove aimlessly around Maryland. Sometimes I’d drive out toward Westchester, other times over to Harper’s Ferry. I’d buy whipped cream and beers and just listen to music. Or I stuck to my cellar room, snorting Ritalin and writing into all hours of the night. Evelyn couldn’t come home sooner. Finally she did, and we were e-mailing about meeting up. She invited me to come for the holidays, or I invited myself out of desire to just get away from my family. They were pretty discouraged about my departure for Christmas, but I couldn’t be happier to be away.
Kristen and Marj were at the Kernan’s in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, so I made plans to see them and stay there the night of the 23rd. I left my family behind and drove north on I-270 with six Sparks for then and later. Soon enough Helicopter was frolicking about the Kernan household with the other dogs, and we were drinking wine and playing Scrabble. We smoked a little bit of pot, and climbed into Astro to drink Sparks and watch Duck Tales at 1 A.M., just like old times. It was right around then that I got a phone call from Evelyn— it was a little late for her, so I picked up confused.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Guillermo, I need to ask you something that I heard, and I need you to be completely honest with me.”
“You promise me you aren’t drinking.”
I looked down at the can in my hands and paused. Then decided.
“I promise. I’m not drinking, I told you I’m done with that. Why do you ask? What’s wrong?”
She sighed into the phone and her tone switched immediately to kind Evelyn.
“I was talking to Karissa, and she had heard that you and Dan and Brian and a bunch of people had some late night wine party. Which was confusing to me, because I know you don’t do that anymore.”
“Oh, no. I mean, I was there, but Eddie doesn’t drink either so we just hung out.”
I could almost hear her smile.
“O.K. I just got really worried. I don’t know why. Just really scared for a second.”
“No, no. You don’t have to be worried.”
“I just want to see you again.”
“I’ll be there tomorrow. OK?”
“O.K. I just really want to see you.”
“Less than 24 hours.”
I got off the phone and climbed back into the van. Kristen and Marj asked why I looked like a ghost. I told them what happened.
“So are you going to quit?”
I looked at them.
“I have to, you know? It’s either this or Evelyn, and I love Evelyn. I crossed mountains and deserts and oceans for that girl. Literally, you know? I have to.”
I paused and swigged back some Sparks.
“This’ll be the last time.”
“Yeah…” Kristen looked at me from the plush green chair and nodded. “It wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Evelyn’s awesome, you know?”
“I know.” I looked at the empty can in my hand, faintly illuminated by the small television. “I know.”
Sadness is strange, and not so common. You can feel depressed, chagrined, disillusioned, downtrodden, any or all of these things as a response to the events of the world. It’s hard, reality is harder in some places than others. But sadness is different. Pure, pure sadness; to get at that is so much more complicated than any one inciting linear incident. There must be an element of tragedy to it, of more parts than one coalescing together. Most importantly, it must be a result of something permanent inside oneself. We lose loved ones, we don’t get good grades, we get hit by cars, we lose funding for mold experiments— these are all serious threats to the everyday go-luckiness for sure.
But these are things that happen to us, these aren’t things within us. These are tragic, but they are not tragedy. Sadness is within, a solitary weaponless fight, completely inexplicable, with no hope for empathic doubling from any person. Value hypocrisy. Lack of soul cohesion. Every string in your heart pulled to snap in the thousand directions that have become who you are. One thousand Prufrock faces. Above all, above all: losing self.
To date, December 24th 2006 was the saddest day of my life. This is what happened.
10:00 A.M.: Marj and Kristen had me follow them to the road that would take me back to I-70 and west after that. We parked on the side of the road and I gave them both big hugs. It had been good to see them, and I wished them a Merry Christmas. Helicopter and I drove along at a quick pace. I started to get really excited about seeing Evelyn, her mom, and Christmas. I’d never spent Christmas away from home, and this was going to be great.
