The Sea of Tranquility(7)


by Katja Millay

“Call me!” Drew yells over his shoulder to her, laughing as if this is some sort of joke.

“You know her?” I ask, laying my books and my level on the hood of his car. Most of the parking lot has emptied out by this point. For as slow as the traffic moves into this place in the morning, the afternoon exodus takes no time at all.

“I plan to,” Drew responds, not looking at me. He’s still watching the girl walk away. I ignore the innuendo. If I had to acknowledge every thinly-veiled sexual suggestion that comes from his mouth, we’d talk of nothing else, which would probably make him happy.

“Who is she?”

“Some Russian chick. Nastya something I haven’t learned to pronounce. I was starting to worry that I was losing my appeal because she’d never talk to me, but apparently, she doesn’t talk to anybody.”

“Are you surprised? She kind of screams antisocial.” I pick the level up off the car and turn it over in my hands watching the water shift from one side to the other.

“Yeah, but it’s not that. She doesn’t talk, period.”

“At all?” I look at him skeptically.

“At all.” He shakes his head, smiling with warped satisfaction.

“Why not?”

“Don’t know. Maybe she doesn’t speak English. But then I guess she could still say yes and no and shit.” He shrugs as if it’s of no consequence.

“How do you even know?”

“Because she’s in my Speech & Debate class.” He smirks at the irony of that fact. I don’t respond. I’m trying to process the information, and Drew can keep this conversation going on his own. “I’m not complaining. Gives me a chance to work on her every day.”

“Not a very good sign if you have to work on her. Maybe you are losing your appeal,” I reply dryly.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he says in all seriousness, looking down at his watch. His smile returns. “It’s 3:00. Better get your ass home.” And with that, he hops in his car and drives off, leaving me standing in the parking lot, thinking of pissed off Russian girls and black dresses.

CHAPTER 7

Nastya

I feel like I’m waiting here. Waiting for something that hasn’t happened yet. Something that isn’t yet. But that’s all I feel and nothing else. I don’t know if I even exist. And then someone flips a switch and the light is gone, the room is gone, the weightlessness is gone. I want to ask to wait, because I wasn’t finished yet, but I don’t have a chance. There is no gentle pulling. No coaxing. No choice. I’m wrenched out. Yanked, as if my head is being snapped back. I’m in the dark and everything is pain. There are too many sensations at once. Every nerve ending is on fire. Like the shock of being born. And then, there are flashes of everything. Color, voices, machines, harsh words. The pain doesn’t flash. The pain is constant, steady, never-ending. It’s the only thing I know. I don’t want to be awake anymore.

***

I made it through my second Monday at school. You’d think I’d be drained just from the constant suck of it all, but apparently not, because I still can’t sleep. I’ve been in bed for two hours now; I know it’s after midnight but I can’t see the clock from here so I’m not sure exactly what time it is. I think about the composition book tucked under the mattress beneath me. I reach down and shove my hand under to touch it. My three and a half pages are done, every word accounted for, but still no sleep. Maybe writing them again would help, but it won’t bring me the soul-sucking exhaustion my body is begging for, so I pull my hand back and rest it on my stomach, opening and closing it to the rhythm of my breathing.

I can hear that the hard rain has stopped, so I peel off the covers and look out the window. My window faces into the backyard and it’s too dark to see if it’s still pissing rain, so I head to the front of the house and peer into the beam cast by the streetlamp. There’s no rain visible in the yellow glow reflecting off of the wet sidewalk below and I’m stripping out of my makeshift pajamas before I even get back to my bedroom, giddy with the thought of running out the past few days, pounding my aggression into the sidewalk and leaving it behind me as I go. It takes no time to slip on a pair of running shorts and a t-shirt and throw on my shoes. My feet love me again. I glance at the clock. 12:30. I hook a canister of pepper spray onto my hip and grip the kubotan that holds my keys in my right hand, even though it’s annoying as all hell to run with. It’s my security blanket. Clutched in my fingers, offering me the illusion of a security that doesn’t exist.

I lock the door behind me and force myself to ease into a jog, down the driveway and into the rain-drenched streets, but it’s not easy. I want to tear down the road until I can’t breathe, until there is not enough oxygen left in the world to keep me from suffocating. The humidity is brutal, especially paired with the late summer temperatures, but I can’t care. It’ll only mean more sweat and I can handle that. Every drop is the stress leaching out of me, taking with it all of my anxiety and energy so I can collapse into sleep tonight or this morning or whenever the hell I crawl into bed. Maybe I’ll stay out until it’s time to go to school and then sleepwalk through the day. All the better. My feet disobey me and break into a full-throttle run only seconds after I hit the road. My legs will hate me later, but it will be worth it. I run fast and far the way I’ve become accustomed to running. I wish I was on one, long, straight expanse of highway so I could just keep going without having to turn or think or make decisions of any kind. Instead, I head right and follow my feet without thinking. I don’t pay any attention to the houses or the cars. My body and my mind have missed this over the past couple of weeks; first through the drama of the move to Margot’s house, and then with the constant nightly rain that traps me indoors. If this is what I have to do every night‌—‌wait until it stops, even in the dregs of night‌—‌then I will. I won’t go this long without it again.

