The suitcase lay open on the bed, waiting to hungrily devour the clothes shoved into it. I could tell by the tension in her back and the way she crumpled the innocent fabric that she was furious. She’d hoped for the impossible, and now that she’d realized I wasn’t going to deliver, disappointment reigned.
I watched, unconcerned, sprawled on the oversized, leather couch. Finally, she paused, some poor thing made from a shiny, yellow material twisted into a knot in her hand.
“I can’t believe you have nothing to say, Derek. I’m really leaving! Or don’t you understand that?”
And there it was; the last frustrated attempt to make me feel bad. I smirked. As expected, she’d chosen to throw that barb without turning around. Women were so predictable sometimes.
“Don’t go, then,” I answered, but even I could hear how unconvincing I sounded.
With a guttural snarl of exasperation, she threw the yellow fabric into the suitcase and furiously zipped it shut. I flinched at the sound, flashing for a split second on another very similar to it — the sound of a seat belt retracting. I shook my head and tried to focus on the angry woman in my apartment. She stood with her hand on the doorknob, glaring at me from across the room.
“Goodbye, Derek. You heartless son of a bitch,” she spat, yanking the door open with obvious intent. “Enjoy your loneliness. It’s the only thing that’ll ever love you!”
The resounding clap as the wood violently met its frame shuddered through me, and I knew what was about to happen. In an effort to avoid the oncoming storm of remembrance, I stared at the flurry of peeling white paint her exit had sent drifting to the floor. But that only made it worse.
Images I’d tried so hard to forget crushed me like an avalanche. I saw snow swirling in the darkness; heard the squeal of tires trying to find traction, the snap and whipping sound of the seat belt; smelled the sickening mix of burning rubber and dirty slush. Screams pierced the memory like a relentless soundtrack, echoes of terror I could never outrun.
I braced myself and waited for it to pass, for the tightness in my chest to diminish and the invisible stranglehold on my throat to ease. Every time I felt the wave of adrenaline crash over me, I wondered if this is what it felt like to drown.
Analytical thoughts would keep me from completely hyperventilating into oblivion, so I surveyed my overpriced studio apartment with a critical eye, detailing all the things that would never be fixed as my breathing slowly returned to normal. The water stain in the corner of the ceiling, the dripping faucet on rusted pipes, the cracked floorboard, the peeling paint on the door and windowsills; all the things that went with a “charming,” older apartment in one of Portland’s trendiest neighborhoods.
My gaze landed on a streak of sunlight shimmering against the decrepit hardwood and I felt the memories retreat like vampires fleeing the light. It was one of those rare, beautiful days that only happened once every three months, and I would be stupid to waste it.
Grabbing my sketchbook and jacket, I quickly followed in Sheila’s footsteps, putting distance between myself and my memories. I closed the door firmly as I left, making sure the warped wood squeezed into its frame, refusing to think about how many more snowy paint chips would litter the entryway on my return.