1:00 P.M.: I stopped at a mall outside Morgantown, West Virginia. I had some mix CD’s (of course) for Evelyn, but I wanted to get her a ring of some sort. And gifts for her mother, her sister, and her brother-in-law. So I picked up some things at Bath and Body Works (pretty go-to for mother gifts) and had them gift wrapped. And I went to a jewelry store and picked out an $80 small silver ring that I could give Evelyn. Her rings were normally interesting colored stones and not of that sort, but I wanted to get her something I spent a little money on. I walked out of the mall with my head high, and got back onto the road.
2:30 P.M.: My phone rang as I cut back into Pennsylvania on I-79. It was Evelyn, and I picked up and said something about how the Clash was the best possible soundtrack to my approach. She didn’t say anything, but I could hear her breathing. Hello? She didn’t respond, but her breathing was a little broken. I got concerned.
“Are you ok? What’s wrong?” The song switched to Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes by Taj Mahal.
“Guillermo—” And then I realized she was crying.
“Evelyn, what’s wrong?”
“Guillermo, please, please don’t lie to me anymore. I can’t handle it. Just tell the truth.”
The bottom fell out of my entire stomach. It might as well have fallen through the rusty floor of Astro and bounced down the asphalt of the Interstate.
“Of course, what’s wrong?”
She stopped crying and forced some togetherness into her voice.
“So I have a couple of questions. Please, please don’t lie to me. Can you not lie?”
“Evelyn, I don’t know what this is about, yes, of course. What’s wrong?”
“Guillermo, did you make out with Karissa after I left?”
I sighed, and made a mental note to never talk to or speak highly of Celi for the rest of my life.
“I can’t believe it. Either of you. Why would you do that, Guillermo? Why would you do that to me?”
“I’m sorry. It was nothing. We were drunk. I called and told you the day after it happened. Not that it was Karissa. But honestly, it was just a drunk, stupid moment.”
She laughed scornfully through her tears.
“Drunk. I have questions about that too.” She started to cry again. “Guillermo, I can’t talk to you right now. I’m sorry.”
She hung up the phone and it was back to music and the highway. The trees passed on the sides of the road, and I stared north with the wheel clenched in my hands at 10 and 2. I picked up the phone and called Karissa. She picked up after a couple of rings.
“Karissa, Evelyn knows we made out.”
“I know. We just talked for an hour.”
“What happened?” She was silent on the other end of the phone, sitting somewhere in Twisp, Washington.
“Guillermo, I don’t know what to tell you. Celi told her. And then she called me and asked me about everything with you. So I told her.”
“What do you mean, you told her? Told her what?”
“Guillermo, I don’t know. That you were still you.”
“Karissa, I’m done.”
“G…” She paused and her voice suddenly sounded really sad. “I don’t know if you’re lying to everyone or yourself, but everyone knows you still are. Everyone at the wine party. Everyone in Biloxi.”
I paused, everything in my heart stuck in my neck. She continued.
“I’m sorry, Guillermo. She said if I didn’t tell her everything she wanted to know, that she’d never talk to me ever again. I didn’t know what to do. Or what I should do. Where are you?”
“Almost to Ohio. On the road with Heli.”
“Is Evelyn still letting you come?”
I paused and thought. Everything had fallen apart so fast. She hadn’t told me to not come. I was right in the middle of D.C. and Cincinnati. So sure, I guess I’d keep driving.
“Well…good luck, Guillermo. She sounds pretty upset.”
“Yeah. Thanks. I’ll call you in a little bit.”
“I need some time too, by the way. She’s really mad at me too. I’m sort of mad at you.”
“O.K., I’ll talk to you soon.”
I hung up with Karissa and put the phone in the cup holder. Helicopter curled up in the backseat and looked at me with her curious eyes. I clenched my fist and hit the side of the passenger seat again and again. The phone rattled slightly with every strike. My hands were shaky and I dropped my pack of cigarettes twice before I got one out and lit it.
I looked at the clock. It was 2:51. The Mermaid Avenue “At My Window Sad And Lonely” was playing low in the background. I yelled fuck as loud as I could and turned off my iPod.