The first night I ever ran, I ended up throwing up all over my shoes. It was one of the best nights of my life. It didn’t start out that way. It started out with me fighting with my parents. Followed by me listening to my parents fight about me. I sat in that room and sat in that room and sat in that room on the comforter that looks exactly like the one I sleep on here. I sat in that room until I couldn’t sit there anymore. I couldn’t be in that house, listening to another fight that I caused. My father would ask my mother why she kept blaming herself and my mother would ask my father why it didn’t bother him and my father would tell my mother that it killed him inside but that he didn’t see the point in drowning in it and my mother would tell my father that as long as I was drowning in it, she would be, too. It was always the same fight on an endless loop.

It was nine o’clock at night and the first shoes I could find were a pair of sneakers and I shoved my feet into them without socks and ran down the stairs, flinging the door open and not bothering to close it. It was my very unsophisticated, very literal version of running away. I ran and ran and ran. There was no slow warm up. There was no pace or purpose. There was only away.

I don’t even know how far I made it that night, probably not very, before I was gasping and my lungs ached and my stomach convulsed and I puked right where I was standing. And it was awesome. It was cathartic and constructive and destructive and perfect. Then I sat on the ground and cried‌—‌the ugly kind of crying where you keep sucking breaths in all at once and it makes that horrible sound as the air scrapes against your throat. Then I got up and went home.

I ran every night after that. I learned to control myself and to warm up and to pace myself, but I always ended up pushing too far, running too hard, running too long. My therapist told my parents it was healthy. Maybe not the vomiting so much, but the running in general. It was a healthy outlet. My parents love the word healthy.

My dad tried to come with me a couple of times. He tried, he did. But I wouldn’t hold back for him and he couldn’t keep up. I don’t think pushing himself to the point of heaving was as appealing for him as it was for me. The only reason I ran was to drain every ounce of energy out of myself so that there was nothing left to use for regret or fear or remembering. It takes much more to drain me now. I run longer every day. It’s gotten harder to achieve the body-draining fatigue that I love, because if I’m going to run, I want to feel like I’ve been wrung out and spun dry, but it still does the trick. It’s the only therapy I get now.

My lungs feel okay but my stomach is teetering. I’ve been out of commission for a little while lately, so hopefully, I can tap myself out easily tonight. With every step, I stomp out the shit in my head until it’s all but gone. It will come back in the daylight, when I’m replenished enough to think, but for now it’s away and for now that’s enough. My thoughts drift off with the last vestiges of my energy and adrenaline, leaving me with the all too familiar feeling of nausea I’ve come to know well. I slow to a jog, and then a walk, trying to lull my stomach into submission, but it’s not working.

My feet stop, giving me a minute to scan the street for a gutter or well-placed hedge to throw up in, and for the first time since I bolted through the door, I take note of my surroundings. I haven’t been on this street before. I’m not sure how far I’ve run, but it’s unfamiliar. It’s late. Most of the houses are dark now and I try to slow my already rapid breathing. I bolt for the nearest hedge to heave into. I miscalculate the distance and end up running straight into it. Thorns. Of course. Insult to injury. The thorns slash my legs every time I move but I’m too busy puking to extricate them just yet. When my stomach has been thoroughly emptied, I lift my legs out as carefully as possible, trying to minimize the damage, but it’s already been done. I can see blood just beginning to seep through the torn skin on my calves but it’s the least of my worries right now. I close my eyes, then lift them open again. I force myself to take in my surroundings and to remind myself where I am, and more importantly, where I am not.

The sickness in my stomach is replaced by a new kind of dread. The houses are the same, all the same. I can’t find a street sign, but I know I ran fast and I ran far and I didn’t pay attention to anything. I broke every rule that I have and I’ve gotten what I deserve for it. It’s the middle of the night and I am alone and lost and drenched in darkness.

I instinctively pat my pocket, feeling for my phone so I can use the GPS. Empty. Of course I didn’t bring it. I ran out the door so fast I forgot, because I’m careless and impatient and I didn’t think of anything beyond air and sneakers.

I follow the sidewalk. I must be on the outer edge of the community against the preserve that walls it in. I know that this sidewalk probably circles the whole neighborhood, which can give me some bearings and I should stay on it. But I can’t help it. I want to get the hell away from all of those trees. I can’t see past them and I can’t control what comes out of them and there are too many sounds to process.

There are no street lamps where I’m standing now, but I can see the faint yellow glow of one up ahead. The houses along the other side of the street are shadowed in dark and sleep. Like all sane people at this hour. The churning in my stomach is still there, but it’s being overshadowed by the fear of being lost.

My kubotan is swinging at my side until my keys are nothing but a blur. I listen to the quiet that settles around me. I can hear everything: the hum of the streetlamps from overhead, crickets chirping, unintelligible voices coming from a television somewhere, and a sound I can’t place right away. It’s rhythmic and coarse. Following the direction of the sound, I glance down into the darkness and see light coming from one house at the end of the road. It’s brighter than what could be given off by the front lamps alone. I head towards the house, not knowing what I expect to find there. Maybe someone awake who can give me directions. Directions you can’t ask for, idiot. In the distance the rhythmic scratching sound continues. Soft and almost musical and I follow it. The house is close and the sound is louder now, though I still can’t tell what it is, until a moment later I’m there.