I had neither the energy nor the desire to make a decision. I don’t think I even had the ability to make a decision. So I just kept driving north toward Pittsburgh and Wheeling, staring blankly at the lines of the highway. After twenty seconds or so the paused iPod signal cut out. The silence was replaced by static and, sometimes, Christmas carols.
3:00 P.M.: I called Evelyn back. She didn’t pick up. I called again, and she didn’t pick up again. I left her a message to please, please call me back.
3:40 P.M.: The phone rang, and it was Evelyn. She was still crying. I said her name a few times, and she finally broke out some words between chokes.
“I need to know some things…ok?”
“Evelyn, of course.”
“When I asked you last night about drinking with Dan and Brian, and you said you didn’t, was that the truth?”
I paused, silently frantic. I should have decided what I was going to say to this, but I hadn’t. Finally I spoke:
“I might have had a little bit of wine. Or something. But Evelyn—“
“Guillermo, why would you lie to me? Why do you keep lying?” She practically screamed this part. I didn’t say anything.
“After everything that you and I have been through. After everything you put me through. And trying to hide it, which is even worse.”
“Evelyn, it’s over, I promise.”
“What’s over? Guillermo, I don’t even know what you are promising to stop. Let’s go through some other things too. Let’s see…oh, this one is interesting. So you started dating someone in October at Hands On. And then you visited her in Denver. Before you came to see me. Let’s try the truth game one more time. Is this true, Guillermo?
“I— I mean, yes, I was making out with someone, but it wasn’t serious.”
“Right. Not serious enough to visit her at home.
Silence. “Evelyn, can you just let me explain—“
“I’ll tell you what. Yes. You take the next three minutes, and you tell me anything you think I should know about what you have been doing since I left Mississippi. How about that?”
I was stunned, and the walls gave way. If this was a boxing match, it was the tenth round, and I knew I was going down eventually, so I was going to swing wildly with anything I had. Not necessarily because I thought it would help me win, but because I didn’t want to lose without trying. It all poured into the phone, a stream of “Karissa-Dally-of-course-but-there-was-also-Ashley-Nathalie-Vanessa-Sarah-Quincy-fight-with-Russell-messy-life-out-West,” anything I could think of that could potentially indict me in her eyes. “But we were broken up.”
“Yeah, we were. But for you to fly across the ocean to my life, inject yourself into it to convine me that you were beyond all of this, and not be. God, and I believed you. I am such an idiot. I can’t believe I believed you. I don’t want anything to do with this person. Do you understand me?”
The tears were on both sides of the phone now. It was awful. I got it together enough to say something.
“Evelyn, listen. I’m almost into Ohio now. Will you still see me? I don’t care if I stay at your house anymore, but I just want to see you in person. I understand—“
I paused and choked up a bit, then continued with words through wind force in my throat from the tears.
“I have made a lot of mistakes. But I never meant to hurt you. I’ve been hurting you, and I’ve been hurting myself. We don’t deserve this mess I’ve made out of things, but I had nothing but the best intentions in coming back into your life. I promise you, Evelyn. I promise you. And you know…just like I know, that what you and I have when we are good is the best. In the least, even if this is done and done, meet me and talk to me.”
“I don’t know, Guillermo. I just don’t know what to do. I can’t do this anymore. The worst part? Do you want to know the worst part?”
“Yes, tell me.”
“I know you are a good person. But you do these awful things, you do these things that aren’t the person that I care about, these things that a different person does. What do I do with that? It destroys me.”
“Listen— I am not perfect, but I don’t want to hurt you or anyone anymore. I’m going to keep driving. Just think about seeing me. If I get to Cincinnati and you don’t want to see me, then I will turn right around and start driving back. But in the least, I don’t want to lose a moment of traveling toward you in case I can talk to you.”
“I don’t know. I’ll call you in a bit.”
4:40: The sun was coming down when I stopped in a rest stop near Zanesville for a Diet Coke and the restroom and a walk for Helicopter. There were families with children standing outside their cars and an elderly couple scrutinizing the map of Eastern Ohio set behind a smudged Plexiglass stand.
5:20: Evelyn called me back as I neared Columbus. She said she’d talk to me, but that I couldn’t stay. I said that was fine, and I’d see her in a bit. She said O.K., and to call when I got there.
This didn’t feel like a win. I think in my core I knew that the chances of anything good coming from us seeing each other were pretty damn slim. But it was Christmas, and if it was already sort of ruined, the only way I could make it a little better was to offer something good to her. It was a clusterfuck of a situation, I mused, but the only thing I could do was talk to her in person. Maybe make it better. Maybe.
7:00: I stopped for gas along dark I-71, the flat field interstate connecting Columbus and Cincinnati. There weren’t many cars out on the highway at all. The food mart was closed, but the credit card islands were on. I took Helicopter out for another walk around another gravel parking lot and looked up at the night sky. It was a cloudy Christmas Eve.
Right as I was about to leave a car coasted in. A skinny shaggy-haired guy about my age jumped out of it and pushed it in neutral toward a gas island. I walked over to him and asked him if everything was alright.
“I’m sorta fucked, do you have a cell phone I could borrow? I only have cash, and I’m out of gas.”
I swiped my credit card on his gas island.
“Dude, lifesaver man. Here, take this.” He thrust ten dollars in my hand. “I’ll just fill it up that much. Real good thing you were here, man, seriously. Thank you.”
“Fill it up if you want. It’s fucking Christmas, right?”
The guy laughed. “Dude, no problem, I’m just putting ten in it. Nice van, bro.”
“For real. Mississippi plates, huh? Where are you headed this fine Christian evening?”
“Going to see your ex-girlfriend on Christmas Eve?” He looked incredulous, and I nodded.
“Dude— you must be a lot better at break-ups than I am. Seriously, bro. Seriously.”
I laughed out loud, I definitely laughed out loud. “I wouldn’t say that.”
“Nah, give yourself some credit, that’s pretty boss. I’m Joe, what’s your name?”
“Huh. Well, thank you Guillermo for the gas. Saved my ass on Christmas. Take care.”
“You too, brother. Travel safe.”
8:30: I called Evelyn when I got close and parked the van in front of her house. It was cloudy; there were no stars in the sky, and no hint of a moon anywhere. The front door opened and she came out. Her chin was slightly forward, and even in the streetlight silhouette I could see her pursing her lips. She stopped 10 feet from me, crossed her arms, and stared from the lawn.
She shook her head, and walked up to me until she was two feet away. Then she started crying and hit me in the chest with a soft balled up fist. She hit me a couple more times, my arms, my torso. I put my hands up and let it happen, and I didn’t say anything. Then she stopped and collected herself.
“How could you, Guillermo? Why would you?”
I looked down at the dark street and shook my head, silently. The impotence of shame had swept across my body in a way that prevented words from possibly coming out of my mouth. So I stood and shook my head.
“Anything? You don’t have anything to say?”
I suddenly wanted to move. Moving was better than standing still.
“Can we walk?”
Evelyn sighed. “Sure. Whatever.”
I opened the sliding door and Heli bound out. For the first time, Evelyn smiled a bit and started rubbing Helicopter. Heli licked her face and she said hi, hi.
“Oh Heli, why is Guillermo such a big idiot? How would he get anywhere without you?”
I put Helicopter on leash, and three of us began slowly down the suburban Ohio street. Many of the homes had Christmas lights. Many of the windows had families around trees, talking, and laughing, and I thought of my San Francisco Thanksgiving.
We walked and I said some things, and she said some things. We didn’t talk about the nitty gritty— there wasn’t really a point. I was flawed, and I had hurt her. I had flashes of brilliance, but never had my shit together. I didn’t make good decisions. I was a hypocrite. I didn’t take care of things that were important to me. And maybe other ways of saying all of these things, but they were all the same thing in different intonations anyways, and the words themselves weren’t the most memorable.
What was most memorable was the specificity of this moment. The words that came out of her mouth were born not of fury; rather, they seemed precise and chosen. It would have been easier if it was fury. She walked side by side with me, and every statement was just slightly speckled with that underlying despair of what this was. It was a mix of anger and sadness, and I feel as though most people can only express one, then another. Those moments with Evelyn were really the most lucid time I experienced both simultaneously. She said what she said, but said it with our shoulders touching and with a black, 8 month old puppy trotting before us. In the dark, I thought if anyone looked outside they’d call it a young couple on a pleasant Christmas Eve stroll. They might say it was romantic and reminisce about their own younger days, think oh to be 23 and in that station of life, walk across the living room to hug a wife or husband hanging a Christmas ornament from behind, and whisper “Merry Christmas. I love you.”
We walked with words and silence. The neighborhood wasn’t too big, and we looped by her mother’s house at least once. After some time had passed, we arrived once again. I shrugged and prepared myself for the last hug and goodbye before I drove off. Evelyn laughed.
“I mean, you have to come in. My mother got you a Christmas present.”
My heart bounced on the asphalt for the second time that day. I gathered all of the presents I’d gotten at the mall from the trunk, and walked toward her front door. Evelyn took Heli and let us inside
Past the foyer, Evelyn’s sister and her sister’s newly minted husband were sitting in chairs by the Christmas tree. They had flown in from Seattle. The tree itself was humble and twinkling. The light in the room was yellow. The ceilings were not high. Evelyn’s mother walked up smiling from around the corner, hugged me, and said Merry Christmas. I said Merry Christmas to her, and asked if I could drop my bag of gifts.
“Of course! Now, we have the basement couch set up for you…if you want to stay. And Helicopter can stay too, of course, I got her Christmas gifts.”
I smiled and told her I appreciated that, but I was probably not going to stay— I was just here to say hi to Evelyn and get along on my way. Then Evelyn said we were going upstairs to her room, and I said it was nice to see everyone again and very nice to meet Evelyn’s sister and brother-in-law. Then we went upstairs to Evelyn’s room and closed the door.
Nothing had changed since July, as is the case with most rooms of adult children. Still pictures of little Evelyn the gymnast on the wall. Maybe a picture of her father also. A desk, posters, a bed, it’s hard to remember. I remember sitting on the floor with her, cross-legged, facing each other. We exchanged presents. I opened mine first— it was an ashtray from Jordan, and I laughed and said it was perfect. Then she opened hers, and examined the ring. Before she could say anything, I spoke:
“I don’t want you to throw that away. I want you to put it in a drawer here. And maybe someday—” I took her hand in mine. “…someday, if we know each other ever again, and you know that the me you loved is the one that is always there, will always be there, then you can wear it sometime.”
She smiled. “O.K., deal.”
We talked some more, but conversation did not come easily. I was surprised I hadn’t been forcibly kicked out of the house yet, but was relishing every moment I had. Evelyn stood up at one sad point and put on an Ani DiFranco album. We loved “Both Hands,” especially the Living in Clip orchestral version, but that was not what she put on. She put on a song called “Rock Paper Scissors,” and drily commented that it was all too appropriate. I nodded and we listened to the words. They were slow and cautiously angry. Time passed. Midnight passed.
At about 12:30, her mom came upstairs and knocked on the door. She looked at the two of us sitting on the floor. She had brought up Christmas presents for Heli and me. I think there were some other small things, but what I remember most was a “Who Dey” orange Cincinnati Bengals washcloth. I grabbed her gift, and she thanked me for the Bath & Body Works gift basket. Then she sat on the floor with us.
“How’s it going, Guillermo?” I shook my head and ran my fingers threw my hair
“Not good. Not good at all.”
She didn’t stop smiling, ever.
“You know, I’m going to tell you something I believe about the two of you. Something I’ve seen. You two are happy with each other. You two believe in the same things. You have the ability to make my daughter very happy.”
Evelyn watched her mother curiously with me. Her mother continued.
“But you know what? Sometimes it’s just not the right time. Even if it’s the right people, sometimes it’s just not the right time.”
“I think that the goodness there will get out sometime. But I think right now, for this period of your life, you have to concentrate on you.”
I nodded. She smiled and looked genuinely at me.
“You are a good person, Guillermo! You just have to take time for you now. When that’s done with, maybe you two will find each other again. Or maybe not. It’s in God’s hands. But don’t lose faith in you. It’s just not the right time. It’s time for you.”
I thanked Evelyn’s mother from the bottom of my heart. She smiled.
“And one more thing. Are you absolutely sure you won’t consider staying the night? Even if you just leave in the morning?” Evelyn nodded.
“Guillermo, really, it’s not a big deal if you sleep in the basement, I don’t like the thought of you out there tonight.”
The women were two of the kindest. I smiled and shook my head.
“I don’t think so. Thank you so much, but I think I’m going to find somewhere else to sleep tonight. I just think that’s what should happen.”
“O.K., well I’m going to sleep in a little bit here. Have a good night. It was great seeing you and meeting Helicopter.”
She gave Evelyn and I both squeezes on our forearms, and left.
We sat there for a little longer. I think we could have sat there all night stretching out the last good-bye. But then I realized I’d rather be the one to start the process of showing myself out than wait for Evelyn to do it. It had been five hours, but it had seemed like thirty minutes.
We got Helicopter and all of my presents, and went out onto the lawn. I loaded up the van, got Heli’s sleeping bag bed set-up, shut the door, and turned to Evelyn. I walked up to her and took her hands.
“Evelyn, listen to me.” Then I started crying again. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much as I cried that day. She started crying again, too. But I forced out what I needed to say.
I needed to say that losing her was one of the worst things that had ever happened to me. That I knew I took something valuable, something amazing, and ruined it. I had been selfish and apathetic, and I’d lost sight. That if I continued this way, I was going to end up alone. I told her I was going to fix this. That in the least, I was going to respect the memory of what we had that summer, the places we’d been, the kisses and the squeezes and the jokes and the fake ballet. And that my pride, however I spun it, was the problem.
“Guillermo, please, please listen to me.” I nodded.
“I am in love with the man you are in the daytime. That man is the one that makes me smile, that I can count on for anything, that hundreds of people have looked up to in the short time I’ve known you. Do not forget that. He is worth more than me. The world needs him, Guillermo. The world needs you.”
I shook my head and took her hands.
“I am going to fix this Evelyn. I promise you.”
Her arms flew around me and our salty, moist faces came together for a moment. We buried our heads in each other’s shoulders. She kissed my cheeks, and I kissed hers, and everything was salty. She took my face in her hands and kissed me on the lips, and her lips were softer than they had ever been, ever. Then she pulled her face back and looked at me.
“I cannot be part of this anymore, Guillermo. I have tried, and I have bent backwards, I have ignored every logical bone in my body, and it has almost killed me. I need my own life back.” She paused and looked into my eyes, everything moist and glistening.
“Guillermo, you have to do this on your own.”
“I’ll leave you alone.”
“I know you will.”
“I will make it better.”
“I hope you do.”
We held each other. Then I nodded and broke away and she broke away at the same time. I climbed into the van and turned it on. Evelyn stood on her lawn again, not crying but tear smudged and smiling and nodding at the same time. She waved and I waved. Then I put the van into drive and drove away. It was 2:20 am.
I drove back the way I came and didn’t think too hard about anything. On the radio, a DJ wished all the third shifters a Merry Christmas. I drove until I found a rest stop between Cincinnati and Columbus. Then I pulled in, parked, pulled down the shades, crawled into the backseat with Helicopter, and fell asleep.